Our ICELAND Itinerary – Winter (with map)

64.9631° N, 19.0208° W

Vatnajökull (2110 m) is the largest glacier in Iceland and it’s also the largest glacier mass in Europe

During and after our 10 day trip to Iceland in January for my birthday, I had sent out our itinerary to a handful of friends and followers who privately messaged me on IG. Our itinerary is based on a medium budget staying at comfortable (and photogenic) hotels. We travelled through only South of the island for safety measures. My maps below shows the locations of the hotel and attractions which is downloadable, and the descriptions about the hotels will be written on this page. I’m sure anyone who has been to Iceland can agree the trip itself requires A LOT of research, particularly if you go in Winter due to weather conditions. I will talk about this below.

As the glacier moves, chunks of ice break off and are left in to the Glacier Lagoon, creating a very popular tourist attraction

Iceland itself is an extremely beautiful destination to visit and explore, and it is VERY different travelling in different seasons, many people who go in Summer return again in Winter for a different experience. In summer you may see much greenery, and daylight will be very long… so why go in Winter? Winter has its own distinct personality, apart from seeing snow and moving glaciers, the highest chance season to see Northern lights, more importantly for photographers like ourselves, is also off peak period so you beat the crowds.

WEATHER CONDITIONS

For government updated weather in Iceland, we used https://en.vedur.is/ everyday and the night before heading out. The website updates hourly and is very accurate compared to many other weather forecasts as Icelandic weather changes so frequently and rapidly!

Ring road 1

Important! Firstly, I want to stress that in Winter you MUST leave room for unexpected bad weather and ad-hoc situations. In January, daylight is roughly 5 hours a day, (approx 11am – 4pm) and we would strongly advise to avoid driving at night, it is much darker than your usual city driving being so North of the planet. We also urge you to ask your hotel reception for daily weather advice if you don’t fully understand the Iceland weather update website to be prepared for any dangerous weather warnings – you won’t want to be stuck outside in the storm! This may sound scary and off-putting, but given we went to Iceland for 10 days, there were 3 days with amber storm warnings which we luckily avoided being outside for. In icey-climates as the island name suggests, you can come across ice, snow and storm (super strong winds) all in ONE car journey, these weather conditions can cause immediate danger and tours will be cancelled PLUS you will be told to stay indoors.

Ring road 1

GETTING AROUND

Glacier Lagoon

There is one main ring-road that circles around the whole island, highway Route 1. The traffic police is very strict around Iceland when it comes to speeding since it can be so dangerous when speeding in harsh conditions. If you stick to Route 1, generally it will always be salted, and there should be help should you car break down. Anywhere else however, I would try to avoid driving on to. There are also strict rules about stopping along the highway (there are no hard shoulders) to preserve the natural environment of the island, you will be fined for stopping on top of the moss along the side of the road. Make sure you stop at dedicated parking spots!

Tours are a great way to stay safe if you have language barriers (English will be absolutely fine), and if you are not confident driving in snow and ice. I would also strongly suggest you rent a 4X4 vehicle and ensure winter tyres are included to your vehicle if travelling in Winter to battle with these winds and icey grounds if you do plan on renting a car. There are also one day tours which you cannot do yourself such as ice caves and walking on the glaciers.

Driving around golden circle

In summer, a 10 day trip would comfortably get you around the whole island, but in winter – I don’t recommend expecting that. We planned a route touring just South of the Island and left extra room to spend exploring those places or enjoying our time just outside our hotel playing in the snow instead. It was just about right.

Do you spot the glacier?

Most people who have travelled to Iceland will mention to you that food is can be very expensive. Majority of food is imported from the UK when we looked in supermarkets. If you are on a tighter budget and you have a car, try to take stops at Bonus supermarkets to top up on food, snacks and maybe even meals for your long road trips! Bonus isn’t overpriced, and it’s your usual supermarket price – unlike restaurants. You will see a bright yellow store and a piggy along most of the towns, especially in the main towns in the South Island – Reykjavík, Vík, and Höfn. If you book an Air BNB, then you will probably save much more money cooking yourself than eating out!

HOTELS we stayed at

Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland, but we decided not to stay here as there were no hotels particularly appealing to me here. We only stopped at Reykjavík for grocery shopping at Bonus Superstore – the cheapest supermarket chain on the island before heading to our first hotel. I would recommend you stay at either The Retreat or Silica both luxury hotels at the Blue Lagoon either upon arrival or before leaving Iceland because of it’s location (20 mins from Keflavík International Airport ).

