9-day Iceland Winter Itinerary (February)
Have you ever come across a seat sale to Iceland or had the option to stop over during a trip to Europe? If you’ve never been to Iceland, I highly suggest that you take that opportunity to visit. Don’t let winter in Iceland scare you away. It’s really not that bad and if you have the right itinerary, your days will be filled with adventure and beautiful scenic views.
The first real time Iceland came on my radar was on a cold January Sunday evening and I was getting ready to fall asleep. Mitch suddenly nudged me showing me a deal to Iceland but it was only valid for the next 48 hrs. I don’t think he realized at the time that I was/am the type to do stuff on a whim, especially vacation to Iceland in the dead of winter. Little did Mitch know that his teasing would turn into fruition.
The next morning I convinced Mitch and somehow managed to find friends (my close, fun, adventurous and cool friends) who were interested and happened to have the same vacation time booked. We were on a time crunch to figure out logistics and flights but it all came together. This trip was meant to be. We would leave February 22 and leave March 3rd.
Was this a smart choice – to get away from the wintry cold of Winnipeg just to go to another wintry cold country? Yes! We bought the tickets just as the sale was coming to an end. Right away, I started to research.
I only knew of Iceland from watching the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I love love love that movie! The rise of the underdog always gets me. I looked up many blog posts to see what to pack and what to expect. There was a lot of information out there.
The plan for an epic Icelandic adventure
I was tasked with (I volunteered myself) the planning of the entire 9 day itinerary. Eeeeeep! Everyday I was on the computer researching and booking.
As you begin your planning you’ll notice the sheer number of things to do in Iceland becomes overwhelming, the spelling and pronunciation of the names of places make things confusing, fitting everything you want to do with such few daylight hours, and factoring in the drive time between each site will stress you out. Don’t. You’ll be fine.
I did all the stressing for you. Plus there are plenty of resources and travels blogs that can help steer you into what kind of trip you want. Plus, as long as you and your group of travel buddies are up for adventure, you’re golden!
If you worry about budget like most people, check out my budget breakdown for my 9-day Iceland vacation here: https://nomadgirlfriend.com/budget-breakdown-for-9-days-in-iceland/
If you’re just as confused with what to pack, have a gander at this post: https://nomadgirlfriend.com/what-to-pack-for-iceland-in-winter-9-days/
The following is the itinerary I made for our 9 days in Iceland in February. There are some things that I would change but overall, this will be a great base to plan your trip.
Knowing we probably wouldn’t be coming back to Iceland, we wanted to see the most of Iceland. We decided to stick to the Ring Road.
If you stay on this main road, you’re likely to see everything you want without having to stray too far off the highway. I personally don’t like traveling backwards as I find it a waste of time. This meant we had to get up early each morning to pack and head towards our next destination while it was still a little dark. This worked out well for us so that we could maximize what little sunlight we had during the day.
Day 1: Golden Circle
If you’re arriving in the wee early morning, you’ll take a bus that will drop you off at the car rental shops. From there you will head to the the Diamond Circle (a 300 km route). Diamond circle is the most popular tourist route because it has a lot of attractions. Those with only a couple days in Iceland, you’ll be told to go here.
Gullfoss (aka golden falls) is the first stop. It is a massive waterfall with great history that you should definitely read up on. Pictures don’t do it justice.
It was still dark out when we picked up our car so we decided to drive to Gulfoss first hoping the sun would peep out by then. The drive was scary AF and this is coming from 4 people who are from a city nick named ‘Winterpeg’ for a reason.
Roads can be pretty treacherous and sometimes there is no visibility so please take caution.
Next is Geysir. Geysir is rarely active but, Strokkur is the main highlight as it erupts every 5-10 minutes. As you walk along the paths, you’ll see a plethora of fumaroles that blow out steam and gas.
(if you want to relax on your first day, you can visit Laugarvatn Fontana for a few hours at their geothermal spa and also take a bakery tour or enjoy their lunch or dinner buffet. Make sure to check their hours as it changes often)
The last is Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. This is where you can see the division between the Eurasion and the North Atlantic tectonic plates. Iceland is the only place where this rift is above sea level. You can even go scuba diving between the two plates known as Silfra. Oxarafoss is at the end of the canyon. This history of this park, definitely something to read up on!
