Iceland – the land of myths and folklore, scenic drives, and magnificent shows of Aurora Borealis. Also the country we can never get enough of! A couple of years ago we went on a summer road trip in Iceland and penned a detailed itinerary on planning a road trip in Iceland. But if you’re planning a winter road trip in Iceland there’s lots of additional things you need to keep in mind. Here are our top tips for driving in and exploring Iceland during winter months. Hope you find them useful and have an incredible time driving around this surreal country.
I) Pack Well
Iceland’s winter can be ruthless. Panoramas that are peaceful and stunning one minute can turn into a windy mess the next. Make sure you pack well before departing on your road trip in Iceland. We would suggest packing at least 1 waterproof down jacket or parka that will keep you warm upto -20 °C. Some other essentials include snow boots, thermals for the entire body, a few pairs of woollen socks, insulated gloves, warm hats, and ski trousers. Check out our articles on packing for an Icelandic summer and packing for the Arctic for some more tips and suggestions.
II) Be realistic and leave room for vagaries of weather
During summer months, it is easy to explore vast expanses of Iceland during a fortnight. However the same trip can take much longer in winter. This is due to two reasons – remarkably short days and unpredictable weather. Do not pen down an unrealistic itinerary when you are planning your winter road trip in Iceland. Roads close down frequently due to heavy snow and frequent windstorms can make driving tough. So take your time and try to cover short distances each day.
For instance: we spent close to 10 days in Iceland and extreme windstorms during the first two days of our winter road trip made it impossible to explore, drive, or even walk outside the guesthouse in Snaefellsness Peninsula. If you have 1 week, stick to just South and East Iceland. Keep aside at least 3 weeks if you want to drive the entire Ring Road during winter months.
III) Check Aurora Forecasts regularly
Chances are you are in Iceland during winter months to try and spot the elusive Northern Lights. Once you reach the country, check Aurora Forecasts regularly in order to maximise your chances of seeing them. You can check Aurora Forecasts online. Most websites provide a meter than measures nightly Aurora activity. Anything above 3 on this meter, coupled with clear skies means you have a great chance of spotting them. Don’t forget to read our article with 5 Top Tips For Hunting and Photographing The Northern Lights at this stage.
IV) Put these apps on your phone and bookmark these websites
There are some websites and apps that definitely need to be bookmarked on your phone whilst driving around in Iceland.
- http://www.road.is/ provides a real time update of road conditions in Iceland. Make sure you consult it before you leave your hotel or guesthouse each morning. In case a road is blocked, you can always discuss this with locals at the hotel and they will suggest alternate routes.
- http://en.vedur.is/ the official website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office provides updated information about weather conditions, accurate forecasts, and other such. Consult it to see if a windstorm or snow storm is brewing in any of the areas you might be visiting. This website also has an Aurora forecast page that is handy.
- My Aurora Forecast and Alerts is a free app that provides nuanced information and maximises your chances of spotting the Northern Lights. You can consult it at your leisure but you can also turn on the alerts on the app but do beware a lot of them are just false alarms and might have you rushing out of your bed at midnight only to see nothing!
V) Don’t be too ambitious and don’t wing it!
Mothern Nature is a force to reckon with in Iceland. Respect nature and work with her not against her. I cannot say this enough – do not be too ambitious. Days are short and roads are frequently snowed under. Make sure you read up and chart a rough itinerary before you land in Iceland and pick your rental car. Try not to take long unscheduled detours without first consulting the weather gods (via an app of course!)
VI) Pick your car wisely
We go on, and write about, a LOT of road trips. As you might have noticed, we usually suggest going for the most affordable car rental option. But not in Iceland! Opt for a good and sturdy 4X4 which is equipped with snow tyres, and heated seats. You should also ensure that your car comes with a mobile wifi device. This is handy in all countries but especially important in Iceland where the weather in unpredictable – you could need wifi to check road and weather conditions in real time or even contact someone for help in case you’re stranded! You should compare prices for cars over at Economy Bookings but we chose to go with a self-drive package from Hey Iceland this time around, which included both the car and accommodation.
VII) Stock up on food and save some money
You will also be spending long hours in the car as you drive around the country. And restaurants in the Icelandic countryside can be extortionate and hard to find. So it’s only natural to stock up on snacks and groceries for your trip. Iceland has a number of supermarkets but Bonus, Kronan, and Netto are some that are pocket-friendly (by Icelandic standards) and popular. We would suggest stocking up on lots of groceries as your drive out of the airport. Most large towns and the Reykjavik area have tons of huge supermarkets but these are hard to find as you drive deeper into the countryside.
