WHERE
Itinerary map here

Itinerary:
Iceland - The Corona in 2 Weeks

2 nights: Reykjavik for a view of the Hallgrímskirkja church, Kerid crater lake, Selfoss waterfall and sight seeing in the capital city.
2 nights: Vík for waterworks tour of Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the geothermal active Geysir and Gulfoss waterfall. Plus a hidden abandoned plane in Sólheimasandur and the black cliffs of Dyrhólaey.
2 nights: Höfn for a hike to the black waterfall Svartifoss, then a study in ice formations with Crystal Ice Cave, three glacier lagoon: Svínafellsjökull, Jokalsarlon, Fjallsarlon, and a glacier beach.
1 night: Egilsstaðir for the gateway to Iceland’s second largest city Akureyri, Lava Fields, Godafoss, Dettifoss and the Eastfjords.
1 night: Akureyri for the surrounding volcanos, Hvitserkur, seal Watching in Hvammstangi.
1 night: Hvammstangi for getting into small town Stykkisholmur the next day, Dynjandi Waterfall (fjallfoss), and sunset in Patreksfjörður.
1 night: Patreksfjörður for the nearby Látrabjarg cliff, and seabirds and seal watching at Raudisandur.
1 night: Grundarfjörður for a view of the Snæfellsjökull and Borgarfjörður fjords and surrounding beaches.
2 nights: Reykjavik for the blue lagoon, revisit the golden circle, get a northern lights tour and eat the world famous hot dogs.



" An adventurous itinerary around the island for frozen waterfalls, glacier lakes and ‘Northern Lights’ aurora borealis. If you’re going to Iceland during the winter, this will be an ideal itinerary to follow. "


Some general information:

If you are tempted to take a short trip “just” to see the northern lights, be aware that the lights are fickle. You may stay in Iceland for two weeks and only have one clear night, or you may see the lights every night. Each sighting is a blessing, so always keep your eyes open and your spirits up. When this writer went, we did not see the lights at all for the first week of our trip, but saw a rare pink corona in the westfjords.

Tips: Bring serious waterproof hiking boots and a waterproof coat. Grab local maps when you have the opportunity. Don’t forget your sunglasses as the reflection off of the snow can be quite bright on clear days. Most of the extra “weather” insurance for your rental isn’t necessary, they understand you’re in ICELAND. Pack extra food in your vehicle when traveling outside the capital and gas up as often as you can, you never know how far away the next opportunity to refill your tank or your car’s may be.

Have fun and be safe!

1

Reykjavik

2 nights

Introduction:

Start in Reykjavik, which you really won’t have a choice about since it’s the only international airport on the island. Pick up a 4x4 at one of the car rental companies near the airport. DO NOT try to drive the northern route in winter without a 4 wheel drive vehicle. If you have extra spending cash, spend it on a better vehicle, you won’t regret it when the snow starts to pile up. Make sure to check the road closure map daily to keep out of perilous situations. Also check out the Aurora forecast to see which nights on your trip will give optimal viewings conditions.

What to do:

Day 1
Because you’ll be flying in and out from the same city (or adjacent city, anyway, be aware, the airport isn’t actually in Reykjavik, but a 40-minute drive from there), the things to do listed for this first stay can be swapped for those listed for the last stay. Since the weather is unpredictable, your plans may need to change accordingly. Many tourists visit the Blue Lagoon first, as it’s near the airport, but I recommend booking this at the end of your trip instead, as a nice relaxing warm bookend to a cold adventure. If you want to check out the blue lagoon after picking up your rental, the lagoon is free to roam in without stepping into the water.

On your first day you’ll likely have a bit of jetlag, so take it easy in the city. Visit the famous Hallgrímskirkja church, you can purchase a ticket to its viewing deck on the top of the church, it is the best place for a panoramic view of Reykjavik in my opinion.

