Iceland is a magical place, filled with natural wonders and amazing things to experience. We traveled there in the beginning of December and had about 4.75 hours of light a day. The city is very well lit, though, so we spent quite a few enjoyable hours exploring shops and restaurants in the dark.
Preparing for a Winter Trip to Iceland
We put a lot of time into getting ready for our trip. Iceland is supposed to be pretty cold in December, so I bought silk glove liners, fleece leggings, long underwear shirts and socks to layer. It turns out I wore jeans, a shirt and sweater and didn’t even bother with a coat four out of five of the days. I got back to Baltimore and had to put on my coat. I would add rain gear to my bag next time. The day I wore my coat, it was because of the rain and it was not waterproof enough to withstand really heavy downpours. It is no fun touring the Golden Road while soaked to the skin!
However, while I never had to unpack my leggings and only used my glove liners when the little guy forgot to bring his gloves to the ice skating rink, you don’t want to skimp on winter prep. The very personable woman at the car rental company said that this time last year was freezing, with temperatures of -1 to -7 degrees Celcius. That is as low as 19 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most people I’ve talked to go to Iceland in the winter to see the Northern Lights, but that doesn’t mean they’ll see them. In fact, I was just there for 4 nights and not a single glimpse! The kids saw them lighting up the sky out the airplane window as we were flying into Iceland, but I wasn’t looking out the window at that moment.
One couple visiting at the same time we were said this was their fourth failed trip to see the Lights. That’s commitment, huh?
We booked a tour to see the lights, but it was canceled all three times because there was very little chance of seeing them within an hour or two of Reykjavik. On the plane home, a nearby passenger mentioned driving for hours to a remote mountaintop and being surprised with a beautiful Aurora in April, but it simply wasn’t in the cards with the rainy, cloudy weather this time around.
If you are devastated at the thought of missing out, there is always Aurora Reykjavik. The Northern Lights museum offers the opportunity to learn about the Lights, see photographs from top photographers and even fake your own photos with their displays. We went in the doors to check the museum out, but didn’t end up entering the exhibit hall, as we wanted to see them in person. It definitely looks like an extensive set of exhibits and probably is well worth the time if you are interested in the science behind the Aurora.
Where to Eat in Reykjavik
Food in Iceland is not cheap. Locals tend to eat out very rarely, so restaurants are primarily targeting tourist dollars and are priced accordingly. Grocery stores are not as expensive, so you may want to look into renting a place with a kitchen, like the very comfortable condo at Apartments Aurora we booked, and cook a few meals. Of course, then you will miss out on the glorious restaurant experiences.
For additional meals, Cafe Babalú was fun for dessert. Brauð & Co and Sandholt were amazing for breakfast. (Bread Company’s cinnamon rolls should be illegal, they’re so good!) Laundromat is worth a visit because of the quirkiness of the restaurant. (The eggs were too salty, but the meal was good overall.)
If you head out on the Golden Circle, Efstidalur II was our favorite dining experience. It is really hard not to eat every bite, but you should save some room. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on eating the ice cream in their creamery downstairs.
If you are planning to visit Blue Lagoon, their Lava restaurant was a close second. (Skip coffee or tea at the cafe in the waiting area. Literally the worst we ever drank, but our lunch in the restaurant was absolutely incredible!)
- If you rent a vehicle, consider diesel. Gas is around $7 a gallon, but with diesel, we only had to fill up once. This included a trip around the Golden Circle, to the Blue Lagoon and around town.
- The Blue Lagoon is pricey, but it breaks down to be a much better deal if you are traveling with several children under 12, as they are free with an adult. (Free natural geothermal pools are available throughout Iceland, but this location is pretty central to the airport and more of a spa experience.)
- Check out Happy Hour specials to save money on dinners and don’t be afraid to hit the grocery stores. A light evening meal of local cheese, crackers and/or the famous skyr yogurt can be very satisfying if you opted for a heavy lunch.
- Breakfasts can be fairly reasonable if you plan ahead and buy some pastries from Sandholt the day before.
- Caffeine addicts may find that waiting til 9:30 for coffee is unbearable. There is a gas station on the way out of town with decent coffee that is open much earlier and Joe and the Juice has two locations that open at 8.
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