Where is the best place to stay in Iceland during winter? Can you book a cottage, cabin or bungalow in Iceland’s nature? What benefits does it have to visit Iceland outside of the summer months? Continue reading to learn about the top ten places to stay in Iceland in winter.
In the winter months, Iceland truly lives up to its name. Its dramatic landscapes become coated in gleaming snow; all but its most powerful waterfalls freeze mid-drop; lakes become plains of thick ice; and icicles dangle from every exposed precipice.
Though the weather can be apocalyptic, the temperatures bone-chilling, and the days short and dark, Iceland’s winters still attract thousands of guests. They come to see what life just short of the Arctic Circle is like at this time of year. You too can immerse yourself in a winter wonderland and maximise the opportunities that are only available this season.
The most notable of these opportunities are hunting for the Northern Lights and exploring the ice caves. The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, are a spectacular phenomenon that can occur whenever Iceland’s skies are dark and clear. Witnessing them dance above a stunning landscape is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The ice caves, meanwhile, are only safe to enter when the country is totally frozen over, between November and March. Found in the country’s south-east, beneath the largest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajökull. They are spectacular places that allow you to witness the colourful world hidden inside the glaciers.
Such formations can only be found in very few places on earth, and in even fewer places are they so accessible.
Guests travelling to Iceland in winter are not just bound to these activities; Icelanders are made of strong stuff, and lead a wealth of tours throughout the year.
Just because the darkest, coldest months have set in should not mean that you have to miss out on activities such as sightseeing, horseback riding, lava caving, glacier hiking, snowmobiling, and even snorkelling and scuba diving.
A common misconception about travel in this season, however, is that your accommodation is bound to the only city on the island, Reykjavík.
For many guests, who wish to make the most of the capital’s culture and take day tours out to the south and west, accommodation in the city is more than satisfactory. Many others, however, wish to stay out in the silent, spectacular wilderness for which Iceland is so renowned.
Thankfully, there are plenty of options for these visitors. Guesthouses, cottages, cabins and bungalows can be found in the most remote corners of the country, and many of these are open regardless of the season.
By booking such an option, you will not only be able to enjoy an authentic experience in Iceland’s nature, but will also have a far better chance of witnessing the Aurora Borealis. The city lights of Reykjavík often obscure them entirely, which is a non-factor when the only building around you is yours.
Furthermore, you can put yourself closer to the sites you wish to explore, allowing you to fit more attractions into your days. This is an especially notable advantage when, in December and January, you only get around four hours of daylight.
Many cabins also allow you to be in the proximity of sites you would not otherwise be able to reach. It is also worth noting that many of Iceland’s far-flung cottages are simply more appealing than hotels in and of themselves.
They are likely to have fully furnished kitchens, saving you money on eating out all the time. Most boast indoor entertainment such as televisions and board games for when the weather is rough and many even have their own hot tubs, saunas, trampolines and play parks on site.
Finally, rural cottages in Iceland also allow an element of privacy and seclusion for you and your group that you simply cannot get in the capital.
Top 10 Places to Stay During Winter in Iceland
As noted, there are an abundance of places to stay in Iceland in winter, no matter where you are travelling in the country. Which one will help make your vacation unforgettable will depend on your needs.
Couples and solo travellers, for example, may only want a little log cabin to escape to; larger groups of friends may require a more spacious guesthouse. Families may want facilities that appeal to young children. Whereas adult adventurers may be happy with something simpler.
Of course, budget is a factor many guests have to consider before booking; thankfully, there are plenty of cottages for those on a shoestring.
On the other end of the spectrum, many bungalows are lavish and luxurious for those wanting to make the most of every moment they are travelling.
To help you find the perfect bungalow, we have compiled a list of the ten best places to stay during winter in Iceland.
Starting off the list is Lundur Cottage in south-west Iceland. A sleekly designed, modern getaway, the house is perfect for those seeking a home away from home, with its plentiful facilities and furnishings.
What makes it even more appealing is the fact that it not only boasts a hot tub, but also a sauna, fully utilising the geothermal activity in the area. Those with young kids will also appreciate the fact there is a playpark on site.
With three bedrooms and the capacity for six, it is a fantastic choice for families and groups of friends.
The location of Lundur Cottage is also a huge part of its appeal. It sits on the banks of the country’s largest natural lake, Þingvallavatn, and is surrounded by lava fields, countryside and mountain ranges. This lake sits just to the south of Þingvellir National Park, one of the most popular attractions in the country.
The reason for this site’s fame is fourfold. Firstly, it is located between two tectonic plates, both of which are clearly visible. Secondly, its history is fascinating, being the birthplace of Iceland’s national assembly, formed in 930 AD. Thirdly, it is unspeakably beautiful, with lava fields, streams, forests, and a waterfall that fully freezes in winter.
