March 18, 2019
It was a pretty spontaneous decision to fly to Iceland. I kept on deciding it for over 10 years, so one day I’ve decided to book the tickets. We found a van for a pretty optimistic price and one week later we picked it up in Reykjavik. We sat all together up front, drive for about an hour and stopped for a night. The temperature was definitely on minus outside, it was too cold to change into pyjamas, so while heating the car we were sitting under a quilt in our jackets and that was the moment, when yet again in my life, I thought: “WTF I’ve been thinking!“ This time about coming to Iceland in the winter period and sleeping in a van. When I was falling asleep, I was crossing my fingers that the heating system won’t stop working and that we will wake up in the morning (means not dying out of freezing).
The heating worked like a poetry through our stay. We did not freeze, we only once got almost blown away from the road and experienced way more that we could have experienced during the warmer periods. Just to be sure, we will come back to Iceland in summer.
TIPS FOR WINTER VAN ADVENTURE IN ICELAND
1. Choose your camper wisely. And by this I mean pay attention to the heating system. Some companies specialise in the winter rent and you will get a car that will keep you warm by 8h straight at night. Our did even longer, but our neighbours at some point were not so lucky. Their heating died after 4h and they kept turning on the engine each hour. From what they said – it was a nightmare night. We got our camper from Camp easy – not an ad at all, we paid it all.
2. Take layers of clothing. You may end up with a beautiful sun like we did, so you want to walk around in a T-shirt, but when it’s cloudy or rainy, it gets super cold. I also suggest a very warm jacket that is good for wind and rain as well and good gloves. Aurora lights are amazing, but when you feel how your fingers are freezing, you stop being enthusiastic. In this situation you need to spend quite some time outside, unless you have a cooperative partner, who calls you when the lights appear (thank you Tomasz).
3. Take a forehead light – discovery of a genius. It is super helpful when you run toilet at night and not only.
4. Remember about having coins with you if you like to take a hot shower. For all the rest you can pay with a card. This one only coins.
5. Do not worry about places where you can camp. There is a list of campsites and spots available in winter. These are not expensive and are your only choice, as wild camping is illegal. I guess it’s because it is not safe. The weather changes a lot in Iceland and you can end up being blown away from the place you stopped for a night together with your car. In case of a strong wind, your car can get seriously damaged by stones or ice pushed by the wind. A few times the wind was so strong that it was impossible for us to open the door or to walk against it. A few times, if it wasn’t for a heavy vehicle and 4wd, we would be pushed away from the road. Here is a list of winter campsites. Do not worry that it will take all the fun away. These stops are located, for example 10 meters from a giant waterfall, so you can hear it while you fell asleep and see it first thing when you open your eyes in the morning.
6. Check the weather on every day basis (here is a website where you can do it). You will most probably get a GPS with wifi and all the info you can check on the road. But if not, check it online. In winter some roads may be closed (happened a lot) or there may be a very strong wind. It will be way better to wait or even turn back. Checking on the weather may save you many troubles like destroying your car, so definitely remember to do it.
7. Choose camper with 4wd. Winter in Iceland is magical and may be difficult. This is why it helps a lot. We managed to go places unavailable with a regular car. Also when the wind is strong, it helps a lot. The price does not vary that much and many companies offer 4wd. I guess maybe even most.
8. When you pick up your van, check out if they have a shelf, where previous travellers left some products. Most of the companies have it. You can grab salt, pepper, tea, coffee, sometimes gas, oil, flour and so on. It saves a lot of money and time spend in a store. Remember to leave some of your unused goods as well on return of your vehicle.
9. Remember that you will visit Iceland once, maybe twice in your lifetime, so take advantage of this trip. Try local cuisine, more in a moment.
10. You can take an additional quilt for your camper and I suggest to use this privilege. It helped a lot.
11. Talk with other travellers. They can share some special tips with you, like this tine hidden hot spring or the place where they saw aurora lights the previous night.
12. Be ready to change your plans. In Poland we have this saying that only cows do not change their mind. Sometimes a road will be closed, sometimes the wind will be too strong. It happens, but it’s not the end of the world if you wait a day.
