Iceland – winter 2018

Just a few days in Iceland during winter with the hope to see the Aurora Borealis. When I last traveled to Iceland back in 2014, it was late June so there was midnight sun. But since its winter, I can finally experience the night and look up at a starry night sky and possibly some northern lights. We took the overnight flight from JFK to KEF airport. Couldn’t sleep on the plane so we slept for 4-5 hours at the hotel.

Day 1:
We woke up at 3pm and just walked around Reykjavik city for a while. During the day, the city’s weather feels similar to a NYC winter. However, the weather can change suddenly and hit you with windy rain/snow so bring your waterproof gear (umbrellas don’t work here) .

Of course there is the Hallgrimskirkja church and Laugavegur street (many shops) with Mt Esja in the background on a clear day. Restaurant Reykjavik is the only seafood buffet I know of so it had to be done. If you love seafood and skyr, then this country is for you. The food prices in general are high even for a New Yorker so brace yourself and your credit card.

So we booked a northern lights night tour like almost every tourist seems to do during winter. It turned out to be a cloudy and occasionally rainy night; not ideal conditions. However, all the tour buses seemed to have an idea of where there was some activity in the sky and we all headed there. After an hour, we all got out and looked up at the sky for an hour and a half in the cold. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. Even though I saw something that looked more like a moving cloud in the dark, the professional cameras were able to capture the green color with the right settings. So I suppose the aurora was above us even though it wasn’t as bright as we all hoped that night. At least the night tour was not cancelled. That happens on some nights when the weather is bad.

We got home a little after 1am. Just enough time to shower, pack, and get a few more hours of sleep for a 2 day south Iceland tour.

Day 2:
We met our tour guide and our travel companions early in the morning. We drove along the south coast of the country all the way to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon while making several sightseeing stops in between. Unlike December with very few hours of daylight, February has 9-ish hours of daylight and I believe you can cover a lot in the South within that time.

Before reaching the southernmost town called Vik and before the infamous volcano Eyjafjallajokull, the first major stop is a waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. In the summer you can walk behind the waterfall but it is too dangerous in the winter. But still, it is nice to walk around and explore.

Then we stopped at the Eyjafjallajokull sightseeing spot. This is the monster that erupted in 2010 and stopped many flights for 2 weeks or so due to all of the ash in the air.

Not too far away is everyone’s favorite waterfall, Skogafoss. Winter, summer, always impressive.

Vik town was next and typically used as a lunch spot. Not too far from Vik is Reynisfjara black sand beach. The black sand beach doesn’t change much across the seasons. It’s always fun to climb the basalt columns, check out the giant cave, spell out your name in the sand, collect rocks, or just take a stroll along the coast without getting caught by the waves.

 

Afterwards, we proceeded along the coast having Vatnajokull glacier to our right. The largest glacier in Europe is quite massive. Right before Skaftafell is the Gigjukvisl bridge memorial. This bridge was washed away by glacial floods following an eruption of Vatnjokull glacier in 1996.
Hardly anyone around for miles.

We drove passed Skaftafell national park and headed to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. If I return to Iceland, I would definitely allocate several days to explore the Skaftafell area. So anyway, the glacier lagoon during sunset is a wonderful sight.

On the other side of the bridge is Diamond beach. Some of the ice chunks that break off the glacier and float to sea can get pushed back onto the shore; ice diamonds. Pretty cool.

Our hotel was not too far from the glacier lagoon. After a tasty lamb/fish dinner, some of us waited outside for hours looking up at the night sky in the freezing cold. The conditions were ideal but unfortunately there was no aurora activity that night. And even worse news, a big storm was forecasted to hit Iceland during the following day. So many tours were cancelled, even some roads were closed off temporarily. The weather in Iceland does not play around. Our ice cave tour was also cancelled and we were looking forward to that. See some YouTube vids of the ice cave and you’ll agree that it’s impressive. Well, maybe next time.

Day 3:
The following day was pretty much a long drive back to Reykjavik through the storm waiting for roads to open back up. I wish I had more to share but the weather was actually that bad. Cars were slipping off the road and some of us didn’t even want to get out of the tour bus once we heard the wind and rain. It’s the third windiest country in the world, and I can see why. We at least got to stop by Dyrholaey which is very close to Reynisfjara black sand beach. Dyrholaey looks unique to any beach I’ve seen.

Once back at Reykjavik, we headed to the Resto restaurant. This was a good way to end a blah day, the ling and char were the best.

Day 4:
Before leaving Iceland, we had one more opportunity for a meal and headed to Saegreifinn to eat the best lobster soup and skewered fish. Then we just hopped on the Flybus airport shuttle back to the airport.

I would totally go back to Iceland, but in the summer. Winter tours are very sensitive to the weather conditions so it’s a roll of the dice for seeing the northern lights and other tours like ice caves. But if you’re feeling lucky, go for it!