Traveling Iceland in Winter

Iceland has evolved to be a premium travel destination. And being located close on the arctic circle, a rather exotic one on top. It triggers desires an phantasies … and so did it to me. But what when you ramp up the stakes? Not only exploring the Atlantic north but doing so in winter? And then go around the whole Island, mor or less around the ring road?

Starting by rather quickly leaving the Reykjavik and head east to the highway #1 counterclockwise – Here some impressions from last February.


First stop at Skogafoss that offers besides a first camp spot that’s open in winter. It’s a protected place to sit out an winter storm and besides that its reachable in about a two hour drive from Kevlavik.


We really sat out a storm, just doing groceries in Vik – which gave us the opportunity to see how quickly things change in Iceland. Heading west, turning a bit inlands you may find your first glacier.


Ten minute drive up an inlet you find the glacier lagoon of SöllheimaJökull and a small hike leading closer to the actual ice fields. evertheless keep in mind its dangerous. Little further down highway one you get off towards the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara.

Reynisfjara Beach

Always keep in mind that this is probably one of the most dangerous places in Iceland, killing tourists each year. Its probably the closest you get to the Atlantik abyss and the waves can change quickly and sneaky. On the plus side its one of the most impressive beaches you will see in a lifetime.

One last view on the mighty Volcano Katla and you head on to the city of Vik, a small village but the last settlement on a large stretch of coast. After that you pass hours through merely settled landscapes were inlets and large mossy fields of lava take turns.

This early in the year, the sun stays always quite close to the horizon and the days are still rather short.

And besides you get a glimpse what it means that fire and ice formed this island. After hours of driving you reach the Skaftafjell national park which is named along the glacier right beneath it. The impression that this is a glacier on its own is slightly wrong, since its only one outlet of the Vatnajökull, Europes largest glacier, which will be your company for a while.

But before enjoying glaciers, we had to enjoy a sunrise on the national park campsite.


The sights of glaciers go on and on and inevitably you will pass Vatnajökull Cafe … Stop there. It’s an awesome family run place with the best cake and coffee.

And by chance, always fill up your car or camper, you have no clue how long it will take till you find the next spot. Going on from the cafe you probably get lost in embracing the sheer size of the Vatnajökull. Different starting points for the one or other activity you will end up at glacier lagoon.

The parking spot at Jökulsarlon is the meeting point for many activities right on the spot and not to forget, the famous diamond beach – which was due to the weather diamondless and a good reason to return.

First hiking to the glacier we were rewarded with an impressive glacier cave.

There is little to phrase the impression and the feelings you have underneath a solid 90 feet block of ice. In Iceland glacier caves are particular dark, since layers of volcanic ash are embedded in the ice and so even less light passes through the frozen water.

Ahead from glacier lagoon lies the small town of Höfn.

With its nice harbor and some small shops and bars right next to the pier. Make sure you support yourself with everything you need since you’re up to a long stretch of east fjord driving. But before you enter that stretch of exposed rocky coast there is the Stokksnes peninsula with it iconic mountain view. And besides here we met the first of Icelands ponys really close by.

Ans after the bumpy ride and paying the toll on Stokksnes, finally the view on famous Vetrahorn.

And although probably everybody has this shot on their bucketlist, I tend to the idea that the backside is even more impressive, but under covered, because here most tourists turn around and drive back along the southern coast.

Same Vestrahorn, different view – and as always in winter a mixture of dark clouds and incredible light. That alone is one reason to travel to iceland in winter.

Along the east fjords you primarily drive along cliffs in exposed positions and enjoy light and sky and warter.

In some cases you may find observation huts.

Embedded in the ever changing environment.

Until you finally reach the small fisher town of Djupivogur – you know you are finally on some way out of this this part rocky desert.

Around here there is the first real chance to meet some of the domestic wildlife – reindeer. With some patience you really get you shot (picture) since they are really used to people and cars.

What an awesome experience.

