Iceland Winter Itinerary – Tips for Traveling Iceland in the Winter

Iceland is a strange place. It’s one of those few places that has a peak season year round. Personally, I think Iceland is amazing in the winter, I mean you have a chance of seeing the northern lights. However, planning a trip to Iceland can be confusing and a bit intimidating, especially in the winter. With extreme temperatures, weather, location restrictions and safety concerns it’s hard to know where to start. For me, the hardest part was dealing with the lack of daylight while traveling in the winter. I felt like I was driving in the dark half the time, but don’t let that stop you! This Iceland winter itinerary was created and used by the Wandering Chocobo and is the perfect way for an independent traveler to see all the major highlights of Iceland in winter while bossing the icy road conditions and lack of daylight. Some of the best highlights in this guide are Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, a secret thermal lagoon, the golden circle, DC plane crash, black sand beach, Reykjavik and Skaftafell National Park.This is your one-stop guide to the perfect winter getaway in Iceland.

Iceland Winter itinerary and tips for winter travel in Iceland

For more information on navigating Iceland in the winter, don’t miss my winter driving in Iceland guide. I grew up in Alaska, so let me help you learn to drive a car in the winter before you get started!

Day 1

Airport to Reykjavik. Reykjavik Day Tour. Nice Dinner Out. Sleep at Loft Hostel Reykjavik.

Day 2

Golden Circle/Ring Road, sleep in Flúðir or a camping location near by.

Day 3

South Coast from Flúðir to Skaftafell, stopping at many top spots, including Vik and the Black Sand Beach as well as the DC plane crash along the way. Camp at National Park.

Day 4

Glacier Tour. Camp at national park again or fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.

Day 5

Drive Back to Reykjavik. Stop at fjaðrárgljúfur canyon & Lava Tube Cave.

Plan Ahead

Have your camper rental ready to go Book Here. Also have your Glacier Tour Pre-booked ahead of time. See Glacier Guides for more details. If you want to book a N. Light Tour Gateway to Iceland is recommended.
Iceland can get rather spendy, but there are tips and tricks to save money. If you're following this Itinerary you're already doing some of them like renting a camper car and grocery shopping. While this isn't as budget friendly as it gets, with a nice dinner and glacier tour included it is definitely cheaper than how some manage to tour Iceland.

Camper Rental

The total for renting a camper in the off season is $895, excluding insurance and gas. Our total bill paid to KuKu Campers including the insurance and extras like sleeping bags was close to $1,000. Overall it's a great deal considering hotels along the way can get well up over $100 a night. Tip: you can save a few extra bucks by bringing your own sleeping supplies and navigation means, but the few extra $$ isn't worth the hassle in my opinion.

Gas

Gas equates to about $2.50 per liter. Gas is standardized in the country, so you won't find much fluctuation. We filled up about 4 times driving close to 300km a day totaling close to $300 for the trip Tip: Never use the fill up option at the gas station as it will place a rather large hold on your card.

Food

Reykjavik has amazing food options, save some in your budget for a gourmet dinner $50-$75 per person. Many places have set menus with booze included. Go all out and enjoy the flavors of the country!Your camper van should have a mini cooler or fridge with cooking supplies. Stop at the grocery store in Reykjavik before heading out. I suggest getting yogurts, cereal, fruit, pasta and soups for quick easy meals. Eating this way and you can easily spend about $50 per shopping trip (2-3) needed. Tip: Booze is very expensive, so cut back down on this trip, save for the moss liquor.

Accommodation

already taken care of with your camper van! Loft hostel will set you back $40 per night for a dorm or $112 for a private ensuite. Tip: Become a hostel international member for $5.

Excursions

It depends on the tour your take, but budget $200 per person to cover a full 8 hour glacier tour.

Daily Spending

$100 per person to cover any entry into museums, small souvenirs or unexpected costs.

