Travel Diary | What to Expect in Iceland During the Winter

Hello everyone! As promised, here’s an in-depth post about my trip to Iceland and where we stayed, what we ate, and what we did. Basically, what you can expect when visiting Iceland during the winter. You may have seen some sneak peeks on my instagram and stories while I was there. Be sure to follow as to not miss my next travel adventure. Also fair warning: this is a very heavy photo post, so if you don’t have a great internet connection, it may take some time for the photos to download for you.

day one

My friends and I took a 6pm flight from BWI to Reykjavik which landed us at 5am there—a 5 1/2 hour flight that didn’t take long at all to get there. I booked our car through Lagoon Car Rental—a family-owned business who took care of us from the time we got there until after we returned the car. We had a great experience with them and will surely come back for repeat service! After you claimed your baggage and passed customs, wait for them in the ground transportation area where someone will come by every 30 minutes or so to pick you up and drop you off at the car rental place. I reserved an SUV that would fit four people and our luggages as well as added a few protections such as preventing dings or accidents along the way. The weather can be unpredictable so it was a good measure to add those. Also be sure to ask for cars with spike tires in Iceland which most will have it. We didn’t know how important that was until we drove on icy roads and it was such an ease to drive without slippage.

Once we were done, it was straight to our hotel at Icelandair Hotel Reykyavik Marina. The hotel’s interior was very modern with warm fireplaces scattered throughout the hotel. As you walk down the corridor on the right passed the elevator, you’ll find a business center, a very modern library with comfy arm chairs as well as a little cafe with cute seating area. The left side of the hotel hosts a dining area where they serve breakfast buffets in the morning and dinner at night. I didn’t get a chance to take photos, so these below are courtesy of the hotel’s website as well as Lucky for us when we checked in, our original room was not cleaned up when we went in, so the hotel upgraded us to a view with the marina. Sweet. Also the bath products were supplied by L’Occitane—another sweet surprise.

By the time we arrived and checked in, the sun was just beginning to rise at 9:30am. It took some time to get used to the sun rising at 9:45am and set at 4:30pm which really didn’t give us enough daylight to do all that we want. My photographer friend, Angela and I tried to sleep on the plane as much as we could, because we didn’t want to waste the first day away catching up on sleep. Unfortunately, Alejandra, who is an organizer guru, and her husband couldn’t sleep on the plane, so they stayed behind to rest up and even hit the Blue Lagoon after their rest. Side note: if you want to do the Blue Lagoon, you must book in advance to get the time slot you want. Since we spontaneously booked our trip two weeks before arrival, the time slots I wanted were gone. I decided to wait until I am back in Iceland again during the summer to take advantage of it then. Alejandra and her husband got lucky and found one 4pm slot last minute as well as an 8pm slot, but they were able to request moving the 8pm slot up to 4pm and stayed for three hours there. Angela and I, on the other hand, started our exploration of Iceland by hitting the Golden Circle, seeing beautiful and super friendly Icelandic horses along the way, went to Laugarvatn Fontana for our own thermal bath experience and ended our first day at Gullfoss waterfall—a magnificent waterfall that reminded me of Niagara Falls.

During the winter time, although you’ll get long night hours to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), it was also tricky with the winter weather changing constantly and you need a clear sky to see the lights. The first two days were quite rainy & cloudy for us during our road trip south or we just weren’t in the right area to see them, so missed out. You can use this map here to see where the optimal spots to see the Northern Lights indicated by the white patches. Again, another thing for me to come back during the summer and although the summer nights are short—it’ll still be nice to try to catch it.

day two

Second day had us waking up at 8am for breakfast. Iceland is known for their fresh fish and you’ll most likely find plenty of restaurants that serve smoked salmon. Also pizza which is odd. Alejandra and her husband, Ed, had pizza every day when we were there. They did the hotel’s breakfast buffet, while Angela and I tried out this local place right by the hotel called Kaffivagninn. Forgot to mention that the first day I was there, I learned the word for cake which is kaka. Comes in handy when you’re ordering dessert. Ha!

Then it was a five hour road trip to Höfn, but first without stopping to take more photos of Icelandic horses, plenty of Iceland’s sceneries, the Seljalandfoss waterfall, and the Black Sand Beach with its magnificent staggered cliff formations. Before the beach though, we did stop at this restaurant called Halldorskaffi for brunch which was super good but also quite pricey. The restaurant is located in a small town called Vik which there weren’t many restaurants in the area hence the priciness. Also fun fact, Yelp does not exist in Iceland apparently so we had to find a lot of the restaurants through Trip Advisor and/or Google. Although this restaurant was pricey, the food was so good that it was worth it.

