In the last few years Iceland has become an increasingly popular destination. It has made it to the top of many people’s bucket lists, also to mine. Personally, I believe social media has contributed a lot to that hype. Being confronted with all those beautiful pictures of amazing landscapes proves to be a very effective advertisement.

Iceland – the country of fire and ice, volcanoes and glaciers, hot springs and waterfalls, home to Vikings and trolls, black beaches and the Blue Lagoon. I had pictured this remote island with vast mountainous landscapes as the ultimate place to experience real winter – since Scotland did not really quench my thirst for snow and ice. Equipped with these pictures in my head I have developed certain expectations and was eager to actually see this country for myself.

I expected Iceland to be void of tourists at this time of the year (beginning of January). I was very much looking forward to visiting beaches, mountains and hot springs all by myself. Suffice to say I was very surprised when I actually arrived there. Lets talk about three lessons I learnt in Iceland – which hardly anybody is talking about.


3 Lessons of visiting Iceland in Winter - A Reality Check

photo via Unsplash

‘Iceland is incredibly expensive’

I like to see as much of a country as possible during my visits, because I tend not to return to the same country, since there are so many more I want to explore. Even though I try to travel on a low budget, I almost always rent a car to make the most of my time and be flexible. Apart from the flights this is usually the most expensive part of my trips, but in the case of Iceland it was THE single most expensive element.

Iceland is quite notorious for being expensive, but in fact I was surprised to notice that it is not as horrendously expensive in comparison to the rest of the Nordic countries. A trip to Iceland will cost you, but I expected it to be much worse. That was one positive surprise!

Lesson learned: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.


3 Lessons of visiting Iceland in Winter - A Reality Check

photo by Kathi Kamleitner

‘You need a 4WD’

As far as renting a car in Iceland is concerned, I can only share my experience. I was torn between taking a 4 wheel drive or not. On the one hand it was winter, I was alone and you read almost everywhere that 4WD is recommended, even needed for certain roads. On the other hand, a small car was half the cost of a 4WD, mountain passes are closed during winter anyways and I consider myself a pretty good driver. The budget was the crucial aspect in my decision – I opted for a small car. A choice I only regretted for about half an hour during one morning when I was driving a slightly ascending road. It was still completely dark, it was foggy, started to snow and the wind almost blew me off the street. When I zigzagged up the road, sliding somewhat, the road too narrow to make a u-turn, I actually broke a sweat. As I said, that lasted for about half an hour; then the wind and snow stopped and I continued without any problems. In general, all major roads were free of snow and ice, well maintained and no problem for a small car. Apparently this year’s winter has been the warmest in Iceland for the last 150 years, so I might just have been lucky – at least with the driving conditions.

Lesson learned: You can do a road trip in Iceland with a 2WD, but it might be dangerous.



photo by Kathi Kamleitner

‘In winter you get it all to yourself’

This winter has also been Iceland’s busiest low season – I am sure for many more than 150 years. While it might have been true a few years ago, that winter in Iceland meant empty roads and hot spots, this is not the case anymore. Wherever I went, I saw busloads of tourists, which was quite annoying since I had come for peace and quiet. The Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir) was the most overcrowded attraction I visited, apart from the Ice cave-Tour I had booked. Both the Golden Circle and the Ice cave were beautiful, but I would not have done it had I remotely suspected the amounts of people there. At least at the Blue Lagoon I had expected the crowds – and was not let down.

Lesson learned: Once you know what to expect, you can prepare accordingly. Go very early or very late, really!


3 Lessons of visiting Iceland in Winter - A Reality Check

photo by Kathi Kamleitner

Iceland has definitely exceeded my expectations, despite the surprisingly large numbers of tourists. The hours of daylight are very limited, but once it’s light, there is an eerie glow all day. Stepping on a black sand beach is quite fascinating, especially if there are pieces of ice lying around like diamonds. I highly recommend going to Jokulsarlon – a glacier lagoon with a connection to the sea. The other highlight for me was the valley of hot springs near Hveragerdi. You can enter it from various spots, include a little hike and then chill in a hot river.

What I liked most were the moments I had finally found a spot for myself, which was not that difficult after all. Iceland lives up to the expectations, but you should know what to expect. Book your ticket, rent a car and see for yourself!


3 Lessons of visiting Iceland in Winter - A Reality Check

photo via Unsplash


This is a guest post by Marlene Steinberger.





Marlene has always been fascinated by other countries, cultures and languages. Whenever she could afford it, she would book her next journey. She has recently fulfilled her dream of moving to Scotland and writes about this and her other trips on her blog Leni Loves Scotland
(mostly in German, soon to be English as well). You can also catch up with her on instagram @leni.loves.scotland.