HOME > Iceland


8 days ,  Dec'13



INTRO ICELAND (note: we were travelling in wintertime, the following might not be fully representative of summer travel)

Kind of travel:
Me and my wife Elisa with our 1 year old daughter INES (her first travel!) in an independent travel

27th Dec'13- 04th Jan'14 (yes in the hearth of winter!)

Do I need a visa:
Show up with your ID and it'll be enough

How many km:
1400km by a rented car

How I moved:
we rented a car picking up and leaving at the airport (all the agency have an office at the airport). Don't need a 4wd unless you are planning off-road. To monitor the situation of the road on line is a must. Take into consideration also the cheap domestic flight by icelandair!

Freezing or baking:
No, in winter time Iceland is not Siberia! Don't even think about -40 deg, Iceland is mitigated by the gulf current so along the coast (on the roadring average is -2C) but when we were there it was 4-6C! The only point is the wind so don't forget scarf and heavy cap! Take into consideration there'll be 5 light hours (sunrise 11.00, sunset 16.00) (read tips)

Where I slept:
In Reykjavik we were staying in an ensuite apartment in downtown (www.grettisborg.is) for 100€/night: we had a 1yo baby otherwise it's plenty of guesthouse with dorms for 25€/bed. While outside the capital choices are more limited beyond medium budget hotels for around 110€/night. (read tips)

What I liked:
The icebergs floating to the seaa in Jokullsarlon, the artistic vibe in Reykjavik, the Christmas decorated Icelandic windows, English is widely spoken and overall the Notherns Lights (read tips)

What I disliked:
Wind can be annoying, costs can easily soar up and limited accommodation outside the capital won't help to limit your daily budget. If you are in Iceland in wintertime without managing to see Aurora that'll be what you'll dislike most! (not our case luckly!). If you are sensitive to darkness take into consideration you'll have 5 hours of light each day

How much daily:
yes it's true in 2008 there has been the Icelandic Korona collapse (loosing 80% of his value), but since then economy has recovered and the currency as well. So today Iceland is 20% more expensive than a travel in Germany and year over year there's a 5% increase. Daily budget: 110€/night for a double room, food 50€/day pp (launch fast food, evening: restaurant), car 60€/day, total per person 130€/day pp . Different thing of course if you travel in summer having a tent

What you do need:

Smart phone or Ipad to be updated on Aurora forecast (Aurora forecast) and road situation (road status) (be sure to have wifi in our accommodation). Don't forget the triples to take pictures of Aurora.



Iceland in winter time can sound not accessible given Siberian temperatures, meters of snow and unbearable wind. Only the latter might be true, for the rest Iceland in wintertime is a feasible destination. Yes there are just 4 hours (graph daylight hours + temperatures) but this is part of the charm and the light is as orange as a long sunset. As per moving around you can easily monitor the accessibility of the roads on line mitigating the risk of getting stuck.
We were well impressed by Reykjavik by his artistic and cultural vibe making worth spending more than a couple of days poking around. On top of this we found the Christmas atmosphere with all his lightings unique since there's not a single window not decorated.
I got impressed on how Iceland manages to preserve his cultures avoiding to have it mix by others (ie: no foreign names are allowed for new borns), but despite it you can see the influence of Nordic origins (Scandinavian family oriented tradition) + North American ones (hot dog + coca cola) making you feel a little bit outside Europe.
The last but not the least is the beauty of the Aurora the real highlights of the Icelandic winter; it was years we were waiting for it and it didn't disappoint our expectations. Anyhow don't take for granted you'll see Aurora since you need a little bit of luck (good Aurora intensity + no cloudness) even in wintertime.
The negative parts are the costs in particular the food and the limited choice in term of costs of accommodations outside the capital, it will make Iceland one of the most expensive destination in Europe.




Day Transport Night Price Duration
1 Milan- Kopenghen- Reykjavik Flight

  750€ (back and forth) 2h + 3h
2 night Keflavik airport   Smari hotel (www.smarihotel) 110€/ double room  
2 Airport- Reykjavik Rented car     40km
2 Reykjavik On foot      
2,3,4,6 night Reykjavik   Apartment www.gretttisborg.is 110€/night  
3 Pingvellir-Geyser-Gullfoss Rented car    

Full day

4 Blue Lagoon
Rented car     50km
4 Aurora Boreale Bus tour   32€ pp Reykjavik excursions 9.00pm- 2.30am


Rented car      
5 night Near Jokulsarlon   Foss Hotel 110€/ double room  
6 Jokulsarlon-
Rented car     Full day
6 Aurora Boreale Rented car      
7 Reykjavik On foor      
7 night Reykjavik Airport   Smary hotel 110€/double room  
8 Reykjavik- Kopenaghen- Milan
Flight   750€ 3h+2h