Total for 1 person

$1,900 or $380 per day. If you add a second person the cost of the camper is already included so you'd only be looking at an extra $900 total.
Probably the most important section of this guide is handling the weather and safe driving in one of the harshest climates on earth. Make sure you check out my Driving Guide to fully prepare yourself for the adventure ahead. The best way to utilize your time is doing most of the driving in the morning or night. It might be dark and a bit scary, but it's the only way to see Iceland with a limited 4 hour or so window. I always mapped out where I wanted to be and what time and planned ahead with the sunrise to be at my destination at day break.IMG_0486
Reykjavik is now one of my favorite cities, but let’s be honest, the real reason most of us head to Iceland is for the expansive landscape outside the city. So, it’s common for Reykjavik to be a one or two day launching point for access to or from the airport and excursions around the country. With so much culture and life packed into the small city it can be a bit overwhelming choosing what to do during your time here, but Reykjavik can be easily explored in a full day or two. Reykjavik is best visited on weekends, so if you can start or end your trip to Iceland on a weekend I recommend doing so!A Day in Reykjavik copy

Trip Stats

Length of drive, without stops: 45 min driving 6 hours walking.
Total KM distance: 50km drive
Gas Station: Not needed.
Starting Point: Keflavik International Airport.
Ending Point: Reykjavik.
Highlights: Hallgrimskirkja, museums, great coffee and lunch, Solfar, Harpa and an orgasmic dinner.
The city is so dynamic and diverse that it needs it own full page. See my full guide to Reykjavik Here. This tour will start your morning with the best coffee in the city, continue to the major highlights and best spot for lunch and end the day with a banging party in one of Reykjavik's hottest nightlife spots.
It’s amazing that in just under 300km Iceland has more packed into its Golden Circle than bits per pixel. With a continental divide, the birth place of Icelandic government, geysers, waterfalls, a National Park, hot springs and volcanos this is the golden spot of Iceland. What’s great about the Golden Circle is it can all be done in one day. With just a quick 35 minute drive from Reykjavik, even if you only have a 2-3 day layover in Iceland you’ll have plenty of time to see the best highlights of Iceland.Golden Circle

Trip Stats

Length of drive, without stops: 2 hours.
Total KM distance: 130km
Gas Station: N1 in Reykjavik and Flúðir.
Starting Point: Reykjavik at sunrise.
Ending Point: Flúðir.
Highlights: Þingvallavegur, Geysir, Skogafoss, Icelandic horses and the Secret Lagoon.
Again this area has so much packed in, it deserves a post of it's own. Follow the Golden Circle Road in more detail here. This tour will take you from Reykjavik, passing through Thingvellir National Park, stopping at Geysir and Gulfoss and ending in Flúðir where you will set up camp for the night.
The excitement doesn't stop at the Golden Circle. If fact, the area just beyond it is teaming with mysterous landscapes from old lava beds, the iconic black sand beach and vast glaciers. Today we will be leaving the Flúðir area and driving along the southern coast up past Skaftafell National Park to the glacier lagoons, then spend the night at the park. The highlights we will be seeing are the lighthouse, DC plane crash, Vik and the black sand beach, Skogafoss and the glaciers near Skaftafell.IcelandNote: There are some highlights we will skip in order to get to Skaftafell. We will be hitting many of these on our way back to Reykjavik. Check out the section on Southern Iceland to plan your own itinerary.

