Are you planning on visiting Iceland in the winter? Check out these tips for Iceland sightseeing with a focus on books and booze plus a few itineraries. This guide is also helpful for visiting southern Iceland any time of year. Bonus: Scroll down to learn more about Iceland’s literary and Prohibition history. The ‘Black Friday of Books’ included!
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Family Member [cough…mom]: Visiting Iceland in the winter? Are you nuts? What bozos go to Iceland in February?
Me: Hmmm, ummm…?! It does sound a little….scary. I want to see the Aurora Borealis. But… I don’t want to get caught in an avalanche, plummet off an icy road, get split in half by an icicle, or find myself buried alive. Chances of those things happening are slim, right? Right?
50% Of The Blogs That I Read: Driving in Iceland in the winter is pretty dangerous. Be prepared for snow and getting stuck. Go in the spring or at least take day trips and bus tours from Reykjavík to stay safe. [On the news a few weeks before: Tour bus flips over in Iceland.] Or, rent a car with snow tires and 4WD. Pack that baby with dried meat and watch the weather like you watch your bartender pouring your glass of wine.
Me: Clicks book on the airfare. I’m going to Iceland in February. It will be FINE. Performs Catholic sign of the cross.
Sound like any conversations that you had with others or yourself before booking a trip to Iceland in the winter?
Why Visit Iceland, especially in February?
What would possess anyone to tour Iceland in the winter? For weeks, I had pre-trip nightmares of endless snowstorms, frigid temperatures, and my untimely death. Ok, maybe I didn’t really think that I would die, but still. I never feel anxiety before vacation. We have traveled all over the world. What was wrong with me. Was I getting old?
For us, visiting Iceland in winter seemed like a good option because we hoped to find:
- The Northern Lights
- Fewer Crowds
- Snow (As Floridians)
- Cheaper Accommodations
- Our New England winter driving skills from 8 years ago
Check, check, check, check, AND CHECK–sort of!
Visiting Iceland in the winter proved both rewarding and magical. Picture snowy mountains painted in pink and navy blue from the sunset. Imagine disco ball green lights flickering in the sky among thousands of tiny stars.
Yes, you have to exercise a particular level of caution. However, we loved our Icelandic adventure and would not change a thing. Don’t get me wrong: I would love to see Iceland in the spring and summer too. I am sure the country looks completely different without the snow.
From black sand beaches and blue-capped glaciers to burger-filled breweries and quaint churches on hills, we had the time of our lives. As a book and boozy travel blogger, I, of course, taste tested all of the Icelandic books and soul-warming beverages along the way.
Find our Icelandic travel itineraries, book lists, and drinks along with a few fun facts about the land of fire and ice.
Visiting Iceland In The Winter
Road Tripping Across South Iceland
With only 7 days to travel across southern Iceland, we decided to road trip along the following route:
Reykjavík > Hella > Vík > Jökulsárlón > Reykjavík
Southern Icelandic Sightseeing Spots You Don’t Want To Miss
The Golden Circle
The waterfalls of Ring Road
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Blue Lagoon Spa or smaller geothermal springs
Icelandic cities including Reykjavík, Selfoss, and Vík
A Few Reykjavík Musts:
Eating an Icelandic hotdog
Snapping a scenic picture at the beautifully simple Sun Voyager
Heading to the top of Hallgrímskirkja
Visiting a world-class museum for a planetarium show and ice cave simulation at the Perlan
Walking around downtown for an urban art tour
Peeking into Harpa concert hall for some prism pictures
Nibbling on fresh fish at any downtown restaurant
Visiting one of the local breweries or distilleries
Blushing and staring wide-eyed at a whale penis at the Iceland Phallological Museum
Check out our complete 7-Days in Iceland road trip itinerary.
Recommendations For Where To Stay In Southern Iceland
A 4-star hotel located in the heart of Reykjavík, we loved their eco-friendly rooms. Perks: Our window overlooked Mount Esja, and we enjoyed a charcuterie board with local Icelandic brews at night. My favorite amenities included a healthy and food-intolerance-friendly breakfast along with a souvenir water bottle for our Icelandic trip. We could easily walk within a mile of everything from here.
We stayed at this gorgeous 4-star business hotel for our flight home. Almost as high as Hallgrímskirkja, we could see all of Reykjavík from our room. With clean and modern accommodations, we had everything that we could possibly need plus so much more. I loved the big soaking tub and fuzzy bathrobes.
The only drawbacks included finding free parking versus the expensive garage and a lengthy breakfast buffet line on the weekend. This hotel vibrates and buzzes with over 300 rooms.
Getting Intimate With Iceland Through Icelandic Literature
As a literary blogger, I had to research Iceland’s bookish history. We all know the Vikings are famous for beer and mead. What about books?
