After visiting Iceland on my honeymoon in November 2014, I was in awe of the beauty and culture, and knew that I had to return as soon as possible. Once Christmas had passed, a few friends, my husband and I flew over for a week in Iceland’s winter, and I wanted to let you all in on the diamonds of the country, and why I highly recommend that you visit the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’.
Toursim is an industry that has grown drastically over the last few years, and there are a plethora of well-established tourist attractions across the island. There are no horrible concrete hotels to be found, and the country actually has the best roads I have ever driven on. Like the rest of the Nordic countries, the people of Iceland are welcoming and keen to teach people of their culture and heritage.
For our first stop of the week, we drove to Þingvellir National Park to visit the beauties the park had to offer, and complete ‘The Golden Circle’ tour of the national park (Geyser, Gullfoss and Þingvellir). As our trip was in late December, the country had turned into a very different landscape of snow then we had witnessed during our last visit, but nonetheless, there was still so much to admire and take in.
We had been warned by our Airbnb host that the Icelanders were crazy when it came to New Years, but we didn’t quite grasp how crazy she meant until we witnessed it for ourselves. From our house in Selfoss (about an hour drive from the capital city) we approached the outskirts of Reykjavík at 11:45PM just as the fireworks were kicking off. The closer we got to Hallgrímskirkja, the more people were out on the streets and the more fireworks were going off. Midnight hit, and the streets erupted into cheers and joy, and fireworks were being set off from every corner. Never have I seen so many people in such a small space all having such a wonderful time, and we enjoyed walking the city long into the small hours of the morning.
To the people of Iceland and the other Nordic countries, New Years also symbolises the bringing of light. Having 4 hours of daylight in the winter/24 hours of light in the summer is something that needs adjusting to, so you can understand why the change in the season is welcomed. Bringing that idea of light further on, the aurora borealis (northern lights) were witnessed all over Iceland, Norway and Finland on New Years Eve, and we had the pleasure of watching them from the garden of our house until about 6AM.
There are a series of old lava chambers and tubes underneath the surface of Iceland that can be explored most of the year. We headed to the Raufarhólshellir lava cave on Route 39 and went for a little bit of cave exploring. Arnarker cave was also on our list, which is 10 minutes from Raufarhólshellir, but sadly the road was closed due to the bad weather. When it comes to exploring caves, please do be careful. Raufarhólshellir lava cave is easily accessible in the summer and winter, and so is Arnarker and a host of others, but if the cave does not look safe and you do not have torches, appropriate footwear or safety ropes, then do not attempt to explore the caves without a guide.
We spent the next few days exploring the South of Iceland, visiting the famous and absolutely stunning glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón, the beautiful Svartifoss (Blacks Falls), Skogafoss (Forest Falls) and Seljalandsfoss (Seller Falls), as well as the plane wreck of Sólheimasandur. Rounding off our trip with a sighting of orcas feeding in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, was the icing on the cake, and my husband and I were so glad that we had the opportunity to show our friends such a beautiful country.
If you are planning to visit Iceland, make sure you decide on the time of year first, and then sit down and do your research. The summers and winters are very different, but both have their advantages, and I couldn’t recommend a trip more. The government know that their weather is changeable, so they have set up the best road and weather monitoring systems I have ever seen. There are host of airlines to fly with from across the world, and I would highly recommend hiring a car from SIXT, and accommodation through Airbnb. For our stay this time, we stayed in a lovely 3 bedroom house, and last year we stayed in a beautiful apartment in the centre of Reykjavík.
I am currently learning Icelandic and preparing for our move over to Iceland that will hopefully happen later this year; a week in Iceland’s winter just wasn’t enough. We are very excited to be able to show more of our friends and family the beauty of the country, and also the rest of the Nordic countries that will be just over the pond from us!
Tags: northern lights, NYE 2015, reykjavik, Trip to Iceland, visit Iceland, winter wonderland
Sophia is a photographer, graphic designer, and writer based in London.
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