Tyre Change Season Heats Up Though Icelandic Winter Lingers

driving in reykjavík

Despite the official end of the studded tyre season on April 15, Icelandic police have not started issuing fines due to ongoing winter conditions, including ice on mountain roads. Tyre shops are, however, seeing increased activity as the season shifts.

Mountain roads remain icy

According to Icelandic regulations, the period for studded tyres ends on April 15 each year.

As noted by RÚV on Monday, however, winter weather has severely affected the country over the past few weeks in many areas, and the police have not yet announced when they will begin issuing fines for studded tyres; there is still ice on mountain roads in many parts of the country, conditions which are taken into account by law enforcement, who commonly afford drivers some leeway for changing tyres into the spring.

Nevertheless, activity at tyre shops has begun picking up. In an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, Þórður Þrastarson, at the Klettur tyre workshop on Hátún in Reykjavik, characterised the spring season as bracing: “It’s an invigorating challenge, and the days are often long,” Þórður remarked.

“Given that there’s been some snow cover in the town, things have slowed down a bit at our workshop, but it will quickly pick up again,” Þórður noted. He estimated that about a quarter of the vehicles in traffic are on all-season tyres. In his opinion, however, it is best to switch tyres between summer and winter. Many drivers still prefer studded tyres, though environmental considerations are increasingly leading to their decline.

White Sahara

kerlingarfjöll cross-country skiing

Cold reception

The west-facing windows of our superjeep – or, more correctly, supervan – have turned to ice, blasted by the sharp winds coming off the highland. Inside, it’s warm, and the loud mechanical whirring of pneumatic pistons mingles with the sound of ice crunching under our vehicle’s heavy, well-studded wheels. It is -12°C [10°F] outside, and the visibility is decreasing quickly.

“So, who here has already been to Kerlingarfjöll?” our guide Brynhildur asks. Nearly all present raise their hands. “And who here has been here in the winter?” Brynhildur asks. Again, nearly all hands go up. I’m starting to get an uneasy feeling in my stomach.

highland base camp kerlingarfjöll

The journey is long. Even with the considerable horsepower of our van, the wheels lose their grip here and there, and we free ourselves either by rocking back and forth or by a tow line from another member of our convoy. During one particularly arduous stretch, we cover just 500 m [0.3 mi] in one hour. The powerful pneumatic system located a short distance behind my skull empties and fills our tyres on demand. Anyone who’s seen a polar bear hunt in a nature documentary will know the principles at play here: to avoid breaking through a thin crust of ice, the bear flattens itself out, spreading its weight. Our supervan struggles on, inching up steep slopes and ploughing through metres-deep snow drifts. Finally, as the sun sets over the highland, we crest a final hill and look down at the warm lights of the Highland Base – a new hotel and one of the largest-ever developments in the highland. It is a welcome sight, and we are among the first travellers to see it.

kerlingarfjöll highland base
kerlingarfjöll highland base winter

One step at a time

It’s 9:00 in the morning, and I’m still wiping the sleep from my eyes as we stand next to our skis, limbering up. We’re standing in the hotel hallway in full gear, practising the basics: adjusting our poles, clipping and unclipping from our skis, and recovering from a fall without disrupting the skiers behind. In a moisture-wicking base layer, thick socks, fleece, and windproof shell, I begin to sweat. I’m eager to get outside.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

“It’s just like learning to dance,” our ski instructor Brynhildur cheerfully informs us as we shuffle outside. This is advice that has generally not boded well for me. 

But as we get into it, I see that the dancing bit is not entirely inaccurate. It is not the poles, after all, that generate the forward momentum. It is one’s legs. One can, in fact, cross-country ski without poles, though I wouldn’t recommend it. The trick is finding a rhythm between pushing off with your legs and letting yourself glide. Sounds easy enough, but finding the rhythm in between hard patches of ice, wind gusts, and generally uncoordinated limbs can prove difficult.

kerlingarfjöll highland base
Our cross-country ski instructor, Brynhildur.

Still, sure enough, after some laps around our practice track, I get into the swing of things. Next, we move on to proper pole usage. The poles are never to be out in front at an angle, I’m told. The trick is to keep them vertical and then fully extend them behind. Those who quickly mastered handling their poles then graduate to an advanced gait, which involves a rhythmic cycle of gliding, shuffling, and kicking. I regret to report that I was not nominated to graduate to the advanced gait, but I was soon enough confidently punting my way around the practice track.

To round off the day, we begin learning the basic techniques of cross-country skiing downhill. When braking, for example, one is never to hold the poles out in front. Brynhildur mimics being impaled. Noted.

Après ski

In fine alpine fashion, we conclude the day of skiing with champagne in the loft of the Kerlingarfjöll hotel. The Icelanders discuss an upcoming winter expedition across the Fimmvörðuháls pass, a trail connecting the popular Laugavegur hiking trail with the South Coast, while a German and an Australian wax poetic about the surroundings. It’s hard to blame them; the panoramic view of the winter highland is all the better after a day of hard work on the slopes.

kerlngarfjöll highland base
kerlingarföll highland base

After a dinner of fillet mignon and sorbet, we relax in the natural hot springs and stargaze. Cross-country skiing is fun and all, but I’d be perfectly content if the trip consisted of nothing more than this. Later in the evening, we join a traditional kvöldvaka, an evening of drinking and song. Such nocturnal revelries have their roots in the early days of the ski school here, when Kerlingarfjöll was a much humbler place. Young people would cram into the loft of the old lodges here, strum guitars, and drink schnapps late into the night. Tonight, our accommodations are considerably more sumptuous than those of a generation or two ago, but something of that spirit is clearly in the room as we raise our glasses and voices into the cold, clear night.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

A brief history of Kerlingarfjöll

The highland area known as Kerlingarfjöll is located between the glaciers Hofsjökull and Langjökull, some 50 km [31 mi] northeast of Gullfoss waterfall, as the crow flies. This proximity to Gullfoss waterfall, with its cafés and gift shops, may make it sound relatively accessible, a quick stop on a day tour of the Golden Circle. But even in the summer, the rough track can be difficult to navigate; in the winter, nothing but the largest, most powerful superjeep will do. 

kerlingarfjöll highland base

To the traveller approaching Kerlingarfjöll, the mountain range appears as nothing so much as a highland fortress. From the banks of the Hvítá river, a long plateau gently rises to the north. Atop this motte sits a bailey of jagged peaks, including Fannborg, Hverahnúkar, Snækollur, Snót, and Loðmundur. All of them are among the hundred highest in Iceland.

