The land of fire and ice has long been a draw for many travellers with its unspoilt beauty, the snowy days, dark nights and geothermal wonders that give this island its stunning dramatic scenery. I had already visited Iceland in spring a few years ago in the spring and done the Iceland ring road for 10 days (Click Here to read more).
This trip was a little different in stark contrast I decided to book a trip for me and my partner in early January (because he loves the cold... the mad man) and soon after booking I was sat having dinner with one of my best friends and managed to talk her into booking the trip to join with her partner (now husband).
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Over the weekend we stayed outside of Reykjavik and in Horgsland Cottages. I also stayed here on my first trip to Iceland. It's in a great location (near to Hofn, halfway between everywhere we wanted to go and it was a great option for budget-friendly stay with friends that is self-catering).
During Our Long Weekend We:
Went Husky Sledding
Visited the Ice Caves at Vatnajokulsarlon
Visited the Plane Wreck
We also managed to explore and fit in a few other places on this long weekend including:
Visited Skogafoss, Selanjafoss and Selfoss - I've shared a more detailed overview in the Iceland Ring Road Article
Visited the Diamond Beach (briefly) - I've covered this fully in the Iceland Ring Road article
And witnessed lots of sidewards snow storms whilst in the car as well as some beautiful sunrises and sunsets when travelling too and from the places of interest each day.
When looking for winter activities in Iceland I really shopped around to find the best deal. It is definitely one of the less budget-friendly countries I have visited, however, it isn't impossible to stick to one. Here are some of the ways we saved money on our trip:
We rented a car via rentalcars.com and ended up with Geysir car rental this time which were definitely one we'd recommend. They made everything easy, went out of their way to offer us a free upgrade when we were adding an extra driver (we ended up with a brand new Jeep model).
We managed to get very cheap flights for £50 return to Manchester.
Booking ahead for excursions and blue lagoon
We had saved money by shopping in the supermarket and cooking for ourselves in self-catering accommodation.
We had also saved money on the accommodation compared to that in Reykjavik (although I would like to go back next time and explore Reykjavik too).
Husky Sledding is always something I've wanted to do but never had the chance or weather on previous trips. Now we were visiting in the middle of winter, it was a no brainer to book this experience. We are all dog lovers and could not wait for this. We had to drive to meet the Husky Sledding however they did say they could offer transfers from the hotels in Reykjavik.
When we got there the weather was sketchy and there was lots of snow and poor visibility which seemed to get worse the closer we got. However, once we saw the huskies all lined up and waiting for their next group we became so excited and forgot about the weather.
Once we got there we were walked over to the pack and they were all really excited. They were jumping up, tails wagging and pulling to have us stroke them. As I mentioned we are all dog lovers so we were in our element, just cuddling them and spending a bit of time with them whilst we waited for other people who had booked on.
Once we were ready to go we were set in our groups and on the sleds with the huskies who were then eager and ready to go. With the sound of a high pitches calls from the leaders of the tour, we were off. It was so much fun, they were really fast and the huskies loved to do this. They were Alaskan Huskies which are essentially working dogs, they love the cold and have so much energy.
I am so glad we did this, most of the huskies were rescue dogs that people had bought as pets and not realised how much energy and exercise they want and need. There was another pack of dogs who whilst we were circulating the route they were resting and ready to head back with each pack doing a few times a day.
Word of Warning: It was freezing the whole time and we were struggling to hold on due to the cold. Pack some good quality winter gear (I've popped a few notes at the bottom of this article on stuff to make sure you bring).
This was something I had hoped to do on my previous trip along with Ice climbing on the glacier but had not had the opportunity to due to the weather conditions making the caves and crevasses unstable to use. So I was really excited to do this. I don't know why it fascinates me so much but just the sheer power of nature and how glaciers are formed fascinated me.
We met up at the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to head for our tour in what I can only describe as if a hummer and a monster truck had a baby. We were taken in this huge truck as a group of 12 onto the glacier and across the ice just before the sun came up.
As the driver carefully manoeuvred across the glacier with us, we soon stopped at one of the collapsed ice caves for him to show us. It was called Black Diamond (below), and although the sun was barely up we could see why. As you shone your headlight on the ice it was dark blue and almost black in parts. You could go through some of the stable archways and see where the cave had previously been. It's a weird sensation when you realise just how much the landscape is changing and no one will see that cave again and the cave we were visiting would also slowly disappear after some time.
Once we had arrived at the main cave, they realised that the visibility in there was so dark due to the heavy snowfall, so the guides were there in teams carefully digging out the entrance that was there the day before and clearing some of the roofs so that the ice was exposed and some of the light in the cave to allow you to see the compressed ice reflecting the light above.
During this time our guide gave us the option to do a short hike whilst waiting (which we would have been doing following the cave visit originally). We soon found ourselves being challenged by the gradient as we worked our way up through the mix of snow and ice. At times underestimating the effort needed for the crampons and other times overestimating is and just being in the snow (with lots of comical tripping and falling between us all). This ended up making us a bit giddy and we were soon having snow fights and getting others in the group joining in. This walk gave us a great view, although the sky was a sea of white and grey cloud, you could still see the detail of glacier and mountains in the distance.