Finally, Þingvellir is one of three sites on the Golden Circle sightseeing route. The other two are equally impressive attractions: the Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss waterfall. The fact that Lundur Cottage is so close to this magnificent tourist trail means you can spend plenty of time at each site, regardless of the fact that the winter days are so short.
Its location also makes the South Coast sightseeing route much more accessible when compared to those based in Reykjavík.
Flankastaðir Cottage is a beautiful log cabin in west Iceland. Its traditional design, and the fact it is surrounded by trees, give it an otherworldly air of privacy, which is best enjoyed while basking in the on-site hot tub.
Again, its location is perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in Iceland’s nature without having to drive an extra hour from the capital. It is in the Borgarfjörður region, named after the nearby fjord separates the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Westfjords.
While the latter is too vast to be explored in a day from the cottage, the former – which is nicknamed ‘Iceland in Miniature’ due to its wealth of attractions – can be visited with ease.
Other natural sites within easy driving distance are the stunning waterfalls of Hraunfossar and Barnafoss; the country’s second largest glacier, Langjökull; and the highest flowing hot spring in Europe, Deildartunghver.
West Iceland also boasts a number of cultural attractions, such as the village of Reykholt, where legendary writer, historian and chieftain Snorri Sturluson lived. Also, the town of Borgarnes, home of the Settlement Centre exhibition, which discusses Iceland’s earliest days.
The bungalow comfortably houses five guests over two bedrooms, again making it a perfect choice for groups of friends and families. A sixth guest can also squeeze into the sleeping loft.
The Cedar Log Cabin
The Cedar Log Cabin is a beautiful bungalow in South Iceland, near the village of Selfoss, with a spacious but traditional design. It is excellently furnished within, and has a wide veranda that overlooks mountains, lava fields, a river and rolling countryside.
The cabin has four bedrooms, with capacity for six guests, making it an excellent choice for groups of friends, family members or colleagues who value their privacy.
Because it is located in a very geothermally active area, it has a hot tub on site. It also has underfloor heating, the appeal of which cannot be downplayed in Iceland’s winters.
As it is near Selfoss, the cabin is the perfect base from which to explore both the aforementioned Golden Circle, as well as the stunning sites of the South Coast.
Exploring this latter region from Selfoss rather than Iceland’s capital cuts about an hour off your journey both ways. This provides more opportunity to marvel over attractions such as Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, the Reynisfjara black sand beach, the Dyrhólaey rock arch, and subglacial volcanoes such as the notorious Eyjafjallajökull.
Those who don’t mind driving a bit will also be able to reach and enjoy the attractions of south-east Iceland from the Cedar Log Cabin. Such as the aforementioned ice caves (only accessible on a guided tour), the Skaftafell Nature Reserve, and the ‘Crown Jewel of Iceland’s Nature’, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Nupur Small Cabin
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While the above cottages and bungalows are all ideal for families and groups of friends, the Nupur Small Cabin appeals to solo travellers and couples. Though it just has one bedroom and basic amenities, it boasts a romantic and enigmatic beauty that few other cottages manage to emulate.
The hot tub on site makes it an even more desirable place to escape to, as do the idyllic, rural landscapes that surround it.
Like the Cedar Log Cabin, the Nupur Small Cabin is close to the town of Selfoss, located in the Olfus area. This makes the sites of the Golden Circle and South Coast just as accessible. What makes the location of Nupur unique, however, is the fact that it is slightly closer to the geothermal area of Reykjadalur.
This region boasts an incredibly popular hike, where you walk up and a range of colourful hills, past steaming fumaroles and ominously bubbling mud pits, before entering Reykjadalur Valley. Here, one can bathe in a beautiful river, which is fed by both cold and geothermally heated water from the hot springs, to create the perfect temperature.
Vidivellir is a fantastic cottage with three bedrooms and the capacity for six guests, located in the Grimsnes area. It is just north of Selfoss, once again allowing visitors to explore the South Coast with ease, and putting them a little closer to the sites of the Golden Circle.
While its hot tub appeals to people of all ages, the cottage also has a trampoline for the entertainment of younger guests. Furthermore, the building is surrounded by trees, enveloping those staying here into a world of silence and isolation that many come to Iceland hoping to experience.
This seclusion also means you only need to walk a short way from the house to find total darkness at night, maximising your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
When it comes to the bungalow’s design, it perfectly blends the traditional and the modern. While its charming exterior is that of a classic log cabin, its interior is sleek, spacious and stylish, designed to maximise the light coming in during the short winter days.