This complex of peaks is a mature volcano, characterised by diverse eruption patterns, geothermal springs, two prominent craters, and striking rhyolite colours. During the summer, the rhyolite gives the area a distinctive and vibrant colour, much admired by the hikers, mountain bikers, and social media influencers who come here in droves. The oldest rock formations at Kerlingarfjöll are about 336,000 years old, with volcanic activity prominent during the last glacial and interglacial periods. Minimal seismic and volcanic activity has been recorded here in recent years, making the area about as calm as it gets on a volcanic island. 

The captain

Daði is known informally as the captain of Kerlingarfjöll, and though it’s partly a tongue-in-cheek title, it’s not entirely. The day-to-day of managing a highland-base-camp-cum-luxury-hotel, after all, requires Daði to be equal parts mountain guide, receptionist, and all-around handyman. “An average day here is nothing like the ordinary,” Daði tells me. “There’s always something you have to figure out. I need to take care of the whole area, and it’s like a small village. In the summer, a typical day begins with me waking up early and setting up the breakfast buffet. Then, around 10:00 or so, I might have to fix a tyre. I’m always fixing tyres,” he adds ruefully. “Then in the afternoon, I might need to fix a window and take care of our customers until dinner. So it’s always something.” He tells me that working here in the winter is much the same, except that the snowmobiles also need looking after.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Daði also explains that simply getting visitors to Kerlingarfjöll is its own challenge. “We’re always sure about how many people we’re expecting, and if they don’t arrive, then we need to go out and find them. Sometimes, a jeep might get stuck, and then it’s up to us to assist them.” Incidentally, this is a duty of Daði’s with which I’m already familiar. Despite the horsepower of our supervan, we stranded briefly on the rough highland track. It was Daði in his superjeep, Emma, that ultimately guided us to the warmth and comfort of our lodgings.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Such difficulties remind one that despite the luxurious lodgings and elegant atmosphere at Kerlingarfjöll one is, indeed, in the middle of nowhere. I can think of no better illustration of this tension than our fellow guests for the weekend – a corporate group holding a private party that seemed to have much more to do with the clubs of downtown Reykjavík than the Icelandic highland. It is a curious dynamic that leads me to wonder: who, exactly, is Kerlingarfjöll for these days? 

“I think the highland has been quite accessible for many years now,” Daði goes on. There have of course been superjeep enthusiasts and international mountaineers who have frequented the area for some time, but the area is undeniably gaining in popularity among a new kind of traveller who doesn’t necessarily have the same kind of experience or gear as these other types. “We see a lot of people who want a real adventure,” Daði says. “They come here to see the mountains, to experience the weather in a way that you just can’t on television or social media. You can actually feel it on the skin. You can come here, and you can stay in the hotel – you don’t even need to leave the hotel if you don’t want to. Some people just want to experience the dark nights and see the aurora, for instance.” 

kerlingarfjöll highland base

The beauty of the new Highland Base at Kerlingarfjöll seems to be that travellers no longer have to choose between extreme outdoor adventure and the comfortable luxury of hot springs, saunas, and champagne. As more and more people find out about this hidden jewel of the highland, it’s inevitable that this area will see quantities and kinds of visitors previously unheard of in this region. As Daði says, “I think there is so much at Kerlingarfjöll for everybody, and I think it’s only going to grow in the years to come. But it’s also important to take care of the nature here. And maybe the best way to do this is to educate the people who come. That’s really important to us. We always have guides on the premises to talk to everybody, to teach them how to best view the surroundings. Maybe that’s the best way to take care of what we have here.” 

Destination: Kerlingarfjöll

It is only relatively recently that Kerlingarfjöll has become known as an outdoor destination. Prior to the 21st century, local farmers had little reason to explore the highland area, and most thought it the haunt of outlaws and trolls. Indeed, the name Kerlingarfjöll might be best translated as the Hag Mountains, a reference to the traditional connection between uninhabited places and the supernatural. Many peaks, glaciers, and valleys here had no names until recently.

The first human construction in these mountains was a small hut raised by Ferðafélag Íslands (The Icelandic Touring Association) in 1937. In 1961, a ski school was founded in Kerlingarfjöll that operated during the summers until the turn of the century, when the area stopped receiving consistent snowfall in the summer.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

With the growing popularity of the region, Kerlingarfjöll also saw a rising demand for services. Original plans for the Highland Base detailed some 120 double rooms, but after calls by concerned environmentalists, the hotel was scaled down and redesigned to better blend in with the landscape. At a total cost of ISK 2-3 billion [approximately $20 million, €17 million], the Highland Base at Kerlingarfjöll is the largest-ever investment in the Icelandic highland, with the exception of hydropower plants.

The scale of the project also sparked the political will to formally protect this area of the highland. In 2020, 344 km² [133mi²] were designated a conservation area, in what many, including then-Minister for Environment and Natural Resources Svandís Svavarsdóttir, celebrated as a win for the environment. 

Ásgarðsheiði

Early next morning, we are treated to a generous breakfast buffet that was rather inexplicably – to me at least – paired with the sound of Taylor Swift. The pineapple in the fruit salad seems somehow fresher than the stuff I buy in town, and heaps of sliced cheeses, deli meats, scrambled eggs, and pain au chocolat greet the browsing skier. Some shot glasses are arranged on an elegant tray next to the canisters of water and orange juice. It seems a bit early for that kind of thing, but as I later see, the shot glasses are intended for the doctor’s recommended intake of lýsi – cod liver oil. I see our guide, Brynhildur, doing a bottoms-up with the other guides. Health-wise, they might be on to something, but I can’t help but stifle a reflexive retch from childhood memories of the stuff.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

Not long after, we clamber into Daði’s superjeep, Emma. As we soon learn, Emma is a minor celebrity among offroad vehicles. Along with her driver, Daði, she was the first vehicle to cross Greenland from East to West and then back again. It took some three to four weeks each way, Daði tells me. With 120,000 km [75,000 mi] on her odometer, Emma has also driven on every major glacier in Iceland. Outfitted with 44-inch wheels, she sits atop three separate fuel tanks, carrying a total of 240 litres [63 gallons] of diesel when fully topped off. The pressure of each tyre is individually controlled through an app on a smartphone mounted to the dash.