Some fjords later you finally climb the hills and turn more inland towards Egilstadir. Perhaps you still have a increible outlook to the backside of Vatnajökul – where you spend about three days driving around.

Along comes the view over the lake Lagarfjolt which is supposed to have a monster like Loch ness. The city itself has its Ari Kaurismäki moments, such as at the gas station,

but the spooky lake grants you with other incredible impressions.

Or little down the road.

Before you turn inlands in Egilsstadir is thr only turn to take for a visit in the tiny harbor city of Seydisfjördur which is particular famous for its rainbow street and the ferry that arrives from denmark.

Anyway its a dead end road and you return to Egilsstadir and probably turn into the highlands. The roads further north are closed rather often.

And roads in the highlands are fun.

Every now and then the roads are never the less closed.

Which is not so bad, since the snow is anyway meters deep and definitely not good for our 4×4 camper. But finally you start leaving them.

And before reaching lake Myvatn there mud volcanoes from Hverir.

You may stroll between all the muddy and steamy stuff but the sulfuric acid reduces every rock to clay and perhaps one time use gum boots might be the only way to actually relax here … it is a mess. But never the less an incredible one.

Not far away you can climb the remains of the Hverfjall volcano.

Although the access way is a private road they offer a parking spot and a trail up to the crater rim. Don’t forget your crampons and expect strong winds which easily pick you off. Nevertheless a remarkable opportunity.

Along lake Myvatn the road turns further north towards the cities of Husavik and Akurjri. Not to forget that on that stretch the really wonderful Godafoss comes by.

We passed many more waterfalls, some even frozen. But when you do the round trip waterfalls are not that special in Iceland and you don’t necessarily stop. On the other hand there are some real nice ones. I nevertheless spare you too many of them.

And not to forget we found a light pollution free camp spot that rewarded us finally with really wonderful polar lights. Just to give you an impression ….

What an incredible experience. First you think only long exposure time let you see this on camera, but all of a sudden it intensifies and changes so quickly … mysterious.

And downtown Akkureri we embark on a ship.

After a hour of sailing with some nice views granted us the next incredible experience: Whales!

Large Humpback whales.

The route further north was little bit frozen and locked down so we headed more straight back west. More roads, more driving, and since we intended not to take the straight way back to Reykjavik, much less tarmac.

Which lead us to the village of Holmavik.

And the neat harbor where it’s built around.

And close to the city some resting seals.

We have seen more, but typically we had not been too close to take pictures. Finally turning straight west. Rewarded with incredible sunsets.

Turning our direction closer to Kirkjufell.

Which all of a sudden after some strange bends occurs.

And the inevitable tourist spot with another waterfall.

It’s really an iconic mountain and perhaps you are lucky and it’s not overcrowded. The real highlight for us was in the town close by, Grundafjördur. The Valeria Speciality Coffee is definitely a dive. Go there. Best coffee in iceland – and iceland has a coffee culture that is competitive. The shop is run by an columbian roaster. Simply the best.

Further down the peninsula you may end up at the Budakirkja. Its one of the more iconic islandic churches, as you doubtless notice with all the bustours stopping here.

Driving back more inlands to the fjords…

Heading to Thingvelir and the silfra gap.

The water is clear as nearly nowhere else on the planet.

And although its a wonderful natural site, it’s nevertheless of historical importance since here was the icelandic republic founded some 800 years ago. More impressions from fifteen months earlier – I don’t want to double too much.

From here we finally head back to Reykjavik and its urban luxuries and the Sun Voyager…

and the Hallgrims Kirkja.

Doing some sightseeing along the Reykjaness Peninsula and finally after 3200 kms flying back home. The ones that payed attention, may have noticed that we camped in winter.

This was definitely an adventure and a little bit of an effort. On the other hand not so much effort that you may not give it a try. I will elaborate in another post about the do’s and dont’s and how to manage the specifics of a journey like this. Probably its the most affordable way to experience this wonderful country.

Kyp. F.

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