Hraunháls is the only cottage on this list that sits on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula; it can be found on the northern shore. Guests who thus want to explore ‘Iceland in Miniature’ at their own pace, without skipping or rushing the major attractions, will find no better option.
The north shore boasts the iconic Kirkjufell mountain; the historic fishing village of Stykkisholmur; the shark museum at Bjarnarhofn; and spectacular views of the Westfjords. The south, meanwhile, is home to the hexagonal basalt columns at Gerðuberg; the seal-watching beach of Ytri Tunga; the mountainside cleft of Rauðfeldsgjá; and massive sea stacks named Lóndrangar.
The highlight of the peninsula, however, sits at its tip: Snæfellsjökull National Park. This incredible site is named after its central glacier and volcano, a twin-peaked mountain of such astounding beauty that has inspired countless artistic works, most notably ‘A Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, by Jules Verne.
The cottage is modern, with all necessary furnishings, though it lacks some of the facilities of other cabins. Due to less geothermal activity in this area, for example, it does not have a hot tub. With two spacious bedrooms and its gorgeous surroundings, however, it is still a fantastic getaway for up to six guests.
Golden Circle Cabin
As its name suggests, the Golden Circle Cabin is a perfect place to stay for guests who wish to explore Þingvellir National Park, witness the exploding hot springs of Geysir, and experience the power of Gullfoss waterfall.
Due to its location in this area, it is also a great place to enjoy lesser-known attractions of south-west Iceland, such as the Secret Lagoon, Fontana Spa, Sólheimar eco-village and the Friðheimar greenhouses. Being just north of Selfoss, it also is an excellent launching point for a journey along Iceland’s South Coast.
A beautiful veranda, on site hot tub, accessibility to the sites, and the privacy created by its surrounding trees all make the Golden Circle Cabin appealing. Add to this the fact that it boasts the homey style of a classic log cabin with all modern features, and it is clear why a stay here is so desirable.
This bungalow has capacity for six guests over two rooms.
Travelling with a family, and even a group of friends, can be complicated when the organiser is trying to meet the needs of everyone involved. For these guests, there are few better choices than the Unastaðir Cottage.
With a hot-tub, playpark and trampoline all on site, people of all ages will find a way to have fun after a day of exploration. The adventurous will love the fact that it sits on the cusp of the southern Icelandic Highlands. Those seeking remote nature will enjoy its total isolation; and any who simply wish to hit the major tourist sites will appreciate its accessibility to both the South Coast and Golden Circle.
In terms of this accessibility, it is closer to the former than the latter, sitting a fair few miles east of Selfoss. It is also quite far north for a South Coast accommodation, boasting mountain views rather than vistas of the ocean.
The cottage has three bedrooms, and capacity for six. Though a four-wheel-drive is recommended for all travel in Iceland during winter, it is especially needed here to reach such a far-flung location.
Casa Magna is an outlier on this list due to the fact that it is not in the south or west of the country; it is located in the north, close to the region’s largest town, Akureyri. This unique position provides guests with a new world of exploration.
The North, for example, boasts the spectacular Lake Mývatn Area, renowned for its incredible geological formations, such as basalt pillars, pseudocraters and a lava fortress. It is particularly beautiful when the waters are frozen over in winter. Nearby are seething geothermal areas, produced by the intense volcanic systems at work here.
You can also visit sites such as the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss and the ‘Waterfall of the Gods’, Goðafoss. Also the vast horseshoe shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi, the elephant shaped monolith Hvítserkur, and one of the world’s best places for whale watching, the town Húsavík.
Casa Magna does not just pride itself on its location, but its size, isolation in nature, comfort and style. Its modern design incorporates features of a traditional log cabin for a wonderfully rustic yet bright ambience. It also has a hot tub. Though it only has two bedrooms, up to eight guests can fit at once.
The Icelandic Cottage
The Icelandic Cottage is a fantastic, easily accessible gateway to South Iceland. Located directly between Selfoss and Hella, sites such as the ice caves and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon are within reasonable driving distance.
The bungalow is comfortable, spacious and modern, with three bedrooms and capacity for six guests; it is thus a great choice for families and groups of friends. It is surrounded by the classic rural beauty that defines much of south Iceland, with views over mountain ranges and the notorious volcano Hekla.
Though it does not have a hot tub, both the Fontana Spa and Secret Lagoon are just a short drive north. The former boasts steam rooms built over natural, volcanic vents, while the latter is filled by hot springs on site, one of which is a small geyser. Both, however, are wonderful places to warm up on a winter’s evening and look out for the Northern Lights.
As all of the above ten examples on this list demonstrate, there is no shortage of incredible places to stay in Iceland in winter. Whether coming here for adventure, relaxation, culture or to experience a winter wonderland, Icelandic cottages will help shape your perfect holiday.