Many neighborhoods are walkable in Reykjavik, but most of the winter long walks are not enjoyable due to the fierce wind rolling in from the ocean. Instead, use your afternoon and evening to explore the unique groceries in Iceland for supplies you’ll keep in your car for the next ten days. I highly recommended stocking up groceries for your journey to make the trip more cost efficient and as Icelandic as possible.

On your second day, animal lovers will enjoy a trip to Eldhestar horse farm (do book before your trip), nestled in a valley that will remind you of Hoth. In fact, the folks at Eldhestar may remind you that scenes from Star Wars’ Episode 7’s ice planet were shot nearby. Eldhestar tours include a large lunch. Try the herring curry, an Icelandic dish that, unlike the fermented shark, tastes better than it sounds.

After your horse ride head to Kerid, a small volcanic crater lake which freezes over in the winter.

Day 2
It’s time to see waterfalls on the famous Golden Circle. The golden circle is the most travelled route in Iceland; even in the winter the roads are kept plowed during the daylight. The first stop is Thingvellir National Park, where you can walk through a rift in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Optional: if you want to swim through that ridge, you can don thick scuba suits at the nearby Silfra fissure scuba shop. Do book this tour in advance of your trip.

Then head further north towards Geysir. Be careful at Geysir during the winter. If you have a walking stick, be sure to bring it as the walk up the hill (albeit a low grade) is often covered with an inch of ice that has bruised many a knee.

Gullfoss, a massive waterfall plunging into a crevasse, is a short drive north from Geysir, and shouldn’t be missed. Often the path to the lower overlook is closed in winter, but be sure to walk the upper, less travelled, overlook running along the northern cliffs.

This is where you’ll depart from the golden circle and head south for Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall that, in the winter, seems taken straight from Frozen, complete with ice covered stairs. Yes, this is the waterfall that you’ve seen photos of online, taken from behind the falls. If looking at the waterfall from the front isn’t awe inspiring enough, try hiking up the icy stairs on the left and back behind. During most of the winter you will not be able to get behind the waterfall, but beside it. Warning: this is extremely dangerous, so do so at your own risk!

Be sure to walk the path that leads away from Seljalandsfoss to the west to see more waterfalls, including one hidden inside a cave that feeds a small stream. Enter the cave at your own risk.

After a whole day of driving and waterfall glazing, head to your choice of accommodation and get rest up for the next day!

Eat & drink:

There is a cafe next to Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik that serves the infamous Icelandic fermented shark, it’s pungent foul smell might send a lot of people away from tasting it, it you’re a true food adventurer, it is not to be missed. Hot dogs are not just an extremely popular snack around Iceland. Not only it is one of the most affordable food item, they are delicious with the toppings, sauces, and the high quality crispy hot dog sausage inside a warm bun. There is a famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik where former President Bill Clinton has visited as well. There is also a locally famous hot dog stand near Selfoss Pylsuvagninn Selfossi. Curry Herring is also a interesting food item to try. Efstidalur farm and restaurant near Geysir is a good place for some hot soup. Their specialty is not just the soup, but their spicy jams, do try both the green and red. Warning: You may like it so much you’ll end up taking a few jars home with you.

Next:

Head south on the Ring Road, or Highway 1, the major highway circular around the whole island towards Vik. It might take longer than you think to get to Vik because along the road, there are many interesting spots to stop and see randomly.

2

Vík

2 nights

Introduction:

Vik is the southern tip of the iceland. It is here that you’ll find many of the other famous sights not included on a golden circle tour. Unlike the golden circle, this area is less travelled in the winter, though a few tour buses may follow you from place to place.

What to do:

Day 1
Try to wake up before the tour buses to visit Skogafoss and climb up the steps to the platform at the top of the mountain overlooking the waterfall.

Just a few miles from Skogafoss is a hidden attraction that is guaranteed to be free of tour buses. Head east on the main road and keep your eyes on the fence to the right. When you see an opening, drive off the road and into the long black sand Solheimasandur beach. Often there are small markers placed in the gravel - follow them until you find the wreck of a US Navy DC-3 airplane. If weather permits, drive down to the beach and gaze at the furious dark waves.