We are driving across a mountain plateau known as Ásgarðsheiði, the Asgard heath. It is an area that feels mythological, and Daði tells me that two crows are known to live here. He has named them Huginn and Muninn. Thought and Memory – Odin’s ravens.  

kerlingarfjöll highland base
kerlingarfjöll highland base
kerlingarfjöll highland base snowmobile

Our mission today is to catch a glimpse of the Hveradalir geothermal valley and then rendezvous with our ski group. In the summer, Hveradalir is known for the vibrant colours of its rhyolite cliffs and mineral deposits from the geothermal springs. Now, in the middle of winter, it’s a white Sahara. White cliffs against a white sky loom over us; white snow drifts snake across the white ground; even the sun, in its blinding clarity, appears white.

We stop on a ridge that overlooks the valley. The river that flows through it is some of the only water in this region that remains unfrozen in the winter, heated by the many geothermal vents and springs that dot the valley. It is a spectacular sight, but the wind is picking up, and we re-embark into Emma.

Switchbacks

The ski group comes into view as we descend Ásgarðsheiði, brightly coloured Gore-Tex shells standing out in sharp relief to the blasted white surroundings. As we disembark from Emma, I sense a charge in the air. Walkie-talkies crackle and click in the wind. We are surrounded by expert guides and experienced skiers, but this windswept heath is not a place anyone wants to linger. 

The wind is picking up as we strap on our skis. Before us, at the northeast edge of Kerlingarfjöll, stands Loðmundur mountain, the so-called King of Kerlingarfjöll. At 1,432 metres [4,698 ft], it is not the tallest peak here, but its distinctive shape has earned it a place in the hearts of mountaineers. It is also the most technical peak to summit in this range, skirted by steep slopes on its sides, its top ringed by near-vertical cliffs.

loðmundur mountain kerlingarfjöll
Loðmundur, the king of Kerlingarfjöll.

“Everybody warm? Good to go?” Brynhildur yells atop the wind. We can’t afford to stop at length; cross-country skiing in this environment is a delicate balance. Stay still for too long, and you cool down; overheat, and you sweat through your layers – a potentially dangerous situation in extreme temperatures. The current temperature is -15°C [5°F] with wind gusts up to 30 m/s [67 mph].

A long, broad slope extends before us. A switchback trail cuts zigzags through the snow, and the more advanced skiers have already pushed off. With little time to lose, I begin my descent.

There is an art to cross-country skiing downhill. While downhill skiers can simply form a “pizza” shape with their skis to slow down, it’s important for cross-country skiers to remain in the ruts that have been cut in the ice-crusted snow by their fellow travellers. This means that conventional braking methods are out the window, and I must instead time my descent such that I lose momentum where the switchback turns, dragging my poles in the snow if need be. Once stopped, I cut my slope-facing foot into the side of the hill and with the other, I take a conspicuously large goose-step and turn my foot in the other direction. Once secure, I repeat the procedure with the other foot and then it’s downhill again. Through the constant rebalancing and readjusting, I discover muscles in my feet previously unknown to me.

kerlingarfjöll

It is a relief when we reach the bottom, where we resume our shuffling and kicking. After a brief respite, we head out again across the flats of the plateau. Loðmundur is at our back, and a sharp wind picks up from the northwest. 

The wind is unrelenting, but, fortunately, there are times when it’s at our backs, catching our shells in the wind like sails. The temperature is dropping, and we have several kilometres to go before we return to base camp. The group sinks into the silence of grim determination, pushing on through ice patches, snow drifts, and uphill slopes. During particularly sharp blasts of wind, a burst of mad laughter picks up along the column. It’s infectious, and I join in, howling at the wind. By the time we return to base, I can honestly say this trip has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done; it also happens to be one of the best days spent outdoors in my life.

Another world

As I sit in the supervan bound for civilisation, I think about distance and time. From Gullfoss, the nearest outpost of civilisation, it is only some 50 or 60 km [some 35 mi] to the Highland Base at Kerlingarfjöll. But on the icy highland tracks, it takes five or six hours to traverse these kilometres, making this corner of the highland just as far removed from Reykjavík as London or Paris. A traveller may well wonder – why come to Kerlingarfjöll at all? The answer, it seems to me, is simple. On any other weekend, I could have visited another city, another country. But out here, I’ve visited another world.

kerlingarfjöll highland base

The Best Winter Tours and Activities in Iceland

Sightseeing is just one of the popular activities during winter in Iceland

There are many fantastic activities during winter in Iceland, be it glacier hiking, ice caving, or snowmobiling. So, put on your woolly hat, drape your shoulders in a scarf, and let’s explore the many exciting options that an Icelandic winter has in store. 

The winter season in Iceland lasts between November and March. During that time, this otherwise green and pleasant land becomes blanketed with ice and snow, and the nights become so long as to cast each day in perpetual twilight.

A woman skiing in Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Winter in Iceland presents all kinds of fun activity options.

It should be understood from the outset that there are many activities in Iceland that can be done in both the winter and summer. Great examples are visiting a lava cave, snorkelling or scuba diving in Silfra Fissure, sightseeing on the Golden Circle route, and many more.

Nevertheless, some activities are far better suited to the winter, and these should be prioritised during your visit. Most activities can be taken part in as single tours, but it is often the case that many will be included as part of a full itinerary, such as this Golden Circle Super Jeep tour with Snowmobiling

What glacier tours are available during the winter in Iceland?  

A man inside an Icelandic ice cave
Photo: Skaftafell Blue Ice Cave & Glacier Hike

They don’t call Iceland “the land of ice and fire” for no reason. While it may be true that the country’s fearsome volcanoes have dominated global headlines in recent years, its glaciers remain as impressive and domineering as ever. 

There are 269 glaciers in Iceland, the largest among them being Vatnajökull, which covers around one-tenth of the entire country. With that in mind, it should come as little surprise that this mighty ice cap in southeastern Iceland is a popular choice for glacier tours.

Other tours take place at Langjökull – located in the western Highlands – as well as Mýrdalsjökull, and its outlet glacier Sólheimajökull, which are just north of the quaint coastal village, Vík í Mýrdal. There are also opportunities to explore Snæfellsjökull glacier, on the western promontory of Iceland.

