Iceland in January may not seem like the perfect getaway to many, but for me it was ideal. I just returned from my fourth visit to what has become one of my favorite countries – Iceland – and before I delve into proper coverage of my experiences, I first wanted to share some initial thoughts. I’m not sure why Iceland resonates so deeply with me. Sure, it’s a physically gorgeous country, but so are many places. Yes, the people there are kind and warm-hearted, but that’s not unique either. No, instead it’s something simultaneously both very personal and also indefinable. It just is and sometimes in life that’s enough.
Turns out winter can be rough
I’ve always told people that Iceland isn’t as cold as one would think, and that’s mostly true. It’s not Greenland, which is positively inaccessible in the winter months and it’s not like its Scandinavian cousins. Thanks to the jet stream and other meteorological quirks, in general Iceland is more temperate than such a northerly country should be. That does not mean, however, that they don’t experience harsh winters. As I learned last week, they most certainly do. The first stop on my latest trip was to the northern town of Akureyri, a place I’d long wanted to visit but never had the opportunity until now. Checking the weather, temperatures looked cold, and they were. But in Iceland the real story is the wind. Winds can gust to 80 miles per hour and more at times, not only making the actual temperatures much lower than what the thermometers say, but also making driving conditions nearly impossible. Iceland receives snow, but in general a daily accumulation will be in inches and not feet. That’s fine, that’s manageable, until you start driving. Those incredible winds, especially through the mountain passes, pick up the light snow and create near white-out conditions; the snow swirling like smoke on the roadways. So yes, driving to Akureyri was much more challenging than I had imagined and I donned more layers of clothing than I had planned but, overall, it really wasn’t that bad. However, if you are planning a wintertime trip arrive prepared, especially if you’re not used to colder weather.
One reason why I’m so attracted to cold-weather destinations in the winter is for their raw beauty. I’m sure they’re also nice in the summer, but there’s nothing quite like seeing a frozen lake or snow capped mountains to enjoy these special places in the way they were meant to be enjoyed. That was my reward after some stressful driving during my last trip to Iceland. The northern regions, particularly the Lake Mývatn area, are rich with natural wonders no matter the time of year, but in the winter months the landscapes are covered with sparkling snow and ice, very much turning it into a scene from Game of Thrones. That’s no surprise, since the show has filmed in the northern reaches of Iceland for years, the real life landscapes mimicking the fantasy world perfectly. But you don’t have to trek that far north to enjoy Iceland’s winter beauty, I also spent several days in the more accessible West Iceland region, revisiting some favorite spots as well seeing new sights. Waterfalls, glaciers, caves and mountain peaks are home to the elves and trolls of Iceland, as well as perfect areas for anyone looking to witness Iceland’s natural beauty in person. Yes, Iceland is gorgeous when everything is green, but it’s just as lovely to admire in the winter when everything is awash in drifts of snow.
In 2018, it’s honestly hard to feel like an explorer. So many travel experiences are easy, neatly bundled and presented and that’s fine, they have their place for sure. But to feel the rush of exploration, to feel pride in achieving something when we travel, that is special and that is a feeling I crave perhaps above all others. Iceland is a rare example of a destination that can provide both easy and accessible options, but also that thrill of discovery. Driving to Akureyri was not easy and arriving into the city, the sun rising at around 10am or so, the streets covered in a permanent layer of snow and ice, I felt like I had arrived into a northern outpost. I love places like that, I also love getting out and exploring spots where I’m the only visitor, feeling the crunch of untouched snow and being alone except for my own thoughts. It’s not the first time I’ve felt that thrill of adventure in Iceland and, maybe, that’s what keeps drawing me back again and again. It’s very easy to reach, amazing experiences can be found almost right away and recapturing that rush of exploration very attainable. I don’t get that in other European countries. No matter how much I enjoy visiting Italy or France, those aren’t destinations that push my comfort levels or challenge me. They’re nice, but they’re also easy. Iceland is both and that, more than anything else, is why I love visiting so very much.
I have a lot to say about my week in Iceland, but if you have any questions please let me know!