Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Iceland
Actually, they can’t even remember how they ended up with the idea of going to Iceland for New Year’s Eve. Maybe it was when Fabio read the sentence „driving in winter is only for the brave-hearted”, in one of the numerous blogs. Moni was a bit skeptic in the beginning: going to a very cold, very dark and very expensive country. As both love the adventure and special trips, somehow, they made their decision. And here you can read more about how it’s like when a flight attendant from Austria and a car loving Rally mechanic („look at the tires, did you see the size of those tires???“) from Brazil go to Iceland for their New Year’s trip…
All that we organized before our trip was the camper van, a hotel for the first two nights in Reykjavík and a guide book that covers the entire country. We wanted to have some time in Reykjavik to acclimatize and to get to know the capital. As Iceland is quite expensive, it really makes sense to sleep inside your vehicle. We were not sure if that option is fine in winter too, but as we found out – yes, it is possible and no – we did not even freeze one night! The only things that you must keep in mind are the map with the all year-open campsites and that you should always have a plan B, as weather can change rapidly and slow you down or even stop you. As we compared some camper rental agencies, the deal of Rent.is seemed best to us – they have the campers (including heating!) available in winter season too, offer free Wi-Fi inside the car and run offices in town and at the airport. One thing that we would also recommend – we decided to go for the larger option of the camper (for up to 3 people) to have a table inside – doesn’t seem comfortable to sit outside when it’s -5°C and a snowstorm – but if you want you should definitely try an option like that…
After spending Christmas with our families at home we met on 27th in the afternoon at Keflavik airport. We booked one of the shuttle services to bring us straight to our hotel and enjoyed our first evening in Iceland.
On the next day we realized, when we looked out of the window after breakfast at 10am, that it is not just a rumor that the sun won’t rise before 10.30. So, travelling in winter means – if you want to see something outside during daylight, you must be outside between 11am and 3pm (requiring good weather conditions). We were walking around central Reykjavík and discovered Harpa, the Old Harbour, Saga Museum, Hallgrímskirkja and stepped down to walk on the frozen surface of lake Tjörnin. We were happy about our room with a real bed for the last time in a while and already excited about our road trip!
Getting up earlier this day we went to the city office of Rent.is and picked up our beautiful camper. Even though we booked the bigger one on purpose, we didn’t expect it to be that spacious and comfortable! The support from the office was very good – we got a lot of information about what to be aware of and all our equipment and the features of the camper (especially the heating – just awesome!!!). Our first stop was a supermarket, as long as we were close to Reykjavík. After that we headed towards the rising sun to start our adventure trying to travel Highway No 1 (alias “The Ring Road”) in 6 days (as weather conditions didn’t seem to bad…).
The landscape surrounding Iceland’s capital is already scenic and you don’t have to go far to get to know some nice attractions: The Golden Circle. After less than one hour drive we arrived at Kerið crater. We took a walk on the crater rim and enjoyed the daylight and the sun there. Our next stop was the meeting point of the American and European tectonic plates – Þingvellir National Park. We did a short walk there. As there are numerous parking areas, just make sure that you take the one where you intend to get off before you park the car, otherwise you will walk more than you wanted to. ?
Another 50 minutes’ drive brought us to Geyser (or “The Great Geyser”) – yes, that’s the famous one all the other spouting hot springs were named after. The Geyser that you will be most likely to see spouting water is named Strokkur. It is one of the must-sees, maybe especially in winter time. And another 10 minutes from here (ok, it was almost dark when we arrived) you can enjoy the majestic Gullfoss waterfalls. A lot of water, a lot of ice. The winter-open campsite that we wanted to reach was “Skógafoss”. On the way we also stopped at Seljalandsfoss waterfall – it’s illuminated, so you can see it from the highway and it’s very close. After having dinner at Skógafoss it wasn’t too late yet and we decided to go on towards Skaftafell. We passed Eyjafjallajökull and were hoping for higher chances of spotting Northern Lights through spending more time on the road at nighttime.