Go hiking up a glacier 

Hiking a glacier is one of many great activities during winter in Iceland
Photo: Skaftafell 5-Hours Adventure Glacier Hike

Equipped with spiky crampons, walking poles, and the gumption to experience new heights, hiking Iceland’s glaciers remains a beloved activity amongst winter travellers. 

Like true mountain men, hikers will revel in the crevasses, moulins, and natural ice sculptures that characterise the pristine glacial landscape. Besides, such dizzying heights allow for breathtaking views of the ocean and surrounding countryside.  

Experience the thrill of snowmobiling 

A man rides a snowmobile across a glacier in Iceland
Photo: Unforgettable Golden Circle & snowmobiling – A Private Tour

Die-hard adrenaline junkies may want to take their exploration of Iceland’s glaciers to the next level. Well, in such a case, there is no better option than taking to the ice on a snowmobile.

With the wind in their hair and the throttle at their thumbs, snowmobiling tours allow guests to cover far more ground (or ice, strictly speaking,) in a way that is both intensely memorable and incredibly fun.

Groups are led by certified guides who will be sure to provide their guests not only with clear leadership and instructions but also with the necessary equipment, including a protective helmet and outerwear.  

Snowmobilers in Iceland pose in front of the Northern Lights
Photo: Private South Coast with Snowmobiling on Eyjafjallajökull volcano

Both beginner and experienced riders alike are quite capable of taking part in a snowmobile tour. Anyone 18 years old or beyond, with a regular driving licence, is free to operate their own machine. Those without a licence can perch a ride as a passenger. 

The best places to take a snowmobiling tour during the winter in Iceland are at the glaciers Langjökull, Mýrdalsjökull, Vatnajökull, and the Tröllaskagi Peninsula. 

Discover crystal blue ice caves  

Tourists in the Sapphire Ice Cave.
Photo: Golli. Tourists in the Sapphire Ice Cave

Beneath Iceland’s mighty ice caps, glittering caverns of sapphire entice visitors to behold their glory each winter season. Ice-caving tours are far easier than they sound, with many having accessible walkways that let you revel in the natural splendour of these frozen environments.

The vast majority of ice caves are naturally formed, with the most popular located beneath Katla and Vatnajökull. There is one notable exception however – the man-made ice tunnels built beneath Iceland’s largest ice cap, Langjökull, best enjoyed as part of the Into The Glacier experience. 

 

In certain locations around the country, it is even possible for guests to try their hand at ice climbing. While not for the faint of the heart, scaling a wall of frozen water is an experience without comparison. 

Experienced, certified guides will equip new climbers with ice axes and a harness, before relaying all the necessary steps to hone their skills on the ice. Two of the best places to try ice climbing in Iceland are Sólheimajökull glacier and Skaftafell Nature Reserve

Experience the Northern Lights in Iceland 

People observing the Northern Lights in Iceland
Photo: Golli. There is no greater show than seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland’s winter

One of the greatest reasons for visiting Iceland in the winter is the chance to witness an astonishing dance – the Northern Lights! Otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis, Iceland’s skies will, from time to time, erupt in a flurry of colours. Green ribbons. Pink waves. Yellow crests, and dashes of red. 

Ancient Icelanders once treated these solar patterns with wary suspicion. They considered them omens of events to come. Today, they are widely appreciated as synonymous with just how magical winter in Iceland can be. 

 

As with any natural phenomena, there can be no guarantee of seeing the Northern Lights. But our ability to predict when and where they might appear is better than it ever has been before. There are many dedicated tour operators who will escort you to the best stops, as well as offer handy tips on how best to photograph them. 

If you’re planning to seek out this phenomenon for yourself, be sure to keep an eye on the Aurora Forecasts. That way, you will know when solar activity is at its strongest. Also, plan to seek them out on nights devoid of cloud cover, in locations with little light pollution. 

What wildlife tours are available during the winter in Iceland? 


It might seem too cold for them, but many animals live in Iceland during the winter. With that said, many of the migratory birds that make Iceland their summer home leave during the winter, but that does not mean there are no opportunities to find wildlife. So what are some of the more popular wildlife tours available during this season? 

Whale-watching in the winter in Iceland 

Whales of Iceland
Photo: Golli. Whale Watching in Reykjavík

Whale-watching tours are available in both the winter and summer in Iceland, but the colder season does present some unique opportunities. For one thing, playing witness to the snowy Icelandic landscape from the deck of a seafaring vessel feels strangely fitting for a country so intertwined with the ocean.

There are many whales and dolphins that can be seen in Icelandic coastal waters. Some of the most common species include Minke whales, Humpbacks, and Harbour porpoises. In some areas, it may also be possible to spot Sperm whales, Orcas, and even our planet’s largest living mammal, the mighty Blue whale.

 

There are also a variety of departure points for your whale-watching adventure. Reykjavik, of course, provides the chance to see these majestic animals in the waters of Faxaflói Bay. Other popular places include northern towns like Akureyri and Húsavík. To the west, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Ólafsvík and Grundarfjörður also provide fantastic sea tours. 

Before embarking on your whale-watching trip, make sure to wear warm layers, a woolly hat, and gloves. To help you stay warm, operators will provide you with outer thermal wear. But winter accessories are still crucial to avoid the sharpness that comes with brisk sea winds. 

Ride Icelandic Horses in winter 

Icelandic horses are a unique breed, bred in isolation in Iceland since settlement times.
Photo: Golli. Riding Icelandic horses is a brilliant winter activity in Iceland.

It is possible to ride Iceland’s majestic, yet stumpy horses in summer and winter, but the latter offers such a fantastic perspective of the landscape, it would seem careless not to give it a special mention. 

Taking to the saddle, your guide will lead you down hidden trails, passing through twisted lava fields and farmland meadows nestled beneath a glittering coat of snow. As your appreciation of Iceland’s rural terrain grows, so too will your love of this special horse breed. 

Horse riding tours are open to both beginner and experienced riders, and your guide will set the pace not only to your ability level, but also your confidence riding. 

With that said, working in close proximity to animals can be nerve-wracking for some people. But if it’s any consolation, Icelandic horses are considered a highly intelligent and patient breed, so have no fear saddling up upon these miniature mounts.   

