Iceland is one of those places which seems to seep into your mind as a destination for a holiday, with amazing images of glaciers, mountains, hot springs and volcanoes everywhere. There is also the possibility to journey to the centre to the Earth!
We’ve been wanting to visit for a while, but have been put off by the high costs associated with visiting in summer. It turns out we’re quite cheap and don’t like big crowds, didn’t see that coming did you? The thought of visiting stayed in our heads though and then Stacey suggested we do a winter trip instead. Whilst the days are short, with sunrise around 11am and sunset around 3:30-4pm, it’s much quieter, hotel costs are half the summer season and winter brings snow and northern lights. Looking in to it a bit more, it looked possible and actually an ideal time to visit.
So we booked our flights and visited Iceland in early January 2018 for a total of 8 days. We thought about what we wanted to see and do on our trip and decided to make our way around the ring road, spending only a little time in Reykjavik and more time seeing as many of the natural sights and scenery that Iceland has to offer. As we chose to go in winter it was important to keep our plans flexible as the weather is a bit like the UK weather on steroids. The weather can change from beautiful sun to hard rain to blizzards and well sub-zero temperatures within minutes. We got all of this weather in abundance on our trip. This can and does regularly close quite a few roads, including the ring road on a relatively regular basis so we booked accommodation only a day or two in advance to allow for this.
The ring road is about 1300 km round, so 8 days really is about as short as we could do it in with reasonable comfort.
In the first of our Iceland blogs, here are some of the sights we saw:
The famous Seljalandsfoss waterfalls – The ice around the bases meant we weren’t able to walk all the way behind it, but I did put on microspikes and walked some of the way to get some pictures.
Skogafoss waterfall – amazing from the base. We walked the steep steps to the top which was pleasant but somewhat underwhelming compared to the base.
Solheimajokull Glacier – It’s unwise to go too far onto glaciers without crampons and ice axe (and trying to find a tour operator that had availability for us and a 6yo was tricky!) so we kept ourselves near the edge and our son loved his first glacier experience.
Svartifoss, Vatnakokull national park – A fairly short uphill walk to another great waterfall with basalt columns after the icy path down to it.
Jokulsarlon, the glacier lagoon – We stopped on the west side of the bridge, away from the main crowds and had timed our day to arrive just past high tide on the outgoing tide, as this is the best time to see icebergs being swept out to sea. We also got to see around 40 seals or so resting in the lagoon away from the main crowds.
Diamond Beach – We then headed to the sea side just outside the lagoon where icebergs from the lagoon wash up on the black sand beach. It is a brilliant sight and we were there after most of the tour buses had headed off, so it was relatively quiet. We had a great time through to last light wandering around the icebergs which are crystal clear, taking photos and keeping an eye on the rough sea. A few people got wet feet and one went for an accidental swim whilst we were there!
Egilsstadir – Our next day was quite a long travel day, heading round the East coast to Egilsstadir. The route was much quieter and the route has endless views of deep fjords, mountains, coasts and crashing seas. We took a small detour into Djupivogur to see some sculptures of eggs around the harbour and also found a great café by the waterfront which was really friendly, had great food, and by Iceland standards was pretty cheap. That night we stayed in a wood chalet with its own hot tub, fed continuously by a geothermal spring. We relaxed in the hot tub until quite late in the night enjoying the show that the northern lights put on for us.
Akureyri – Our next day was the best weather we got, and what a day for it. We drove through to Akureyri along empty roads through snow covered mountain scenery, getting out for walks with a trollish history and exploring geothermal vents along the way.
Siglufordur – The weather was still pretty good the next day so we decided to detour round the north cost to Siglufordur. This was spectacular with many great mountain views and some seriously long single track tunnels. I think the longest was around 10 km straight through a mountain!
Grundarforjdur – We had booked onto an Orca viewing tour but unfortunately a storm came in over the next couple of days so the tour was cancelled. We took a bit more time over the rougher sealed gravel roads to Helgafellssveit where we stayed in a cabin by a frozen lake and fed the farmers sheep.
On our last day we made our way slowly back to Reykajvik and the airport through heavy snow and blizzard conditions. The roads were perfectly passable but we were glad to get to the end of the journey.
Overall the holiday was great. We saw many of the sights in Iceland we really wanted to but it was a very busy holiday and the time we had was really the minimum amount of time that you could reasonably do it in in winter, particularly given the short days (and that was with us being lucky with the roads being clear). It was probably the most ‘adventurous’ type of holiday we’ve done to date with our son, just with booking accommodation on the go and being completely flexible with our plans. It had both me and Stacey reminiscing about our year spent travelling and wondering whether it would be doable with kids… hmmmmm
We’ve got a few more Iceland blogs in the works, including tips on winter driving there as well as the best travel apps to use so keep your eyes peeled for those or sign up to our newsletter.
If you like the look of visiting Iceland, consider visiting in winter as it is definitely quieter and has its own unique appearance and feel. Have you been before? Do feel free to share any tips, itineraries, favourite spots below for other families interested in visiting there.