We arrived in Iceland in the very late evening, so the only solution with our 1yo daughter (Ines) was staying in a hotel right in front of the airport for 110€/double room + baby cot. Smari Hotel (www.hotelsmari.is) is a nice place even if a little anonymous as most of the places around an international airport. In the morning we picked up the car by the Hertz counter inside the airport (50€/day) and while driving to cover the 40km to Reykjavik it was still dark despite being 10 am. Only around 11 am we could see the dawn far in the horizon.
I immediately liked our apartment (www.grettisborg.is, 100€/day) since being placed 100m from the main pedestrian street (Laugavegur) and since big enough (2 rooms + bathroom) to have Ines crawling around.
The first day we poked around the capital, climbing up the steeple of the cathedral to enjoy the view, sliding with the stroller on the frozen lake Tjornin in downtown, visiting the tourist centre to understand how Aurora Tours work...
The following day we jumped on the car on the way to Pingvellir (mid-atlantic ridge), Geyser site and the well-known waterfall of Gullfoss. The road was iced but with the right level of attention feasible.
Pingvellir is the site of the first parliament in the world (around 1000 AC) and where the mid Atlantic ridge (the plates boundary) passes through, since as you might know Iceland is the only place where the ridge emerges from the depth of the Atlantic Ocean. There's a visitor centre and few trails where you can have a walk visiting the historic site.
In Geyser don't expect to see awesome spikes of hot water, since the biggest is at most 10meters high, but it's on the way so it doesn't take that much to stop by.
The real highlight is the frozen waterfall of Gullfoss. When we were there it was windy like hell: we parked the car near the visitor centre then we proceeded holding to the fence to avoid being swept away. Then the image of an outstanding sculpture of ice and water popped up in front of us. The amount of water is definitely less than the one in the summer period but the view is definitely worth it.
We dedicated then almost a full day to the Blue Lagoon: it is one of the most popular site of Iceland placed 50km from Reykjavik (very near the airport). It's as big natural pool of salty water you cannot miss it: there'r all the facilities you might need including shop, restaurants, changing rooms...
You can spend hours floating in the hot water while drinking a beer from the bar in the swimming pool or having massages or mud treatments,...
The trip to Jokulsarlon from Reykjavik takes at least two days. It's a long way but the landscape and the highlights you pass through makes it's worth: in particular the small town of Vik with his black beaches, the waterfall of Skogafoss and the view of Ejafjallajokull volcano from its feet (yes, the one that stopped flight of Europe in 2009). In winter there are few hotels opened, or better the only one we found was Foss hotel (110€/ double).
Jokulsarlon is a bay where the glacier ends, letting huge blocks of ice dropping in the water and then floating to the sea. Expect to see an Artict landscape with hundreds of huge iceberg in the water. The black beach itself with the iceberg stranded it's one of the things mostly surprised me.
Back to the capital given a promising forecast (medium intensity 4/10 and no cloudiness) at 10.00pm we left for an Aurora hunting by car (last time we took the bus tour). After 1h , about 50km from Reykjavik we saw green stripes appearing in the sky and after a while we where enjoying the amazing phenomenon in all its beauty. I took shots using a triple and keeping a 15 sec lens aperture. Two hours spent admiring the Aurora changing shapes has been the best farewell we could got by Iceland.


about this travel photos travel tips printable

Iceland travel tip

    • How many hours of lights are there?
    • What's the temperature in winter?

    • What's Aurora Borealis?
    • What are the condition necessary to see Aurora?
    • How I can see the northern lights?
    • How the organised tours work?
    • Isn't better if I choose an accommodation in the countryside to see Aurora?
    • How frequent is Aurora?
    • At what time is it?
    • Can I take a picture?

    • Do we need a 4wd drive?
    • How can I drive in winter if the roads are iced?
    • How I can monitor the situation of the roads? What about if there's too much snow?
    • Which is the higher risk during wintertime?
    • In winter can I drive along the whole roadring?


    • Is it better to rent an apartment or an hotel?
    • In the apartment going with a baby what I' find?
    • Was the apartment warm enough in wintertime?
    • What it's important to have in the accommodation?



Show up with your ID and it'll be enough


The currency is the Icelandic Krona, after the 2008 collapsed now it has recovered vs euro(1€= 163 IKr, Dec2013).



I had Iceland Lonely Planet (in italian 5th version), I found quite useful and well done.



In Iceland health won't be your problem.