When you’re ready, head back to the main road and continue east until you reach Dyrholaey, where several roads lead up to outlooks on the cliffs on the western end. In the winter the wind can come over the cliffs at extreme speeds, so be careful walking around and never get close to the edge. If you look to the east from the top you can see your next destination: Reynisdrangar.

Reynisdrangar is a beach featuring hexagonal black basalt cliffs and sea stacks. Normally swarming with tourists, this beach is often deserted in the winter and although inclement weather may persist, it is more demure here than on the Dyrholaey cliffs. Several basalt caves dot the beach and will give shelter from the wind and water.

Day 2
Put your waterproof hiking shoes on and bundle up for the day. The roads and weather is going to be treacherous at times. Keep heading east on the 1 toward Vatnajokull National Park. You’ll be tempted to stop and photograph the mountains many times. Icelanders may honk at you as greetings, but in the winter there will be few other cars on the road, so do as you please. Beware - many hotels and restaurants on this stretch are closed during the winter, so the groceries you packed away from Reykjavik will come in handy on the drive to Svartifoss.

If you like, you can look for the Landbrotsholar hills, although the famous rocks are often closed in the winter, and the hexagonal ground is hidden under a pile of snow.

On the way to Svartifoss there are many small roads leading to picnic tables, which give a fantastic view north of Skalafell glacier across the flat plain.

At Svartifoss, make your way up the trail and keep going after you pass the first waterfall. Hiking up the hill and over you’ll come to the black waterfall made of the same hexagonal basalt columns you saw at Reynisdrangar. There are small hiking trails that lead close to the waterfall. Proceed with ample caution in the winter.

After Svartifoss keep heading east on the 1, stopping at as many glacier lagoons as possible. A can’t miss lagoon is Svinafellsjokull, which offers a footpath on the side of a volcanic mountain overlooking a large flow and lake. Science fiction fans may recognize the glacier from it’s appearance in the film Interstellar. Or maybe not, since the glacier is constantly but slowly changing as it journeys towards the lagoon.

If there is enough time left in the day, stop at Jokulsarlon lagoon and beach, the most famous attraction in this region. Jokulsarlon is a great place to catch the sunset.

Next:

Continue on the Ring Road until Hofn for more winter beach, lagoons and ice caves.

3

Höfn

2 nights

Introduction:

Hofn’s most famous attraction is normally Jokulsarlon beach and lagoon. However, in the winter, the must see is the Crystal Cave, an ice cave hidden out in Vatnajokull National Park, only open and accessible with a guided tour in winter.

What to do:

Day 1
Even if you made it to Jokulsarlon for the sunset yesterday, it’s recommended to go back to the beach this morning for the sunrise - an equally spectacular sight.

Actual time inside of the Crystal Cave runs only about forty minutes, but it sure will be one of the highlights of your trip. There are two reasons to come to Iceland in the winter, this is one of them. The other, of course, is aurora borealis, easiest to see in the winter months.

After your cave tour be sure to stop at Kviamyrarkambur glacier lagoon. Though tour buses often stop here, the tourists won’t go out on foot to approach the lagoon like you will. This seems to be one of the lesser known lagoons in Iceland because of it inaccessibility, it requires a brisk hike from the small parking lot to get a good view. It’s not dangerous if you stay along the surrounding hills, just be careful not to get too close to the actual lagoon, as you will not be visible from the road if you fall in!

Even better than Kviamyrarkambur is another lagoon only a few miles away that will allow you to walk right up to the glaciers. Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon, in my humble opinion, far exceeded even Jokulsarlon. The reason this lagoon is not included in many tours is because it is significantly bereft of glaciers in the summer. However, in the winter the glacier flow comes right up to the shore. It is fairly safe in the winter to even walk out on a few (just be careful!). This lagoon allows an easy interaction with the ice flows that is not possible at any of the other lagoons (that I visited), save the ice that washes up on Jokulsarlon beach.

