Iceland is one of the most amazing destinations I’ve ever visited. It’s just so unique and has an other-worldly feel. You’re isolated in the North Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery on earth and although tourism in Iceland has increased exponentially in recent years, what seems like not a lot of people.
Both times I’ve visited Iceland I’ve been in winter when the weather is obviously much colder, daylight hours are shorter, and the conditions and snow on the road can make it tougher to get around. I’m a member of countless Facebook groups about travel, and I constantly see the questions “How can I get around Iceland without a car in winter?” or “What are the best Iceland winter tours?”, so I decided it was about time to write about it!
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Iceland Winter Tour Options
There are several ways to take tours in Iceland in winter:
Guided Day Tours from Reykjavik or other locations
If you’re only in Iceland for a short time then you might want to choose the capital as your base and take guided day tours from Reykjavik to the best Iceland destinations that are close by. This might suit you more if you prefer to organise many things yourself, but just want some help with getting around Iceland in winter without a car. It means you can pick and choose different tours and companies and basically create your own itinerary.
It is also possible to take guided day tours from other locations around Iceland, and in some cases, you’ll need to do so. For example, if you want to see an ice cave tour but you’re driving you’ll still need to take a tour. You could do this from Reykjavik, or join a tour in Vik for example.
Guided Multi-Day Tours
If your stay in Iceland is a little longer, or you want to see destinations that are further away from Reykjavik then you can consider guided multi-day tours of Iceland in winter. These will allow you to see much more of the country, but you’ll have a bit less freedom about where you stay and you’re with a group for more than one day which for some people who are a bit introverted like me, can seem a bit daunting. However, if this is your only option for getting around Iceland in winter because you’re travelling alone, hiring a car is too expensive, or you’re not confident about driving in the Icelandic weather, then there are some amazing multi-day tours that you’ll be thankful you decided to take!
Getting Around Iceland in Winter
On my first trip to Iceland, I was driven around by my Icelandic friends on my own personal winter tours, so I didn’t need to worry about having to deal with the conditions or how to get around Iceland in winter by myself. The next time we hired a car, and let me tell you, driving in Iceland in winter is no joke, especially if you’re unused to driving snow and white-out conditions along roads with drops into freezing waters or snow banks on either side. I wrote a whole post about things to know before you travel to Iceland in winter, mostly due to our driving experience!
Of course, it’s possible to rent a car and visit many of the top sites in Iceland in winter, but it can also be very stressful thanks to the roads, and you have to take into account increased travelling times but in shorter daylight hours. The answer really is to take Iceland tours in winter. This means that you can relax and not stress about how to get to the amazing destinations around Iceland.
Many of the things to do in Iceland in winter can be done with a car, and if you have the time, confidence, and experience to drive, then you certainly can! Some things you can ONLY do by tour, however, like going to Ice Caves. You might find that you want to do some things on your own and some on a tour, which works too. For example, hunting for the Northern Lights on your on can be a bit daunting if you don’t know the roads or where to go, and you might have better luck on the right tour. Car hire in Iceland is expensive, so you could choose to only hire a car for some of your trip and then you’ll save on that front, but you’ll need to take into account how much taking a tour will cost you as well.
The best Iceland winter tours
Unlike some places in Europe, Iceland doesn’t shut up shop in winter and you can find plenty of winter tours to choose from. Below are some of the best activities to do in Iceland in winter, so that you can see what suits you and figure out the best Iceland winter tours for you!
Many people want to drive the Golden Circle and although we found it was one of the better roads we drove on our trip, there were definitely points of high altitude where we were following the tracks of the car in front of us and couldn’t see much else thanks to a snow storm!
If you don’t want to drive yourself then there are plenty of Golden Circle tour options from Reykjavik. You’ll want to check the size of the bus since some are large and others are mini-buses, and where exactly they stop along the route. There are three major stops, Gullfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and Geysir, but some will stop in additional locations too.
At Thingvellir National Park you have the opportunity to dive or snorkel between two tectonic plates, even in winter! Most general Golden Circle Tours won’t include this, so you may need to look at a tour that does, or spend one day seeing the general Golden Circle and another half day going on a snorkelling/diving tour.
You can read more about my amazing experience snorkelling in Silfra Fissure here.
Seeing the Northern Lights is often at the top of many people’s Iceland Bucket List. The only problem is that you’re never guaranteed to be treated to a solar light show! Visiting Iceland in winter definitely gives you more opportunity to do so, however, and you can also schedule a tour to give you the best chance as well. If you don’t see the Northern Lights on your first tour, many companies will take you out on subsequent tours until you do! That’s why it’s best to book a Northern Lights tour on your first night. Make sure you check each tours conditions and what is involved, as some will have extras like glacier walks or jeep tours, or you can even do a Northern Lights tour on a boat!
If you do have a car for some of your time in Iceland you can always try and view the Northern Lights yourself, however, knowing where to go can be more of an issue. You need somewhere with as little light pollution as possible and clear skies. You can check the Aurora Forecast to see if they will be near you and if the skies are clear, and then go to somewhere sparsely populated.
Snowmobiling is a super fun winter activity and can be combined with ice climbing, glacier walking or caving as well, depending on the Iceland winter tour you choose. There are day trips from Reykjavik to Langjökull Glacier, Europe’s second largest glacier. Some of these snowmobiling tours are also combined with aspects of the Golden Circle, so make sure you check out what each tour offers so you can make the most of your trip and not visit the same locations twice!
Skiing or Snowboarding
Despite what you may think Iceland is actually a lesser known or lesser visited place in Europe for skiing and snowboarding. There are small ski resorts for both beginners and more advanced skiers and snowboarders, where you can go on downhill trails or try cross-country skiing. It is possible to get to the top of some mountains by cat ski or helicopter and ski down, and in some cases, you can even ski down to the ocean! Ski fields are open from around November until April and many have lights for nighttime skiing, thanks to the short daylight hours.
