When’s The Best Time To Visit Iceland

Why Iceland? That is the number one question we got asked by all of our friends and family. Our response…. WHY NOT? Northern Lights, Ice Caves, Diamond Beach, Blue Lagoon… shall I go on? I woke up on a November day and saw flights were the lowest I have ever seen them. Lets just say it costs more to go to Hawaii. I then went into a deep dive on when’s the best time to visit Iceland, and it said January to March. I thought when asking Dustin he would roll his eyes and immediately say no, but to my surprise he said “BOOK IT!” without any hesitation!!! 2 months later and there we were in Iceland! 

We chose to go in February for a few reasons; less crowded, Northern Lights, and ice caves. You actually can only see the northern lights or ice caves during the winter months. One option would have been to rent a car and TRY to drive the south coast. Being from California, there is no snow around us… EVER… so we aren’t familiar with driving in the snow. The road conditions were ridiculous, we probably would have died!! Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but we definitely would have been one of the MANY cars we saw stuck in the snow on the side of the road.

Instead we decided to stay in the main city of Reykjavik and book day trips. A little more costly, but well worth it! We learned so much more from our tour guides then we could have learned ourselves and still got to see everything we wanted to!

Day 1: Blue Lagoon & Northern Lights

Blue Lagoon

Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon. We took a bus from the airport straight there and  we were one of the first groups to arrive! We got there at 8am, and sunrise wasn’t until 10:20am… It was an amazing experience and pretty romantic, to be in the lagoon when it was dark and so quiet, watching the sunrise together . Also, it is wayyy less crowded when they first open and when it is still dark outside, making it a little more peaceful and relaxing!

As a photographer, I was so excited to capture that typical ‘Blue Lagoon’ picture. I wasn’t going to bring my professional camera into the lagoon, and I didn’t even think of buying a waterproof camera…so we had to resort to our phones and GoPro. You’ll want to pick up a waterproof pouch for your phone. We bought ours on Amazon but forgot to bring them… so I had to hold my phone, hoping i wouldn’t drop and lose it. The 102* water is not clear at all due to high percentage of silica, algae, and salt.

We spent a total of 3 hours at the lagoon. You would think 3 hours in such a beautiful relaxing place isn’t enough time! But as 11am came around, there were SOOOO many people! It made it less enjoyable and definitely not as relaxing! It was time to leave.

After our long flight and relaxing morning in the Blue Lagoon we were ready for a nap before our late night northern lights tour. We checked in at the Sandhotel, a reasonably priced and beautifully styled hotel with a kitchenette and everything!

Before getting picked up for our Northern Lights tour, we grabbed dinner at The Chuck Norris Grill located right next to our hotel. We shared one of the best burgers we have had in a while and laughed at the chuck Norris humor posted on the walls! “Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo is hiding”.

Northern Lights

There are many Northern Lights Tours to choose from and I am not recommending, I am TELLING you, booking a Super Jeep tour is a must! Yes, it is more expensive, but you will not regret it. We passed many tour buses stopped at the side of the road, as we ventured passed them, off roading right under the Northern Lights. I can PROMISE you, had we been on one of the tour buses, we would not have seen the Northern Lights like we saw them through the Super Jeep tour.

If you dont know, the Northern Lights don’t actually look in person as they do in pictures. But it is still an amazing sight to see! To get a good picture of the Northern lights, your camera needs to have manual mode, and you really need a tripod. Some tour groups take a picture for you using their camera and will send you a link to the gallery. We preferred our pictures over those our tour company took. Johnny, our tour guide, was awesome and helped verify my settings and pushed the shutter for us!

Overall we had the BEST night viewing the Northern Lights, I am not kidding! All the super jeep drivers were so excited! They said it was the best night they had seen in months!!! Boy were we lucky!

Day 2: The Golden Circle & Snowmobiling

For our second day, we wanted to visit the Golden Circle which includes some of Icelands most iconic sites; Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss waterfall. I’m pretty sure this was our coldest day. You will see Dustin’s eyelashes are frozen in a few images!

Thingvellir National Park

It is a beautiful park with so much natural beauty and heritage. There is so much history here, most importantly it is where the country ended their pagan belief and adopted christianity. It was a scenic walk that offered many vista view points. This is also home to the Silfra Techtonic Plates where you can actually scuba dive between the continental divide. We chose to not do this but looking back I think it would have been an amazing experience… for Dustin to do.

 

Geysir

Next we headed to the Geysir. I kept looking for the name of the Geysir, but thats it…Geysir! Unlike the famous geyser in Yellowstone, Wyoming, this one erupts every couple of minutes. We got many shows and you can actually see it from all the angles, walking all the way around it!

