If you plan a vacation to Iceland in the winter it is best to be over-prepared for lots of snow and wind. In one moment you could be enjoying a beautiful sunny day and within minutes the weather can change to a blizzard where you can’t see a thing in front of you! We discovered that Iceland winters can be very unpredictable which can lead to travel issues throughout the country, as was the case this February. In case you are thinking of having an Iceland winter holiday; check out our experience and a “must” pack list for your outings.
Make sure your car rental has the proper snow tires and have a snow scrapper/brush in the car before you drive off
Our trip began with us arriving on an early Sunday morning. As we went to pick up our car at the rental counter we were given some advice- a storm was coming and he didn’t think we would make it to our hotel destination an hour and half away. For fear that we would end up homeless for the night, I immediately called our hotel the Ion Adventure Hotel who in turn called the City Ion Hotel in Reykjavik. They kindly gave us the last room (which was a suite) available for the night.
So out we headed from the airport. The roads were getting seriously difficult quickly, we decided it was best to go directly to the hotel. Luck continued to be with with us as we grabbed the last parking spot which happened to be right in front of the hotel. Upon entering the Ion city Hotel we found a few couples in the lobby hoping to book a room for the night. There were no rooms left, not only at our hotel but also the entire city was sold out. we were informed the airport was shut down soon after we drove off. So now the city was over booked with guests who could not fly out and who could not get to their hotels, homes or vacation homes outside of the city of Reykjavik.
The hotel staff went above and beyond trying to help the people who were looking for somewhere to stay, calling other hotels and homes to hopefully accommodate some of the stranded people. We realized very quickly how fortunate we were having a bed to sleep in for the night.
Learning the road system is important during winter
Up early the next morning we headed out of town once we confirmed the roads were reopened. We had a tour to catch approximately one and half hours away. Feeling confident we entered the address into our GPS on our phone and easily followed the directions. As we approached the last turn to our destination something didn’t look right, as in nothing was there. Time to call the tour office. To clarify, we managed to follow the directions all the way to the “other” town with the same name. One of the towns is in the Southern part of Iceland, which we navigated to, while the other was more north, 2 hours away.
One thing you learn, the tour companies are used to mishaps and are very accommodating. They rebooked us for Wednesday. From here we thought it was best to continue to take in the beautiful sites as we drove towards our hotel. In hindsight, it was a good thing we didn’t make the tour, because storms came in again and we would of been stuck a couple of hours away by the time the tour would of ended. Which would resulted in us be stranded somewhere.
Road.IS is a must!
Above all, it is very, very important to know, you have to keep in contact with the Iceland road (road.is) web site . You could check it one moment and roads will be open and 15 minutes later they could shut down. They do not put up barriers, there is no real time to do that. With the snow coming down combined with the wind up to 50 miles an hour blowing more snow off mountains onto roads, the roads can become a major snow bank quickly!
The next day we left our hotel and drove about 10 minutes. Running into a “white out” where we literally had to stop our car and sit for more than a minute till we could see again, we decided to come right back to the hotel. Again, our intuition was good. Other cars that left the hotel in the morning all returned about 5 hrs later following a snow plow. Talking with a few of the guests that were in those cars, we found out some were stuck in snow banks for 4 hours waiting for help. They were noticeably shaken and frightened from the experience. Thanks but no thanks I will skip that particular Iceland experience!
A pack list to be more prepared for your outdoor excursions
Our trip was still fabulous, we were able to see some gorgeous nature creations as will be in other posts. Simply said we loved Iceland! But we learned to be over- prepared for the winter is better. Here are a few things that we packed that at the time we thought we might be “over doing it”, but thankful we did!
Canadian Goose coats for temperatures below Zero degrees. More for the winds, the temperature was mostly in the 20’s and wonderful on the sunny days, I even had my jacket open at times. But boy was I happy with my Canadian Goose coat when it was colder out. The coats are well known for a good reason- they work!
32 degree long underwear. Why did I not know about these before?! (okay I live in Florida- so maybe that is why). Amazing! Thin, silky feeling but keep you so nice and warm without sweating. I will never go anywhere cold ever again without these. We brought three pairs each for a weeks stay.
Smart Wool socks : Three pairs each for the week, you can wear them more than once. Feet were never cold!
Waterproof and insulated gloves: If you can get the ones that allow you to still work your cell phone that is even more of a plus. Sound Touch Xtreme all weather gloves are something we found online which turned out to be a fantastic purchase! BONUS- you can use them on your touch screen!
Hat with mask: Not really fashion forward, but even I was appreciating them when we went whale watching. I loved the easy of the Magnemask that we purchased. You were able to easily pull it up to hold secure by magnets!
Ice/snow Grippers with water proof boots: Strangely enough, I could not believe the amount of people I saw trying to master the ice with sneakers on. Not only was it ridiculous, but it really was dangerous. By the time they walked through the snow and ice they had to be soaked! Grippers make every step you take feel more secure on the ice. Easy to put on and take off- why wouldn’t you? Every store in Iceland was selling them, maybe thats a sign?
Blanket: An extra blanket in the car can come in handy if your cold or your seat has gotten wet.
Cross body bag: One like Neat Pack that is easy to access but can carry a lot of different things too
Chapstick: Protect your lips, nothing worse than having chapped lips
Small packs of tissues: Doesn’t everyones nose run in the cold? Have a pack of these in your pocket or cross body bag
Dryer sheets: Yes, dryer sheets. Winter brings static cling hair, have one of these dryer sheets in your bag and run it trough your hair…perfect and easy
Battery backups: For your cellphone, camera. Cold weather can make you battery run down faster
Paper Map: in case phone/GPS looses batteries or no signal
Heat sacks: Perfect to throw in your boots, pocket or gloves to help keep warm
Walking stick: if you are feeling you need a little more extra stabilization or plan on hiking more difficult trails
Iceland money: Even though, credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere; but also having some cash on you is always a good idea too
Zip lock bags: A ziplock bag is a great way to protect your phone from getting wet if you are using it for photo’s or just to given extra protection in your pocket.
Ice Scrapper: Before you drive off the rental car lot, check that you have a snow brush in the car, you might need it!
Camera, Video Camera, Drone: You will want to capture everything in this beautiful country! I bought Kevin a Breeze for Christmas, works great but the days we went to use it it was little too windy.
Iceland in the winter
All in all, we really loved our Iceland winter holiday, snow storms and all! The countryside is filled with unexpected nature creations, magnificent horses and stunning waterfalls! I hope you check back here to to read other articles about our winter holiday in Iceland. Kevin will be writing on a few restaurants that prepared tasty dishes for us to enjoy too.