What Is It Like to Live in Iceland in Winter?
People often ask us what it’s like to live in Iceland in the winter. Far from being a dark and snowy ghost land (which is what a lot of people seem to imagine), Iceland in winter is a vibrant winter wonderland with enough daylight to make the most of the day and the added bonus of potential Northern Lights sightings in the evening.
There are plenty of events and activities to keep locals and guests entertained and away from any winter blues. “Like what?” I hear you ask, well let us count the ways!
- Take a winter vacation to Iceland and experience the season for yourself.
Glacier hikes and snowmobiling
While glaciers in Iceland are kind of a year-round, permanent fixtures in the landscape kind of thing, winter is the optimal time to go snowmobiling and on glacier hikes. The feeling of breaking through the thick winter clouds to reach the top of a glacier and seeing the sun (the sun!) sparkling off the acres of white is unbeatable. You’ll feel like Robert Peary without the polar bears and with added hot cocoa.
Some people aren’t content with just getting to the top of a glacier, they want to get inside it as well. Luckily for those who travel to Iceland in winter, they have the opportunity to do just that.
Every year new ice caves are formed inside the Icelandic glaciers only to vanish again come summertime. So not only will you have the chance to go inside a glacier cave, but no one else might ever set foot in that exact location ever again. It doesn’t get more once-in-a-lifetime than that.
People tend to discount Iceland when it comes to skiing destinations, but that is a mistake. True, we can’t offer extravagant resorts with chalets and fancy restaurants, but what we can offer is untouched, all-natural slopes on the edge of the world.
Also, heli-skiing has become a big thing here in the last few years. So if you’ve ever wanted to feel like Bond jumping out of a helicopter and swishing down the slopes in style, we can make that dream come true (flag-themed parachute not included).
Yes, we said swimming. No we’ve not lost our minds, in fact wintertime is our favorite time of year to go swimming in the country’s many geothermally heated pools. There’s something about braving the elements in nothing but your swimsuit that really makes you feel like a strong Viking descendant, and there is no doubting you’ve earned your soak in the hot tubs. Lying there in the dark and looking up at the stars and Northern Lights is a priceless experience that you won’t soon forget.
You may think that Christmas is a pretty special time all over the world, and you’d be right. But the best thing about Christmas in Iceland is the fact that the festivities are spread out over many weeks.
The first Sunday in December (or end of November as is sometimes the case) marks the start of the Advent and the Christmas preparations. Around that time Christmas decorations will start to appear all over towns and villages, on the streets, and in individual houses. Icelanders love to decorate their homes with lights and other traditional decorations.
In mid-December the Yule Lads start coming down from the mountains bearing gifts for the children. On 23 December, Icelanders gather together to eat putrefied skate and do some last-minute Christmas shopping before the main event on 24 December.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s in Iceland is absolute bonkers-crazy-madness, and that’s not hyperbole. Blowing up more fireworks than a year’s worth of production in China (I’m guessing), every household in Iceland participates in “exploding the old year away”.
Not satisfied with setting fire to the sky, every neighborhood will also have a massive bonfire for everyone to gather around and sing traditional New Year’s Eve songs. That is until about 10:30 p.m. when everyone goes back home to watch an hour-long comedy sketch show about last year’s events, the quality of which will be the source of nationwide bickering for the coming weeks.
Then after midnight, the party really starts with the whole country attending parties and events until the early hours. The first one home is a rotten egg!
Other quirky holidays
Icelanders have kept a lot of their ancient celebrations, even through the Reformation in the 15th century, when they kind of agreed to accept Christianity if they’d still be allowed to honor the old gods during particular times.
One of those times is the Þorri, an annual celebration that takes place every January-February. For Þorrablót, Icelanders gather and eat traditional food (basically every ludicrous sounding food you’ve ever heard we eat in Iceland plus lamb!) and sing songs and tell stories.
February–March sees the trifecta of Bun Day, Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday. Although know in other countries, Icelanders have put their own spin on these holidays like spanking adults with crepe-paper wands and everyone eating their weight in salted meat.
Then of course mid-April sees the celebration of the first day of summer, which might be true for countries a bit closer to the equator but in Iceland usually just means that we have hope that summer will come, someday, at some point. Till then we’ll keep enjoying the winter fun.
About the author
Áslaug is a scriptwriter and playwright by trade, seeking inspiration from local theaters and restaurants. The place she loves the most in Iceland is Skarðsvík beach on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, followed closely by the village of Húsavík in North Iceland. Like many Icelanders, she lives by the philosophy of Þetta reddast, or ‘it’ll be alright in the end!’.View more posts by Áslaug