Top 10 things to do in Iceland in winter

The Aurora Borealis is a magnificent natural phenomenon that’s a must see in Iceland. Those magical streaks of light on a clear night sky in the Northern Hemisphere can only be seen during the winter months, or from around October to February.

Northern lights mountain & highway
1. Hunt for the Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis is a magnificent natural phenomenon that’s a must see in Iceland. Those magical streaks of light on a clear night sky in the Northern Hemisphere can only be seen during the winter months, or from around October to February. Actually,the colder the temperature, the more likely you are to spot them.  Remember that you need a clear sky to witness them, the right conditions (visit to check solar activity) and also remember that there’s no way to predict at what time in the evening they will appear. The best way to see the Aurora is away from the bright lights of the city. In the countryside of Iceland you can simply step outside your hotel and look up to the sky.  If you are staying in Reykjavik you can hop on a coach to join one of the many Northern Lights tours you can take from our hotels. Keep your eyes towards the skies though, you could be lucky enough to be standing on a city pavement and see them soaring right above you. 

Northern Lights can be spotted, if you’re lucky, from all our hotels.

Peace Tower In Reykjavik (1)
2. Check out the Yoko Ono Peace Tower

The Imagine Peace Tower – an outdoor artwork by Yoko Ono – was erected on Viðey island in 2007 in honour of John Lennon’s memory. It is lit every year on October 9th, and it illuminates the sky until December 8, the date he was assassinated in 1980. The tower symbolises Lennon and Ono’s fight for peace. On the tower, the words “Imagine peace” are written in 24 languages. You can see the bright beam pointing towards the sky from most parts of Reykjavik but if you want a closer look, take a picturesque 30 minute ride on the ferry to Viðey island which has a unique place in Icelandic history. The combination of stunning views, historical ruins, and contemporary art pieces make Viðey island a special place to visit.

The Yoko Ono Peace Tower is easily accessible from all our hotels in Reykjavik.

Icecaves in Langjokull glacier
3. Venture into the Ice Cave on Langjökull glacier

The world’s first and longest man made ice cap glacier ice cave is in Langjökull glacier, West Iceland. The ice cave, or more precisely, tunnel, is 800 metres long and reaches down into the glacier at a depth of 30 metres. It's located on the vast glacial landscapes of Langjökull where 953 square kilometres of ice stretch as  far as the eye can see. As you stand on this plateau on top of the glacier some 1,450 m (4,760 ft) above sea level, the ice beneath you is up to 580 m (1,900 ft) thick. To get to the ice cave, you have to drive to the scenic Húsafell in west Iceland, a spot popular with vacationing Icelanders due its location between mountains and glacier which produces a sheltered, woodland environment.  From there you will be able to board an impressive 8-wheel-drive glacial super truck, which is quite an experience.  Once inside the glacier you will see the carved walls of blue ice.  LED lit walls inside the tunnel will take you to a variety of chambers containing exhibitions, a café and event room.

Recommended stay Fosshotel Reykholt

4. Visit Reykholt for a glimpse into Iceland’s historic past

The historic site of Reykholt is renowned for its beauty, historical richness and wealth of geothermal activity.  Reykholt was the home of Snorri Sturluson, a chieftain, historian and writer whose most famous works are the Prose Edda, an account of Old Norse Mythology and Heimskringla, an account of Norwegian Kings of the middle ages.  Snorri was assassinated in his home at Reykholt in 1241 and in Reykholt you can still visit one of Iceland’s oldest structures, Snorri’s own geothermal pool carved out of stone. There are plenty of things to see around Reykholt including the gorgeous waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss and Deildartunguhver, the highest flowing hot spring in Europe. At the springs you can soak in the relaxing waters of Krauma geothermal baths and if you are staying at Fosshótel Reykholt you can enjoy its brand new geothermal spa complete with outdoor hot and cold tubs, sauna, steam bath and relaxation room.

Recommended stay Fosshótel Reykholt

GeoSea in Húsavík
5. Head to Húsavík for whale watching and the GeoSea

Húsavík, the” bay of houses,” is a pretty coastal town in the remote North of Iceland, less than an hour away by flight.  Driving there from Reykjavík takes around nine hours and from Akureyri it’s approximately one hour’s drive. Legend has it that the first ever home built in Iceland was that of Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarsson in the year 860. Húsavík is conveniently located for day trips to most of the major attractions in Iceland and is the starting point of the popular Diamond Circle. Húsavík is also known as the town of whales, its main attraction being whale watching, as the likelihood of seeing various whale species, including the biggest whales such as blue whales, fin whales and humpback whales is great in the area, much more so than in South Iceland. A visit to the Húsavík GeoSea is a truly unforgettable experience.  The water is warm and inviting, steam rises up to blend with the skyline and as you relax in the pool you can enjoy the magnificent mountains and ocean all around. It’s easy spending an entire afternoon here and as the sun starts to lower on the horizon, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy locally brewed Húsavík beer or fruit juice from the pool bar.

Recommended stay Fosshótel Húsavík 

6. Journey to the Centre of the Earth: Magical Snæfellsnes peninsula

Snæfellsnes Peninsula is renowned for its beautiful nature and charming villages. There are plenty of things to see and do there, either as a day trip from Reykjavik or staying for a couple of days. Fishing has been a vital part of the economy of Snæfellsnes for hundreds of years, and the towns of the area are all charming fishing villages. Small houses gathered around a church, surrounded by mountains. Stykkishólmur is one of Iceland’s picturesque villages with a stunning setting on the ocean framed by cliffs, ocean, small islands and hovering sea birds. One of Iceland’s landmarks, Mount Kirkjufell is located by the pretty town of Grundarfjörður and is probably the most photographed place in the whole of Iceland.  Competing in fame is Snæfellsjökull glacier which you’ll spot from most places on the peninsula, an extinct volcano topped with a glacier that inspired novels by both Jules Verne - Journey to the Centre of the Earth  and Halldór Laxness’ Under the Glacier. Finally, among the myriad of things to see in Snæfellsnes are the villages of Hellnar and Arnarstapi.  Arnarstapi is a very small village that used to be an important trading post, and much bigger than it is now. The pier, and all of the coastline around the village is almost decorated with stunning rock formations of columnar basalt. There’s a really nice hike along the coastline between Arnarstapi and Hellnar.