Heading back down to the caves once our guide was called on the radio, we were not disappointed. We soon in awe, stepping through the narrow entrance and the man carved steps into the cave. We were greeted with every shade of blue and white. We could hear water running and at the end of the cave was an area cordoned off where you could view the glacial melt that was running through the cave and deep under the ice. We were really lucky for a short while were the only group in the cave, slowly other groups started to enter and turn up outside from other operators. At this point we decided to head outside and whilst waiting for others in the group, we ended up being children again by throwing snowballs and soon realising we could safely slide down one of the shallow crevasses that dip down by the side of the ice cave we were in. Next thing you know everyone was behind us four and taking it in turns to slide down.
When we finished the day we headed back to the lagoon, had a hot drink each then set off to view diamond beach and on our journeys to the see some waterfalls before heading back to the accommodation.
Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
On the 21st November 1973, a U.S plane crashed on the south side of Iceland. Although U.S records only reported this on the 24th November 1973 a few days later. The plan was travelling from Höfn back to Keflavík and crashed on the Sólheimasandur beach. All that remains is the shell sat in an eery landscape that would not look out of place on a sci-fi movie. The volcanic black sand and glacial outwash is seemingly never-ending. With rolling mounds formed from the strong wind that batter the coast throughout the seasons. It can make you feel like it's the last place left on earth. It is definitely worth a visit!
The walk to the plane will take anywhere between 20 - 40 minutes depending on the season. It is strongly advised that you do not walk to the crash alone, and against going there in winter when it is snowing. We went as a group and it did take us the best of 40 minutes.
The sky was grey, there was a mix between rain and snow in the air and although the path is flat the elements do give you a beating. We are all experienced with extreme outdoor conditions, navigation and prepared with our outdoor clothing. I could only imagine how someone who isn't used to this could feel. If you leave the path too early or late it is so easy to get lost, especially on the darker days.
There have been numerous reports of the local search and rescue members even getting lost trying to get to the wreck (due to its difficulty to navigate and lack landmarks. I would also advise avoiding climbing on the plane. There is only so long it will last, and it would be nice for others to be able to see this piece of history.
There is an app called What Three Words that has been developed and gives every location within a 3m squared distance its own co-ordinates. I'd recommend getting that, making sure you have data on whatever mobile phone (cell) contract you're on and keep your location on.
Be Prepared and Pack For The Cold
Whether you are sledding in Iceland or visiting glaciers in northern Scandinavia, when there is snow, ice and wind you will always be a little stunned by winter weather. Make sure you are prepared with proper attire and spares for your accessories.
I'd recommend the following (I have included some links tot the products I had with me on this trip which worked wonders especially my outdoor gear that just lasts years despite being battered by the elements):
Having a couple of pairs of winter gloves
A buff and a scarf to keep your neck warm.
Waterproof winter coat (a ski jacket or similar would be suitable. I have a Tresspass coat I love and used for my first trip to Iceland and this one with many trips in between. You can see the one I mean on the picture in the black diamond, ice cave above and it's budget-friendly - click here).
Don't forget your base layers (Layer up) - Honestly, for these I don't think you need to be too concerned with the brand, just make sure they fit. I have a great set from regatta but I also have an equally awesome set of base layers from Aldi which give them a run for their money. I wouldn't advise this for your waterproofs or top layers in winter it just isn't worth risking it.
A long Sleeved fleece-lined thermal top - like this
Waterproof hiking trousers (not jeans that will get weighed down or normal trousers that won't provide much protection from the cold or damp) - I have these north face ones and used to have mountain warehouse.
Additional waterproof windbreaker trousers, I learned the hard way that cheap on this one doesn't help so I went with North face again on my second day after realising the basic ones I use in the U.K winters just doesn't cut it.
Hiking Socks - from any outdoor shop
Waterproof Hiking Boots - this is another one where you just can't scrimp on these. I am a big fan of Merrel's and Scarpa for Walking Boots, But Scarpa definitely wins on this one - Click here. You don't need B3's or B2's unless you aren't going with one of the guiding companies (I'd really recommend you stick with the tours or guides that know the area and have experience) at this time or doing a more extensive hike. Also for crampons and boots, they will supply those on the tours that need them.
Approach Shoes (these are brilliant when your walking boots are drying and you aren't going too far, you still have grip. I have a set of Merrel's that I love and used to have a millets pair that lasted me 10 years).
Proofing sprays for additional reproof before you go and possibly take with you just in case.
A dry bag and waterproof case for your bags and any accessories you have with you (I'd recommend tuff bag backpacks which are brilliant - If you pop travelsandwandering in to the check out you receive money off. I am not an affiliate for them, I just think their products are great and reached out after using them to get a discount for readers who were asking).
A dry towel, spare socks, spare hoodie and spare trousers to wear on the journey back in the car... (thank me later).
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If you liked this post check out our: Iceland Ring Road Article.