NTS: ‘foss’ means waterfall in Iceland so if you love waterfalls, make sure you take note of any word that ends in ‘foss’.
Unless you’re allergic to tomatoes, I highly recommend having lunch at Fridheimar. This farm has a greenhouse that grows tomatoes year round. You’ll be dining among the plants on unlimited tomato soup, fresh basil, and delicious home baked bread!
I highly recommend staying at the Wee Cozy House just outside of Selfoss. It’s an Airbnb located on a horse farm.
Day 2: Hot Spring and Craters
If you thought yesterday was packed full of sightseeing and you need a break, Reyjadalur Valley is a nice reprieve. It’s a short and somewhat steep 3 km hike to get to the river. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up getting to the hot spring because the weather was so bad. We couldn’t even see the trail and the wind almost knocked us down the slopes. This is by far one of my favorite and most memorable travel story. Don’t forget that travel in February is dicey so if you read that it takes about an hour to get up, add an extra half hour. The snow and wind will slow you down.
After changing into dry clothes, you’ll make your way to Kerid Crater, a volcanic crater lake within the Golden Circle route. This is probably a much nicer view in the summer. We were welcomed with a frozen lake filled with snow so I’d pass on this if you’re going in February…or stop by on the first day. If you’ve never seen snow before, you might like this?
If you are completely sore or tired from the hike up Reykjadalur, take some time to stroll around the town of Selfoss or hit up the Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa if you didn’t get to it the day before.
Day 3: Waterfalls upon Waterfalls
Today you’ll wake up early, pack up your stuff and head on to the next destination: Seljalandsfoss. In the summer you can walk behind the waterfall but in the winter, the path is closed. Don’t be smart and try to attempt it.
Walking further north past Seljalandsfoss, you’ll come across the often forgotten Gljufrafoss (aka dweller in the gorge). There are way less tourists here.
If you’ve read about he Selavallalaug swimming pool and wanted to check it out, its a short hike from the parking lot. With the change rooms only getting cleaned once a year, it could get pretty dirty. Please be mindful and respect the area.
Finally you’ll stop at Skogafoss you’ll clearly see from the Ring road. You can pretty much walk right up to the waterfall. I highly suggest climbing the 370 steps to see the waterfall from above. From there, there is a route you can take for a hike but it’s only open from april to october. We hiked as much as we could before we had to stop and turn back – worth it.
The day comes to an end when you check in to your next accommodation. We recommend North Star Cottages as it is affordable and close to the Ring road.
If you notice that the days aren’t that packed, don’t forget this is winter and we have a limited amount of daylight.
Day 4: Black Sand Beaches
Timing is everything in the winter. You want to be able to get on the road early enough that it is still dark but light when you reach your destination.
Today’s adventure will take you to Solheimajokull. It’s a small trek to get to the massive glacier. It’s quite spectacular yet sad knowing that it is shrinking everyday. After this, you’ll drive to Dyrholaey (aka the hill island with the door hole). You’ll get breathtaking views all around including the black coastline.
If you prefer looking at an old plane wreckage, not too far away is Sólheimasandur. Be prepared to walk an hour each way to get to the abandoned plane. This wasn’t our cup of tea so we skipped it.
Next up, the famous Game of Thrones beach: Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Balsam columns. This place is truly majestic but you really have to be careful here as rogue waves can sweep you out to sea.
If you’re really into plane wreckages, you can
If you’ve seen Justin Beiber’s ‘Ill show you’ music video, you’ll have seen Fjadrargljufur Canyon. This place is not tp be missed. Be prepared as it could get really muddy and wet. By far, one of the most picturesque places in Iceland.
We ended the day of at Kirkjugolf (aka the church floor). It’s interesting but not really. We had fun because the pathway there was covered in ice and we were slipping and sliding everywhere. Other than that, looking at a picture is enough.
The day will end off at your next accommodation. We stayed at Horgsland Guesthouse. Another affordable place that includes breakfast – a major plus.
Day 5 – Icecave Tour and Crystals
[If you can, I highly recommend staying in Skaftafell for 2 days which is near Jokulsarlon instead of splitting the time up between Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Karlsstaðir. The only problem is that can be much pricier but this became a favorite place of ours.
