Iceland winter self drive trip
Even though most tourists visit Iceland in the summer, Iceland’s winters present a buffet of lights and colours! Because very few people visit in this season, you’ll have a wild ice covered terrain to yourself. Go for hikes on foot, with snowshoes, skis or even sleds to discover the splendour of Iceland’s geothermic and volcanic manifestations. Under the snow, their contrasts become even more fascinating. You are at the heart of Iceland, far from everything.
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Iceland has a temperate oceanic climate, that shields it from the northern influence of the Arctic currents. Thus, winter in Iceland is not as harsh as it looks when it comes down to it, and the average temperatures are hardly ever below -5°C (23 degrees F), with the exception of the interior of Iceland’s territory whose temperatures can drop to -20 °C (-4 degrees F). The winter nights are long, making this an ideal time to observe the night sky and take in its splendid northern lights. Veils of light composed of millions of green, blue, red and yellow specks, this natural light show begins in September and ends in March. In the day, the sun pops out for a couple of hours showering Iceland in an oblique light that seems more like a long twilight than a sunny day.
As in every northern country, travelling in the winter in Iceland you must consider the length of the days, the average temperatures and the amount of precipitation while organizing your trip. On that note, here is some information and advice that you are sure to find useful:
Iceland’s climate is characterized by sudden changes in weather and temperature. The constant struggle between Greenland’s polar gusts from the north and the hot and humid winds pushed up from the tropics are responsible for its unpredictable nature. In fact, there is an Icelandic proverb that sums this up nicely; “if you don’t like the weather, just wait around five minutes”! For travelling, this means that you should pack wind-breakers, wool sweaters, normal winter attire and of course a bathing suit, to forget about the harshness of winter while soaking in one of Iceland’s innumerable hot springs! Le wind, culprit behind the quickly changing elements, blows hard and often prompts snow and sand storms in Iceland’s interior. Finally, know that while in the northern regions it is often colder, the climate is more humid and temperate in the south.
In December and January, the days get shorter and shorter. Daybreak is around 11:00 in the morning and dusk around 16:45 in the afternoon. It generally pretty snowy everywhere and the average temperature is from -2°C to +2°C (28.4-35.6 degrees F). By February and March, the sun is often shining and the roads begin to become driveable again. The average temperatures now are from -2°C to +4°C (28.4 -39.4 degrees F), with peaks of up to 6°C (42.8). Keep in mind, however, that the wind remains strong, and the humidity in the air can make the air feel colder than it really is. In February daylight goes from 10:00 to 17:30, while March boasts the longest days in winter from 8:30 to 19:00.
During this time of year, since many roads are closed due to snow, the best way to get around Iceland is on the route 1 that goes around the island, and will give you a glimpse of all of Iceland’s dazzling winter landscapes.
In the heart of winter we especially recommend driving along the southern coast of Iceland to the feet of the Vatnajokull glacier. Donning its winter coat, its lagoon is full of icebergs, while its frozen waterfalls and lakes surround you. If you intend to travel north, know that the roads will be snowy making conditions difficult. But if you are in a four wheel drive vehicle and are consulting meteorological reports, you should manage just fine. Finally, for a short break we would recommend visiting Reykjavik’s surroundings, especially Iceland’s famous golden circle, the Snæfellsness peninsula and the Reykjanes peninsula.