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How do you survive the winter in Iceland?

Well, we have to say that this is a question we often get asked and it needs some more sentences to explain.
First to say is that even our country is called ICE-land it is not as ice-cold as it sounds. Indeed, our winter is “warmer” than in the northern parts of Europe’s mainland. The average temperature in South Iceland is around 0° C in winter, so not as bad as you might have thought.
Furthermore, there are various upsides that really make it worth being here in the winter:

  1. Landscape:
    When the colour of the grass slowly turns from green into brown in September, we know winter is coming. A few weeks later usually it starts to snow on the close by mountains and it looks like they are sugar coated. Often it is foggy in the valleys and you can imagine elfs and trolls hiding in their stones and bushes. It is amazing to ride along fields and rivers and see the snowy mountains and volcanoes in the background, knowing that it will look like that down in the lower areas soon as well. The landscape looks different from day to day and even if you have been in Iceland before, you will see a totally different side of the country in winter. As soon as everything is covered in snow it just looks like a magical winter world.
  2. Northern Lights:
    As you probably have heard we can see northern lights quite frequently here in the winter. The season for them starts in the middle of August and lasts until middle of April. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee to see them since it is a completely natural phenomenon but if the sky is clear, you are in an area with little light around you and a certain activity is predicted there is a good chance of catching them. Sometimes you just walk out of your door and you see them dancing along the sky, if you are really luck they even put on a show in green mixed with white or pink. Like Hotel Eldhestar most countryside hotels are in a good location to see them and the reception is happy to tell you about the forecast and might even offer a “wake up” call in case they spot them.
    There is nothing comparable to this experience!
  3. Sunrise and Sunset:
    Yes, it is pretty dark during the winter here in Iceland. From November until February the nights are longer than in a lot of other countries, with its longest night on 21st of December with only around 4 hours of daylight. Nevertheless, when it gets bright it is often combined with a dramatic sunrise. The sun rises as a red fireball from the ground and often creates an orange or pink sky that is definitely worth seeing. If you have been out chasing the northern lights late the night before and oversleep the sunrise, don’t worry you can see a similar colourful sky when the sun sets again a few hours later. If you are joining one of our riding tours in the winter, you might start riding in the dark, but the sunrise makes up for this on a lot of days!
  4. The Icelandic horse:
    Our best companions here at Eldhestar are of course by our side in the winter as well. They grow a fluffy long winter coat to be well equipped for the cold days and thus look even cuter than in summer. No matter if it snows, rains or it is windy, they carry our guests through the scenic landscape with routine in icy conditions and safe steps in the darkness. They grew up with this weather, get horse shoes with spikes on and therefore deal good with Icelandic winters weather. You can trust them even if you would not trust your own steps in these conditions!
  5. Hot Pots:
    What the winter coat is for our horses are the hot tubs for humans. After a winter day outside there is nothing better than to jump into a hot pot. You can find them all over Iceland, of course our hotel has two as well, they are heated up by geothermal energy which makes them so popular. Don’t be surprised most of them are outside but once you tried it, you will agree that there is nothing better than sitting in warm water and enjoying the cold breeze around your face or even snow falling around you.
  6. Snow and Ice:
    Iceland can be a real winter wonderland during December until March. It can snow a lot within one night and you will wake up wondering where it came from. Riding through the snow and feeling how safe the horses take their steps in that kind of weather is impressive. Even if there is no snow on the ground yet, the puddles are frozen and you can hear the ice cracking while riding through them and the mountains around have a white top. Just take a deep breath of the cold clear air and you know why you came here.
  7. Rainbows:
    In case it rains here in the winter (yes that unfortunately happens sometimes) you frequently have the chance to see a rainbow. The weather changes so fast here that Iceland is perfect for rainbow spotting. On some days you can even see 2 or 3 at a time. Even if you got wet by a rain shower, often the sun shines through the rain clouds and creates a beautiful colorful rainbow.
  8. Viking experience:
    I admit that it can be hard here in the winter, it is very windy, it snows, rains and hails and you have a hard time figuring out why you came here in winter to go horse-riding on some days. But believe me at the end of the day it is totally worth it. If you have been freezing all day, there is nothing better than coming inside for a warm meal and taking a hot shower or a dip in the hot pot. After that you feel renewed and very proud of yourself that you made a riding tour in winterly Iceland and you see how strong you are mentally and physically, like the Vikings!

In general, keep in mind that since Iceland is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean the weather changes really fast around here and once you have been here you will know why locals say:

“If you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes…”

Basically, you just get examples of weather here, even during our shorter rides we had guests that experienced sunshine, rain, hail, snow and rainbows within an hour. Always be prepared for all four season and various weather surprises when you leave the house.
Iceland is also one of the windiest places on earth so even if it is not that cold it easily feels 5-10° C colder with the wind. This is also the reason why you can see so many colourful raincoats here, no Icelandic person owns an umbrella because it just gets turned over by the wind. Believe me, I had one and used it exactly once. When you get back home you’ll appreciate your not-so-windy home country a lot more than you thought.
All in all, spending time here in the winter is a great experience for all nature enthusiasts. Sometimes challenging and an impressive demonstration of the power of nature but also one of the most special things you will ever do.
Riding through a snowy landscape and breathing in the clear air after a dramatic sunrise in the late morning or seeing the stars and the milky way or even the northern lights above your head after two days of stormy weather and just letting yourself fall into a snow pile to watch it makes up for every minute that you might have doubted your decision to come to Iceland in the winter!