Soak in Iceland’s Spas and Hot Springs in winter 

A woman and her child relaxing at the Blue Lagoon
Photo: Reykjavík – Blue Lagoon round-trip transfer. Relaxing at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

There are countless ways of staying active during the winter in Iceland, but on vacation, a more appealing option can be to simply slow down, relax, and unwind. 

In such circumstances, the nation’s luxury geothermal spas and steamy hot springs provide the perfect antidote. Note that hot springs describe pools that are found naturally within the landscape; the former are specific attractions that will often require pre-booking. 

Feel the heat in Luxury Spas across Iceland 


There are many fantastic mineral-rich spas to choose from. As Iceland’s most famous luxury retreat,
the Blue Lagoon is an obvious choice. With its milky blue waters and silica-rich mud masks, it is little wonder that this geothermal bath has become one of Iceland’s best-known attractions. 

Surrounded by the dark volcanic fields of the Reykjavik Peninsula, many guests choose to stop by the Blue Lagoon either at the beginning or the end of their vacation. This is for the simple fact that Keflavík Airport is only a short distance away. 

 

But there are many other great spas to choose from. One of the newest to the scene is the Sky Lagoon, only a five-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik and boasting a stunning infinity pool. 

This horizon edge on the water allows for great views of the ocean. More than that – the President of Iceland’s iconic residence. Guests can also take part in their healing wellness ritual. It includes a warm sauna inside a reconstructed turfhouse, a mist shower, a refreshing cold plunge. 

There are many other spas located elsewhere across the country. In Reykholt, for instance, Krauma Baths offer serenity and comfort through warm waters fed by Europe’s most powerful hot spring, Deildartunguhver. 

Not far away, in the village of Flúðir, the Secret Lagoon adds a sense of authenticity to your experience. It is built beside the steaming hot pockets of the Hverahólmi geothermal area. The Secret Lagoon is well known as the oldest outdoor geothermal pool in Iceland. 

In the north, Myvatn Nature Baths has delighted guests since first opening in 2004 with its placid blue waters and lakeside views. 

Embrace nature with Iceland’s hot springs 

Enjoying Reykjadalur hot river in Iceland's winter
Photo: Reykjadalur Steam Valley Hike & Geothermal Baths Private Tour

For anyone hoping to avoid the inevitable artificiality that comes with Iceland’s luxury spas, the nation’s naturally-formed hot springs might be a better bet. 

But first, a word of warning – temperatures can vary greatly between hot springs, so make sure not to hurt yourself by jumping in without checking their heat levels first. 

Hrunalaug is one of the more isolated, yet widely beloved hot springs. This small, but local-favourite is closeby to Flúðir village. You will need to venture off the beaten track to find it. Whilst not built-up by any means, Hrunalaug does have a small and rustic changing hut on-site. It provides some level of shelter when changing in and out of your swimsuit. 

Another popular hot spring – or should we say, river – can be discovered amidst the sloping hillsides of Reykjadalur Valley. Nearby to Hveragerði town, the hot river can be visited after a beautiful 3 km [1.8 mi] hike. Please be vigilant that some parts of the river are much hotter than others. So do be sure to, at least, dip a toe in before jumping in with abandon. 

In Summary 

Posing at an ice berg during winter in Iceland
Photo: Golli. A traveller posing at Diamon Beach in South Iceland.

For those who can handle the cold weather, Iceland’s winter season promises a variety of experiences like nowhere else can. 

Be you an adventure-seeker or a travelling homebody, you’re promised memories sure to stick with you for years to come. 

Spotting the Northern Lights in Iceland

The auroras over Öxarárfoss Waterfall

The chance to see the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, is among the top reasons why travellers visit Iceland during the winter months. But what causes this incredible natural phenomena, and how can you maximise your chances of seeing them? Read more on the best tips and tricks for seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland.

There are few experiences in this world more memorable than seeing that most fantastical of cosmic light shows – the Aurora Borealis!  

Green northern lights above a lake in Iceland
Photo: Golli. The auroras can appear in many forms and colours

Unpredictable, otherworldly, sometimes fleeting – it is a happenstance as capable of surprising unsuspecting travellers as it is appearing exactly when forecasted. 

With that in mind, the Northern Lights should be considered a true force of nature; something that cannot be tamed, nor delivered at will. Regardless, their appearance in the night sky brings about a lasting gratitude to all those lucky who see them. 

So, before we offer any useful tips on how best to catch them, let’s first go into a brief explanation of just what these lights are. 

What are the Northern Lights? 

Northern Lights over a lake
Photo: Golli. Northern lights over lake Þingvallavatn

Aside from being a visual delight, the science behind why the Northern Lights appear is compelling. This phenomena happens when charged particles originating from the sun – known as a solar wind – make their way towards the Earth’s magnetic field. The majority of these particles are deflected back into space, but some manage to break through. 

The protons and electrons that make it inside collide with atmospheric gases made up from oxygen and nitrogen particles, resulting in something called ionisation. This collision strips the gas of its electrons, if only temporarily. 

 

As these ionised particles recoup their electrons, a cosmic dance of colour ensues. In fact, many observers are unaware that the exact shades on display can be traced back to which gases are regathering electrons; oxygen produces green and red light, and nitrogen produces pink, blue, and purple light. As to exactly what colours can be seen, and how intensely, largely depends on the strength of the solar wind, and the altitude at which the ionisation process occurs. 

The Aurora Borealis happens close to the planet’s magnetic poles – or polar regions – typically above a latitude of 60-75 degrees north and below 60-75 degrees south. With that knowledge, it stands to reason that the Northern Lights can be seen in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Alaska, Russia, and, of course, Iceland. 

So, as you might expect, there is such a thing as the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis. For anyone planning a trip after Iceland, you can expect to see them in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Argentina, and the Falkland Islands.

The Northern Lights in Norse Mythology

 


Of course, with the advent of modern scientific knowledge, our understanding of the Northern Lights and why they occur is better than ever. However, the earliest settlers to this country – those driven by their belief in the
mythologies of the Norse pantheon – had their own, beautiful interpretations. 

For example, some considered the lights to be a manifestation of the elemental forces that created the world, while others saw them more literally as the appearance of the rainbow bridge, Bifröst, connecting the realm of the Gods (Asgard) with that of men (Midgard.) 

