Glacier tourism in winter: are we mad? Mais non, monsieur!
Some people might think visiting glaciers while on Iceland holidays is a bad/boring/dangerous/too cold idea at the best of times. But those people are wrong: glaciers provide some of the most spectacular views and biggest thrills in the entire world. A lot more people would probably agree, however, that glaciers are a summer thing and are best left alone in the harshness of winter. But guess what…they're wrong too!
The Vatnajökull National Park covers an immense 11% of Iceland and is the biggest park in Europe. Part of the massive national park is the entire Vatnajökull glacier, which is the biggest glacier anywhere outside the polar regions. Getting there takes less than an hour by air from Reykjavík all year round and just a few hours in the car along Route 1 – also all year round (although you should always check winter road conditions on Vegagerdin.is first and make sure you are on good winter tyres).
We're not going to lie to you, you're not stupid: there is indeed less to do in Vatnajökull National Park during the winter than during the summer, just as you thought. But there is still plenty to do and, as with everywhere in Iceland, the contrast between winter and summer is immense and both are very much worth experiencing.
For a start, there are companies offering glacier tours all year round – and you choose between hiking, ice climbing, skiing, snowmobiling, super jeep, or a combination thereof! There is a ‘farm-zoo' in the area, called Hólmur, where wild reindeer roam free while the cute farm animals are all inside for the winter. The shift indoors in the cold months makes winter a great time to visit the farm and see the animals really close up…especially because overnight guests get free entry to the farm in winter and not in summer.
Talking of reindeer: you'll only find them in East Iceland and winter is probably the best time to see them, because they're in their splendid winter coats and are often to be seen down near the roads (they spend their summers up on higher ground, you see).
Humm, what else? Well, we know we keep going on about the northern lights all the time, but honestly you haven't seen northern lights until you've seen them dancing over the icebergs at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. The word 'stunning' fails to do it justice.
And finally there's the food. Eating in the Vatnajökull region is as tasty in January as it is in July. In fact, it might just be a little bit better. Sure, the local vegetables aren't as good, but game (like reindeer, ptarmigan or goose) goes down best of all when it's cold outside!