Off-Season Iceland Itinerary: 7 Days Winter Traveling

iceland itinerary 7 days winter
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Welcome to our cold-season Iceland itinerary, 7 days winter traveling in the fabled Land of Fire and Ice. Boy do we have some wanderlust-stoking things lined up for you here. From smoke-belching volcanos to steaming hot springs to black-sand beaches that glint with shimmering ice crystals, it’s all on the menu.

We’ve aimed to pack in all the highlights of the island without stretching the travel plans too much. Winter in Iceland presents some unique challenges, you see – it’s cold, it’s snowy. That means getting from A-to-B can take a whole load longer than it would in the warmer months of the year, while some attractions (most notably the long-distance trekking routes) are completely closed.

There are some serious upsides to traveling in the winter, though. First off, it’s the peak season for watching the Northern Lights (and we’ve tried to give you a chance of doing just that!). Second, the backcountry looks downright moody and evocative covered in snow plumes, and you get to see amazing ice caves and frozen waterfalls at their most dramatic.

Before we start our Iceland Itinerary 7 days winter travels…

Iceland in winter
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There are a few considerations you need to make before you set off traveling here in the middle of winter. They’re things that could have a HUGE impact on your trip, ranging from the number of hours you have to see things to the sort of driving conditions you’ll find on the roads…

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  • Daylight hours – There’s a mere four hours of daylight in the middle of December in Iceland, but more in January and February. You might need to whittle down the itinerary a little if you’re coming in the middle of the season to be able to fit everything in.
  • The weather – Iceland gets very cold (the clue is in the name, no?). Average temperatures for December aren’t more than 39 F (4 C) and there can be loads of snow. Pack and dress accordingly, folks.
  • Driving conditions – This Iceland itinerary 7 days winter plan is best done with your own car. However, only drive here if you’re confident dealing with icy roads and low visibility. Otherwise, it might be best to book onto an organized tour that includes some of the points of interest below.

Day 1 – Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon

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You’ll almost certainly land at Keflavík Airport. It’s where 99% of international travelers jet into Iceland. From there, collect your hire car or hop in the public Flybus (takes 45 minutes) to the center of the island’s capital, Reykjavik. It’s the perfect intro to a winter trip here. The city is a dash of charming wooden homes and colorful cottages that rolls down the snowy hills to meet the Atlantic Ocean.

While there’s still some daylight, head straight over to the premier attraction in the city. Cue the Blue Lagoon. Arguably the most famous hot spring on the island, it’s actually manmade, powered by the flow of warm water from geothermal powerplants nearby. It’s still a stunning place to spend a few hours, bathing in the 100-degree waters and hopping in and out of the saunas when the winter winds blow across from the coast.

Relaxed? Good. Reykjavik itself is a-calling. Go back to the city center. By this time it should be getting dark, so it’s a perfect opportunity to see the otherworldly Hallgrimskirkja. The most famous church in the country, it rises into the misty winter airs like one of Iceland’s pointed mountain peaks. It’s an easy walk from there going northwest into the downtown core, where bars like Bastard Brew & Food offer rollicking nights with the locals on Icelandic craft beers and cocktails (beware: Beer is expensive!).

Day 2 – The trip to Vik

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The drive eastwards out of the island’s capital on the morning of Day 2 is your first intro to the wild backcountry of Iceland. In the winter, expect to be whizzing through vasty, empty plains of snowdrift while the outline of low, graphite-colored mountains looms on the horizon. In the summertime, this whole area would be grassy meadows and lush, rolling hills.

The first pitstop will be the Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool. It’s an optional one, because it’s really only for the bravest travelers. Hidden deep in a mountain valley off the coast road, it’s technically a hot spring, but only comes in at a relatively modest 60-86 F. That’s nowhere near as balmy as the 100-degree Blue Lagoon, which means it’s going to be a dip you’ll remember! Entry to Seljavallalaug is free, and the site is said to be the oldest swimming pool on the island.

After that, keep cruising down Route 1 until you see the turn off for Skógafoss. A couple of minutes’ drive after the junction, you can park up and walk a short trail to witness a roaring waterfall gushing over a high shelf of chiseled rock. The spot tends to be WAY less crowded between November and March than in the midsummer, so it’s a good place to plump up the Insta feed, folks!

Your final destination is the town of Vik. This remote fishing settlement faces the wild North Atlantic with its timber-clad cottages. It’s a true charmer and the gateway to the amazing Reynisfjara Beach, where you can witness ancient basalt columns and wave-splattered rock stacks in the ocean.

Day 3 – Vatnajökull National Park and the Jökulsárlón Lagoon

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Day three of our Iceland itinerary 7 days winter trip takes you as far east as you will go in the Land of Fire and Ice. Welcome to the Vatnajökull National Park. This is a cut-out of pure wilderness, home to the second-largest ice cap in the whole of Europe, no less. Just imagine what that looks like in mid-December, eh?

Of course, the whole place can be pretty darn impenetrable when the snows start to fall. However, there is one great way to appreciate the sheer majesty of it all. Hike the short trail to Skaftafellsjökull glacier. It’s usually open all winter long, isn’t too challenging or exposed, and takes you right up close to one of the most iconic glacier tongues around, which rolls off the highlands to meet the snow-dusted bogs below.