 

Snowmobiling

Dustin and I thought since we ride ATV often, that snowmobiling would be easy….and oh were we wrong! When Dustin drove the snowmobile the second half of our tour, I swear I felt like I was going to fly off the entire time!! He was having so much fun driving crazy and freaking me out. Such a loving husband right?! Haha, other then that, it was amazing and a blast! It felt like a MUST to snowmobile on a Glacier in Iceland, and I would highly recommend adding it to your itinerary. It was an exhilarating experience!!

 

Gulfoss Waterfall

Also known as the “Golden Falls”, Gulfoss is an incredible waterfall, different than any I have ever seen. This one has three levels. Although it is mostly frozen, it was amazing to see how the water trickled down behind the frozen parts of the waterfall.

 

Day 3: 2-Day South Coast Tour (Day 1)

For the next two days we joined an 20 person big van, and we would be with the same group the entire two days… Although this might sound scary to some, we actually really enjoyed this tour. We not only learned so much history from our tour guide Hilmar, but we also met so many people from all over the world and even made some friends that we still keep in contact with to this day!

We booked our tour through Extreme Iceland and couldn’t have had a better experience. 3 reasons we picked this tour were the Ice Caves, Diamond Beach, and the Black Sand Beach. You can’t see the ice caves in the summer, so this was another big draw for us to visit in the winter.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

First stop was the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (don’t worry we don’t know how to pronounce it either). There wasn’t as much water falling because it was partially frozen over, but it was still a fun first stop on this tour. In the summer you can actually walk behind the falls, and I hear it’s incredible! But in the winter they rope it off, so we missed out on that part. but there is a cute little (frozen) wooden bridge along the walkway, and I managed to stay up on my feet!

Skogafoss Waterfall

This was such a fun stop full of laughs and amazement. Not only is this such a massive and truly jaw dropping waterfall but you can actually walk right up to it if you wanted! There are no barriers stopping you, but I would be very impressed if you could get close to it in the winter. We were cracking up as we were slipping and sliding and falling all over the place.

The ground was completely frozen over, like an ice skating rink!! We had to move at turtle speed, no joke, just to get as close as we did. This is probably the best place to people watch because everyone around us was struggling and just having a good time!

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

First of all let me start by saying this beach has been named several times as one of the top ten most stunning beaches in the world!  This isn’t your typical “let’s take a dip in the water” beach, there were many warnings to steer clear of the water as it can drag you in. What makes this such an incredible location is the unique black sand and basalt stacks. 

We enjoyed strolling this beach, watching the waves crashing against the sand, and exploring all the natural beauty of the cliffs. As we waited to head to our next stop, we ate lunch at the café that overlooks the beach.

Vikurkirkja – Vîk

Sitting next to the active volcano Katla and the black sand beach lies the small little town of Vîk. Vîk is the southern most village in Iceland with a population of 300 people!! To put hat in perspective, thats less then the population in my neighborhood! When you look up a picture of Vîk what you will most likely see is this little white church with a red roof.

Vikurkirkja church dates back to 1929 and is the main attraction. It sits high up on a mountain overlooking the town with a viewpoint offering a glimpse of old Iceland, and still functions as a church to this day.

Skei∂ará Bridge Monument

Last and final stop of the day before reaching our hotel was to the Skei∂ará Bridge Monument. It was once the longest bridge in Iceland, carrying drivers over the plain of black volcanic sand. This bridge was destroyed when the Vatnajökull volcano erupted beneath the Skei∂arárjökull Glacier causing mass floods with house-sized icebergs washing down the plain which crashed into the bridge. What remains is now covered in graffiti, but is still an amazing site to see. It is surrounded by nothing but white snow for dayyysss!

Included in the tour is a nights stay at one of two hotels working with the tour company. For our group, we stayed at Hotel Hof. This is a cute little hotel next to a mountain that to our luck had been renovated recently. As we were about to head off to bed, Dustin and I decided to explore outside to see if we could spot the Northern Lights.

It was incredibly overcast all day and we were not expecting to see them. I noticed a glow beyond the mountain side and told Dustin to take a picture over that way…and there they were! We found them! And though this was not as good of a show as our Northern Lights tour, it was still so much fun being able to spot them ourselves! 

 

Day 4: 2 – Day South Coast Tour (Day 2)

Diamond Beach

First stop was to Diamond Beach. It was a little confusing at first because the parking lot to the Ice Caves, Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is all the same. We had 1 hour before the ice caves to explore so we chose to head to Diamond beach.

On this beach there were HUGE Icebergs!! It was fun climbing all over them. I took a risk for a photo and ended up getting my feet soaked. Yep thats right, beginning of the day with no way of getting to my luggage, stuck in zero degree weather with wet feet…learn from my mistake and maybe carry spare socks with you just in case! 