Trip Stats

Length of drive, without stops: 3.25 hours (More if you camp at Fjaðrárgljúfur)
Total KM distance: 285km (More if you camp at Fjaðrárgljúfur)
Gas Station: N1 in Vik
Starting point: Flúðir, Iceland leave based on the sunrise. You will want to be at Skogafoss at sunrise.
Ending Point: Skaftafell National Park or Fjaðrárgljúfur

Skogafoss

This waterfall is one of the best in the South. It's so fun to explore the cavernous area below, but be prepared to get wet as you can essentially walk right up to the falls. Take some time to get your booty in shape and climb up the stairs for a view from the top. You really only need 20-30 minutes here, but this is also the starting point for some epic treks into the highlands, so if you are in the area for more than a few days, this is a great place to re-visit. There is a convenient parking lot available to use. Fun Fact: The top of the waterfall is where the coastline used to be, but after the coast receded to its current level the waterfall now plunges several meters.P1080868P1080895P1080896

DC plane crash

There's something fascinating about exploring the shell of a once powerful machine that's been left to deteriorate against the elements. I felt like I was transported into a futuristic dystopian where humanity had all but vanished from the earth and all that is left is this lonesome plane. On a cold November day the U.S Navy, flying a DC plane, had to perform an emergency landing on the black sand beach. Thankfully everyone survived, but it was too difficult to remove the plane, so here it remains. This plane site was once pretty difficult to find, but now you will usually find a car or two on the beach to follow. This site is completely off road and you drive along the black sand beach. Do not drive in high winds and a 4x4 is suggested.*****UPDATE: THE ROAD IS NOW CLOSED TO MOTOR VEHICLES SINCE I CREATED THIS POST. YOU WILL NEED TO PARK YOUR CAR AND WALK THE TRAIL IT'S ABOUT 4KM OF A WALK AND THE TRAIL IS WELL MARKED*****

Directions:

As soon as you leave Skogafoss head east on route 1. You'll cross a bridge with the marker for Sólheimajökull Glacier just on the other side of the bridge. Check your odometer because 2km from this sign on the right you'll see a gate/mini bridge with beach access. If you cross a second major bridge heading east you've gone too far and you'll need to back track. There will be a fork in the road, take the left of the fork as right will take you into farm land. The plane is hidden by dunes, so you might worry you're lost, but about 4km from the road there it is.

Driving:

Driving on the beach is fairly easy. Drive slow and keep an eye out for pot holes. If it is windy the chances of the course sand hitting your windshield are higher. Some of the areas are farm lands and you are not permitted to drive on or near these areas.IMG_7759P1080861

Dyrhólaey Lighthouse

The rugged switch back trail leading to the lighthouse is a thrilling adventure! The house, which has been converted into a luxury hotel rests at the side of the cliff towering over the black sand beaches of Vik. The hotel is offered in combination with Iceland Air's My Stopover program. Visit their site for more details. If you're not sleeping here in luxury, it's still a fun drive and has amazing views of the surrounding beaches. This was the most powerful wind we experienced on the trip and barely made it back to the car from the lighthouse. Do not stand close to the cliff edges in high winds.IMG_0560P1080847P1080850

Vik & The Black Sand Beach

This place is quite the mind trip. What feels like should be an enjoyable place to enjoy unique geological and take photos is really a deadly and tumultuous. So, first and foremost is safety. Just earlier this year another tourist died at this beach and it is no joke. Do not stand near the water to get distracted taking photos. The waves here are irregular and with short waves following longer waves the ocean actaully appears much further away than you think. I experienced this as I thought I was a safe distance away from the ocean, but before I could even react the big wave was crashing over the short one. Also, do not climb on the basalt rocks. Enjoy this beauty from a safe distance. No photo is worth dying for.The rocky basalt columns you see to the left of the beach are called the Gadar. These are formed when lava cools in hexagonal shapes then harden into column shaped surfaces. Out in the sea you can find basalt sea stacks. This are is home to many birds, such as puffins, so keep an eye out for them.The town of Vik is one of the largest towns in Iceland, but the only without a harbor. It's a charming seaside town though with lots of personality. Drive up to the church for a panoramic view of beach. If you have more time Vik is the launching point for many tours, such as helicopter tours, snow-machening tours and horseback riding. Other wise, just check out the beach, church and find a good spot to hunker down for lunch.P1070651P1070652P1080818P1080822P1080847

