6 Reasons to Visit Iceland in the Winter

by  Karen Gardiner | Jan 16, 2014
Northern lights in Iceland
Northern lights in Iceland / tawatchaiprakobkit/iStock

Chalk it up to the name, or perhaps the prospect of short daylight hours, but many people are not exactly keen on the idea of visiting Iceland in the winter. But perhaps that's a good thing. After all, it leaves the cheap hotels, airfare deals, and cozy hot springs to those of us who are in the know.

Here are six of the best reasons to visit Iceland in the winter...

1. It's not as cold as you'd expect.

Iceland is blessed with a warm gulf stream that flows along its southern and the western coast, making for a much milder climate than you'd expect. This warm stream does bring with it changeable conditions, however, so do be prepared for wind and rain.

2. You could see the Northern Lights.

We have already detailed how to see and how to photograph the Northern Lights, but it is worth reiterating that the solar flares that determine the intensity of the Aurora Borealis are at their peak this winter, making this your best opportunity for Aurora spotting in a decade. Given that the sun barely dips below the horizon from mid May to August, it's highly unlikely that you will ever see the Northern Lights in the summer.

3. Hotels are cheaper.

Realistically, bargains are hard to come by in Iceland, but if you are looking for a deal, you're more likely to find one during winter. Consider the recently opened Hlemmur Square hotel in Reykjavík: January rates at this hip design hotel start at $180 per night, and rise significantly to $311 in July. The contrast is thrown into even sharper focus at the Reykjavík Lights hotel, where January rates start at $74 per night and increase to $248 in July.

4. Icelandair is running two good deals.

Icelandair is currently running a sale on flights between the U.S. and Iceland during February and March. You can snag a round-trip flight between New York City and Reykjavík for as little as $585, but you'll have to hurry. The promotion is only valid until midnight on January 16. If you miss out on that offer, you can still take advantage of Icelandair's "Build Your Own" package, which includes round-trip flights and two nights at a hotel starting at $770 per person for New York City departures.

5. You can warm up in the hot springs...

While the Blue Lagoon is certainly the most famous, Iceland is home to many more hot springs that don't cost a króna to enter. Reykjadalur, which translates as Steam Valley, is a naturally occurring hot spring located on the Hengill volcano, close to Thingvellir National Park. To get there, drive 45 minutes from Reykjavík, then take a short hike from the town of Hveragerði, which is known for its greenhouses heated by hot spring water.

6. ... or in a spa.

Located at the beginning of the hike to Reykjadalur, the Ion Luxury Hotel is one of the newest members of the ultra-hip Design Hotels collection. This 45-room hotel, like much of Iceland, focuses on sustainability, utilizing recycled materials, locally sourced wood, organic toiletries, and energy and hot water from the nearby Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station. At the hotel's Lava Spa, you can choose from a variety of spa treatments or simply lie in the outdoor, 32-foot hot tub and take in the views of the volcanic tundra. The hotel also has an on-site restaurant serving Icelandic cuisine and a bar with large picture windows for optimal Northern Lights viewing. Again, winter offers the best rates at this hotel: January rates start at $239 while in July the same room goes for $319.

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