Looking at the aurora borealis in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Travellers observing the Northern Lights in Iceland

There are even tales that the glimmering nature of the Northern Lights were the reflections of armour worn by slain warriors, now at rest in the halls of Valhalla. 

Some sightings were not quite so dramatic in their interpretation. According to some folklore, some ancient Icelanders considered the Northern Lights to be an ill-omen. According to one story, if they appeared during childbirth, it was claimed – somewhat comically – that the offspring would be born cross-eyed. 

Where can you see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland?

Northern Lights over a mountain in Iceland
Photo: Golli. The Northern Lights above an Icelandic mountain

The Northern Lights can be seen all across Iceland. There is not one particular spot they favour, so regardless of where you are in the country, make sure to keep your eyes skyward.

There is, however, one other thing to bear in mind regarding the best location to spot these colourful ribbons. If possible, avoid all forms of light pollution, as this can often diminish how vividly they appear. Just think that as much is true of seeing stars in the night sky.

This means that venturing into the countryside for a spot of Northern Lights hunting is far more preferable than attempting to seek them out in the city centre. That is not to say that the Northern Lights won’t appear, but chances are, they will be far more intense to the observer when they are not diluted by the glare of street lights or head lamps. 

How to predict where the Northern Lights will appear? 

Auroras above the trees
Photo: Golli. The auroras lighting up the trees!

The best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are between September and April. In reality, they are occurring above our heads at all times, but daylight shields them from view for most of the year. 

There can be no exact predicting when the Aurora Borealis will rear its kaleidoscopic head, but specialists are improving year after year. 

Professionals monitor solar wind activity with the aid of satellite technology, which also helps them to determine changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. A part of this process relies on watching out for solar spots and flares, which can be great indicators as to how intense solar winds might be. 

 

They also closely observe geomagnetic storms, caused when a solar wind meets the magnetosphere. Results are ranked as part of the KP index. Otherwise referred to as the geomagnetic activity index. It can provide very real insights into how intense geomagnetic storms are. 

The KP index is broken down into levels 1 – 9. The lower half shows little geomagnetic activity. The upper half the opposite, bringing with it a higher chance of the Northern Lights appearing, even at lower altitudes. 

Your best bet is to keep up to date with the latest Northern Lights forecast. There are a number of websites and mobile application that offer this, as seen below:

Aurora Reykjavik 

Vedur 

Aurora Forecast 

We would recommend downloading Aurora Forecast applications on your phone. It might remind you to check up on them throughout your visit. Forecasts can change quickly, so getting into the habit can only be in your best interests. 

Are there Northern Lights tours in Iceland? 

Northern Lights over an Icelandic church
Photo: Golli. Auroras above a church in Iceland

Why yes indeed, there are many Northern Lights tours available in Iceland – did you truly think otherwise? 

Operators will not only transport you to the most secluded, darkest spots in the country, but will offer you incredibly useful tips on how best to photograph this wonderful occurrence. Some will even offer you photography equipment to rent! 

Some tours will be single activity excursions, meaning hunting them will be your primary task that night. Others come bundled with other activities, such as caving, glacier hiking, or horse riding, adding a further layer of adventure to your Northern Lights experience. 

For those looking to take part in an organised excursion, consider this Northern Lights Small Group Tour with Hot Chocolate and Photos, which offers 4-hours of hunting the auroras in Iceland’s countryside. 

Auroras over a mountain in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Northern Lights above a mountain peak

For those hoping for something a little different, this Reykjavík Northern Lights Cruise offers the opportunity to experience the lights from atop the bobbing ocean waves surrounding the Icelandic capital. 

There can be no guarantee of seeing the Northern Lights on your tour. Operators will often offer you to come back the next night free-of-charge. To mitigate this risk, some tours will choose to bring a telescope, allowing you to appreciate the twinkling stars of the cosmos, regardless of whether the lights appear or not. 

And though it’s painful to say so, a word of warning. Understand that Northern Lights tours are, above all else, a business

Unfortunately, that does imply that some less ethically-motivated operators may exaggerate. Encouraging the likelihood of seeing auroras might secure your booking, after all. Hence why we stress that you check on the forecast yourself before taking a licensed tour. 

In Summary 

Auroras in Iceland
Photo Golli: The Northern Lights appear any time in Winter.

The Northern Lights is truly a bucket-list experience. Seeing them should be considered a priority when travelling to Iceland during winter. 

How you choose to hunt the auroras is up to you. Superjeep, minibus, ocean cruise, or as part of a private group. All methods promise a mystical experience that demonstrates the very best of what Iceland’s nature has to provide. 

So wherever you happen to find yourself in Iceland, make sure to keep your eyes firmly on the night sky. You never know just when the Aurora Borealis will make their forever-welcome appearance. 

Winter Driving in Iceland

winter tires reykjavík

How best do you prepare for winter driving in Iceland? What type of vehicle is best to deal with the frosty conditions? Read on to make yourself aware of how best to drive in the cold season during your vacation in Iceland. 

Operating a vehicle during Iceland’s winter comes with significant challenges that visitors need to be aware of. 

In this season, the country becomes coated in snow. Its roadways are covered with sheet-ice. The winds and darkness add a dramatic, and sometimes oppressive ambience that takes even the most worldly travellers by surprise.

Still, millions of foreign visitors are eager to explore this country between September and March. And not only the areas around the well-kept capital city, Reykjavík.

The scenic South Coast, the favourite Golden Circle sightseeing route, the awe-inspiring North, and even the remote Eastfjords are all there and available for those willing to brave the elements.

Visitors at Gullfoss waterfall
Photo: Golli. Gullfoss waterfall in the wintertime.

But without any railways, there are only a handful of options when it comes to reaching these places. 

One choice might be entrusting your journey to an experienced driver. This is best done by taking part in one of the many single or multi-day tours available. In these cases, you will travel by coach, minivan or Super Jeep. For the North specifically, another option might be taking a domestic flight from Reykjavík Airport. 

However, most vacationers prefer to set their own schedule, making renting a car the most attractive choice. Nevertheless, during the winter season, having a solid understanding of what driving in Iceland entails is essential to ensure confidence on the roads.

Let’s look at some handy tips and tricks to make sure your winter driving in Iceland remains safe and enjoyable. 