Vik to Glacier Lagoons

The drive along this stretch is pretty straight and easy going. The best part about Iceland is they cater to the tourists on road tips. So, along this highway you'll find waterfalls, lava beds and staggering mountains. Everything is labeled with signs and information. It's perfect for road trips. Feel free to pull over and check out the numerous signs and facts they have about their country. One of the highlights is the field of Cairns. These rock structures were crude ways of marking the path of travelers and wishing them good luck. Today these types of formations are seen all over the world in copy of those originally found in Iceland. ** Removing rocks from their natural habitat is now noted as hazardous to the landscape. It can cause rock slides and plant deterioration, so please leave the land as you found it. After some time you'll pass Skaftafell National Park and make our way to the Glacier Lagoons.P1070661P1070669

Glacier Lagoons

There's two glacier lagoons to explore in this area and one secret off road path. The first lagoon is Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The smaller of the two, it's just off the highway and very easy to find and great for a quick stop. The boat tours that run from here are smaller, but it is easier to have close encounters with the icebergs, but a much smaller area to explore.Jökulsárlón Lagoon, the larger of the two is a massively stunning lagoon. here you will find a cosy shop serving warm soup to give you some energy to wander around the lagoon to view stunning blue glaciers floating in the lagoon. There's plenty of area of walk around and explore if you don't want to do the boat tour, but there is a lot more to see in these lagoons than meets the eye. The tours are booked through the cafe and run at set times of 9:30, 11:00, 13:00, 14:30, 16:20 and 17:40, depending on weather.
Pro Tip: Keep your eye out for a turn off between the two lagoons. It's off-road and 4x4 required, but if you follow the road back you'll be able to walk right up to the glacier. It's pinned on the map at the end of the page.
Head back to Skaftafell National Park when you're ready to spend the night. You can camp in their parking lot or explore their campgrounds. Get a good night sleep and get ready for your day of glacial exploring. There's not a whole lot of food in the area, your options are the hotel or the gas station across the hotel that serves hot good. If you're in a camper van, like me I cooked up a delicious pasta on my cook stove!

Day 4

Most of the day is going to be occupied with the glacier tour from Glacier Guides Unfortunately, my tour was canceled due to bad weather, so I can't review them, but with close to a 5 star rating I think this is the way to go. I recommend checking out the glacier grand slam, but they have so many options for an amazing experience. Email them for details about the tours, food, gear and everything you need to know. Camp here again, or head on to fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, which is the first stop tomorrow.
The last leg of the trip definitely contains the most driving, but it's all worth it trust me. As soon as you clamber up Fjaðrárgljúfur Masjid for sunrise your breath will be taken away. The day is topped off exploring the lava tube cave on the way back to Reykjavik. Make sure to catch anything you missed on your last drive through the area as the South is teeming with adventures!Iceland copy

Trip Stats

Length of drive, without stops: 3 hours (Will be altered if you stayed at the National Park again)
Total KM distance: 248km (Will be altered if you stayed at the National Park again)
Gas Station: N1 in Vik
Starting Point: Fjaðrárgljúfur at sunrise.
Ending Point: Reykjavik, stay at Loft Hostel
Highlights: Fjaðrárgljúfur and Lava Tube Cave.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

There are two entrances to this Canyon. One is the easy drive up where you can enjoy the view from the top. The other road leads to the base, but you can enjoy a walk up the canyon in the morning and it's absolutely breath taking. The hike up can take anywhere from 20 min-2 hours depending on how long you want to spend taking photos. The canyon stretches for about 2km and was created by erosion from the Fjaðrá river. Areas of the canyon can be covered with ice and are roped off due to potential erosion. Obey all signs and walk carefully. We had some pretty terrible weather on the trip and the photos we took don't do this place justice, as it was one of my favorite places in the South.P1080797 P1080760P1080772P1080773