VIII) Spend your time choosing accommodation
Iceland has some of the most scenic guesthouses and B&Bs in the world. Make sure you spend some time narrowing in on accommodation before departing on your road trip in Iceland. The places you choose depend entirely on your preferences but we would suggest choosing a mix of quaint self-catering cottages (ideal if you want to rustle up a hot meal after a long day of driving) and guesthouses (ideal for shorter stays). A couple of our favourites include the Ytri Vik cottages in Akureyri and Hestheimar Guesthouse. You will find details of both, along with some of our other favourites, in these 2 articles: Where to stay on your Icelandic Road Trip and Our Winter Road Trip in Iceland.
IX) Don’t book Aurora Tours
You needn’t book expensive Aurora Hunting Tours unless you are staying in the middle of the hustle bustle in Reyjavik. If the Northern Lights are out to play, you will spot them easily. Just make sure you are deep in the countryside and there is no ambient light around you. Drive to a dark spot near your accommodation. Try not to look at bright lights like your phone or iPad, let your eyes get accustomed to the darkness, and then look up at the sky. You’ll spot a carpet of stars and the magical green Northern Lights.
Do check out our tips for hunting and photographing Northern Lights.
X) Experience each sunrise and each sunset
We had to save the best for the last of course! The best part about a winter road trip in Iceland is the mellow lighting throughout the day – it’s almost as if the magic golden hour continues through the day. If you’re a photographer you will love it! The sun rises only at 10 am, so you can sleep in everyday if you like. But make sure you catch every single sunrise and sunset while you are in Iceland. The sight of a bright tangerine ball of fire stretching out above a snow field is bound to leave you mesmerised 🙂
Planning a road trip in Iceland? Check out all our articles on Iceland here
32 thoughts on “10 Tips For Planning A Winter Road Trip in Iceland and Seeing the Northern Lights”
Hey Savi and Vid! We have been planning our Iceland trip for quite some time now and your blogs have been extremely informative and helpful! Right from the itinerary to budget planning and pro tips, its all there.
However, we have not been able to decide the month for our trip. Is a winter trip in November very unpredictable, uncomfortable and too cold? Or is September/ October a more comfortable time to visit, keeping in mind the itinerary and costs? Hope to hear from you.
Hey instead of September/October you might as well go in early November as your chances of seeing Northern Lights will be higher and it might not be THAT cold (although nature, you know :))
Otherwise, you might as well go in June (better than September)
This blog is so beautifully written that it makes we want to get married right now and leave for Iceland with my partner!!
Thank you 🙂 No need to get married just for this – you can always travel solo 🙂
We are thinking of going this November.
Do you suggest otherwise? Thanks
Don’t see a reason why 🙂
Enjoy your winter road trip in Iceland 🙂
Following your blog and on Instagram since a while.. Ten tips for Iceland winter trip sounds very precise and useful. I’m planning a 9 day trip to Iceland in mid November. Due to personal responsibilities can’t increase the days for the trip. Hence, planning to explore only south Iceland from Reykjavik to hofń. Will I be doing justice to Iceland?
Not quite, but that is not the end of the world, right? You’d be doing justice to whatever you’ll be seeing in Iceland instead of just rushing from one point to the other 🙂 You can always visit again to cover whatever you won’t be able to cover this time on your road trip in Iceland 🙂
we are planning atrip to iceland in may 2019
please guide us &mail the itenary
Hi – there’s a detailed itinerary for a summer road trip in Iceland on our website – you can check that out
Hi Savi and Vid,
Did you cover the Westfjords? We have only 10 days and may not be able to cover it. Do you think we should somehow accommodate it in our trip or is it better to only stick to Ring road and Reykjavik?
No we didn’t cover Westfjords as that needs a bit more time, especially in Winter when daylight is limited in Iceland
Hi. What would you suggest as the best times and places to spot the northern lights?
Iceland, Finland, and Norway are nice places to see Northern Lights in Europe. The best times are usually between October and March.
Hi, I was looking at your Ytri Vik cottages. Wanted to know that for winter trip is it the good option
If the cottage is available, then it sure is a great option for a road trip in winter
Hi Savi and Vid , loved Your Iceland blog…
Wanted to know from you guys, if we have to choose from Finnish Lapland and Iceland to experience the northern Lights …which one should we choose? …also jus not northern lights but an experience as a whole …
Choosing between Iceland and Finland is like choosing between apples and oranges. Both have their own charm. Iceland is more rugged and offers more dramatic landscapes. Finland offers more in terms of acticities, especially for kids. If we had to pick one, we’d perhaps go with Iceland first.