How to drive safely in the Icelandic winter

Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter
Photo: Golli. Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter

When driving in Iceland during the winter, a comparison can be made to travelling by light speed in Star Wars. Nothing but darkness and passing snowflakes can be seen through the windscreen. It’s all too easy to picture yourself sitting behind the console of the Millennium Falcon, looking upon a billion stars as they flash and fly by.

This might sound exciting – and indeed, it is – but this lack of visibility can cause a lot of drivers to become stressed. Some even panic at the wheel. 

In such circumstances, it is important to remain calm. Given the lack of daylight hours, drive slowly and carefully, wherever in the country you may be. 

Should you find yourself in truly inhospitable conditions – where even recognising the road in front of you is difficult – it can be helpful to run your wheels over the centre-line so as to feel the difference in texture. 

That’s right – in dire circumstances, driving by touch might actually be a necessity! (Don’t ever let anyone say that winter is not challenging for motorists.) 

Choosing the right vehicle 

Renting a car can be a great way to get around Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík traffic

When planning your holiday, pay special attention to the type of vehicle you choose. 

If you are staying in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, you will have more freedom given the fact that the roads there are cleared often. This means that renting a smaller, cheaper car remains a possibility. However, the tinier the car, the lower ground clearance it has. Be warned. Lower ground clearance risks the vehicle becoming stuck in the snow. 

If you are hoping to travel further afield, then you will require a vehicle capable of handling increased snowfall and powerful winds. A larger, heavier vehicle with good ground clearance is far more appropriate. Particularly one that is capable of four-wheel drive. 

Whatever the case, it is crucial that your car is fitted with studded winter tyres. This should be the default, as at this time of year, winter tyres are required by law. However, many, many vehicles are rented out each year in Iceland. It is always advisable to make certain your car is kitted out correctly.   

Check the road conditions 

Cars trapped on the road
Photo: From archives

Before setting out, it is always advised that travellers keep up-to-date with the state of the roads on which they’ll be driving. Weather conditions can change extremely quickly in Iceland, meaning that one moment a road may be open, only to be closed down and inaccessible the next. 

Thankfully, there are a number of handy apps that will help you to best plan your journey, and be aware of any disruptions, before setting out. These include:

Safe Travel 

This helpful application will tell you the exact condition of a road, whether it be clear, slippery, snowy, or closed down. Make sure to know exactly what each colour means as you check the app, and take special notice of any safety updates regarding different areas of the country. 

Veður 

This is the go-to weather app in Iceland, providing you with a 10-day forecast that informs you of the temperature, visibility, and precipitation levels. Downloading it will give you a great leg-up when it comes to winter driving in Iceland. 

These apps are available on both Google Play and the Apple Store. 

What to bring on your travels in Iceland during winter  

Photo: Alehandra13, Pixabay

In the worst case scenario, you may find your vehicle – and, consequently, yourself – trapped by the snow. Should such an incident happen, there are various items you will be grateful for having packed. 

First off, extra clothes and blankets are a must to remain warm while waiting for the Search and Rescue teams. Given the vast stretches of wilderness between different settlements in Iceland, this may be a few hours, and on particularly tempestuous days, your rescuers may find themselves busier than you realise.

Second, ensure that you have fresh water and snacks to stave off hunger in the event you find yourself trapped besides, or even on, the roadside. On that note, it is not just you that should be kept well fed – make sure your vehicle has at least half a full tank of fuel at any given time. Gas stations can be few and far between along certain routes, so it is always best to top-up your fuel whenever the opportunity arises. 

Another is an emergency kit. It might include: a first-aid kit, a spare tyre and the equipment needed to change it, a paper map, snow scrapers, shovels, a flashlight, spare batteries. While renting your car, inquire as to whether any of these essentials are included in your package. If not, ask how you might go about acquiring them before setting off. 

When driving to more remote areas, specialised items like flares, safety vests, and emergency beacons also come recommended. 

In Summary 

winter weather road snow
Photo: Golli. A snow-swept road in Iceland

While the safety concerns are certainly important to take into account when it comes to driving in the Icelandic winter, there is no need for endless worry. 

As long as you remain vigilant to changing weather patterns, you remain one step ahead. Leep up-to-date with travel warnings through looking at websites and mobile applications. Most essentially, drive slowly and cautiously. There is no reason why you cannot drive yourself from one incredible destination to the next. 

The winter is a truly magical time of year in Iceland. It is well worth renting your own vehicle so as to explore the country at your leisure. So, drive safe, and enjoy your journey. 

Merry Christmas from the Iceland Review Team!

Christmas
Icelanders have several Christmas traditions that may seem unique or peculiar to outsiders. They include welcoming the 13 Yule Lads throughout December, listening to the Christmas Eve mass on the radio, and making laufabrauð with the whole family. Still, like elsewhere across the world, the heart of Icelandic Christmas is gathering with loved ones and making time to make bright memories to light up the dark winter nights. Wherever you are this holiday season and however and whatever you celebrate, we hope you can spend time with your nearest and dearest, and perhaps also with a good book – or magazine.
The Iceland Review team would like to wish our readers and their loved ones happy holidays and gleðileg jól. Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!

Nine Days of Cold Spell, With No End in Sight

Reykjavík

The capital area has seen below-zero temperatures uninterrupted since March 6. Today, March 14, marks the ninth straight day of subzero temperatures.

Although temperatures may briefly rise above zero tomorrow afternoon, no clear end is in sight for the cold spell.

In a report on Facebook, meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson stated: “It’s an unusually long spell for March, when the sun has begun to warm during the day. The previous record this winter was for some 14 days before Christmas, though this was when the sun was at its lowest.”

According to Einar, the coldest March in living memory was in 1979, when the temperatures remained below zero for 11 continuous days, from February 28 to March 10.

Though the month began with relatively warm temperatures, the average temperature during the latest cold spell has sat between -6.5°C and -7°C [19°F to 21°F].

The low temperatures are expected to last at least until the weekend, with a slight rise on Friday.

Frost

Individually, snowflakes are fragile, easily broken, dissolving into droplets of water at the mere touch of a finger or a breath of air, while en masse, they’re capable of wreaking havoc on the city streets and causing catastrophe when avalanching down a mountainside.

Contrary to expectation, the correlation between outside temperature and the feeling of cold is less straightforward than people would think. It’s the wind that gets you.