Blue Lagoon, the number 1 attraction in Iceland – The Retreat, right next to it

This was my favourite hotel of the whole trip, we stayed here on my birthday night and it was an absolute dream! Try out their famous Lagoon view room for some extraordinary views!

The best part of staying at The Retreat is having unlimited access to the Main Lagoon plus an extra Retreat Spa area where only guests have access to. We spent many hours here doing rituals from head to toe, and it actually left me too tired to eat dinner that night. Instead we chose to eat at the Lava Restaurant for lunch the next day, where guests can dine in their bathrobes – my ultimate luxury for lazy people like me!

Want to watch the Northern Lights in your heated accommodation instead of going out in the cold at 1am? Buubble Hotel has you sorted in this heated igloo, you can also find yourself gazing upon 5 millions of stars in the wilderness and a bonus Northern Lights if they appear – star gazing was actually more the highlight to our trip, they last all night and there are just so many of them!

One thing the Buubble has a restriction to however, is this must be booked with a tour. You can choose tours such as South Island tour or the Golden Circle tour, then stay here for the night after the tour. You cannot book this hotel without a tour.

Seeing so many stars before I closed my eyes that night will forever stay in my memories!

Hótel Kría is a newly built hotel in a very good location along the South island located conveniently on Highway route 1. This town here named Vík is where Hótel Kría is located and is a centralised spot for many activities such as ice cave tours, Reyniksfjara beach, Icelandic pony riding etc.

Hótel Kría at Sunrise

We stayed here for a few nights with tours each day to visit Katla Cave, and nearby attractions you can see on the map include Planewreck, Skogafoss etc. You can see from my map that it is worth staying here for more than one night because there is so much to do and see! Another point worth mentioning is to limit your driving hours in winter to save you from being stuck in any sudden storms, so a nice comfortable hotel where you can isolate in during bad weather can be extremely important!

Red Church at Vík

Our room was facing some snowy mountains, 2 of the days we stayed at Hótel Kría it was storming outside, so we watched Netflix and ate in the hotels restaurant. We also bought snacks from the supermarket within 1 minute walk of the hotel and took a walk on the beach on ponies when the storm died down!

Reyniksfjara beach

Reyniksfjara beach is only 5 minutes drive, also walk-able from Hótel Kría.

Sitting along the walls at Reyniksfjara
Ion Adventures signature pool

As the name states, Hotel Ion is a hotel for those who love adventures, being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains.

We began our journey staying here for the first night because of location proximately to airport, and also because of pretty photos of the pool we saw on social media – however bear in mind on Mondays the pool is not filled until late afternoon.

At night, Ion Adventure Hotel is surrounded by pure darkness, so it’s possible to see Northern Lights. The hotel room and service itself was average, despite the price, and it was also a very difficult drive, but we did manage to play in the thick snow!

There are a few Fosshotel’s in Iceland but this was the nearest hotel situated near the Glacier Lagoon, Vatnajökull and Diamond Beach, it is comfortable and modern. The glacier lagoon offers many different type of ice cave tours and staying here meant we could sleep for longer for our morning tours! The hotel even has its own natural waterfall if you hadn’t had enough waterfall photos already.

Walking inside Vatnajökull (2110 m), the largest glacier in Iceland

One of the prettiest sunsets we saw were from here, with jacuzzi’s facing route 1. Location is top notch for attractions because it is on the main highway, however there are no shops or restaurants around here.

Just 20minutes drive away is Diamond beach and the Glacier Lagoon together:

Diamond Beach, million carat diamonds lying around for free
Diamond Beach
Diamond beach
Inside Europes largest glacier Vatnajökull, Ice Cave Hiking one day tour
The ice is so densely compressed from hundreds of years that is has become blue even without editing the photos

Overall, Iceland was one of my most memorable trips. I would love to return one time in summer! Bye for now Iceland!

Rainbows are often because of the constant changing weather!

Disclaimer: Stay complimentary from The Retreat @ Blue Lagoon and Buubble were in exchange for press coverage. As always, all opinions are my own. All opinions, photos and written content belong to Heidi Leung and Heideexyz.com© 2020 All Rights Reserved.

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