Recommended stay in Snæfellsnes Fosshotel Hellnar and Fosshotel Stykkishólmur

Sky Lagoon
7. Soak in the stunning Sky Lagoon

The Sky Lagoon opened in 2021 in the suburb of Kópavogur, only a 15 minute drive from Reykjavik city centre. It’s an immersive swim and thermal spa experience beautifully landscaped in between cliffs with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean and mountain range. It’s an impressive homage to Icelandic bathing culture featuring ultra cool modern Nordic design that gives a nod to the old turf houses of Iceland. Guests (take note that the lagoon is only for children aged 12 and upwards) have a choice of different packages with the main difference being in the changing facilities. The Sky Pass include lagoon admission and access to a special  seven-step Sky Lagoon ‘Ritual’, which includes a face scrub, sauna, steam-bath and body oil. The more expensive Sky Package includes private changing rooms with use of Sky Lagoon's premium hair- and skincare amenities. The sauna at the lagoon is worth a visit in itself with its amazing views. Swim up to the in-water bar for drinks or enjoy a meal or snacks at the stylish café once you’re out of the water.  Be prepared though for a lot of people taking selfies, even in the water.

The Sky Lagoon is easily accessible from all our hotels in Reykjavik.

Reykjavík City Centre
8. Wander around Reykjavik’s old centre

Do you have an afternoon to spend in Reykjavik? The old city centre and harbour are easily navigated on foot, just make sure that you’re dressed for the snow, rain or cold during the winter months! You can start off at Hallgrímskirkja church, Reykjavik’s most famous landmark which soars some 70 metres into the sky on top of a hill called Skólavörðuholt. The building, built in honour of 17th century poet and minister Hallgrimur Pétursson is built in a gothic revival style with a minimalist Lutheran style interior.  You can visit the church and go up to the bell tower to catch stunning views of the city. Leading down from Hallgrímskirkja church you’ll find Skólavörðustígur, the rainbow street, painted in support of the LGBT community. There are plenty of shops, cafés and bars on this charming street and also on adjacent Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street. For downtown museums, head to the Reykjavik Art Museum, The National Gallery, The Settlement Museum and of course, the Phallological Museum, possibly the only one of its kind in the world! At the heart of the city centre lies the Town Hall, Parliament and the beautiful Lake Tjörnin where you’ll see swans and ducks and close by you’ll find the old harbour with restaurants and cafés.  No trip around Reykjavik is complete without a dip into one of several geothermal swimming pools, beloved by locals. Just make sure that you observe the strict rules of hygiene beforehand.

Reykjavik city centre is easily accessible from all our hotels in Reykjavik.

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
9. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

The South-East coast of Iceland remains one of the most popular routes for visitors to the country.  Offering sights such as the waterfalls Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, the famous black beaches at Reynisfjara, the incredible basalt rock pillars at Dyrhólaey, Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, the vast vistas of Skaftafell National Park and of course Vatnajökull glacier.The famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland is close to highway number one, about 370 km (230 miles) east from Reykjavík and it is said to be one of the greatest wonders of nature in Iceland. This lagoon is in fact a recent one, the result of a warming climate. The surface is at sea level and seawater flows into the lagoon at high tide. Huge blocks of ice constantly break off the glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, and large icebergs float on the lagoon. The lagoon is not very wide but it is up to 250 metres deep which makes it the deepest lake in Iceland. Breiðamerkurjökull is an outlet of the Vatnajökull glacier. The company operating the lagoon offers tours on the lagoon itself on amphibious vehicles. For the ultimate in style, stay at Fosshótel Glacial Lagoon. It's located just off the number one road some 29 km from the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and 27 km from the picturesque Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park. This contemporary building reflects the hues of the surrounding nature, in grey stone and clad in wood and is constructed in accordance with ecological policies. The interiors are beautifully chic with dark walls and cool sixties' style lighting lending it a kind of James Bond flair and of course there’s an equally stylish restaurant.

Recommended stay Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

New Year’s Eve in downtown Reykjavík
10. Celebrate Christmas or the New Year, Icelandic style!

Christmas and New Year’s Eve and the festive season before and in between is thoroughly celebrated in Iceland. Perhaps it’s because December is the darkest month of the year, with only around three hours of sunlight that Icelanders like to cosy up with candles, go wild on decorations and even wilder on partying!  If you’re in Reykjavik you’ll enjoy the pretty decorations and lights that bring a wonderful magic to the downtown area. Go late-night shopping and sit down at a café for a warming cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate. Check out the various Christmas markets and the ice-skating rink on Ingólfstorg and see if you spot any of the Thirteen different Yule lads- Iceland’s version of Santa Claus while you’re at it!  At the heart of the city you’ll also see the huge and menacing Yule cat in a decorative form - an evil child-eating cat from Icelandic Christmas Folklore! New Year’s Eve is something else in Reykjavik, with people buying fireworks which they ignite in gardens, parks or streets or famously at Hallgrímskirkja church and Harpa Concert Hall for a New Year’s countdown.  Do not miss the famous Christmas buffets and brunches at Fosshotel Reykjavik and Hotel Reykjavik Grand which offer a host of traditional Icelandic dishes  along with more international ones like turkey with stuffing!