  • -How many hours of lights are there?
    In december are 5h of light(11.00am to 4.00pm), while in June are 21h. From the chart you can see that during the year the latest dawn is the 25thdec (11.24am), while the earliest the 18th July (2.53am). As for the twilight the earliest is the 16th dec (3,27pm) while the latest 23th June (12.06am)

    -What's the temperature in winter?
    In december min -3C, whole max 3; of course the perceived temperature due to the wind can be lower.Temperature is not as cold as you might think. Nevertheless the perceived temperature due to the wind can be definitely lower so be equipped (scarf, thick cap,...)
    If you have a small baby consider to carry him by a wrap


    -What's Aurora Borealis?
    An aurora is a natural light display in the sky particularly in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere)

    - What are the condition necessary to see Aurora?
    To see Aurora you need two conditions:
    - enough solar wind intensity
    -it must be above you - no cloudiness
    both such condition can be checked on the website (Aurora forecast)

    - How I can see the northern lights?
    You can see Aurora in the night (from 22.00 to 2.00am): so or you rent a car and drive by yourself or you join an organised tour (you tried both the options)
    If you rent a car you need to check the above mentioned conditions by yourself, while if you join and organised tour they will manage everything.

    -How the organised tours work?
    There are few different organised tours and you can have the list in the REYKJAVIK TOURIST INFORMATION OFFICE.
    Organised tours leave in the evening (when they deem conditions good enough and they decide everyday after 17.00). You can check if they leave calling them. You can also book a pick up (for free) from your accommodation to the place where buses leave. Buses leave at 21.00 and they literally go hunting for Aurora. Prices are around 5400 IKR (32€) (https://www.re.is/day-tours/northern-lights-tour). (price are almost the same, apart some of the tours offering something to drink or eating)
    If you have a baby they will have a babyseat for the bus. When we got the tour we wandered by bus till 2.00am but without seeing any real Aurora. Anyhow in such case you can join again the tour the following evening for free till see it. What we did was to take the tour the first time and the second (since the first we didn't see anything) go by our car

    - Isn't better if I choose an accommodation in the countryside to see Aurora?
    There are few hotel in countryside claiming to be Northern lights hotel (Ranga Hotel, www.hotelranga.com) ; unless you don't want to have an experience in the countryside or you won't stay there 1 month, I don't recommend it if you are interested just to Aurora. It will be quite hard to have the right Aurora intensity and no cloud exactly above you in the days you'll be stay there. It's better you stay in Reykjavik hunting for Aurora in the evening.

    - How frequent is Aurora?
    In wintertime Aurora happens very frequently (at least every second day), the point is to understand if it happens above you, if there's a intensity enough to see something, and if the sky is clear. Just as thumb rule at least once/ twice per week if you aren't particularly unlucky you should see something . OF course if you plan to stay in the capital one weekend your chances are small. Don't really hope to see Aurora in Summertime, even if statistically it may happen

    - At what time is it?
    The phenomenom can takes even the whole night; usually from 10.00pm to 3.00am

    - Can I take a picture?
    Don't think to get good pictures snapping pics with your cellphone, you don't need a professional camera, though.
    My photos
    have been taken by a Canon handy camera. The most important setting you need is the lens aperture, I used at least 15 secs. The last but not the least is to carry a triple

    - Do we need a 4wd drive?
    Unless you don't plan off road you don't need. Beside take into consideration that standard insurances will not cover you so you need a special one If you want to try the all roadring a 4WD might be very useful.

    - How can I drive in winter if the roads are iced?
    In winter all the cars by default have winter tyres that will make driving on the ice feasible. Take into consideration I had no experience I had managed without important issue.

    - How I can monitor the situation of the roads? What about if there's too much snow?
    The situation of the roads can be monitored in the website road status, and if there's too much snow the road will be closed.

    - Which is the higher risk during wintertime?
    The wind, since it happens when you open the doors having a tailwind, doors breaking the hinges

    - In winter can I drive along the whole roadring?
    Generally no, but depends on how much the winter is harsh. The 2013-14 has been quite a mild winter so it was feasible but still the north eastern part was assessed as 'difficult to be done'. If you really want to try a 4WD is a must.

    - Is it better to rent an apartment or an hotel?
    Considering the cost and variety in eating in the restaurants I'd opt for a place with a kitchen, hence an apartment or a guesthouse with shared cooking facilities. You'd be surprised by the offer the capital has in term of accommodation (even relatively cheap). In our case it was wintertime and we had a 1yo baby so we had no other choice than an apartment in downtown (www.grettisborg.is)

    - In the apartment going with a baby what I' find?
    Before booking you must have confirmation baby cot and highchair are available. They are quite common but don't take them for granted.

    - Was the apartment warm enough in wintertime?
    Yes indeed. I can guarantee in Iceland heating won't be your problem

    - What it's important to have in the accommodation?
    Wifi! And it's not the request of a tech nerd but since for the road situation and Aurora Boreale forecasts will be need to be constantly updated, unless you don't have an Icelandic SIM you'll need at least Wifi in your accommodation