Iceland's surreal natural landscape is any road-tripper's dream! Here are some tips for planning a road trip in Iceland in winter.
Sometimes you come across an amazing flight deal that you just can’t pass up. Like one that costs less than $400 roundtrip to Iceland – in December. Now, this isn’t to say that Iceland isn’t worth visiting in December, because it definitely is, but if you’re planning on road-tripping, let’s just say that December is not the most convenient time.
But like I said, sometimes you find a travel deal you just can’t pass up, and I’m a big believer in taking advantage of these types of deals, even if you end up traveling at more off-peak times. (But also, off-peak means fewer tourists, so you’ve got advantages and disadvantages!)
It’s totally possible to plan an Iceland winter road trip, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you make the most of your time (and you don’t get into trouble).
1. Consider your daylight hours when planning activities
Considering Iceland’s very northern latitude, the days are short in the wintertime. I’m talking like four hours of daylight per day. When you take that into consideration, you’ll want to make sure to plan your days’ activities accordingly. Research how much daylight you’ll have when you go and exactly what time those daylight hours are.
Once you know how much “daytime” you have to work with, you’ll be able to plan your days more accurately. So many of Iceland’s attractions are based around nature (waterfalls, glaciers, beaches, etc.), so you’ll want to make sure you’re able to see whatever you’re doing!
2. Drive a portion of the Ring Road
If you’ve done any research on Iceland before, you’ve probably heard about Iceland’s Route 1 (or Ring Road) that circles the entire country. I mean, being able to travel around (literally) an entire country on a single road is a road-tripper’s dream! So I know how enticing it might be to do the Ring Road on your winter trip to Iceland.
But the truth is that you’d be much better off driving just a portion of the Ring Road in wintertime. It is crazy cool that you could potentially circle an entire country in a single trip, but it’s just not practical in winter. Iceland sees some pretty harsh winter weather, and combined with the shorter days, it’s a recipe for not-so-great road conditions. Unless you’re planning a trip that lasts multiple weeks, I’d stick with doing a smaller part of the Ring Road!
Stick to the Southwestern part of the country
As Reykjavik and Keflavik Airport are located on the Western coast of Iceland, your best bet is going to be sticking to driving the Southwestern part of the country. There’s tons to see just off the Ring Road in this portion of the country including popular waterfalls, geysers, and black sand beaches. Make a list of what you’d like to see and then plan a route that’s manageable for your time frame and daylight hours!
To help you get started brainstorming, here are some popular things to see in the Southwestern part of Iceland:
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Reykjadalur Hot Springs
Seljavallalaug Outdoor Pool (read more about that here!)
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash Site
3. Obey road signs
Road signs exist for a reason, and we learned this the hard way when our rental car almost didn’t make it out of some snow off the main road in a completely unpopulated area. Even the Ring Road can be subjected to pretty dangerous wintery conditions, so can you imagine what it might be like to go off the road?!
Turning off of the paved road can become disastrous pretty quickly, as snow piles up more than you realize. Not only could you potentially damage nature and wildlife by disobeying road signs, but you could also put yourself (and others) in a dangerous situation. I know that Iceland’s surreal natural beauty is sometimes too much to resist, but for your own safety and out of respect for the country, please do. (At least when a car is involved).
4. Pack for cold, wet weather
I’m sure you’d already anticipated packing for cold weather. It’s Iceland. In the winter. But you should definitely prepare to pack for cold, wet weather. I’m not just talking about snow, either. So many of Iceland’s natural attractions are based around water (hot springs, waterfalls, beaches) so staying warm and dry isn’t always the simplest of tasks.
To prepare for this ahead of time, be sure to pack a towel, as well as some extra pairs of socks and gloves in your car. And it wouldn’t hurt to bring a winter jacket and boots that are waterproof, too!
Iceland is any road-tripper’s dream no matter what the season! However, if you do dare to venture along the Ring Road in the winter months, take extra care in your planning to make sure that your trip is smooth, safe, and worthwhile!