Travelers shy away from the land of fire and ice during the coldest months, but Iceland in December or January is not only bearable, it's a veritable wonderland.
While most people prefer to visit Iceland during the summer, when days are long and weather allows for leisurely hikes, a winter trip could be just as memorable—and a lot less crowded.
Experience winter-only sights
Standing on the black sand beach of Vík while everything else is surrounded by snow will make you feel like you are in a black and white movie—or another world. Sure, Iceland always looks like a magical fantasy land, but its frozen waterfalls and colorful rows of houses rising up from a blanket of pure white can only be seen in the off-season. Those clear, crisp winter nights are also when you have the best chance of catching the Northern Lights.
Iceland is home to glaciers that cover roughly 10 percent of the island—and while you can visit them any time of the year, the water running through their caves freezes only in winter. This is when they become one of the most breathtaking natural phenomena: the Crystal Caves. Two of the most popular glaciers for winter ice cave tours are Vatnajokull, in South East Iceland, and Langjokull in the South West.
Related: 22 Amazing Winter Pictures
Fly and stay for less
If you live on the Eastern Coast of the U.S., a round-trip ticket to Reykjavik could cost you over $1,000 during the summer months. But if you book your tickets for a winter vacation, prices drop—sometimes to a third of the summer cost. Lodging can also be twice as expensive in August, and your options could be limited due to the high demand. For affordable accommodations with a more local feel, there is, of course, Airbnb.
Avoid the summer crowds
Iceland's peak tourist season begins in June and ends in August. During those months, you may find yourself weaving through groups of eager tourists—at least at the most well-known spots. According to the country's tourism board, the low season is December, January, and February. During these months, you'll have the best chance of enjoying the country's dynamic landscapes, undisturbed.
Join the holiday celebrations
Reykjavik is not your ordinary capital, although it does offer a few top-notch restaurants (try 3 Frakkar). The city's population is only 120,000 people, making it surprisingly quaint and peaceful. What's more, much of Reykjavik's population is European expats, most of whom speak in English as a common language. When the year comes to an end, however, the city comes alive with a surge of festive energy. Children's choirs sing carols, pop-up Christmas markets sell local food (including horse, whale steak, and fermented shark fin), and various concerts are held across town. All of these festivities lead up to the famous New Years Eve fireworks. You might even spot Bjork strolling down the street—not an uncommon occurrence, according to Reykjavik locals.