Hi Savi and Vid. You are awesome couple and look so good and complete with each other. It feels a pleasure to watch you guys and get truly inspired too. Thanks for sharing your videos and blogs. It really help us in all terms. Would advise that always be the way you are and both keep smiling:)
Reading about Iceland in your blog and Northern lights being in our bucket list, me and hubby are planning to travel to Iceland in this November 19. As per your recommendation we have also booked our self drive tour from Hey Iceland for 14 days. Just now as researching and reading lot negativity about driving in Iceland, we are becoming skeptical. Being from Mumbai (India) we have no experience of winter driving.
Though we are fascinated to see people who do self drive and be romantic in such a beautiful place. And it feels to create the same memories for ourself.
Can you please advise.
Hey Deveshree – thanks for the kind words. If you are an experienced driver in Mumbai, you’ll be fine in Lapland too. However if you’ve just started driving in India, then I wouldn’t recommend renting a car in Lapland. Hope that helps:)
Hi Savi and Vid,
I and my hubby started following you since like 6 months and have become a hard core fan. You are just amazing couple. Love to watch your videos and blogs. I always look at your pic and feel excited, astonished and what not:) More than a place you visit, we feel that you both complete each other. Always keep smiling and spread love. To comment your blogs are very meaningful and precise.
Few Questions related to Iceland:
I am from Mumbai. I am planning to travel this November to Iceland doing winter road trip. There were few questions.. wanted to ask
1. We are from Mumbai and started driving like a year back. But drive almost every day to office (in traffic:).
Eventhough a year experience, we thought will be able to drive. We wanted to recreate the same memories as in this post, but there are so many negative comments regarding driving in Iceland especially in winter. As we are going in November and really keen for road trip. We have a year experience and no winter driving experience. Is it ok to drive??
We know the weather precautions and to always check Road conditions through app you mentioned above.
2. I heard lot about the windy conditions. If we are in middle and wind started to raise, what exactly we would have to do. How to tackle to windy conditions and what exactly is the wind limit within which we can drive.
Any other feedback/ advise would really be helpful
Hi Savi and Vid,
My family and I are planning to visit Iceland for the first time as my son’s dream to see the northern lights. Which month is best time to see the northern lights November, December or January? Also we are planning to go to Blue Lagoon. Could you please kindly suggest a place to stay near Blue Lagoon but at the same time great chance to see the northern lights? Thank yo so much.
Hope you have a great trip. November is the best month out of all those that you mentioned. That said, it all depends on weather. You could visit the Blue Lagoon and then just drive towards the South and stay at the place we stayed at in Hella (see article for details). If the conditions are right, pretty much every place away from light pollution will be great to watch the lights 🙂
Hope you guys get to see them 🙂
I am planning to see Northern Lights this year end (most likely Christmas week). I have gone through your itineraries for Iceland and Lapland. Now I am confused. Which one should I prefer as per the time I am planning to visit. Which one is better with respect to igloo stays and northern lights. Can you please advice.
Looking forward for your reply.
Loads of love to you both.
For Igloo stays, Lapland is better. For Northern Lights, both Iceland and Lapland are amazing given the right conditions (no clouds, good Aurora activity etc.) A lot depends on luck to be honest 🙂
HI Savi /Vid,
Thanks Guys its really informative blog !!!!!
I’m planing solo trip for 5 days in March 2020 and very much interested see northern Lights. I’m planing cover golden circle too
Can you suggest some best places to see northern Lights during early March ??
Looking forward for your reply. Appreciate your response
Any place away from lights is great for watching Northern Lights 🙂 It does take some patience as you might have to wait for hours only to see the lights for a few minutes, but it’s all worth the time. Just remember to be in a dark place away from artificial lights.
Hi guys..that’s some really detailed article..Kudos to you guys for always providing the detailed information..
I was planning for a trip this december around the christmas time for 2 weeks..Is it the right time to go??We are getting married and want our honeymoon to be a road trip in Iceland..
Congratulations on the wedding 🙂 December is fine for a road trip in Iceland but not the best month as daylight is only for a few hours (but that also means longer nights for a better chance of viewing the Northern Lights). We recommend either November end or Feb/March for a winter road trip in Iceland.
Hi Vid and Savi,
Me and my husband and 2 more couples planning Iceland Trip during new years mainly for Northern Lights. Arnd 8-10 days. Can you please help us plan the same. How to book, accomodation, what all to see in thee best and cost effective way. we would be very grateful.
Hey Savi and Vid,
I am planning my honeymoon in December and want to experience Christmas vibes and also see Northern lights in Iceland. But also wanted your suggestion. Is is advisable to go on a self driven road trip in Iceland in December or should we choose another destination. Also, we don’t have any driving experience outside India. And if not what is the best destination to experience snow and Christmas and new year?
Sorry for missing this message. Hope you had a lovely honeymoon. Driving in Iceland in December is doable. We hope you did that and have an amazing time in Iceland 🙂