The morning starts off at Svartifoss. You’ll need to give yourself a few hours to complete this trek. I made the mistake of not timing things right and we missed out on seeing this. Also, you need crampons.
Next stop: cave tour. We booked with a tour group called Local Guide. There are so many tour companies out there that it’s really difficult to find the best. I think it would be enjoyable with any company you go with but we do recommend a private or small group tour.
What more could we possibly see after visiting the caves? Loads. After you get dropped off from your tour, you’ll drive a short distance before coming to Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. You can not and should not miss this. There are 3 different areas to check out the area: before the bridge, after the bridge and across the street. I have never seen anything like this place. This is a place where you can easily get lost in your thoughts.
If you like off-roading and you have a rental that can do it, check out Hoffell Glacier. Yup, another large glacier! The sheer enormity of the blows my mind. After this you can soak in the Hoffell hot tubs not too far away in Hofn. It’s a great way to relax and bathe in the beauty that you just saw.
Head to the next checkstop: Havari Hostel. If you go during may to october, you’ll be able to enjoy the cafe and live music. This place also has breakfast included! The rooms are spacious, the beds are comfortable, the showers are very clean, and you may luck out with having the entire place to yourself as winter is a slower season.
Day 6: Waterfalls, Stinky Pits, Caves, Craters, Nature Bath
This leg of the race you’ll have to wake up early because to get to the next destination is a 3.5 hr drive. As you drive around the ring road, you’ll notice how the scenery changes so drastically. At times, you’ll feel like you’re on a completely different planet – soak it all in!
First stop of the day is Dettifoss in northern Iceland. To get here, make sure you check for road closures. I highly suggest this site: http://www.road.is/ . We really lucked out with the weather here. We found the cold temperatures bearable and we were blessed with little rain and plenty of sunshine. Mind you, we are used to -35 winters in my city. The only thing is the wind. The wind can literally knock you off your feet.
After you’ll drive towards Myvatn. While you’re driving you’ll come across a plethora of things to do. You definitely won’t miss the Mudpits of Hverarond with the smell of sulfur smacking you across the face. Make sure to stay on the pathway. Not too far away is the Grjotagja Caves. In the 70’s this was a popular bathing site. The rocks around can be sharp so be careful.
Next up is the Hverfjall crater. With it being winter, it may be a really tough site to get to. The road could be covered in deep snow or massive ponds of water. We ended up parking quite a distance a wWeay and saw a couple cars stuck. The somewhat steep hike up to the rim of the crater takes 20 min. Once there, you can walk around the edge which takes around 1 hr. Again, you may not see much at this crater in the winter as it is filled with snow and it can get very very very windy. Very windy.
End off your day with a relaxing evening at Myvatn Nature Baths. It’s not Blue Lagoon but it is less overrated, less expensive, less crowded and it hosts a beautiful backdrop. This is a must on your itinerary if you’re driving all the way here for all the other fun stuff that northern Iceland has to offer.
Your next pit stop on your 9-day winter Iceland trip is in Myvatn. We stayed at the Elda Guesthouse. If you’re not too picky with accommodations, this place isn’t bad.
Day 7: Scenic drives and Akureyri
As you make your way to the city of Akureyri, you’ll want to stop at Dimmuborgir (aka dark castles). This area is a labyrinth filled with lava caves, tubes, and pillars. There are many different paths you can take and traversing through the snow makes this place all the more fun to walk around.
As you head towards Godafoss (waterfall of the gods), you’ll once again drive through amazing scenery and feel like you’ve been transported to what seems like another part of the world. You’ll get moss fields, mountains, crater-like lands, and snow drifts.
If there aren’t any special events, concerts, or festivals happening in the city, you probably won’t find a ton of things to do there. Our winter itinerary included visiting the Akureyrarkirkja Church, walking down the pedestrian street of Göngugatan and hiking part of Súlur Mountain which provided a stunning view of Akureyri and over the fjord.
After 7 days of go go go, you can start relaxing as the trip is winding down. For dinner, I recommend enjoying a sit down meal at Akureyri Fish and Chips.
Day 8 – Long drive and Reykjavik
The drive from Akureyri to Reykjavik is approximately 5 hours. Make sure to look at the road conditions and don’t be fooled by clear skies. If you’ve never driven in a legit wintry city, watch out for black ice and be mindful.