Lava Tube Cave

The lava tube cave, called , is an expansive cave system deep under ground. It can be explored on your own or with a professional tour company. This tube once contained a low viscosity lava flow forming the tube. Now that lava no longer flows the tube is free to roam. Unfortunately during winter this cave can be a little sketchy. If you're uncomfortable in dangerous areas, I recommend hiring a tour company. Large ice pillars and bubbles cover the floor and side of the cave making it very slippery inside. The cave can also be dark. DO NOT ENTER THE CAVE WITHOUT ICE CRAMPS AND A HEADLIGHT. Only part of the cave can be explored in the winter, but in the summer you can trek down several kms of tube.Finding the cave can be a bit tricky. If you use the map below, you'll enter a parking lot and not even realize the cave is in the area, until you look around and find a gaping hole in the ground.lavatubecave4lavatubecave5lavatubecave3lavatubecave2lavatubecave1Continue back to Reykjavik and enjoy your night on the town!
I know this is going to make me sound slightly ridiculous, but I didn't actually come to Iceland for the Northern Lights, and it's a good thing, because we didn't see any! Growing up in Alaska the Northern Lights were a regular sight for me. That's not to say when they were lighting up they sky I wasn't driving into the wilderness in my PJs and -40 down jacket, because I was and they are amazing!I know this show is a major reason most of us travel to the North in the winter and I do have some practical tips for you based on my time growing up in Alaska.

Planning

This is a catch 22, you can't really PLAN to see the lights. If you were to plan you're going to have a very last second trip on your hands. Ideally you wait for the sun to have a major flare you can use this site to help you Iceland Aurora Forecast. From there you will need to check the weather and if the skies are clear, you should go ahead and book your Iceland Northern Light hunting excursion. For those of us that can't plan on a whim you're best bet is to book a trip in one of 3 months. While August tends to have the strongest Aurora it is often too light out to see it, so September is a close running up, depending on the sun's activity. This leaves February as one of the better options. Typically in the far north February tends to be the darkest, most clear and active time of the winter months. So, you're chances significantly increase booking a trip during this time.

Book a Tour for the First Night

Many tours, such as Gateway to Iceland will offer a free re-do if you are unable to see the lights your first try. So, if you book the tour for the first day you will have several other days to try again. This leads us into the next point quite well.

Decide How High of a Priority the Lights are to You

Did you come to Iceland just to see the lights? If so, you have plenty of time to try and try again. Hence booking with a company that offers several tries is ideal. It you don't want to monopolize your entire trip, trying and trying again. I suggest just heading out on your own, following my guide and checking the weather daily. If the lights are out, you don't always need a guide to help you see them. Just find a dark, clear and quite place and gaze in wonder.

Have a Plan B

Like I mentioned I was unable to see the lights during my trip, but I wasn't disappointed because I was doing so many other things. It's important to not have your heart set on one thing, especially when nature is a fickle being.Happy Hunting!

Don’t forget to share this so you and all your friends can plan their best winter vacation in Iceland with this in-depth Iceland winter itinerary.

Iceland winter itinerary. Complete guide and tips for traveling around Iceland in the Winter. Explore the top sites, navigate the icy roads and find the Northern Lights! Iceland winter itinerary. Survive the cold with this in-depth travel guide to winter in Iceland. Rent and drive a car in the snow, explore the top sites and find the Northern Lights all in Iceland!



25 thoughts on “Iceland Winter Itinerary – Tips for Traveling Iceland in the Winter

  1. Vanessa

    The road to the DC10 is closed to cars. You need to walk in if you want to see it. The path is well marked.

    Reply
  2. Sonja

    Great itinerary! I actually made the drive all the way across the bottom to the glacier and back in one day! It was a long one… but amazing!!!! I wish I’d had more time to camp around there.

    Reply
    1. Wandering Chocobo Post author

      That is a LONG drive! I’m always ok doing drives like that, but I am scared to put them in my guides as most other people want to keep it at a reasonable drive. When you’re on a time crunch though you gotta do what you gotta do!

