Enjoying Reykjavik in the winter – seriously?
Yes, even a Florida-living blonde enjoyed Reykjavik in the winter. Misgivings about Iceland being brutally cold and dark in winter proved to be unfounded. Over the course of a 4 day visit 3 days featured bright blue skies and one was snowy but not impressively (or depressingly) so . The temperatures were in the mid 30s Fahrenheit.
There were about 7 hours of light a day which is plenty for anyone who has the sense to sleep in late and begin serious eating as soon as the sun hints that it will be setting. Plus, if you’re in Iceland hoping to see the Northern Lights you need the darkness.
Iceland has become so popular as a summer destination that throngs of tourists visit from June through August. Winter is surprisingly popular too but there are considerably fewer visitors. Not enough that you no longer need restaurant reservations but enough so that you can get a reservation.
Enjoyable things to do in Reykjavik
Go on a helicopter ride with Nordurflug Helicopters
This falls into the splurge category but will give you a vivid memory you will be able to retrieve much more easily than your memory of where you put the car keys.
Nordurflug is the oldest and largest helicopter operator in Iceland and has been innovative in putting together a range of pre-designed itineraries that all sound fabulous. Their handsome CEO told me something about how their helicopters are some impressive French make but, due to him being handsome, I’ve forgotten why that matters…
Nordurflug has been involved in film work for Hollywood and provided the helicopters for footage in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Prometheus and Oblivion as well as Game of Thrones. So just think of the famous butts that may have been where you are now sitting. (OK, it was probably their cameramen’s butts but even so…)
I did the Reykjavik Summit Experience which is only 45 minutes in length but much longer in excitement and bragging rights.
Iceland has a distinctive volcanic landscape that emerges minutes after you lift off from the domestic airport very near downtown Reykjavik. You fly over craters and buzz about just below low hanging clouds. Coming back towards the city is interesting as what seems like a small city when you’re on the ground is really a fairly large city. (Sneaky Icelanders..)
Of course it wouldn’t be a real experience without champagne and photographic evidence, both of which are generously provided. If you want to have one experience in Reykjavik that is really unusual and memorable this is it. But, as with all outdoor activities in Iceland in the winter, try to allow some flexibility in your schedule as the weather determines most decisions.
Visit Aurora Reykjavik Northern Lights Center
Aurora Reykjavik is a must-see exhibit before you head out to (try to) see or photograph the Northern Lights. It’s also great if you are in Iceland at a time of year when there isn’t a chance to see the lights but you want to learn about them and experience them vicariously.
The exhibits have just enough solid information to inform and be interesting without being overwhelming. The continuously running HD panoramic film of Iceland’s Northern Lights by some of their best photographers is really stunning. (You can buy a copy in their adorable coffee/tea/gift shop.)
Aurora Reykjavik is open literally every day of the year so don’t even pretend you weren’t able to fit in a visit!
It’s also in a location near the harbor which leads us to another thing you can enjoy in Reykjavik in the winter.
Enjoy some of Iceland’s world-class cuisine in Reykjavik
If you haven’t heard before you have now that Reykjavik is home to an impressive collection of eateries with Icelandic chefs, owners and staff. Each seems to have his or her own personal twist on the cuisine and chef’s tasting menus are a wonderful way to pass those long winter evenings.
Beside Aurora Reykjavik is Matur or Drykkur (means Food and Drink) with its charming and friendly chef Gísli Matthías Auðunsson. His interest in historical Icelandic cuisine has resulted in yummy offerings such as his updated version of his grandmother’s Halibut soup with dill. And his partner’s whimsical artwork is a whole treat of its own. Then there’s the award-winning mixologist..
Two restaurants with the same owners but very different offerings are Grill Market and Fish Market. As you may guess Grill Market is more meat-focused and Fish Market more fish-focused. (You heard it here first!) If you can, go to both of these top-ranked restaurants and try the chef’s tasting menus. They have lots of courses but each is small so you can try to tell yourself it isn’t really so much food..
Resto is another place where you truly can’t go wrong no matter what you order. Owned by a ridiculously hard-working husband and wife team it’s really taken off since its opening. The chef already had a following locally before opening his own place so his reputation preceded him a good way. The atmosphere is very relaxed and homey, probably in part because it’s run by family and friends.
Go on a Northern Lights photo shoot
Conveniently enough we have a write-up about what to expect, what you need, how cold you may get and how to select a company who meets your needs. So read it here.
A few tips to help you enjoy Reykjavik
- Make reservations in advance. Weather-dependent activities such as helicopter rides and Northern Lights photo expeditions may need you to be flexible with your schedule so plan them for as early in your visit as possible so you can adjust if necessary.
- Yes, the reservations comment applies to dinner at all of the restaurants mentioned.
- Icelanders don’t tip because they have the odd custom of paying wait-staff a living wage. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip for service but is merely to let you know that you won’t be chased down the street by an angry waiter if you leave less than 20%.
- A sort of Uberesque taxi service I used that was very prompt, had clean cars with wi-fi and nice drivers was cleverly called “Taxi Service Iceland”. Have your hotel or the restaurant call them for you. The local number is 5 88 55 00. They take credit cards which is handy.
- IcelandAir finally has some much-needed competition from Wow Airlines so check their site too if you’re searching for airfare bargains.
Reykjavik in winter proved to be so much fun that I’m almost hesitant to share this information because I may want to go back and am not sure how many people I want to know about it. But if you read this blog you’re probably a decent sort so it’s worth the calculated risk (maybe).
P.S. If you have questions feel free to ask them via the comments function below.
Disclosure of my corruption and bias: I was lucky enough to get a freebie last minute helicopter ride with Nordurflug, a free dinner (which I didn’t expect but certainly appreciated) at Matur go Drykkur, a good deal at The Fish Market for the chef’s tasting menu for 5 of us and free admission to Aurora Reykjavik. I wish I’d gotten more for free.