Iceland, the arctic island of elves and trolls, is not only an awesome experience in any season, winter included. The temperatures are modest, the beaches are black and isolated, and the scenery is breathtaking. We visited Iceland twice, in summer and in autumn. Our next trip will be in the winter.
From the landscapes, to the food, to the incandescent Midnight Sun, here are 15 reasons Iceland is a truly special destination to be enjoyed year-round.
1. Aurora Borealis
During the winter, the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are a sight like no other. This glowing phenomenon in the sky only happens during the winter months, and you’ll have to be a bit lucky to catch it. Once you do, though, you can add it to the list of the most incredible things you’ll have ever seen.
2. The sun voyager
The Sun Voyager is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. Located in an isolated area of Reykjavik, this sculpture is an ode to the sun and represents the hope and dreams of distant voyages.
3. The colorful landscape
During the summer, the landscape is painted dramatically, with deep, vibrant greens and bold blacks. In the winter, the snowy landscapes are stark, peaceful and quiet. Every season in Iceland is a great time to appreciate the natural beauty of this unique environment.
4. The hot springs
You may have heard of the hot springs in Iceland, and they’re truly everything you’d imagine. Crystal clear pools of warm water, ready for you to sink in and relax, these hot springs seem like they’re from a different world altogether. Iceland is a hotbed of geothermal activity, which makes it one of the most unique places to visit any time of year.
5. The midnight sun
This picture was taken at 1 a.m. in June. Though the sun disappears more often than not during the winter, the opposite is true during summer, when the Midnight Sun stays up throughout the entire night. Shedding light on Iceland almost the entire summer long, this sun is a sight to be seen.
6. Visit the glacier lagoon in the evening without any tourists
Like many of the gorgeous natural sights in Iceland, it’s easy to visit the glacier lagoon without swarms of tourists. How? In the summer, it’s quite easy. Just pick a time in the evening when you should be in bed, and go then. This picture was shot at 10 p.m. when there were no other camera-toting tourists and still plenty of light.
7. Drive hundreds of kilometers without seeing anybody
Iceland is not a highly populated place. With just over 300,000 people, it’s easy to drive for kilometers without seeing another car or pedestrian. If you like isolated drives and taking in the scenery without the bother of traffic, Iceland is for you.
8. The friendly, relaxed and helpful Icelanders
People in Iceland will generally go out of their way to be helpful and friendly. Often considered some of the happiest people on earth, all the Icelanders we met were warm and relaxed. We love them!
9. No need for a rain coat
Why bring a coat to Iceland when you can buy a traditional lambswool one while you’re there? Blend right in and keep dry and warm in one of these oversized coats, beloved by both tourists and locals alike. Go shopping for Icelandic lambs wool at Farmers Market / Geysir shop.
10. Fleur de Sel from Nordur Salt
Salt straight for the Arctic Sea—can anything sound more natural than that? This sea salt has natural minerals that set it apart from regular table salt, and it tastes delicious. This is one of the most unique souvenirs you can enjoy while you’re there and bring back with you from your travels through Iceland.
11. Stay at the architecture’s house in Akureyri
Akureyri is the so-called capital of northern Iceland. With its bustling urban life and its surroudning natural beauty, this is a place that shouldn’t be missed on any trip to Iceland. We stayed at an architect’s home with this gorgeous landscape as our backdrop within just a few minutes of our favorite waterfall in the whole country, Detti Foss.
12. Iceland Horses — don’t call them ponies
These small Icelandic horses are distinct and hardy animals. Bred for the harsh winters, they seldom contract diseases and they are all too commonly used for leisure riding and national or local races held still today. They may look small but they are not—NOT—ponies. Don’t make the mistake of calling them that to an Icelander :-)
13. The black beaches at Vik
Vik is the southernmost town in Iceland, known mostly for its black sand beaches. These beaches, where you can see an abandoned plane that’s been stranded here for sometime, are such a distinct color thanks to the volcanic environment in this part of Iceland. Vik sits below a glacier atop a volcano, which means that, should the active volcano erupt, this town could be wiped out through flash flooding. In the meantime, residents and visitors can take in the incredible beauty of this stark black sand separating land from sea.
14. The awesome food
The food in Iceland is outstanding. Here, they go to great lengths to prepare such culinary wonders as to have visitors rave internationally about the dishes they tried here. Being an island, Iceland’s seafood is its most impressive. The lobster soup and salmon are fresh, prepared delicately and cooked to perfection. The lamb in Iceland is also worth tasting. Happy sheep herds roam the countryside here. And, though controversial, whale meat is served at many restaurants in Iceland, so it’s easy to taste this local specialty.
15. Eat as much Skyr as you like, you won’t put on weight
Skyr is a popular (and delicious!) Icelandic food. It’s a sort of thick yogurt with two to three times more protein than regular yogurt. It’s a traditional Icelandic food, and you won’t find it many other places on earth, so it’s worth a try once you’re here. Trust us, you’ll love it! And, it’s healthy so you don’t have to worry about calories :-)