 

Vatnajökull Glacier – Ice Caves

This is what we had been waiting for! It was soooo incredible! We first had to take about an hour drive on the Vatnajökull  glacier (Europe’s biggest glacier) to get to the ice caves. This wasn’t your typical drive…we were off roading in the snow, barely able to see the road, it was so fun! The ice caves exceeded our expectations. The first cave we went to was not the blue ice you would expect and that you see in pictures, but it was still just as beautiful.

The second Ice Cave we went to was open to the sky and the ice was OH SO BLUE!! This was my favorite!

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

After the Ice Caves it was time to explore the well known Lagoon. Holy Cow was this place beautiful! The farther down we walked the more icebergs we saw. The water looked like you could walk on it, it was so still, and the icebergs calmly floated around so slowly.

Skaftafell Waterfall

It was time to head back to Reykjavík. On the way back we stopped at the Skaftafell waterfall. This was a good little ‘stretch your legs’ break.

This was our fun group! We met people from Brazil, New York, Singapore, China…all over the world. This is our new favorite thing about tours.

For dinner, we stopped at a large café in Vîk which also was the areas only shopping center. You can find authentic Icelandic wool and many gifts here. After dinner later in the evening Hilmar pulled over because he had spotted the northern lights! And once again, for the fourth time this trip (if you include us seeing them on the plane) we saw the Northern Lights!

For the next two nights we stayed at the Swan House, an apartment right off of the main street.

Day 5: Reykjavik

For our last and final day we wanted to explore all of Reykjavik. To start the day after sleeping in, we headed to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the best hot dog stand in Iceland. The hot dogs here are very popular.

As we were trying to find the stand, we almost missed it. It is a small stand in the middle of city buildings. We happened to get very lucky, there was no line (this is not common), and as we were standing there eating our yummy hot dogs, a large crowd showed up, and the line was now 20+ people long! I don’t know what it is about their hotdogs, but they are sooo good!

Hallgrímskirkja

It was time to head to Hallgrímskirkja. One of the top attractions in Reykjavik is to go to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja and get a beautiful view of the city from above. Once we got to Icelands tallest church, we almost flew away. The winds were so strong!! Again, a perfect people watching experience, you could see people getting swept off their feet (no one was hurt of course). 

When the service is not in session, they open the doors to the church room. It is a beautiful sanctuary.

One thing we love doing on our travels is to try local traditional foods, in Iceland that would be shark and whale. There were only two restaurants I could find that served shark, one of them was Cafe Loki which was right next to Hallgrímskirkja. So we chose to go there for Dustin to try it (I’m a bit pickier and this was not something I cared to try).  The plate was a little pricey (27 euros) for a 5 small bites of shark with a Brennevin shot.

When it arrived at the table, the smell alone put a worried face on Dustin. Let’s just say it was not what he was expecting….luckily the shot of Brennevin helped get rid of the flavor. Although he didn’t care for it, the waitress said it was very popular.

Dustin and I always enjoy shopping the areas with unique shops, and this is how we spent the remainder of our day. There are so many shops, but I will warn you, it is not cheap! We took a break from shopping to meet up with our new friends Latha and Vinod that we had met on the 2 day south coast tour. We enjoyed a couple drinks and appetizers at the Public House Gastric Pub  before they caught their flight back home to Singapore.

For Dinner we ate at Íslenski Barinn where dustin got this amazing platter filled with lamb bacon, dried smoked lamb, marinated fin whale, and reindeer meatballs. He was so impressed with this dish, he even got me to try whale (again I am a little pick when it comes to this stuff, and no I didn’t like the whale)! To finish off the night we went to Eldur & Is for the best dessert crepes we have ever had! This was actually our second time coming here, we loved it that much.

Day 6: Heading Home

We had a couple hours before we had to leave. When researching for this trip, a recommended bakery was Brauð & Co. and they did not disappoint. They have amazing danishes but we really loved the cinnamon roll the most! Another big draw for us to come here was the building. It’s covered in art, how cool is that?

Our very last stop before heading to the airport was to see the ‘Sun Voyager’ sculpture resembling a Viking ship. It sits right on the waterfront and is just a small walk from the main downtown street.

After all that, what did we think, when is the best time to visit Iceland? VISIT ICELAND IN WINTER!! This was our first cold vacation and it has been one of our favorites! It was fun getting all geared up as if we were going into a snow blizzard just to get breakfast. Don’t let the cold scare you, it is truly an amazing experience and I highly recommend you visit!

 

 

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  1. I absolutely love this! These photos are so beautiful. I want to plan a vacation there ASAP!

    I would love to read some educational blogs from you about planning this trip, cutting costs, etc. or about shooting in different types of light/landscapes while traveling!

    • Natalie Lionbarger says:

      Thank you so much! This is my only blog on Iceland but send me an email and I can help you plan your trip!

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