      Reply
  3. Nicole Janeway

    Great guide to Iceland and detailed roadtrip advice. Vik in particular looks amazing! I would love to do a horse riding tour that passed through there. I’m sending this page to a friend who’s making the trip soon 🙂 Ahem, after I swallow my jealousy first.

    Reply
  4. Maddy

    I went to Iceland years ago and found it very pricey. However I love your budget breakdown, this would be really useful if I ever go back. I’m desperate to see the northern lights!

    Reply
    1. Wandering Chocobo Post author

      Yea, it’s not the cheapest place. We set aside a decent amount for out budget and while we splurged some on nice dinners here and there we tried to save in other areas. I hope you see them soon!

      Reply
  5. Kaylene

    This looks like an awesome guide and helpful tips for a trip to Iceland. It’s on my list to get to very soon! I want to do lots of hiking when I go. The Lava Tube Cave looks really amazing to explore!

    Reply
    1. Wandering Chocobo Post author

      If you want to do lots of hiking and go deep in the lava cave you’ll definitely want to go in the peak of summer, like July. Some of the hiking can still be restricted due to mud and snow in early June. Hope you make it soon and have fun!

      Reply
  6. Cherene Saradar

    Wow it’s like you read my mind. I’m going this December and I’m stoked to have all these great tips! Can’t wait to go read all your other guides that were linked here

    Reply
    1. Wandering Chocobo Post author

      Glad I could help! The driving guide is probably the most important! Feel free to reach out to many any time if you have any questions or want someone to bounce ideas off.

      Reply
  7. Christina

    Sounds like a great itinerary. I visited for 14 days in July so missed out on all the winter awesomeness. When I go back, it will definitely be in winter time.

    Reply
  8. Natasha

    I did Iceland in February this year, was absolutely freezing but beautiful! Unfortunately being broke students and with no car a lot on this list wasn’t possible but still had an amazing time!

    Reply
  9. Caroline

    This is a bit of an odd comment but I really love the layout of this post with the tabs. It’s very tidy and this pleases me haha. Also very helpful information set out in a clear way. We went to Reykjavik in May this year and had mixed feelings about it – we don’t drive so just did it as a city break. But from the little bit of the rest of Iceland we saw, we loved, and we would have really liked to get out and see more.

    Reply
    1. Wandering Chocobo Post author

      Hahah it’s not an odd comment! Thank you! I spent a lot of time working on getting the tabs, so I’m glad you found it helpful. I really enjoyed Reykjavik, but I could see how someone could have differing opinions, it’s a very quirky city. I hope you can make it back as I do think the highlight of Iceland is the nature outside the city. There’s lots of tour options you can look at to help plan a trip if you don’t drive!

      Reply
  10. Caroline @ The Travelling Sloth

    This is probably the most comprehensive guide to travelling Iceland i’ve ever read! On ya and thanks for providing us with so much useful information. I really would love to visit Iceland but I always thought it wouldn’t be great in winter especially if I plan on road tripping and hiking. Looks like I was wrong 🙂

    Also – great tips on driving on winter roads. A lot of people underestimate driving in those conditions!

    Reply
    1. Wandering Chocobo Post author

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate the good words. I worked very hard on this guide after I felt so many were lacking information. I’m glad it helped you out!

      Reply
  11. Sally from Passport & Plates

    That guide you have is so nifty, as is the map! It looks like a LOT of driving but based off the photos I’ve seen of Iceland, it’s probably one of the best road trips in the world :). Thanks for providing such good information!

    Reply
  12. Veronica

    I really want to visit Iceland. It’s just that I think it takes much more preparation and planning than any other country. I hope to be able to make it soon! Thank you for the itinerary!

    Reply
  13. Justine Cross

    This is a really unique way of showing an itinerary – it’s really effective. I’m definitely sharing this and bookmarking for later!! Thank you! 🙂

    Reply

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