At -19°C [-2.2°F], everything feels crisp. The air, certainly, but also the few rays of light that make it all the way up north at this time of year. The horizon turns an impossibly pastel shade of blue or pink and the grey streaks on the sides of the mountains solidify into a texture that, from a distance, looks soft to the touch.

They say there’s no such thing as bad weather: only a bad attitude to whatever conditions nature offers. Besides, bad weather is good weather under the right conditions. Snuggling beneath a warm blanket wouldn’t be half as nice if the sun were out and temperatures were warm.The weather is an opportunity: a not-so-blank canvas on which one can impose one’s limited imagination.

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These past two months have suggested, however, that the gods have come to show a more determined frigidity towards their human subjects: a lasting and glowering disapproval for our nonchalance towards nature.

Temperatures in Iceland usually vacillate. The weather here is infamously fickle. As if the product of temperamental gods, bestowing, depending on their mood – commendation or condemnation on the mortals dwelling below them.

It’s hard to describe the feeling when you breathe deep in -19°C weather and – for a split second – your nose freezes shut.

We care about the cold weather only as it affects our human lives. We lament that the accompanying snow has blocked the road to the airport. That the municipalities have been lacklustre in their clearing of sidewalks.

And we, worst of all, remain continually apprehensive that the utility companies will announce the indefinite closure of the public pools. Otherwise, the constant cold has made for beautiful weather. Less wind, clearer skies; there’s beauty in steadfastness.

The ground is frozen solid. Icicles form along the gutters of roofs. And birds struggle to eke out their existence. Cars are warmed before passengers clamber inside. Old people slip on the sidewalks. And the unhoused entreat the municipalities to keep the shelters open around the clock. But even so, nature’s long exhalation of cold air provides pleasant relief for a mind dreading the coming warmth. 

Unusual Snow on Esja Slopes

esja mountain reykjavik

Reykjavík residents and visitors may have noticed a distinctive stripe on Esja’s slopes in the last few days.

As can be seen, a white band of snow stretches up Esja’s slope for about 300m. Above the 300m mark there is much less snow, and in many places no snow at all, leading to the interesting band of colour.

The Meteorological Office of Iceland claims on social media that they’ve received many questions about the phenomenon and have provided a brief public explanation.

Typically, we see the opposite on mountain slopes: white peaks, with bare sides. This is because the higher the elevation, the lower the average temperature. So precipitation falling at the peak is much more likely to be snow, while precipitation falling on the slopes may simply turn to rain.

The pattern visible on Esja for the last few days, according to the Meteorological Office, can be explained by a cycle of freezing and thawing.

Average temperatures have been very low in Iceland his winter, but data shows brief temperature spikes in low-lying areas. These warming periods, followed by continued cold averages, create a cycle of thawing and re-freezing that compacts the snow, making it denser and icier.

However, because the peaks have remained at freezing temperatures, the snow at higher elevations has remained powdery. Powdery snow is of course more susceptible to wind and is more likely to be blown away in storms. The Meteorological Office pointed out the night of January 8-9 as especially windy, with recorded wind speeds of 20 m/s (45 mph). Sure enough, the next day was when the distinctive snow pattern became visible.

Þorrablót Feasts Return After Two-Year Hiatus

After a two-year hiatus during COVID, 2023 marks the return of Þorrablót, a midwinter feast inspired by the food traditions and pagan celebrations of medieval Iceland. Demand is expected to be high over the coming weeks and local food producers are scrambling to prepare. RÚV reports that Icelanders are projected to eat some 60 tons of traditional þorrablót fare, which ranges, on the more appetizing end of the spectrum, from hangikjöt, or smoked lamb, to soured meats that have been pickled in whey.

A not-so-ancient festival

Þorrablót coincides with the old Norse month of Þorri, which this year, begins on January 21 and continues through February 18. But while the feast does have its roots in ancient tradition, “…there is really nothing that connects [that tradition] to the present-day feasts of the same name,” food historian Nanna Rögnvaldadóttir writes in Icelandic Food and Cookery. Instead, Nanna explains, the festival was largely the creation of “…a restaurant owner in Reykjavík in the late 1950s—he thought there might be a market for the disappearing traditional Icelandic foods that had never been served in restaurants before.”

A traditional Þorrablót spread includes hangokjöt, or smoked lamb, as well as a variety of preserved sour dishes, or súrmatur. Súrmatur, as Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir explains, “includes soured blood and liver pudding, ram testicles, sheep-head jelly, brisket and lundabaggi, a roll of secondary meats. Also eaten at Þorrablót is putrefied shark and buttered dried fish. A traditional type of bread served alongside the Þorri dinner is flatkaka, a special Icelandic rye flatbread.”

Pickling prep started in August

A traditional Þorrablót buffet. Screenshot via RÚV.

Þorrablót is typically celebrated with large, buffet-style feasts. Workplaces, cultural associations, and villages all host their own, well-attended festivities, something that was obviously not possible during COVID. This changed the way that þorramatur (food for þorrablót) was packaged and sold over the last few years, namely that stores began selling single-serving, pre-portioned þorrablót plates that could be eaten at home.

These TV-dinner-style plates proved popular and will still be sold this year, but there’s also a resurgence in demand for þorramatur in banquet-ready quantities. This means that local meat processing companies like Norðlenska have their hands full for the next few weeks. Andrés Vilhjálmsson, marketing director for Norðlenska, says that he fully expects that some popular þorrablót products will sell out this year.

Meats being preserved in whey at a Norðlenska processing plant. Screenshot via RÚV.

Þorrablót is a feast of all the food that survived the winter, primarily meat and fish that has been dried, salted, smoked, soured, pickled, or cured. What this means in practical terms for producers today is that preparations had to start all the way back in August. “There really are a lot of steps,” affirmed Norðlenska’s quality control officer, Bára Eyfjörð Heimisdóttir. “You have to boil food down, which is tricky, you have to pickle it in whey, and you need to have good whey and monitor that whey closely. So we’ve been working hard.”

Something sour is a relief after all that Christmas candy

Þorramatur is not for the faint of stomach, but Bára nevertheless finds the season’s sour spreads refreshing after all the sweetness of the Christmas holidays. By February, she says, Icelanders are “all trying to get moving, to get away from all the sugar and carbs and shift completely to protein. And that’s where soured foods and all this þorramatur scores high.”