13. Stop to talk to the Icelandic horses and maybe pet them a bit. These creatures come from the Viking times and are amazing.
14. Take a bath in hot springs as often as possible. You don’t need to go to The Blue Lagoon, as it’s very pricy (unless you are sure that you need this one particular picture). There are other, local pools, with beautiful surroundings and way less people inside.
WHAT TO EAT IN ICELAND
Iceland has a lot to offer and food is delicious as well. We’ve tried quite a few restaurants and it was all delicious. I did not try a whale or fermented shark, I did not go for a lamb head or puffin either, but I did have a bite of other delicateses, like:
– Geyser bread – you have to try it. It’s baked for a long time next to a geyser and is delicious.
– Skyr – thick yogurt served with a bit of milk and sugar.
Porridge, which is the most popular breakfast. Especially during the cold period, it will give you the energy you need.
WHAT TO SEE:
We saw some beautiful things in Iceland and some of them we did not, as we were travelling with Mia and she was simply not interested or it was too cold and too far away. We will do it the next time, when she’s older than 4.
Geysir – very touristy and super incredible. Totally a must (like everything in Iceland). You stand next to a geyser which explodes quite often. It blows water and hot air and it looks incredible. Kids love it, adults scream out of excitement.
Gullfoss – one of the biggest waterfalls I saw, I must say it was very impressive and stunningly beautiful. I guess each person who visits Iceland goes there, but it’s only because there is a serious reason – beauty x 100000000.
Secret Lagoon Hot Spring – our first hot springs. It was sooo good to walk into this hot water after a day of walking in cold. It is a lovely place, but even this did not make it easier to walk 4 meters from a changing room to the water only in a swimming suit through a total cold. Yet, worth it.
Skogafoss – we stopped there for a night and we saw the most beautiful Aurora lights there are. You wake up to a massive waterfall just behind a window.
Dyrholaey lighthouse– the building itself is interesting, but the view from the spot is unforgettable. Long black beach,rocks… go there! To drive all the way up you need a4WD.
Vik – very pretty town.
Diamond beach – one of the highlights of our trip. We got there for the sunrise and experienced an explosion of colors which changed with each minute and the pieces of ice lying around reflected the light creating a visual masterpiece. Mia licked the biggest ice cube in her and my life and each one presented itself as a different animal in her eyes. A lot of fun for her and very inspiring for me.
Jokulsarlon glacier – on the other side of the road from the Diamond Beach, there are icebergs in a lake and it’s beautiful. Very touristy as well, so get there super early to avoid a serious crowd.
Reynishverfi – black beach with basalt stones. Wow!
Hofn – charming town with a beautiful houses, port and delicious food.
Stokksness – if you asked me to choose only one place in Iceland – this is it. It’s not only breathtaking, you can ride Icelandic horses over here as well. Behind a rock there is a Viking village, which is totally fake and built for a TV series that was never made. But, it is interesting and kids like it a lot. Nobody but us went there, so we had a whole village for ourselves, to imagine and play. It was fun.
Myvatn Natural Baths – our favorite hot springs! There were almost no people and it was so beautiful.
BEAUTIFUL PLACES THAT WE DID NOT MANAGE TO GET TO:
Grotta Island lighthouse – we did not make it there, but if you spend some time in Reykjavik, check it out. You can see aurora lights from there.
Solheimasandur plane wreck – I guess you saw a picture of this one somewhere on the internet. You need to walk about 1-2h one way, depends on how you walk. We could not do it, as it was too windy for Mia, but we will go back.
Road 939 – one lovely girl told me that this is the most beautiful road in Iceland and apparently locals think so as well. It was closed when we were there, but maybe you will be more lucky.
Kirkjuffel – something you should see and hopefully I’ll see in the future.
Wild hot pools – there are many and worth visiting. It was too cold to take a 4 year old to them, but maybe when you’re there it will be warmer or your kid will be older. Or you are a happy kid free traveller, then totally find as many as possible.
Ice caves – only for kids over 12 years old. Oops.
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