You may be dreaming of a tropical vacation somewhere warm this winter, but have you ever thought about doing the exact opposite of that? Iceland in the wintertime is cold, windy and very dark, but it's becoming a more and more popular winter tourist destination thanks to killer flight deals, low prices and the beckoning call of a chance to see the Northern Lights.
Here's what you need to know about visiting the Land Of Ice And Fire during the winter months.
Iceland in winter isn't as cold as you might fear. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, temperatures in Iceland usually hover around freezing but stay warmer than large chunks of the United States.
It's still pretty brisk though, especially after nightfall, which is most of the time. You'll want to bring all of your cold weather gear. Thermal heat packs will also keep your electronics from dying prematurely while you're out chasing the Northern Lights.
Another thing not to forget: your swimsuit. One of Iceland's greatest natural attractions are the hot springs, which can be visited year round. There's nothing quite like sitting in a steaming pool of thermal warmth while snow falls around you.
There are many hot springs around the country, but the most famous by far is the Blue Lagoon outside of Reykjavik. While it's actually man-made, not natural, nowhere beats the milky waters of the Blue Lagoon for postcard perfect relaxation. It's very close to Keflavik Airport, which makes it a great first, or last, stop on your itinerary.
Iceland's capital city is also its only real city, and the most practical base for a wintertime visit. It's easy to find a good hotel deal during the winter off season, and Icelandair often offers flight and hotel package deals during this time period.
Reykjavik is small, but offers tons to do even in the cold. There are interesting sights, like the unique Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland, and the Harpa, the beautiful new concert center. There are also many opportunities to shop- including lots of unique small boutiques where you can pick up local art or Icelandic wool gloves. There are lots of traditional and international restaurants, coffee shops and bars where you can drink away the long nights (for a price, liquor is extremely expensive in Iceland).
Of course the real draw of Iceland, winter or summer, is the almost otherworldly natural beauty that the country possesses almost to excess. Even if you've been to Iceland during the summer, it's worth revisiting in winter when a thick layer of snow totally changes every vista.
The three most popular attractions lie along the Golden Circle. You can rent a car or take an organized tour to visit Thingvellier National Park, Geysir (Iceland's most famous geyser field), and Gullfoss, a truly enormous and powerful waterfall. Dress warm, wear good shoes and watch your step. Despite being major tourist attractions, the walkways around Geysir and Gullfoss can be dangerously icy.
A tour is probably the easiest way to attempt to spot the Northern Lights as well. While it's not impossible to see them in Reykjavik proper, your chances are greatly increased away from the city lights. Unfortunately there is never a guarantee that they will appear, or that the skies will be clear enough to see them, but if you do, it's a sight you will never forget.
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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