After the beach, we drove straight on to Höfn where we checked into a guest house called Nyibær Guesthouse. I’ve never stayed in a guest house before but it was like living in a fancier dorm place where each room had a key and there was a common area for the dining room and kitchen. The room we stayed in unfortunately smelled of cigarettes which we tried to air out leaving the windows open before we left for dinner. It helped a little, but the scent probably permeated into the walls, because it was very evident after a steamy shower. Other than that, it was clean and didn’t have any other complaints. Also lucky for us, we were able to get to the guest house before 8pm to meet the landlady there for the keys. We didn’t realize that there was a time period to meet so thankfully we left Vik in time, otherwise, probably would’ve been forced to sleep in the car. Note, Höfn was also the hardest one for us to find a place to stay as well since the town was even smaller than Vik, so most places were booked up. As for dinner, I didn’t take photos of the restaurant Pakkhús that we went to, but I had their lobster bisque and plenty of bread to keep me filled for the night. It was such a quaint little restaurant by the water and the food didn’t disappoint.

day three

Day three and the only day that it was a beautiful sunny day while we were there, Angela wanted to wake up for the sunrise which was not a problem since it rose so late in the morning and lasted for a whole hour. So we went to Höfn beach to take in the sunrise and what a beautiful sight it was. The owner there has been there for over 20-30 years I want to say and to enter the beach, you’d pay about 8 kronos. He chatted us for a bit about the history of the area and even let us walked down to the farm house where they kept the horses unfenced. It was such a great experience that I wouldn’t forget for awhile. They were such gentle and friendly creatures that I really could’ve played with them all day.

After we spent probably a good two hours there, we went to Kaffi Hornid for lunch where I ordered unlimited cauliflower soup and bread for $11. That was probably the best deal I have yet to come across while in Iceland. You could even share the soup and bread but can only use one bowl to share with two spoons. Angela and I shared the soup and bread as well as the Langoustine tempura. Incidentally, we also got the email late that our ice cave tour, the main reason why we went to Höfn, got cancelled due to the heavy rain the past few days, which made it unsafe.

Not to be discouraged, we went back on the road to Jökulsárlón to see the largest glacier lake in southeast Iceland. We drove right past it in the dark, which made the area pitch black and unnoticeable. But in the daylight, boy, was it a sight to see! Then across the road, you’ll run into the Diamond beach—another beautiful spot to take plenty of photos. Then we headed back to Vik to stay the night for our halfway point at another Icelandair hotel—the Hotel Edda. This time I remembered to take some interior photos below. I like the Dove squeeze bottles attached near the sink and shower. Also note, most bathrooms in Europe are pretty tiny and even with my petite frame, I still managed to bump my elbow on the faucet. Finally we ended the night with our last dinner at this nearby restaurant, Suður-Vík. This place gets pretty crowded as we walked in and you’ll probably have a good 30-40 minute wait during dinner time.

last day

Our final day, we checked out pretty early to hit the road and get to the last waterfall spot, Skogafoss, before heading straight to the airport after dropping off the rental, stopping along the way to take more photos.

And that’s it. If you reached the end of this post, bravo! Also many thanks to Lagoon Car Rental & especially Alexandria there for providing us with the car to help us explore beautiful Iceland and I can’t wait to come back again. I hope this post was helpful to you. You can catch my vlog of the whole trip as well. Thanks for reading everyone and see you in my next post!


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  1. Woah! That was literally everything we did. Very complete and good write up! Nice pics, Mel! I didn’t even realize you were taking that many of the places we stayed. LOL.

    • Lol, yeah! It was such a long post and took me about several hours to edit and write up the post. Glad I covered everything though =D

  2. very nice post. Can u plz tell me the camera and lense u used and the editing software u used to edit the pics they r amazing. I am planning a trip very soon to iceland this was very helpful!!

    • Hi Neha! I brought my Canon G7X mark II as well as my Canon 5D Mark III with the 40mm pancake lens. You do not need those equipment to get beautiful photos though. If you have a starter dslr like a Canon Rebel T4i or T5i, all you need are the right lens and I’d recommend getting the 50mm 1.8 lens which is roughly around $100 for best photos. You can add on the 24mm pancake lens I believe for around $200 if you want landscape photos. Hope this helps!