Road tripping in Iceland in Winter
Table of Contents
Here’s a little story about two BFFs exploring the magical landscapes of snow covered Iceland in the dead of winter. Sleeping in a car, watching the northern lights during blizzard while soaked in a natural hot springs and driving for hours in the complete white outs and during polar night with the shapes of dark rugged volcanic hills towering above us. A spontaneous Iceland adventure photography. (February 2019)
My BFF Martin is known for his love of the Icelandic landscape and always persuaded me to go. He wasn’t successful until now… To be honest, I always felt a bit of hesitation towards places which are surrounded by such a massive tourist hype. I much more prefer trekking and exploring the forgotten and wild places rather than adding to the over-tourism. But when he spontaneously suggested going to Iceland off season in the dead of winter? I was in to see for myself what all the hype is about.
I must say the ever present Iceland hype is well founded as the place is full of magic. The structures of the volcanic landscape, moss and ever present waterfalls… Even though much of what’s there to see was under a thick cover of snow, I was mesmerised.. And now looking back at the pictures I took I see even more how unique this place is. But I soon discovered I found little to no joy in visiting the “must see” tourist hotspots with the car parks spreading far and wide. Instead I was happiest far away from everything in a complete white out and in the hot pots in the middle of nowhere. Enjoying the roughness and isolation, the loss of control we have when the strong winds blow from the glaciers, the roads are closed and plans have to change…
The first time I got to see the white towers of geothermal steam in the distance I got so excited. I’ve never been in such seismically active country before and there is something utterly exciting about the ground below your feet being so tangibly alive. I put on my favourite Icelandic music and we drive… (haha, not Sigur Rós but it came on later as well)
Our days consisted of waking up in our warm sleeping bags in the middle of nowhere and then driving and exploring the magical landscapes. We met up with my old friend Michael, who’s lived in Iceland for past couple years to explore glaciers in his jeep. The weather changed to a storm so we did a little hike to a hidden waterfall. And as you can expect when you meet old friend after a long time, we ended the day drinking the Icelandic beer and Brennivín. Btw. Follow Michael’s Instagram for the most spectacular landscapes from around the world – mostly shot on middle format film.
The next couple days were spent in the total white outs. Visibility lasting only from one marker post to another. We didn’t mind it though – good music and driving is something we both love. Stopping at tiny snow covered towns for lunch and to get fresh weather info, to cook instant soup in our car or to find a way to yet another natural hot spring.
Driving in Iceland in Winter
We rented a pretty basic 4×4 car and we were so happy we did as along the road we encountered so many tiny rental cars being stuck or crashed. We arrived after a heavy snowfall so the roads were covered with solid ice or full of snow slush with 1-2m of snow towering on each side of the road in the cities. Locals in urban areas usually drive tiny cars without 4×4 but I’d definitely not recommend that if you don’t have winter driving experience and/or planning a longer journey. Anywhere in the countryside people have big trucks or jeeps with studded tires. The ring road has a great maintenance and snow ploughs maintain it regularly but be aware of the weather forecast as the parts of the road often get shut due to storms. The webpage road.is has all the fresh info.
Along the way we helped out with 2 crashes and saw plenty other cars being stuck (but they’ve been already helped). Main advice is do not underestimate your driving skills and get 4×4 to get an extra bit of security.
We also slept in the car for the most of the trip. It is bit punk but it’s my favourite way to explore new place without any hotel check-ins and itineraries. It was cold at times, as you could expect, but we were pretty snug in our winter sleeping bags.
Hot Spring Bliss
Hot springs visits were the ultimate highlight of the trip for me. I’ve never visited one before. We did compensate for that and visited many. Some famous ones, some which weren’t hot at all, some where we met some fellow travellers with amazing stories and wisdom to share, one commercial one – but really amazing actually – we had it all to ourselves. And one evening we found ourselves in a natural hot spring tub surrounded by nothing but complete darkness and crazy winds howling around us while we sat in amazing 40° water for hours and watched the stars and the sea.
Ben Frost Gig in Reykjavík
If you like ambient music as much as I do, I hope you know Ben Frost. Australian native relocated to Iceland and the master of loudness, drone and weird noises. All the way since his gig Aurora in Prague I am in love. I was joking about how cool if would be if we just met him on the street, that would be a proper fan girl moment. Then I open my Instagram and here it is… a small intimate performance in one of the Reykjavik’s venues. OMG. NOPE. OMG. On the last night of our stay. OMG. So that was it. My dreams came true for real. Icelandic magic!
Music: Ben Frost – Aurora
(headphones and high volume recommended)
The biggest LOL: Visiting Kerið Crater – one of only two natural sights in Iceland you have to pay an entry fee to, only to find it’s turquoise waters completely frozen over and covered with a thick layer of snow with “SEND NUDES” and a picture of penis drawn onto it. LOL. Iceland Adventure Photography
Destination Wedding and Elopement Photographer in Iceland
Ceranna Photography is Adventurous Elopement and Wedding Photographer based in Scotland and available for Destination Weddings and Elopements across Europe. With passion for hiking and great outdoors capturing raw emotional moments and honest joy in everyday life. Get in touch for booking.