The trailhead for that is also neatly placed on Route 1 as you move towards your final destination for the day: Jökulsárlón Lagoon. They call that the Glacier Lagoon because it forms right below the ice sheets of Vatnajökull. It’s famed for the presence of countless icebergs, both summer and winter, which you can navigate on boat trips. Winter also happens to be a fantastic time to spot seals feeding in the area.

If you’ve got the time, also be sure to add on a tour through the Crystal Ice Cave, a colossal cavern made from frozen water that forms right next to Jökulsárlón, and a jaunt to Diamond Beach, where glittering ice shards that look like precious stones are washed by the salty waters of the Atlantic.

Day 4 – Thórsmork and Eyjafjallajökull

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Day 4 is about backtracking down the number 1 ring road towards Reykjavik. But the capital isn’t where you’re headed. Instead, you’ll veer a little inland to catch a glimpse of the colossal volcanic dome of Eyjafjallajökull and the mysterious valleys of Thórsmork. These are the jewels of the South Region. The downside? They’re pretty impossible to get to unless you’re a maestro 4X4 pilot. But there are organized tours that can do the whole thing, and we’d recommend booking onto one.

Packages usually start at one of the highway towns, somewhere like Hvolsvöllur or Holt. Check to make sure they include at least some of the following:

  • Seljalandfoss – One of the highest waterfalls in Iceland, Seljalandfoss has a drop of 60m and doesn’t freeze over in the winter months. There’s a path behind the stream of water but that’s closed from the end of November to around March because of the risk of falling ice.
  • Gígjökull – Gígjökull is one of the glacial tongues of the mighty Eyjafjallajökull volcano (remember the eruption that grounded flights all over Europe back in 2010?). Come here to see ice sheets protruding from the mountain into a blasted crater lake.
  • Thórsmork – The remote glacial valley of Thórsmork is super hard to reach in the middle of winter. Those who manage to pierce the fabled home of Thor in a 4X4 will be rewarded with visions of ice-mantled mountains and ice caves.
  • Eyjafjallajökull – You can get to the top of the mighty volcano itself and survey all of southern Iceland from above the clouds. It’s a truly awe-inspiring experience.

Day 5 – The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle
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No Iceland Itinerary 7 days, winter, summer, or spring could possibly miss out on the star attraction in the south of the country. Cue the so-called Golden Triangle. It’s a combo of three of the most jaw-dropping sights in all of Iceland. They’re incredible no matter the season and offer a mix of natural wonder and rich Nordic history. You can visit them in any order, but we’d recommend going anti-clockwise::

  • Gullfoss waterfall – You’re sure to gasp in awe when you first lay eyes on the Gullfoss waterfall. A majestic cataract that drops into a canyon, it’s often decorated in massive icicles in the midwinter.
  • Geysir – One of the most geothermally active parts of the island, Geysir is the place to see spurting fumarole vents. The most famous is The Great Geysir, which can hit 70 meters in height, but there’s also Strokkur, which is known to erupt regularly.
  • Thingvellir National Park – History buffs can’t miss this one. The spot where the ancient Nordic parliament of Iceland met back in medieval times, it’s also where Europe crashes into the continent of North America. The whole place is UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 6 – Snæfellsjökull National Park

Snæfellsjökull National Park
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It’s a long drive up the west coast from the Golden Triangle area to Snæfellsjökull National Park. But the whole thing is a breathtaking affair, and opens up the rugged western half of Iceland, where fjords and coast mountains abound.

Talking of coast mountains…the thing you absolutely 100% must check out in these parts is the great volcano of Snæfellsjökull itself. It caps off the end of its own peninsula with two summits that are always caked in snow. They fall away steeply and sometimes vertically into a roaring Atlantic Ocean, creating a landscape that needs to be seen to be believed.

The best way to appreciate the region is actually to stay in the car. A road weaves the whole way around the peninsula, letting you see the great mountain from all angles. Occasionally, pull over to see the strange volcanic cone of Saxhóll Crater and to take the compulsory Instagram at the black-painted church of Budirkirkja. It’s a lot of driving, but there’s lots to see!

Day 7 – Westfjords

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Where better than the Westfjords for capping off our ultimate Iceland itinerary of 7 days of winter travels? Lots of folks say not to even bother venturing this far north from Reykjavik in the colder months. And, while it’s true that many of the mountain passes are totally closed and the main hiking paths inaccessible, we think there’s something to be said for getting away from the crowds and tasting some true Nordic wilderness.

We’d recommend sticking to the south side of the region, where you can find snow-blasted beaches and hills dotted with freezing sheep. The main roads to sights like Dynjandi waterfall are likely to be closed, but there are awesome seascapes at Rauðisandur Beach and Barðastrandarsandur.

The main reason the Westfjords are a top idea on this trip, though? They are the perfect hunting grounds for those keen to see the Northern Lights. Low light pollution helps with visibility and there are some excellent aurora hotels to check out nearby, like the Sauðafell Guesthouse and the Fosshotel Westfjords.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.