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Kirkjufell mountain, Snæfellsnes peninsula Iceland has a lot to offer during the off-season. Photo/Followmeaway.com
Although the vast majority of travellers visiting Iceland come for the midnight sun of the brief sub-arctic summer more and more people are discovering that Iceland has a lot to offer during the winter months. The reason is simple: Iceland has a lot to offer during the off-season months!
Travel bloggers Victoria and Terrace visited Iceland this winter and listed seven reasons why the off-season is the best time to visit Iceland. We revised their list and added some reasons of our own bringing the total to 12!
# 1 Flights and accommodations are cheaper during the off season
One of the best things about the off-season is that prices of flights and hotel rooms drop. Acccording to the Icelandic booking site Dohop airline tickets in the off-season months tend to be 20% cheaper than in the peak months of summer. The Icelandic airlines Wow Air and Icelandair already offer cheap flights to numerous international destinations, but with more year-round service by international airlines prices have come down even further. In the winter 2016-17 the number of international destinations was up to 57. Prices had also come down dramatically. According to Dohop the average airline ticket in January 2017 is 33% cheaper than in January of 2016.
Calculations by Dohop show that the average airline ticket from Keflavík now costs 44,045 ISK (386 USD/369 EUR) compared to 60,326 ISK (529 USD/506 EUR) in January 2015. Accommodation is also cheaper, although the off-season also has it's peaks. Prices for hotels and airbnb spikes during the Christmas holiadays and the popular music festival Iceland Airwaves.
#2 It's the only time you can catch the Northern Lights
Seeing the Northern Lights is one of the highlights of visiting Iceland in the off-season. The lights are impossible to see during the summer, due to the bright sub-Arctic nights as the sun does not set. Of course you can't count on seeing the Northern Lights any time of the year, there is a much higher chance of seeing them during the off-season.
If you are looking for the best time to visit Iceland to see the Northern Lights, plan your trip during the low season or winter months. The best time to see the Northern Lights tends to be in early and late winter, as the likelyhood of storms, which bring heavy cloud cover which makes the Aurora impossible to see, are more liekly during the November-February period.
#3 Smaller crowds
Iceland has become one of the "must go" destinations, which means that alot of people are either on their way to Iceland or thinking about visiting. This means that many popular tourist destinations in Iceland have become crowded. The rapidity of the growth of the tourism industry has also meant that infrastructure has not kept up, which adds to the feeling of crowds at the most popular sites.
However, the crowds are only at the most popular spots. You don't have to go far off the beaten path to find places where won't run into a single other person for for miles and you have all of the majestic landscape and wilderness to yourself! The Westfjords and Eastfjords are obvious examples. Or you can come during the off-season when fewer people are visiting!
#4 Winter transforms the landscape, making it magical
Winter transforms the Icelandic landscapes completely. The bright and vibrant green colors of mosses and the delicate sub-Arctic vegetation give way to shades of blue, gray and yellow. The cold blue light and snowy mountains create an experience of a magical otherworldly wonderland.
Standing on a snow-covered heath in the dusk of the short winter days, surrounded by blue mountains and glacier caps it is easy to get the feeling you are the only person on some far-away alien planet.
#5 Winter in Iceland doesn't necessary mean freezing cold and snow
Despite being called Iceland, Iceland isn't that cold, thanks to the Gulf-stream and the coastal climate. This means that the winters are relatively mild. Temperatures on lowland stay around freezing, and the snow remains relatively light, especially in the South-West. Frequent winter storms, and ice on the roads means you must take care when driving or travelling, but most roads are kept open year-round.
#6 The off-season is a photographer’s dream
The winter light makes Icelandic landscapes even more magical. And the Northern lights add an amazing touch to any landscape photo, ensuring that one shot you caught of Kirkjufell mountain is truly unique!
#7 The winter festivities!
In pre-Christian times Icelanders would celebrate the month of Þorri (which began on a Friday between the 19th and 25th of January) with a great mid-winter feast named Þorrablót. The tradition was lost soon after Icelanders converted to Christianity but was revived in 1873 by Icelandic students living in Copenhagen. By the 1960’s Þorrablót had become a popular part of Icelandic tradition and is still widely celebrated each year. A traditional Þorrablót buffet will include such delicacies as scorched sheep’s head, sour ram’s testicles, air dried fish, and fermented shark.
Another winter festival not to miss are New Year’s Eve celebrations in Icelandm whic are a bit mad, to say the least. The country’s rules and regulations regarding firework use are quite relaxed, giving the population the chance to let their inner pyromaniac loose in the most spectacular manner. On average, more than 500 tons of fireworks are shot into the sky on New Year‘s Eve, around 1.5 kg (3 lbs.) per person.
#8 Hot tubs and warm pools
One of the things that makes Iceland inhabitable is the plentiful green energy, especially the geothermal power which keeps Icelanders warm. And heats our pools! The best known geothermal soaking spot in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. But you should not miss out on the many public pools.
Icelanders are known to be mad about their swimming pools; It‘s where people gather at the end of the day, all year round, to unwind and have a little tête-à-tête. A visit to the hot tubs during winter is a terrific experience. Sit outside in the warm water and enjoy some stargazing, and if you are lucky, the Northern Lights.
# 9 The winter storms
Bad weather has its charm! While it is not advisable to embark on long hikes or head out to the roads when severe weather warnings are in effect, the winter storms do have their charm: If you get stranded due to a several storm one of the best things you can do is simply to dress well and head out for a short hike! Taking the scenic coast walk in Reykjavík becomes a battle with the elements that you won't forget!
The geothermal pools and hot tubs are another perfect place to enjoy those winter storms.
# 10 The short days and the darkness
The darkest days of winter can be very dark and very long: At the winter solstice, on the 21st of December, daylight lasts for only 4 hours and 8 minutes in Reykjavík. Towns and villages in the Westfjords don't glimpse the sun for weeks in winter.
Don’t let this discourage you from visiting Iceland during winter, because the limited daylight, the snow, and ice can give a completely different experience. And more darkness increases your chance of glimpsing the Northern lights!
# 11 The winter coat of the Icelandic horse
It is not just Icelanders who have survived the darkness and winter storms through the centuries. The small but sturdy Icelandic horse was brought to Iceland with the Viking settlers, more than 1100 years ago, and it has survived alongside and served its human caretakers ever since.
The Icelandic horse has several unique characteristics, including its three layered winter coat. Their special, three-layer coat, which helps the Icelandic horse to survive the freezing Icelandic temperatures, makes these adorable animals even cuter.
# 12 Winter tours and adventures!
Whether it is ice caves or snowboarding, visiting in the winter offers adventures which aren't really available during the summer!
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