Hopefully you’re still on good terms with your travel buddies or the drive may be gruesome. We didn’t make and stops on our drive to Reykjavic other than for gas but you have options.
Notable stops between Akureyri and Reykjavik:
- Víðimýrarkirkja Turf Church (just off Route 1)
- Glaumbær Farm and Turf Houses (5-10 min drive off Route 1, along Route 75)
- Hvítserkur, “White Shirt” Basalt troll (tack on about 1 hour to drive)
- Grabrok Crater (Just off Route 1)
Depending on your departure from Akureyri and the number of stops you take along the way, your arrival to Reykjavik may be much later in the day.
When you arrive, check into your last accommodation of your trip so you can unpack and begin your exploration of the city. The main sights of the city are easily accessible by foot.
I somehow managed to plan out the itinerary such that we would arrive in Reykjavik on Harpa Beer Day and got some free beer. Every year on March 1st, they celebrate and honor the elimination of the 74-year prohibition of beer.
There is a whole host of things to do here. Arriving later in the day won’t give you a lot of time to explore but you can probably check out Hallgrimskirkja Church, Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre and get in a good meal.
For dinner, I highly suggest trying Icelandic Street Food. The lamb soup is delicious and even though there are free refills, you’ll be full off just one bowl. Next door is a beer pub where you’re able to eat your meal and enjoy a wide assortment of beer flights. If you’re lucky enough, you may get served free crepes!
If it’s a beautiful and clear evening you’ll definitely want to ended off the night chasing the northern lights. Just down the seaside of Reykjavik on the city’s outskirts is a popular place to enjoy the lights. Do make sure to download the northern light app, My Aurora to check out the best days and times. Make sure to dress really warm as you’ll just be standing/sitting around.
Day 9 – Final full day in Iceland
Today you can do what your heart desires as you’ll have the entire day to explore.
You can start your day with brunch at The Laundromat Cafe. They offer fairly large portions and a good sized menu at somewhat reasonable prices.
If you’re in Reykjavik on the weekend, check out Kolaportid Flea Market open from 11-4pm or, instead of walking aimlessly around, take a free walking tour. Walking tours are great because it gives you the chance to talk with other travelers and share your experiences as well as visiting places you might have missed out on otherwise.
If museums are your jam, you can visit the Whales of Iceland exhibition which includes 23 life-size whale models and/or the Icelandic Phallological Museum which hosts more than 200 preserved penises from nearly all the mammals in Iceland.
We spent a lot of time on Laugavegur street (aka the water road). This is the most famous street in Reykjavik spanning roughly over 2 km. If you’re going to look at preserved penises, you’ll already be on this street. This street boasts plenty of shops and cafes and restaurants. We came across a tiny watch shop where the owner showed us what he did and shared stories of how he started his business and all the famous people that he met and who had bought watches from him.
I heard the food in Iceland is actually pretty amazing, if you can afford it or want to splurge. We ended up eating hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – a hot dog stand. I read a lot of ‘best restaurants in Iceland’ posts and this stand came up regularly. It was an experience.
End your final night in Iceland with a good rest before your flight the next morning. You can enjoy the evening with friends to reminisce the amazing things you got to see throughout your trip or you can go chasing the northern lights if you missed it!
9-day Icelandic winter vacation comes to an end
If you haven’t already done so, stop by Bonus supermarket and stock up on snacks for the flight home. We ended up buying a load of black licorice chocolate as souvenirs. We ended up keeping a bunch for ourselves because yes, it is THAT delicious. Don’t knock it until you try it.
Give yourself enough time to drive to Keflavik and return your car before boarding. If it’s really early, you can book accommodations nearby instead of staying in Reykjavic (a cheaper alternative).
I hope you have found this post useful in helping you plan your Iceland winter itinerary. Do keep in mind that poor road conditions, the time it takes to complete each adventure, and getting to the next pit stop on time all need to be taken into consideration while planning. Also, with a limited time of sunlight, you’ll want to pack in as much as you can so pick your adventures wisely! We found we had enough time to do pretty much everything without having to rush.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, download offline google maps and pin all your sites you want to see, all your accommodations, all the gas stations and Bonus supermarkets – then share with your group so everyone has a copy!
Good luck and have a blast on your travels!