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Visiting Iceland In The Winter

Are you planning on visiting Iceland in the winter? Check out these tips for Iceland sightseeing with a focus on books and booze plus a few itineraries.  This guide is also helpful for visiting southern Iceland any time of year.  Bonus: Scroll down to learn more about Iceland’s literary and Prohibition history. The ‘Black Friday of Books’ included!

Visiting Iceland in the winter cover with picture collage of waterfalls, Icelandic books, and Icelandic drinks

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Pre-Iceland Conversations

Family Member [cough…mom]: Visiting Iceland in the winter?  Are you nuts?  What bozos go to Iceland in February?

Me: Hmmm, ummm…?! It does sound a little….scary. I want to see the Aurora Borealis.  But… I don’t want to get caught in an avalanche, plummet off an icy road, get split in half by an icicle, or find myself buried alive.  Chances of those things happening are slim, right?  Right?

50% Of The Blogs That I Read: Driving in Iceland in the winter is pretty dangerous. Be prepared for snow and getting stuck.  Go in the spring or at least take day trips and bus tours from Reykjavík to stay safe. [On the news a few weeks before: Tour bus flips over in Iceland.] Or, rent a car with snow tires and 4WD.  Pack that baby with dried meat and watch the weather like you watch your bartender pouring your glass of wine.

Me: Clicks book on the airfare. I’m going to Iceland in February.  It will be FINE.  Performs Catholic sign of the cross.

Sound like any conversations that you had with others or yourself before booking a trip to Iceland in the winter?

Visiting Iceland in the winter with Svínafellsjökull glacier and snow

Don’t miss off-roading to Svínafellsjökull in southern Iceland.

Why Visit Iceland, especially in February?

What would possess anyone to tour Iceland in the winter?  For weeks, I had pre-trip nightmares of endless snowstorms, frigid temperatures, and my untimely death.  Ok, maybe I didn’t really think that I would die, but still.  I never feel anxiety before vacation.  We have traveled all over the world.  What was wrong with me.  Was I getting old?

For us, visiting Iceland in winter seemed like a good option because we hoped to find:

    • The Northern Lights
    • Fewer Crowds
    • Snow (As Floridians)
    • Cheaper Accommodations
    • Our New England winter driving skills from 8 years ago

Check, check, check, check, AND CHECK–sort of!

Visiting Iceland in the winter proved both rewarding and magical.  Picture snowy mountains painted in pink and navy blue from the sunset.  Imagine disco ball green lights flickering in the sky among thousands of tiny stars.

Visiting Iceland in the winter with Northern Lights on a camera viewfinder in Iceland

We were pretty terrible at taking pictures of the Northern Lights.

Yes, you have to exercise a particular level of caution.  However, we loved our Icelandic adventure and would not change a thing.  Don’t get me wrong: I would love to see Iceland in the spring and summer too.  I am sure the country looks completely different without the snow.


From black sand beaches and blue-capped glaciers to burger-filled breweries and quaint churches on hills, we had the time of our lives.  As a book and boozy travel blogger, I, of course, taste tested all of the Icelandic books and soul-warming beverages along the way.

Find our Icelandic travel itineraries, book lists, and drinks along with a few fun facts about the land of fire and ice.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach In Iceland

Reynisfjara is one of many black sand beaches in Iceland.

Visiting Iceland In The Winter

Road Tripping Across South Iceland 

With only 7 days to travel across southern Iceland, we decided to road trip along the following route:

Reykjavík > Hella > Vík > Jökulsárlón > Reykjavík

South Iceland Itineraries pin with Icelandic pictures of churches, waterfalls, and horses

Click above for one road trip itinerary that you can take across southern Iceland.

Southern Icelandic Sightseeing Spots You Don’t Want To Miss

The Golden Circle

The waterfalls of Ring Road

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Blue Lagoon Spa or smaller geothermal springs

Icelandic cities including Reykjavík, Selfoss, and Vík

Check out our complete 7-Days in Iceland road trip itinerary.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall on Ring Road Iceland

Seljalandsfoss located off of southern Ring Road.

A Few Reykjavík Musts:

Eating an Icelandic hotdog

Snapping a scenic picture at the beautifully simple Sun Voyager

Heading to the top of Hallgrímskirkja

Visiting a world-class museum for a planetarium show and ice cave simulation at the Perlan

Walking around downtown for an urban art tour

Peeking into Harpa concert hall for some prism pictures

Nibbling on fresh fish at any downtown restaurant

Visiting one of the local breweries or distilleries

Blushing and staring wide-eyed at a whale penis at the Iceland Phallological Museum

Want more?  This itinerary for 24 hours in Reykjavik has it all.

