The upstairs lounge and bar at Hotel Rangá filled with cozy armchairs and wood accents.

Iceland in Winter

What is there even to do in the freezing Icelandic winter? Sipping on coffee at Hótel Rangá’s upstairs bar, Sigga Fríða of Southcoast Adventure barely knows where to begin. After all, nature doesn’t hibernate, it simply changes forms.

“With the right attitude and the right shoes, you can do anything during winter in Iceland!” Sigga says. With the right guides at your side, she says, you can have adventures in any weather.

“One thing that comes to mind right now is going into Þórsmörk and then adding a snowmobile trip. You see Eyjafjallajökull glacier when you enter the valley, take walks in the untouched nature, feel the adrenaline as you cross the rivers, hear stories of elves and then to top it all off you go to the top of Eyjafjallajökull on the snowmobile.”

Eyjafjallajökull glacier-volcano covered in snow during winter in Iceland.
Eyjafjallajökull glacier-volcano during winter in Iceland.

Iceland in Winter: Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010

Eyjafjallajökull, the volcanic glacier with the big name that tripped up news anchors around the world when it stopped air traffic throughout Europe in 2010, offers a breathtaking view of the highlands, the coastline and the Westman Islands.

South Coast Adventure, offers jeep and snowmobile tours on the glacier year-round and they can even be made kid friendly with spoon sleds.

“Of course, we build a snowman and then we play a very popular game. We throw snowballs at the guide,” Sigga laughs. “The atmosphere of the trip all depends on the group’s wishes.”


Enjoying the weather

Another tour operator on Iceland’s south coast is Midgard Adventure. Their CEO, Björg Árnadóttir, says they offer all the same excursions during the winter. However, they do them a bit differently. Less daylight means that people should pack fewer activities into each day. Instead, she suggests they try to enjoy the uncertainty of winter in Iceland.

“To me, this is what the Icelandic winter is all about,” Björg says. “The land can be covered in fresh untouched snow, and everything will feel so calm and then the next minute you are standing in a snowstorm.”

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Iceland in Winter: The Þórsmörk valley

Björg herself is not one to shy away from the challenges of winter in Iceland. For her 50th birthday she invited over 100 friends to join her in Þórsmörk, in the middle of February no less, for a two day celebration.

“We danced under the northern lights!” she says. “Then we woke everyone up the next day and drove up to Eyjafjallajökull glacier the following morning, hiking the last 100 meters and toasted in champagne at the top.”

While this sounds like a bucket list moment, Björg says people should focus less on hitting all the typical tourist spots, like the glacier, Skógafoss and Geysir and take the time to enjoy the little moments. After all, there’s beauty everywhere you turn.

A river winds through the Þórsmörk Valley with mountains on either side.
The Þórsmörk valley is an incredibly beautiful nature reserve in south Iceland.

Explore Iceland’s south Coast

For winter, she recommends planning short day tours. Midgard Adventure offers a service where they pick travelers up at the airport, and take them around the lava fields of the Reykjanes peninsula or into the city for a day of culture. Björg says it’s perfect to end such a day in the Hotel Rangá hot tubs and then use the next morning to explore the south coast – seeing frozen waterfalls and stopping for hot cocoa in places such as the Old Cowhouse.

The icy mountains offer a spectacular view of clear days, and while Midgard Adventure offers thrilling activities such as ice climbing and ice caving, Björg says they should be paired with a bit of relaxation.

People walking through a glittering ice cave in south Iceland.
Ice climbing and ice cave tours are excellent winter activities.

“There’s indulgence in not having to rush everywhere. There are fewer people around, and you have to adapt to the weather a lot more. Sitting at Hotel Rangá with a good book, listening to the storm outside is magical. But maybe you still want to go out and feel it on your skin. If you wear the right clothes, you might also be able to experience the storm.”

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