A Brief Icelandic Literary History Tour
Let’s face it: The Vikings did not always write down stories, but they did have a strong oral history tradition.
In effect, many say that Icelandic literature started with The Sagas of the Icelanders, a largely anonymous compilation of stories from Icelandic settlers. Deemed as both historical yet fictional tales, the Sagas are loosely based on truths.
P.S. The Sagas are on my to-read list. Full disclosure: I am no Icelandic lit expert.
There are quite a few gaps or lack of Iceland literary successes until Halldór Laxness won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1955. As of 2019, he remains Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate. Angsty and bold, his books usually hit a nerve, especially as he wrote about Iceland’s social nuances. He also almost became a Catholic monk and published over 60 works in his time. His home is a stop that we sadly missed on our tour of the Golden Circle at Gljúfrasteinn.
With Iceland now on the literary map, a new tradition burst into existence.
Jolabokaflod, Iceland’s Yule or Christmas Book Flood
Like America, Iceland has a Black Friday too. However, I can get down with Iceland’s bookish traditions more than I appreciate a heavily discounted TV and stampede for molesting Elmo.
Iceland celebrates Jolabokaflod, which is their “Book Flood” tradition. A quick summary: People purchase ALL the books for themselves and each other.
How did this Icelandic book tradition start?
As with most histories, countries suffered economic depressions. Iceland fared no better. During WWII, books remained the one import that Icelanders could still obtain for cheap–and no, not to burn for warmth. Because people could afford books, guess what everyone got for Christmas? Nothing. No; just kidding! BOOKS! My ideal gift.
The book gift-giving tradition stuck, and today, Icelanders await the free Bokatidindi book catalog that marks the beginning of the Book Flood, usually in early fall. Having to pay a high fee for my ALA membership and book catalogs, I’m pretty jealous right about now. Hence, fall becomes a publisher’s dream season.
So, when are we moving to Iceland?
A Few Other Icelandic Bookish Facts:
- Reykjavík is a designated UNESCO City of Literature site.
- Reading in Iceland is literally considered a national sport.
- According to BBC and NPR, one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.
- Iceland TV show, Kiljan, dedicated all their segments entirely to books.
We are moving to Iceland now, right?
Books To Spark Your Icelandic Wanderlust
Before and after I travel to a country, I love to read both fiction and nonfiction titles related to a destination. For Iceland, I wanted to feel the chill of the mountains, understand expat life, and learn a little more about the country’s history. With Iceland’s growing literary fame, I had no trouble finding a plethora of Icelandic novels.
A few infamously popular books set in Iceland include:
- The Sagas of Icelanders (Anon)
- Angels of the Universe by Einar Már Guðmundsson
- Stone Tree by Gyrðir Eliasson
- 101 Reykjavík by Hallgrímur Helgason
- The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrímur Helgason
- The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason
- Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
- Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
- The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness
- Independent People by Halldór Laxness
- Iceland’s Bell by Halldór Laxness
- LoveStar by Andri Snaer Magnason
- Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss
- Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
- The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
- The Pets by Bragi Ólafsson
- I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
- Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón
- The Blue Fox by Sjón
- The Whispering Muse by Sjón
- From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón
- The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
I wish I had time to read them all. However, I did peruse quite a few titles with some help. Check out these mini book reviews of TUL’s favorite Icelandic books.
Visiting Iceland In The Winter: Warming Up With Booze
Ok, so it is a myth that consuming booze warms you up. I think we all know that technically alcohol thins your blood. But I won’t tell. Drinking in Iceland definitely fired up my soul.
Most unique to Iceland’s boozy history is that you could not legally drink beer in Iceland until 1989. 1989!!! Guys, this is supposed to be one of the happiest and healthiest countries in the world. How could you be happy without beer for that long?
From 1915-1989, Iceland sat in a testy Prohibition period. Over time, the country slowly integrated wine and spirits back into everyday life. Today, visitors can find a growing abundance of breweries and liquors to try.
Icelandic Alcoholic Beverages Not To Miss
South Iceland Breweries and Distilleries To Visit
Smiðjan Brugghús – Vík
Ölvisholt Brugghús – Selfoss
RVK Brewing – Reykjavík
Eimverk Distillery – Reykjavík
Are you ready for your Icelandic vacation? Thinking about visiting Iceland in the winter?
I hope this literary, boozy, and sightseeing guide helps you better plan your south Iceland road trip. While we road tripped across southern Iceland in February, you can find all of the above information year-round too. Visiting Iceland in the winter, though, can be extremely rewarding, especially for a dance with the Northern Lights.
I never pick a favorite country, but Iceland may just be right up there.
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