Iceland Sun Voyager metal sculpture of ship in Reykjavik

The Sun Voyager in Reykjavík.

Recommendations For Where To Stay In Southern Iceland

Reykjavík Accommodations
Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel lobby and bar with tables

The Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel bar and restaurant perfect for tapas and beer.

Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel

A 4-star hotel located in the heart of Reykjavík, we loved their eco-friendly rooms.  Perks: Our window overlooked Mount Esja, and we enjoyed a charcuterie board with local Icelandic brews at night.  My favorite amenities included a healthy and food-intolerance-friendly breakfast along with a souvenir water bottle for our Icelandic trip.  We could easily walk within a mile of everything from here.

Window view from Fosshotel of the city of Reykjavik

The first-class view of Reykjavík from the Fosshotel.

Fosshotel Reykjavík

We stayed at this gorgeous 4-star business hotel for our flight home.  Almost as high as Hallgrímskirkja, we could see all of Reykjavík from our room.  With clean and modern accommodations, we had everything that we could possibly need plus so much more.  I loved the big soaking tub and fuzzy bathrobes.

The only drawbacks included finding free parking versus the expensive garage and a lengthy breakfast buffet line on the weekend.  This hotel vibrates and buzzes with over 300 rooms.

Southern Ring Road Accommodations
Visiting Iceland in the winter with Hotel Selid Hotel mountain view in Hella and snow

The parking lot and hotel room view of our beautiful stay at Hotel Selid in Hella.

Hotel Selid

Hella is an incredibly small town full of rainbows, sheep, and horses.  Largely untouched, this is the perfect location for Northern Light spying.  Hella is also close to the Golden Circle, Vík, and southern Ring Road waterfalls.

We loved our night at the small farm of Hotel Selid.  With only 8 rooms, you couldn’t ask for a more personalized B&B-like experience.  Rooms are simple and sweet with mountain views, and they serve a small menu for each meal.

We had many travelers boast of Hotel Ranga, too, if you are looking for a luxury experience.

If you are visiting Iceland in the winter, know that these back roads require 4WD.

Icelandair Hotel Vik Lobby with large picture window and cafe

Icelandair Hotel Vík

Having traveled in on Icelandair, we definitely wanted to experience one of their hotels.  Granted, this is a chain hotel, but we loved it.  We received amazing service, traveling tips, and the best Icelandic drinks.  We appreciated the nightly call, ‘Aurora’ and that you could see the Northern Lights from room windows.  Clean and cozy, I am pretty sure the bathroom floor heated up.  We watched birds cuddle up in the cliff outside our picture window.

As a town, Vík offers tavern dining, a quick drive to the black sand beaches, and a local brewery.

Dyrhólaey Nature Preserve black sand beach and water

Views of the black sand beaches from Dyrhólaey Nature Preserve.

Get To Know Iceland Before You Go

Getting Intimate With Iceland Through Icelandic Literature

As a literary blogger, I had to research Iceland’s bookish history.  We all know the Vikings are famous for beer and mead.  What about books?

A Brief Icelandic Literary History Tour

Let’s face it: The Vikings did not always write down stories, but they did have a strong oral history tradition.

In effect, many say that Icelandic literature started with The Sagas of the Icelanders, a largely anonymous compilation of stories from Icelandic settlers.  Deemed as both historical yet fictional tales, the Sagas are loosely based on truths.

P.S. The Sagas are on my to-read list. Full disclosure: I am no Icelandic lit expert.

There are quite a few gaps or lack of Iceland literary successes until Halldór Laxness won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1955.  As of 2019, he remains Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate.  Angsty and bold, his books usually hit a nerve, especially as he wrote about Iceland’s social nuances.  He also almost became a Catholic monk and published over 60 works in his time. His home is a stop that we sadly missed on our tour of the Golden Circle at Gljúfrasteinn.

Visiting Iceland in the winter brown Icelandic horse

We didn’t see any award-winning writers’ homes on the Golden Circle, but we did see some infamously beautiful horses.

With Iceland now on the literary map, a new tradition burst into existence.

