Iceland had been a dream trip for a long, long time. However, this trip to Iceland was very much on a whim.
We wanted to ring in the New Year overseas but also really wanted to rest, relax, and not feel like we needed to explore constantly. Because Iceland has 4 hours of daylight in late December and January - it was perfect. We could sleep in guilt free, explore a little, experience an incredible country, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (another dream!)
Our biggest fear when booking this trip was Icelandic winter weather. TripAdvisor forums can scare the heck out of you! We constantly flipped back and forth on if we should go, if we’d feel comfortable on the roads, and what kind of vehicle to rent - because it’s hard to travel around Iceland without a car. They do have tours and bus routes, but the best way to explore on your own requires a vehicle!
While researching accommodations, we stumbled upon a camper van for rent on Airbnb. We hadn’t even considered this option but after diving in, doing more research on van companies, and reading up on winter conditions in Iceland - we decided to go for it. Plus, combining our living space and our vehicle saved us a few bucks!
The experience was like NOTHING ELSE.
Even now I constantly crave another Icelandic camper van adventure. It was pure magic. We could go wherever we wanted without the stress of getting back anywhere. We had full freedom to pick a few campsite options and decide later in the day where we'd end up. We'd get there in the dark, and then wake up to beautiful, new scenery.
Because of the heightened interest in camping in Iceland over the past few years there are tons of Campsites still open in winter, and they are GREAT campsites. Clean showers and bathrooms, kitchens where you can cook meals - in case its too cold or windy to cook in or outside of your van. A lot of times there are extra gas canisters for your camping stoves, and free food, coffee and tea left by other campers. Some have laundry facilities, one even had a resident dog and hot tub!
While we were in Iceland - and with only four hours of daylight - we were still able to see the Akranes Lighthouse, drive a bit of the ring road and see the volcanic crater, Kerið, celebrate the new year on top of the highest hill in Reykjavik where there was a 360 view of the fireworks going off around the city, head south and visit the Blue Lagoon, Rekyjanes, Dyrhólaey, Vík, the black sand beaches, Selfoss and a glacier. We even saw the Northern Lights early on New Year’s Day as we were heading back to our campsite after watching fireworks.
The best part about Iceland is that as you’re driving, you’re experiencing the constantly changing, stunning landscape. It's unlike anything I've ever seen - within 30 minutes you could be staring at at the ocean, then surrounded by lava fields or driving through a mountain pass.
The company we used - Camp Easy makes planning on the fly and discovering places to visit so easy with their navigation system. You select the places you’re interested in (lava fields, museums, hot springs, churches) and as icons will pop up on your route. We found a lot of awesome things this way!
The winter driving didn’t turn out to be as scary as we thought BUT we were lucky with weather. It wasn’t very cold, which kept ice off the road and it only snowed a little bit once or twice.
This is NOT always the case.
If you’re not comfortable driving in extreme winter conditions, I wouldn’t suggest going to Iceland in winter because there is no guarantee on their weather. What is guaranteed is that there will be crazy heavy winds at times, which can blow off your car door, slide you across icy roads (both your car and your tiny human body) and all sorts of dangerous things. There were a few times I thought my arm was going to dislocate because of how the wind caught the car door. Always park into the wind, if you can, and hold onto the door with two hands when opening it! Rental companies won’t insure this kind of damage so if something happens, you’ll be out of luck!
The wind and weather conditions were also why we chose to stay on the south west side of Iceland. We didn’t want to risk ourselves getting caught in crazy snow and wind storms that frequent the east and north. We’ll save those areas for a future midnight sun trip in the summer!
What we missed:
- Hiking - not a great idea in the winter unless you’re with a guide
- Hidden hot springs - I really wanted to find a bunch, and we did - but timing didn’t work out and committing to being wet outside in Iceland in January is hard to do.
- The ring road
- Southeastern Iceland
- Northern Iceland
- Renting a camper van
- Selfoss (big waterfall that you can view from the bottom and top!)
- Reykjanes (a park area with multiple sites)
- Blue Lagoon (yes it’s touristy and slightly overrated but we had the best time. There are other sulfuric springs in Iceland that you can go to if you want less of a tourist spot!)
- Dyrhólaey (a nature reserve)
Ps: you can camp at some waterfalls!!