After spending the night at Skaftafell camping we decided to check out the area a little more and ended up booking a glacier hike. So, we got used to walk wearing crampons, learned some interesting things about glaciers and finally witnessed a beautiful sunset. The camping that we planned to reach was Seyðisfjörður. On the way we unfortunately missed Jökulsárlón. We are still not sure if we would have been able to see a lot there at night, but maybe we already had enough glacier and ice things for one day. As we were going on driving we suddenly discovered – the thing we are spotting in the sky are Northern Lights! So, the evening was perfect and on top of it, it started to snow a lot as we went further north, so we decided to stay in Egilsstaðir (we recommend the camping facilities here – perfect!).
For New Year’s Eve we wanted to head to Iceland’s second largest city: Akureyri. But first we finished our plan from the day before and went to Seyðisfjörður, because we read it is supposed to be a lovely place. And it is. That blue church, and all the snow we had on that day – perfect scenery! Our journey lead us on to the Mývatn area. Due to the date (or maybe the weather – snowfall again!) there were not a lot of people driving. The only thing we checked out (from outside) was Grjótagjá, the Game of Thrones lava cave with the thermal spring inside. We arrived at Hamrar campsite (another amazing and beautiful place!!!) and enjoyed the last evening of 2017. As we arrived in the city centre at 11pm and were almost the only people we felt a little strange, but until midnight some more people arrived, they had fireworks and even bars opened at 1am.
Editor’s note: About 85 to 93% of Iceland’s population sits in front of the TV between 22:30-23:30 on New Year’s eve.
The new year started with nice breakfast (in a real kitchen!), snowfall and a lot of driving again. We headed west and tried to see Hvítserkur monolith at Vatnsnes peninsula. Maybe it was the dark, maybe the clouds or maybe the snowflakes – we were not able to see that rock at all. It is quite likely that we saw some seals, even about that we are still not 100% sure.
The destination of the day was “Á camping ground” somewhere near Skarðsströnd. You can’t find the location on Google Maps but somehow you can reach the place. It’s a farm and we didn’t meet anybody speaking English there, but that didn’t matter. You don’t need a lot of conversation to find out where the goats live and where you can wash your dishes. This was probably the best location and the most beautiful night. Full moon, stars, sea, no other cars. And Northern Lights again.
Today we headed towards Viðgelmir to explore the lava tube cave there. Finally, we made it and went to a geothermal bath – Krauma seemed to be a very nice place to do that. Less driving, more relaxing.
After spending the night at Búðardalur we had to get up early and head to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Already the getting up that early was worth it, the moon was still amazing, also in combination with the colors of the rising sun. As we read an article about whale watching in Iceland in winter, we did a trip from Grundarfjörður to spot some Orcas. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky with the whales, but the trip itself was already amazing, worth the sight of the GoT arrowhead mountain near of the bay.
This was our last day, so we did the remaining part of the circle and headed back to Reykjavík (totally driven km: 2.300). Another perfect location for camping all year round is Garðskagi, only ten minutes from Keflavík airport!
As our flight was leaving at 7.40am we had to get up early. Our trip was perfect, and we are still sure that it will take us a long time to realize all the beauty we were able to witness in those 8 magical Icelandic winter days.
Some things that seemed quite smart…
- Bring a small coffee machine (Bialetti style) that you can use on a camping stove
- Think about bringing a thermos jug if you like to drink tea to keep warm during the day – you don’t have to boil water again and again!
- Always have some spare gas to use that stove – it’s not comfortable to drive with a pan full of cold spaghetti sauce on your lap after 10pm to look for an open gas station in the middle of nowhere ?
- Iceland IS expensive – you can do food shopping for several days instead of spending the same amount of money only for one dinner at a restaurant
- Same thing with renting a camper – the van will cost less for one day than one night in a hotel. Campsites are cheap, and Iceland offers some amazing camping locations and most of the times – very good facilities!
- Get a bottle of Valhalla before leaving the airport on your arrival. You might need it – sometimes it gets cold when you are waiting for Northern Lights or sometimes you might have to skip dinner (for a reason that I already explained before). A sip of Valhalla can be like medicine and it can help you get some air in front of the breathtaking landscapes of the Viking’s land! ?
Read more: Exploring Iceland in winter
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