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November 02, 2018

Is Winter Camping in Iceland possible? 

When most people plan a trip to Iceland, summer is usually their preferred choice. This makes for a real peak in the tourist season, right from mid-June till around the end of August. And it is a great time to visit of course, with endless days and midnight sun to enjoy, as well as milder temperatures.

But why not consider the insider view and take some advice from the locals? So without further ado, we would like to make a strong case for the thrill of visiting Iceland in winter. And while you are at it, why not try winter camping too? It is possible and with the right research, planning, safety precautions and consideration for the environment, you will have an awesome time and create unforgettable memories.


Is it better to visit Iceland in the winter than summer?

It’s hard to describe the magic of the nordic winter as it is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon. The days might be short, but so often you are rewarded with the surreal display of the whole spectrum of pink and violet colours in the sky before the darkness sets in. And if you are lucky and the conditions are right, that’s just a prelude for the next act of wizardry that the sky has in store for you. The darkness and the chilly temperatures are the perfect combination so you can enjoy one of the most extraordinary phenomena in nature - the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).


Most people have an idea about the northern lights, albeit more commonly from photos or films. But even the best of images don’t do them enough justice. They literally dance around in the sky. On a clear and still winter’s night, when the Aurora forecast is good, get away from the light pollution in the cities (which, by the way, is not hard to achieve in a country so sparsely populated) and you will be transported to the world of magic. We are definitely biased when we say that Iceland is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but seeing it covered in a white veil under the breathtaking and eerie lights of the Aurora, you will know that it really lives up to it’s name.


How cold are Icelandic winters? 

It’s almost an understatement to say that the weather in Iceland is unpredictable. In fact, it’s totally crazy and we won’t try to convince you otherwise. And this is not only in winter, but throughout the year, including during the summer. You might hear Icelanders say quite often that they’ll be “chasing the weather”. Especially when we pack our camping gear and hit the road in the summer. This literally means that we start a road trip and let the forecast be our guide and take us in the best possible direction so each day we can catch the best conditions.

Iceland bad weather

Our island is relatively small land mass in the middle of the Atlantic, and if you move from one part to another in a somewhat short time span, the variations in weather during your travel can be huge. So you can overcome the problem of the (unpredictable) weather messing up with your travel plans by simply not making any plans. Just ‘chase the weather” and you’ll soon realize that this is a pretty fun way to have a road trip during any season.

iceland mild winter

The Gulf Stream makes Icelandic winters much warmer than what most people expect. They’re even milder than in some of our neighbouring Nordic countries in terms of temperature and even to my own surprice Iceland is warmer than New York city during winter time. Having said that, you should still bear in mind that this is a northern country and anything could be expected. For those used to similar weather conditions it probably goes without saying, but the cold and fickle weather means you have to dress appropriately in layers of warm, water and windproof clothes. Being cold, or even worse, catching a cold, can put a real dampener on your trip and ruin your plans. So as long as you’re properly equipped and wear the right gear, the cold will not bother you.


Average temperature in iceland?


Temperature

Precipitation

Months

Normal

Warmest

Coldest

Normal

January

-0.6°C

1.9°C

-3.1°C

14

February

0.1°C

2.6°C

-2.4°C

14

March

0.3°C

3.1°C

-2.1°C

15

April

2.8°C

5.5°C

0.3°C

11

May

6.3°C

9.3°C

3.6°C

11

June

8.9°C

11.7°C

6.4°C

10

July

10.7°C

13.6°C

8.5°C

10

August

10.3°C

13.1°C

8.0°C

12

September

7.5°C

10.3°C

5.2°C

12

October

4.3°C

6.8°C

2.1°C

13

November

1.3°C

3.6°C

-1.0°C

12

December

-0.1°C

2.4°C

-2.6°C

13


Do I need a 4x4 car?

It might seem quite challenging to many to cruise around Iceland with its snowy roads and harsh weather. While you should always use your common sense and exercise caution, it might not be as hard as you think. There are no trains so driving around is the best mode of transportation. We often humour ourselves that talking about the weather is our national sport, which is not far from the truth as it never stays the same and there’s always so much to be said about it. Joking aside, it is important to be aware of the weather forecast and road conditions . To be on the safe side, ask those who are familiar with the areas you’re planning to visit. Always drive on the safe and open roads and be aware that off-road driving is illegal in Iceland and can result in hefty fines. This is done not only for your own safety but also to preserve the beautiful nature around us in its immaculate state.

winter road driving in iceland

What activities are available during winter?

You can add many other activities to your winter itinerary apart from driving around and admiring the beautiful skies and scenery around you. We recommend you take advantage of the season to go glacier walkingdog sledding, ATV-quad biking or for an extra rush of adrenaline why not try snowmobiling . Iceland certainly has no shortage of activities available all year round. Winter is also the only time you can marvel the amazing blue  ice cave tours .

There’s also plenty for those who prefer more relaxed experiences or want to wind down after a day packed full of activities. Why not soak in the hot waters of the outdoor thermal pools  also an options? There are so many around the country and they’re are very popular with locals and visitors alike, most of them stay open all year round. There’s also a great variety of cultural activities and festivals in the winter. Iceland Airwaves is held in November, Sonar takes place in February, when there’s also the Winter Light Festival , or the world renowned Reykjavik Food & Fun festival in March.

Is Iceland cheaper in winter than summer?

Another advantage winter travel to Iceland, aside from the perfect conditions for hunting the northern lights, is that accommodation can be much cheaper than during peak season and less likely to be overbooked. It’s the ideal time to drift without plans. If you are likely to hit a storm, just drop into a hostel. If the sky is clear, pitch your tent and there you have it, winter camping in Iceland is ticked off your bucket list.

reykjavik winter hallgrimskirkja

But perhaps one of the best ways to experience the great unknown is to hire a camper van . You can still stay in a hostel, but in case the sky is clear and you can’t resist sleeping under it, your options are open. When you hire from a reputable company, you will rest assured that your vehicle is equipped with studded winter tyres, and you can also rent warm sleeping bags to keep you snug during the cold Icelandic winter nights. Even though overnight camping is allowed in most places in Iceland, it’s best to ask for advice from your camper rental company and always be considerate to leave the place where you stayed in the same condition you found it.  


Once you start driving around you’ll realize that Iceland is not that small so there is plenty to see in each region. So instead of trying to squeeze everything in a few short days (honestly this is quite impossible), leave some places to discover on your next trip and make the most of each experience. We’re certain that you’ll be back once you catch the Iceland bug. Several of the country’s most amazing wonders are actually within a 3 hours’ drive from the airport, including glaciers, hot springs and lava fields. If you want to experience winter like nowhere else, in a place where the connection with nature is tangible, then take our advice and travel to Iceland.  


“I took the road less travelled by and that made all the difference”

- R. Frost

Godafoss north iceland


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