Jolabokaflod, Iceland’s Yule or Christmas Book Flood

Like America, Iceland has a Black Friday too.  However, I can get down with Iceland’s bookish traditions more than I appreciate a heavily discounted TV and stampede for molesting Elmo.

Iceland celebrates Jolabokaflod, which is their “Book Flood” tradition.  A quick summary: People purchase ALL the books for themselves and each other.

How did this Icelandic book tradition start?

As with most histories, countries suffered economic depressions.  Iceland fared no better.  During WWII, books remained the one import that Icelanders could still obtain for cheap–and no, not to burn for warmth.   Because people could afford books, guess what everyone got for Christmas?  Nothing. No; just kidding!  BOOKS!  My ideal gift.

The book gift-giving tradition stuck, and today, Icelanders await the free Bokatidindi book catalog that marks the beginning of the Book Flood, usually in early fall.  Having to pay a high fee for my ALA membership and book catalogs, I’m pretty jealous right about now.  Hence, fall becomes a publisher’s dream season.

So, when are we moving to Iceland?

A Few Other Icelandic Bookish Facts:
  • Reykjavík is a designated UNESCO City of Literature site.
  • Reading in Iceland is literally considered a national sport.
  • According to BBC and NPR, one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.
  • Iceland TV show, Kiljan, dedicated all their segments entirely to books.

We are moving to Iceland now, right?

Books To Spark Your Icelandic Wanderlust

Before and after I travel to a country, I love to read both fiction and nonfiction titles related to a destination.  For Iceland, I wanted to feel the chill of the mountains, understand expat life, and learn a little more about the country’s history.  With Iceland’s growing literary fame, I had no trouble finding a plethora of Icelandic novels.

Books set in Iceland Pinterest pin with 10 icelandic novel covers and picture from Iceland

Click on the image for complete Icelandic book reviews.

A few infamously popular books set in Iceland include:

  • The Sagas of Icelanders (Anon)
  • Angels of the Universe by Einar Már Guðmundsson
  • Stone Tree by Gyrðir Eliasson
  • 101 Reykjavík by Hallgrímur Helgason 
  • The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrímur Helgason
  • The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  • The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness
  • Independent People by Halldór Laxness
  • Iceland’s Bell by Halldór Laxness
  • LoveStar by Andri Snaer Magnason
  • Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss
  • Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
  • The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
  • The Pets by Bragi Ólafsson
  • I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
  • Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón
  • The Blue Fox by Sjón
  • The Whispering Muse by Sjón
  • From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón
  • The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

I wish I had time to read them all.  However, I did peruse quite a few titles with some help. Check out these mini book reviews of TUL’s favorite Icelandic books.

Visiting Iceland In The Winter: Warming Up With Booze

Ok, so it is a myth that consuming booze warms you up.  I think we all know that technically alcohol thins your blood.  But I won’t tell. Drinking in Iceland definitely fired up my soul.

Most unique to Iceland’s boozy history is that you could not legally drink beer in Iceland until 1989.  1989!!!  Guys, this is supposed to be one of the happiest and healthiest countries in the world.  How could you be happy without beer for that long?

From 1915-1989, Iceland sat in a testy Prohibition period.  Over time, the country slowly integrated wine and spirits back into everyday life.  Today, visitors can find a growing abundance of breweries and liquors to try.

Boozy Iceland pin cover with alcoholic Icelandic drinks and famous Iceland sites

Click above for the full story on drinking in Iceland.

Icelandic Alcoholic Beverages Not To Miss


Víking Beer

Flóki Whiskey


Blueberry Liqueur

South Iceland Breweries and Distilleries To Visit

Smiðjan Brugghús – Vík

Ölvisholt Brugghús – Selfoss

RVK Brewing – Reykjavík

Eimverk Distillery – Reykjavík

Are you ready for your Icelandic vacation? Thinking about visiting Iceland in the winter?

I hope this literary, boozy, and sightseeing guide helps you better plan your south Iceland road trip.  While we road tripped across southern Iceland in February, you can find all of the above information year-round too.  Visiting Iceland in the winter, though, can be extremely rewarding, especially for a dance with the Northern Lights.

I never pick a favorite country, but Iceland may just be right up there.

Looking For More Articles About Visiting Iceland? Check Out These:

Outside of the Blue Lagoon In Iceland with blue water Car driving on an icy road while visiting Iceland in the winter

One Day In Reykjavik, Iceland

Southern Iceland Waterfalls Related Post