Ugh, I know, how could I dare say those words? Let me elaborate a bit…Iceland isn’t worth it…in the winter. Maybe in the summer it is, but even then I am not too sure.
In the last few years, Iceland has boomed in popularity, in large part thanks to cheap flights and Icelandair’s “stopover” option to spend a day or two there on a layover. Thanks to these cheap trips, more people are heading to a country that a decade ago they couldn’t find on a map. At only 5 hours from New York, I can’t blame people for taking this easy way to add a country to their travel collection!
The cheap flights to Iceland are about the only thing “cheap” associated with the country – we didn’t buy a single souvenir and kept full meals to a minimum to save money. On our recent trip to Iceland we hit (or tried to hit) all of the spots you see plastered all over Facebook and Instagram but my main goal was to see the Northern Lights.
We arrived at 3pm and had lofty goals of traveling the 2 hours to Geysir and Gulfoss Falls – but sadly by the time we arrived at 6pm it was pitch black – there were no lights on the road and it snowed for the last hour driving out there and most of the way back to the hotel. We walked out to the Geysir just in case there were any lights out there but unfortunately there were not – we were only able to hear it erupt. We knew the waterfall would be the same but figured we would try it. Sadly nothing.
The next day we headed to Blue Lagoon first thing to soak in the hot geothermal baths and do some fun mud masks for a couple of hours before having lunch at the on-site restaurant. This was one of the highlights of the trip. We loved the in-water bar and walk up facial masks. We could have (should have?) spent the entire day there!
After lunch, we rushed to see the Seljalandsfoss waterfall – a massive waterfall that you can walk behind! There are a few other small waterfalls around it too that you can also explore & they are all so beautiful.
Unfortunately, after that it was 4pm and too dark to see anything else so we went back to the hotel and watched movies since there was complete cloud cover and no chance of seeing the northern lights.
The next day, our helicopter ride over the glaciers was cancelled due to bad weather (rain, zero visibility) so we drove out to the famed crashed DC-3 plane on the black sand beach. It was about a 2-hour drive (like everywhere in Iceland) and then another 40-min hike to the plane. Luckily we got there when there weren’t too many people there, so after waiting for a few others to leave we were able to get photos with no one else in them. Unfortunately after the plane (since we waited until after we knew the helo ride was cancelled) it was 4pm so we had no more time to see anything else.
Our last day there we spent the entire day driving to and hiking a glacier. It was an incredible experience hindered only by the fact that it rained on us for the entire day – from 10am until we got back on the bus around 4pm.
Every night we were there it was too stormy and cloudy for any northern lights viewing. Interestingly, I had friends that went the week before us and week after us and neither of them were able to see the lights either!
What I realized about the trip, even though we did enjoy what we could do, is that it wasn’t worth the money for what you get in the winter. You only have daylight from about 11am-4pm each day which gives you time to only do 1 thing per day once you factor in driving. Unless you plan on taking expensive excursions every day, you need to expect to get a rental car and pay for the gas as well. Everything in Iceland seems 3x more than anything in the States and at least 2x more than things in London (where until Iceland I held as the measure for pricey trips). All of the things we saw in Iceland you can experience in the United States (just not in a week)! – Geyser? Go to Yellowstone National Park. Waterfall? Go to Niagra Falls. Glaciers? Hello Alaska. Northern Lights? Also Alaska. Helicopter ride? all of those places too!
If you are in Europe like me and want to see the Northern Lights like I so desperately did, it is much smarter to book a trip to the Arctic circle in Swedan, Finland, or Norway and even stay in an Igloo or Ice Hotel!
Most of the photos (& elopements) in Iceland are from the Summer months – where you have non-stop daylight (although I am told it still rains a lot). No one is ever going to go to Iceland and say they had a bad time but if you want the Iceland experience you see on Instagram, you need to go in Summer because in my opinion, Iceland in Winter just isn’t worth it.
Had a different experience? Post it in the comments below!