You might think I’m crazy for going to Iceland in winter – somewhere even colder than the UK?! I know. It’s not my normal kind of trip I’ll admit, I’m all about that winter sun. But Iceland has been at the top of my bucket list ever since I came back from Australia, and almost everyone I meet is always desperate to go. I spent 5 days there in January, and it was absolutely stunning! One of the most beautiful yet desolate places I’ve ever seen in my life. The ground was completely covered in snow, and there’s hardly any life to be seen outside of the occasional trees and birds. Some parts of the landscape honestly don’t look real.
If you’re not used to driving in snow I would err on the side of caution and stick to guided tours like I did. It might make you a little less independent, but the snowstorms were sometimes so bad you wouldn’t see more than 2 metres in front of you – scary stuff!
…bring many many layers. In the evenings I sometimes wore 6 layers as that was the only way to stop myself from freezing! Fashion isn’t a priority here, warmth is! Umbrellas are no where near as useful as a hat, and find gloves that allow you to use your phone without taking them off!
…guided tours. I joined Iceland Guided Tours for their golden circle tour, south coast tour, and northern lights tour. In total this took 2 days, including the evening on the second day. You get the same guide for both days (mine was called Thor – it doesn’t get much better than that!), they pick you up from your hotel or hostel, and there’s only about 10-12 people with you so you can ask plenty of questions. Thor also made extra stops for us to see the Icelandic Horses which was amazing.
The Northern Lights are elusive, even in winter. You need to have activity, a lack of light pollution, and clear skies to be able to see them. The first is easily tracked, the second is taken care of with the tour, but the third is the tricky one. You’ll receive an email in the afternoon to tell you if the tour is happening or not – out of 4 nights I only got to go out once, the other days they cancelled the tour because there was close to 100% cloud cover. Even on that night I sadly didn’t see the Northern Lights. But on the bright side, you do get to book onto another night for free if you don’t see them the first time.
… hot springs. Personally I didn’t go to Blue Lagoon as it’s so crazily expensive, and you have to book it a few days in advance, even in the low season. Instead. I went to the Laugardalslaug pool in Reykjavik which has amazing outdoor hot pools that are so relaxing, and it only cost £8 ish to get in. You do have to shower naked before you enter though, so prepare yourself for that!
…visit Hallgrimskirkja. This church has lovely views over the city. It’s free to go in but you have to pay to go up the lift for the views. I think it’s worth it.
…choose your favourite museum. There’s the National Museum of Iceland, The Settlement Exhibition, Whales of Iceland, and even the Icelandic Phallological Museum. I kid you not, it is actually a thing!
Next time I plan to go in summer to do a ring road trip – the roads can become closed for a day or two in winter when there’s snow, and the country completely transforms when it’s not covered in snow!
Food in Iceland isn’t cheap, you’d be hard-pressed to find a meal or even a sandwich for under £10. But veggie options are widespread, and vegan options often too. Soup is a big deal in Iceland, as are root vegetables, potatoes, and of course all the fish and lamb in all the ways you could want. If you’re going on a tour, you may stop at the Black Beach Restaurant, which has a vegetarian turnip soup and homemade bread. Or you may stop at the Geysir restaurant, soup bar, gift shop etc. They have a range of veggie and vegan soups there (Súpa) which are delicious.
Here are some places in Reykjavik which I highly recommend:
- Svarta kaffid – this place is incredible. If you only go to one place on this list this has to be it. They only have one meat soup and one veggie soup on the menu, served in a giant bread roll (£10 ish). It’s quite small, and you have to look out for the sign on the road to know where to enter, and the interior is beautifully quirky. Good place to get some decently priced beer too.
- ROK – small plates, has 4 veggie options, with many more meat and fish plates, plus sides. They come in around £10 for veggie plates and more for meat/fish, but you only need 2 or 3 of the plates to really be full. Slightly more expensive, but so worth it. The food is incredible.
- Café Loki – traditional Icelandic food, and I really mean traditional. You’ll find everything from dried fish to fermented shark on the menu, but luckily they also have a vegetarian plate (£15 ish) which is delicious.
- The Coocoo’s Nest – the perfect spot for brunch. They have veggie options plus a ‘vegan surprise’ on the menu, plus some damn good coffee too.
- Sandholt Bakery – if you’re looking for a really nice place to sit and have a leisurely breakfast, or somewhere to grab breakfast on the go before your tour leaves, this is where you need to go. They have everything from delicious sandwhiches (£10) to Skyr, waffles, and pastries. You can see people in action making the bread, and it honestly rivals the best bread I’ve ever had in London. Coffee is seriously superb, but you have to ask to get a double shot. They also do soy milk.
- Lemon – smoothies, juices, pretty decent coffee. The smoothies have Skyr in them, and it’s one of the few places I found where you can get avocados. Coffee is decent, and they cater well to free-from diets.
The restaurant Glo was also recommended to me, but I didn’t go because it sounded like your typical ‘health food cafe’, and I wanted to try something different. However if you’re after vegan or even raw vegan food then check it out!
Coffee is damn amazing here, especially at the breakfast places mentioned above.
Tap water is drinkable – and you may be kindly reminded of this if you try and buy bottled water.
Alcohol is sadly very expensive. You can expect to pay £5 and over for a shot of Brennivin (“black death” – I recommend trying it once!), and around £16 for a cocktail – which is a lot! Icelandic beer is a bit cheaper at around £5-7 for a pint.