Note: Now is a good time to cement your plans for visiting the Blue Lagoon at the end of your trip and purchase your online reservations.

Day 2
The drive to the Eastfjords begins the more dangerous and less touristy part of your trip. Drive slower from now on and pay more attention to road closures. If you get stuck after this point, there may not be tour buses or plows coming along to give you help. You will be at the mercy of the locals, who can be more insular than the more tourist friendly areas closer to the capital. When we asked for directions at a farm (a road was closed) we were told to “turn around and go back where you came from!”

You will be stopping a lot anyway to snap photos of the incredible formations of the Eastfjords, and chances are if you wait long enough you will meet other winter travelers to confer with about road closures or detours.

If you stop anywhere be sure to let folks know of your plans. Often road closures and alternate routes are better known to locals at hotels and restaurants and can save you hours of frustration as you head north. After winding along the cliffs you will eventually head north to Egilsstadir.

About an hour west of Egilsstadir is Litlanesfoss, a series of waterfalls on a mountain that is a popular hiking spot in the summer. In the winter this can be a dangerous endeavor. Be sure to let your hotel know where you’re headed, and turn back on the mountain if you are unsure of your footing at any time.

You are now in northern Iceland. It may be easier to see the northern lights as the mountains that sometimes block views in the south are now behind you. Keep your eyes peeled for anything green at night.

Eat & drink:

Try the soup or Char at the Thorbergur Center near Hofn.

Next:

Continue East on highway 1!

4

Egilsstadir

1 night

Introduction:

Egilsstadir is a surprisingly “large” (by Icelandic standards) town in the northeastern part of the island. It is a common home base for visitors to Dettifoss and Myvatn.

What to do:

If roads permit, head to Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall. Science fiction fans will recognize this the eastern bank of this waterfall from the opening scenes of the film Prometheus. When attempting this drive in the winter be extremely careful! The waterfall is reached by a road not often plowed and tourists are usually only brought to the falls by superjeeps in the winter season. If you hit a snow bank in the road, turn around, it’s not worth risking your life to see this waterfall in a country with so many.

Whether or not you make it to Dettifoss, the lava fields of Myvatn are usually easily accessible even in the winter and create a strange landscape to hike through. There are many small restaurants in this area open for tourists in the winter as well.

Further east be sure to stop at Godafoss and visit both sides of the low slung crescent shaped waterfall.

Next:

Drive across the top of the mountains to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest town.

5

Akureyri

1 night

Introduction:

After what may have been some harrowing winter driving through nearly deserted areas, you’ll appreciate the cozy warmth of Akureyri, which sits at the tip of a fjord and features functioning sea and air ports as well as a bustling city culture not seen elsewhere in the northern country.

What to do:

When the volcano and weather permits, flying tours are available from Akureyri airport to fly over one of Iceland’s active volcanoes. Keep in mind you must book this tour in advance, and it is often cancelled at the last minute. If your tour is cancelled (or you’re not interested in volcanoes) check the open hours for the ski trails on the mountains behind the city.

When heading further east to Hvammstangi, stop at Kolugljufur, a waterfall under a bridge. Even in the winter this waterfall is fairly easy to hike around for interesting perspectives. Be advised, this is now a stop on some winter tours, so you may be utterly alone at the falls one minute, and sharing with forty photographers the next.

If the roads on the Vatnsnes peninsula permit, be sure to stop at Hvitserkur. Many times in the winter the road to the parking lot may be closed. Just park at the top of the hill and walk (slowly!) down the hill to the viewing platform for Hvitserkur rock.

After circling to the other side of Vatnsnes peninsula you’ll come to the seal watching locations just outside of Hvammstangi. Do note that the seals may be hiding if the weather is fierce. If it’s getting close to 5pm you may want to skip that and head to Hvammstangi as there are no restaurants in town (as of 2015) and the only grocery store closes at 5.

