I’ve spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Iceland. It sounded a bit crazy to everyone when I told them I would visit the northernmost capital of the world in winter, as we all have misconceptions and prejudices about the volcano and glacier island. I want to break those myths, and let everyone know how fantastic Iceland is, and how even prettier winter can make it look.
(Photograph: Virginie Landry)
It’s always dark outside: Fiction!
During the winter, Iceland does get darker and darker, but there are no endless nights, are there are endless days in summer. In December, the sunrise is usually around 11:15am, and the sunset at 4:00pm. This sums up to at least 4 hours of sun during the day, if it’s not cloudy, which it wasn’t during the time we were there. The light is always at a state of sunset, which gives a very pretty golden glow to everything. However, it makes it a little harder to wake up in the morning, as the early morning is pretty dark. If there are some clouds, the wind blows so hard that the sky is clear pretty quickly. So don’t let your fear of darkness stop you from travelling to Iceland in winter!
It’s so cold out there: Fiction!
It is indeed pretty mild in the winter in Iceland. Temperatures stay at around 0 degrees Celsius, and can go up to 5 or 6 degrees. The wind is quite chilly, as it’s the ‘’north wind’’. A strong windbreaker coat is essential, on top of a hot wool or polyester coat. Also, you will need boots, and not high heels boots. Streets are completely frozen, even in the heart of Reykjavik. Certain streets, such as Laugavegur, the shopping street, are heated by hot water under the pavement and are ice free. But it’s not the case of the majority of the streets. You won’t need to wear thermal underpants and things as such, it’s not because it’s called Iceland that it’s cold!
There is nothing to do: Fiction!
There are many sights to see in Reykjavik, many tours around Iceland to take, many bars and cafes and a lot of shopping! I personally stayed 10 days in Iceland, and could have taken many more. Reykjavik is one of the prettiest cities I have ever seen, and there are many beautiful places to go to have a better look at it. Take the elevator to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja church, or walk up to the top of the Perlan, and experience Reykjavik from atop. Also, as well as the art and history museums, you can visit many original museums like the phallological museums (over 250 penises) or the Volcano house, where you can see, touch and taste the volcanoes. Laugavegur is the shopping street, and you could easily spend an entire day there, shopping for Icelandic wool goods, lava jewellery or beauty treatments.
Also, there are countless tours to take, such as the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, the South Coast tour, the Northern Lights, hiking on glaciers, riding horses, whale watching and so many more. No time to get bored, really!
Fireworks are cracking everywhere in the city at NYE: Fact!
You have to see it to believe it, but it’s true! Islanders and tourists buy their own fireworks and make them crack on New Year’s Eve. Some even begin on December 30th, but on the 31st, it’s absolutely magical. It slowly starts at about 6pm, to finish on January 1st at around 6am. Everywhere you look, you see fireworks. People are throwing fireworks directly in the streets, or at popular sighting sites like Hallgrimskirkja, Perlan or Tjornin.
You will see aurora borealis: Fact and fiction!
Winter is the best time of the year to experience the northern lights, but don’t take it for granted that you’ll see some. As our tour guide told us, aurora borealis can be seen approximately one time out of 3, but then the sky has to be clear and the northern lights scale high enough. The scale measures the activity of northern lights from 0 to 9. According to our guide, which has been doing this tour for years and years, the highest he has seen was a 5 out of 9. At this point, the aurora borealis looks like it’s raining from the sky and could be touched. But this doesn’t happen often. When we tried to hunt them, we had the clearest darkest sky and a scale of 3, which is very high and would have offer shiny green aurora borealis…if we had seen any. They can come at various time between 7pm and 6am, so you pretty much have to stay awake all night to try to see some, which we didn’t do. So yes, maybe you’ll see some, as the chances are at their highest in winter, but it’s not guaranteed.