Tips on how to stay warm in Iceland this winter
So you have booked your trip to Iceland for this winter and are now preparing for your trip? Excellent! Iceland is an amazing country and having been there myself no less than ten times, I can tell you a lot about it. These days, Iceland is overrun by tourists who are on their way from Europe to North America or the other way around. It makes perfect sense because Icelandair offers you a free stopover and this makes it easy for so many travelers to see this beautiful country.
[Note: this blog was first published in February 2017 and updated after my most recent visit to Iceland in February 2019]
The one thing I have learned about Iceland over the past years is that it’s cold. Mind me, it’s always cold. It’s either the wind or the rain or the temperature that will prevent from warming up. I’ve learned to handle the cold and can say that by now, I’m used to Icelandic weather. It can be pretty unrelenting and unless you prepare well for the cold, you will be freezing. Here are my tips on how to stay warm in Iceland this winter!
Also read: tips for a trip to Iceland in winter – things to know before you go!
Get yourself a decent base layer
As an expert in outdoor travel, the main question I get asked is what to wear in the outdoors and how to keep warm. Unless you plan on spending your whole stay in the Blue Lagoon and Reykjavík’s trendy bars, you will be outdoors a lot. Iceland is beautiful and now that you have come all the way, it would be a waste not to get a little taste of what it has to offer. A decent base layer is the one must-have item for every person going to Iceland. Good base layers are not cheap but trust me, they will stay with you for at least ten years to go.
I’ve used Icebreaker a lot over the past however I became quite bored with the design, so I recently switched to Kari Traa. This latest brand is a super trendy Norwegian outdoor brand that offers outdoor gear for women only in amazing colors. Go here to check a part of the collection and buy your gear! Keep in mind when buying that the base layer should be directly on your skin, don’t put anything cotton (never cotton!) underneath. Trust, me, the base layer is the boss!
Go to the Blue Lagoon or the Secret Lagoon
If you can afford it and want to be amazed by how many people can fit into a milky blue colored pool, then please make your way to the insanely popular Blue Lagoon. The water is amazingly warm, you can put all kinds of substances on your face that promise a better skin and you will love the peace and quiet that comes with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. OK, that last one is not very true because the Blue Lagoon does get super busy and nowadays, you will even have to book your visit in advance. Your best bet is to go straight from the airport of Keflavík but remember that all other tourists will most likely do that, too. Myself, I’m not a big fan of the Blue Lagoon, mostly because it’s too busy and too commercial for my taste. I have been twice and for me it’s basically ‘been there, done that’ … for further reading I recommend you to read my post about why not to visit the Blue Lagoon.
Alternatively, there is also the Secret Lagoon about an hours drive away from Reykjavík. It’s a lot smaller yet it wasn’t very secret at all. They don’t have the milky blue water but they have the warm water and about one quarter of the price you pay to get into the Blue Lagoon. Just a thought …
Get yourself a nice, warm Icelandic jacket
Icelandic outdoor gear is awesome! I’m a big fan and can never come home without a new item or two. It’s also expensive but trust me, it will keep you warm! Iceland’s prime brands are 66°NORTH, Cintamani and Zo-On Iceland. 66°NORTH is probably the most expensive one but their designs are the funkiest. I own a jacket, gloves and some t-shirts and have worn them on many of my trips all over the world. You will find their gear all over Iceland but if you’re looking for a bargain, go to their outlet store at Faxafen 12 in Reykjavík. In the same area you will also find an Ice Wear store, a brand I haven’t used myself yet. It’s a bit more colorful than 66°NORTH and a bit cheaper, they have an outlet at Austurhraun in Gardabaer, just outside of Reykjavík. My other favorite brand is Zo-On Iceland, which is lesser known. I have their Esja down jacket and have been wearing it all winter last year. Plus it traveled with me to Patagonia, Tasmania and other cool places. It’s totally worth investing in a nice, Icelandic jacket!
Alternatively, you may bring your jacket from home. During my last trip I had the Fjällräven Singi winter jacket and it kept me warm all day long. More suggestions for what to wear in Iceland in winter can be found here!
Jump into a hot spring!
Iceland is filled with hot springs and many of them are free to enter. Sometimes you will have to walk for a bit and/or drive off the beaten path, but the surroundings are generally stunning. Many of the free ones don’t have changing facilities and/or a toilet, so you will be freezing for a few seconds when going in and out of the water, but once you’re in, it’s amazing. Curious about where to find free nature baths? Then read my article about the best free alternatives to the Blue Lagoon! The best one near Reykjavík is definitely the Reykjadalur Hot Spring!
Brennivín is Iceland’s unsweetened Schnapps that will knock you off your feet. It’s bottled at about 37.5% or 40% alcohol so once you take a shot, it will warm you up straight away. It tastes a little like vodka so if you’re a fan of that, you will definitely love Brennivín. You will find it in many stores around Iceland, as well as in the giant tax-free shop you will pass through upon entering the country at Keflavík Airport. Did you know the name is derived from the word brandy, which comes from the Dutch word brandewijn? I didn’t until I scanned the Wikipedia page. Being Dutch myself, I was surprised I never realized this earlier because the names sound a little a like. Please keep in mind that this way of staying warm should only be used when you don’t plan on driving as it’s illegal to drink and drive in Iceland.
Some other useful tips are to always bring a hat, gloves and a scarf. Wear sturdy hiking boots or snow boots, your All Stars will not protect you from the cold. Bring a thermos so you can drink hot tea along the way, go for a coffee and cake when you find a spot and of course never forget to take a few pair of Handwarmers, my number one favorite item to keep warm when it’s cold!
I’m sure that with these tips you will find it much easier to stay warm in Iceland this winter. And summer. Because it’s almost always cold in Iceland. It’s called Iceland for a reason after all …