In Hvammstangi, check with your hotel for free tickets to swim at the town outdoor pool. Although it may sound strange, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to swim in a heated pool (and hot tub) in the winter. Many outdoor geothermal spas close for the winter, so this may be your only chance to have this experience with locals in the winter (instead of the throngs of tourists at the blue lagoon).

Next:

From Akureyri, take the Ring Road highway 1 until Hvammstangi. Depending on the road condition, you can take road 59 or 60 towards From there Stykkisholmur car ferry to Patreksfjordur.

6

Hvammstangi

1 night

Introduction:

Hvammstangi isn’t a common tourist destination, but rather a stop on the way to the westfjords.

What to do:

The drive to the westfjords will present many interesting landscapes. The road will take you around the slopes of some of the most spectacular fjords you will ever see, and also some of the strangest pockmarked volcanic crater fields in the world.

Your first destination is Stykkisholmur, to take the ferry (buy your tickets in advance) to Patreksfjordur. While waiting for the ferry explore the walking trails by the adjacent lighthouse.

Pay special attention to road conditions in Patreksfjordur before you leave for the ferry. Winter storms can come on suddenly in the westfjords and leave you stranded there if you are unprepared.

However, if weather permits, after driving off the car transport ferry you will cross over a mountain road straddling a fjord just before sunset. The combination of clear water and snow covered cliffs is a phenomenal sight. Another distinct advantage of Patreksfjordur in the winter is it’s isolation. If the skies are clear you will have no trouble seeing the northern lights here, and in a much more beautiful environment than a superjeep tour from Reykjavik can offer. It is likely that you will be alone underneath the wonder of the aurora if you drive a few miles outside the city along the fjord.

Eat & drink:

Be sure to eat at the Fosshotel restaurant (although you may have no choice this time of year), the entrees are world class. Do not pass up the opportunity to indulge in authentic Icelandic mead if it’s in stock.

Next:

You will be taking the same ferry back to Stykkisholmur.

7

Patreksfjordur

1 night

Introduction:

Patreksfjordur is a harbor town in the isolated westfjords region. This may be the most dangerous part of your trip, as roads easily close and block access in and out of the area. Avalanches and storms have caused evacuations and deaths in this region. PLAN AHEAD and check road conditions and weather forecasts thoroughly!

What to do:

On your way back to the ferry there are several sights to see in the westfjords when weather permits.

If you have the time, drive north for the wide and tall Dynjandi waterfalls. Then, on the way to the ferry, stop at the edge of the peninsula for Raudisandur (red sand beach).

NOTE: the harbor office is often closed in winter, just drive to the port and wait for the ferry.

It will be night when you reach Stykkisholmur, book lodging close by so you aren’t driving through bad weather in the dark.

Next:

The final driving leg of your trip will take you down the western coast around the Snaefellsness peninsula.

8

Grundarfjörður

1 night

Introduction:

There are many national parks to stop in, weather permitting, on this route. Be sure to stop at Londrangar sea stacks, one of the easier stops and an unforgettable high cliff facing the ocean. Bird watchers will enjoy the activity here, and ocean enthusiasts will marvel at the height of the waves crashing against the cliffs. Snaefellsness is like a mini Iceland in one small peninsula, a lot of iceland’s distinctive landscapes and wildlife can be found here.

What to do:

Stop at Londrangar sea stacks.

Next:

Driving back on the ring road to the civilization of Reykjavik.

Conclusion

That’s it for a 12-day adventure in Iceland! Your trip to Iceland in the winter will be unforgettable, but be ready to make changes and substitutions to your itinerary. The weather in Iceland is always unpredictable, in the winter that means ice, snow and rain, many times on the same day - sometimes at the same time! If a road is closed on the website, alter your plans. It’s not worth your life to try to see every sight on the itinerary. It’s almost guaranteed that you will NOT see everything on this itinerary. As the video on the plane will tell you- one of the main causes of death in Iceland is tourists ignoring safety concerns. Don’t let that be you. If you take adequate precautions and drive safely, Iceland can be a unique winter adventure you’ll never forget, producing memories you’ll share with few other travelers in the entire world.