Ice Caves and Ice Tunnels
Like glaciers, you’ll need to take a tour to see the ice caves and tunnels in Iceland. Langjökull is a man-made ice tunnel that is the largest (and first) of it’s kind in the world. There are also natural ice caves and tunnels that can change every year, so join a tour based on what you want to see and the level of physical exertion you can handle! Tours can be combined with visits to hot springs, snowmobiling, driving over the top of a glacier or even ice climbing.
About 11% of the surface of Iceland is covered in glaciers, and there are 269 named glaciers (you’ll know as they end in “jökull”). Winter is a fantastic time to take a glacier walking tour, as it can also be combined with seeing ice caves and tunnels, or even ice climbing. You should never attempt to explore a glacier or ice cave on your own unless you have had proper training and have the right equipment, and even then it’s best to go with a local who knows the area well. This makes it the perfect Iceland winter tour, even if you plan on hiring a car for the rest of your time in the country. While there are glacier walks available from Reykjavik, you can also join tours in Vik or in other areas around the ring road.
What better place to be introduced to ice climbing than in Iceland? Join an ice climbing tour for beginners, or look for something more advanced if you have some experience. Many of these tours are combined with a glacier walk, so you can make the most of your experience. The guides will adapt the lesson and the climb to the individual, so don’t be nervous if you’ve never done it before!
Iceland is brimming with hot springs and pools, and although it’s easy to reach the Blue Lagoon, the most famous hot spring, there are lots of other cheaper and more interesting options too. Knowing where to find the best hot springs in Iceland in winter can take a bit of detective work, as some are unreachable, or not hot enough in the winter months to tempt you to take a dip. Many tours will include a hot spring stop, so combine it with another Iceland winter activity!
South Coast and Glacier Lagoon
The drive to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon along the South Coast of Iceland is one of the best road trips in Iceland. If you were to drive directly from Reykjavik it takes around 4.5 hours with no stops, but you’ll want to stop! Plus the road conditions can vary in winter with extreme wind, ice and snow, so it can take longer than you expect. My first visit to Iceland I was short on time and did the trip in one day, driven by my Icelandic friends who know it well. We left early and got back very late, but were lucky with fairly clear roads and we only stopped at major points along the way, with the majority of the return trip in darkness.
The second time I visited Iceland in November we stayed overnight at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, which we absolutely loved and it gave us a chance to relax after a long day, before getting up early to get to the glacier lagoon as the sun was rising, and then stop at other places on our trip back.
This means you have two options for an Iceland winter tour across the south coast to the glacier lagoon. You can look at a one day tour, but know that you’ll spend much of the drive in darkness and may not make as many stops, or book a multi-day tour that will stop more often and give you more time to see everything. Personally, I would choose the second!
Icelandic Food Tour
Not every winter tour has to be outside! If you want to spend a day in Reykjavik learning more about Icelandic culture, consider taking a food tour. Some offer craft beer tasting with Icelandic-style tapas and others give you full-blown meals at each stop along the way. Find out more about Icelandic comfort food, and keep an open mind for some of the dishes!
Ring Road and Northern Iceland tours
Driving the ring road in Iceland is a dream, as you pass through so many different landscapes and have the opportunity to visit all sorts of attractions. However, the prospect of driving yourself around the entire country or even just to explore more of the north of Iceland can be a bit daunting in the winter. We were happy we only did 3 days of driving ourselves on our winter trip in November and were able to spend the rest of the time being driven around!
If you have the time and want to see a lot more of Iceland without the stress and planning, then taking a multi-day tour around the country is a great way to do it. The tour guides will know exactly where they’re going and be able to organise the best activities for you based on the conditions.
Located to the northwest of Reykjavik, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula has become an increasingly popular destination in Iceland, in addition to the Golden Circle and the south coast drive to the glacier lagoon. Travelling around the peninsula gives you the opportunity to see dramatic glacial landscapes, rugged Icelandic coast and rock formations, black sand beaches, and Kirkjufell, claimed to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland.
You can take a day trip from Reykjavik to see the best of what the Snæfellsnes Peninsula has to offer. Be warned the trip will be long, but there are also a lot of stops to break up the day and it’s worth it to be able to see another part of Iceland!
You can’t travel around Iceland without spotting the beautiful Icelandic horses, with their thick fur and shaggy manes. However, you don’t just have to admire from afar, but can also do some Icelandic horse riding! There are farms that offer horse riding all over the country if you want to visit yourself, but you can also take a tour in winter. These might involve also visiting the lava fields or other dramatic landscape. Different tours will cater for different levels of experience, so choose the one that’s right for you.
Travelling to Iceland in winter doesn’t mean that you need to be stuck in Reykjavik thanks to the snow and road conditions, or that you need to hire a car if you’re worried about driving. Instead, take an Iceland winter tour so that you can sit back and enjoy your trip, and be taken to the best spots around Iceland! Consider using Reykjavik as a base and taking multiple day trips, or to see even more take a multi-day trip. Check all the tours carefully to see where they stop to avoid too much duplication and plan your own awesome Iceland itinerary in winter without a car!
Planning your trip to Iceland?
- Start with Iceland in Winter: 25 Things to Know Before You Go
- Want to have an epic experience? Read Silfra: Snorkelling Between Tectonic Plates in Iceland
- Visiting in November? Read What it’s Like Visiting Iceland in November + Top Tips For Your Trip
- Game of Thrones fan? Check out the Game of Thrones Locations in Iceland Guide + Map to Find Them
- Want to go walking but not sure? Find a hike for you at 21 Epic Hikes in Iceland (For All Levels)
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