If you’re anything like me, then the idea of heading to Iceland in winter might be a bit daunting. How cold will it be? How many layers do I need? Does it snow everyday? What do I wear in the snow? Will a heeled boot be ok? How many pairs of socks will I need? Do I need hand warmers?
For most of my life, I’ve lived in a place where it never, ever snows so I asked myself all these questions and more before I headed to Iceland in January. Iceland in winter just sounds like it would be ridiculously cold.
The good news is an Icelandic winter wasn’t as cold as I thought it might be – at least when I went – with temperatures sitting between -5 and 4 degrees. It could have been worse. It was fresh but you were ok being outside for awhile as long as you were rugged up.
Packing for my first Icelandic winter took a bit of preparation but the good news is I mostly brought the appropriate gear – although I slightly overpacked and brought too many choices of layers. Here’s what I recommend packing for a trip to Iceland during the winter.
Gloves, scarf and beanie
Buy a good pair of gloves – wool is the warmest fabric. I also recommend a woollen scarf. You’ll definitely need a beanie, mainly to cover your ears. I’ve never worn a beanie before – but it was essential in Iceland.
I like to wear two pairs of socks at a time – one thin merino wool layer and a second thicker layer. It keeps my feet nice and snug. My feet are first to feel the cold. I recommend bringing four pairs of socks – so you can wash some while wearing the others.
You’ll want to bring a couple of layers with you. I wore a cotton long sleeved shirt as my first layer and then a merino wool layer on top. For bottoms, I wore a pair of thermal tights and had jeans over the top. For a five to seven day trip, I would recommend packing two pairs of jeans, two pairs of tights/stockings, about three long sleeve tops and one or two middle layers.
The weather is unpredictable in Iceland – it rained a couple of times during my journey and also I got really wet standing behind the Seljandafoss waterfall. I would recommend bring a pair of water resistant or waterproof pants and a waterproof jacket with a hood. Umbrellas are useless here. I brought a pair of fleece lined waterproof pants and wore them over my tights and they were awesome.
You’ll want a good coat to rug up against the cold and one you can take on and off easily when you come inside. A coat with pockets is good to further protect your hands, and it should be made of fabric that doesn’t matter if it gets a little wet in snow or rain.
Flat boots with thick soles
It definitely snows in Iceland during winter – but not every day which means footpaths are often icy and slippery when the snow melts. You’ll want flat soled shoes with a bit of grip to prevent you from slipping on snow and ice. Shoes made of leather or vinyl are best so it doesn’t matter if they get wet. The sole should also be thick otherwise the cold will seep in through the sole.
Winter in Iceland in just as beautiful as the summer. The blue tinged dawn that lasts for hours combined with powdery snow are postcard perfect. And don’t forget the glaciers, the snow framed waterfalls, snow laden mountains and farmlands, and ice caves. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture your Iceland trip.
A bikini or boardies seems a little out of place for an Icelandic winter but trust me, you’ll need it. Choose from 17 thermal spa complexes around Reyjkavik to relax in the 40 degree water, or head out to the Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon. You can also go snorkelling in winter in the Silfra Fissure but you’ll also need a thermal layer over your swimmers for this one.
Moisturiser and hand cream
Icelandic winters are brutal on your skin. Mainly one for the ladies, make sure you bring along some body and face moisturiser as well as hand cream and slather it on daily.
Credit card is accepted mostly everywhere in Iceland – petrol stations, swimming pools, restaurants, supermarkets, hostels. You don’t really need cash. I didn’t when I went there – I just paid for everything on my card and never handled Icelandic Krona.