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Iceland - January 2024 details

Iceland - January 2024 details

Nearly 2 years on, I returned to Iceland last month.

My first trip was amazing. It quickly became my favourite ever trip, it's an incredible country with so much to see and quite different to what I had done before.

But, despite that, my trip felt a bit... incomplete. When I went for the first time, I relied on tours to see the country. It's hard to fault any of the tours, they were good, expensive, but good for the most part.

However, as with most tours, you're limited. You can't really choose how you experience the things you're being taken to. You have restricted time and sometimes it feels like a bit of a box-checking exercise. Additionally, as someone who gets travel sick and is a bit taller than average, sitting on mini-busses for many hours a day was an uncomfortable experience.

I felt travel sick, my back and knee hurt and often felt quite uncomfortable. But despite all this, as I said, it was an incredible trip and I couldn't wait to come back.

For just a bunch of photos, I've created another post for that:

Iceland - January 2024
See also photos from the 2022 trip Blog post detailing the trip coming soon. Instagram highlights Low-ish resolution and butchered by compression, but here’s a few photos. I’ve watermarked them because whilst I don’t think any human would bother ripping any of these off, I did find a few automated

January 2024

So, I did come back. This time, I made a couple of key changes that were aimed at massively improving my experience and comfort:

  • I rented a car. A 2022+ (not sure) 4 wheel drive Kia Sportage - plug-in hybrid. Winter studded tyres as standard.
  • Better clothing. I felt like I had prepared well last time, but Iceland exposed a few weaknesses. I bought some good waterproof walking boots, a better coat (although this wasn't that necessary) and better waterproof trousers. The boots in particular made a big difference.

In this post, I'm aiming to give a chronological recount of my trip, my experiences and any advice I'd give for others looking to travel at this time of the year. I'll also be posting a lot of photos and videos further below.

The Car

4WD Kia Sportage - Plug-in Hybrid - 2022+

Rental process

I rented through zerocar.is, which are a brand run by the popular Blue Car Rental. It seems the main difference is that zero car includes all the premium insurance by default and works out a little cheaper than doing the same through Blue Car - there's no options for additional or other insurance cover - what you buy is all zero excess insurance. The only real related cover that is not included is breakdown/recovery excess - but this can be purchased for an additional small fee.

The process with Zero car (and I assume Blue Car) was faultless. There was an online check-in system where you provided your license details and a credit/debit card (no deposit is taken or authorised), and a day or so before you're due to arrive - assuming you've checked in - you'll be emailed a key code and pin where you'll pick up your keys from a digital lockbox. Once you have your keys, you can simply find the car in the car park and go. No interaction with Zero car/Blue Car employees necessary. No long forms to complete and or attempted upselling on insurance by employees.

It was quick, simple and easy.

Kia Sportage

I picked this because it's a solid mid-tier 4WD car with all the tech you need and pretty good comfort. Adaptive cruise control, 4WD with different terrain settings including snow, heated seats, wheel and a decent infotainment setup with CarPlay, etc.

I'll get to how it handled the Icelandic weather later on, but the headline is: It was a great car for what we needed it for. Comfortable for long journeys, all the tech and conveniences I needed, adequate fuel economy (helped when I could charge the battery), and the studded tyres and snow terrain mode gave me a huge amount of confidence in practically any condition I came across.

Day 1

The first two days we stayed in Reykjavik, so after arriving - we headed straight for the nearby Tjörnin lake. At this time of the year it's typically frozen over, so we went and had a walk about on it. One cool detail about it is they continually pump warm water into a corner of the lake so the ducks, geese and swans have a place to stay.

In the week or so prior to arriving, I had been checking the live webcams from the Live From Iceland youtube channel. Whilst out on the lake, I remembered I could load up the webcam on my phone and take a screenshot. So here we are, circled above, being dorks and looking at ourselves on a webcam.

We visited Hallgrímskirkja - something I didn't do last time was go in to the building or the clock tower. This gave a nice view over Reykjavik.

Later that night, we went to the Sky Lagoon.


A very steamy and low-light video in the lagoon.

The Sky Lagoon was great. It's very much a man-made tourist attraction, but that doesn't mean it's not an enjoyable experience. A few notes:

  • It didn't feel crowded, there's plenty of space to spread out.
  • The facilities were great. Clean, modern and well equipped changing rooms and showers.
  • The "7 step ritual" is a fun gimmick that the Sky Lagoon offers over others.

I'll come to how this compares to the other two/three other thermal baths experiences I've had in Iceland later on. But I'd say it's worth a visit if this type of thing is enjoyable for you. I've always found these type of experiences do help reduce my aches and pains and relax my body, which is especially useful after a long day of travelling.

Day 2

The second day was focused on a loop around the Golden Circle, this is something I had largely experienced via a tour bus on my first trip to Iceland, but slightly later in the year (and therefore less wintery).

The drive up, we saw our first beached tourist car - which was a nice way to remind you to keep your confidence in check on these roads. It was my first proper day of driving, so I was still feeling things out - however the conditions were fine so far - no concerns.

Þingvellir national park

Beginning with Þingvellir national park, it was a different experience in the winter and visited a couple of things I didn't last time (due to time constraints on the tour). It was busier than when I was last here in March 2 years ago, but still not overly crowded.


We stopped by Öxarárfoss as it's just a moderate walk from the visitor centre car park. Covered in the amazing, light blue ice, it was an impressive sight in person.



On the way to the Geysir, we stopped at another place known for its icy blue waters, Bruarfoss. It's relatively easy to get to and is on the 'Golden circle' route, even if not one of the main attractions. When we arrived, there were two other cars - but a larger group arrived a little after.


Revisiting the Geysir in January was much the same as in March, just icier walkways, so we didn't hang around for long, and I didn't take many photos or videos, as I'd taken enough last time - mostly just stopped for lunch and carried on.


Gullfoss transforms quite significantly in the winter and being there as the last of the day light faded away (roughly 16:30) was fun. It was quite snowy and windy, but these type of conditions were one of the reasons I wanted to come in January.

The drive home

On the way back, I took the seemingly much less common route around the golden circle (at this time of day/year at least?) of carrying on clockwise. I ended up on some slushy roads in the dark, only seeing maybe 2-3 other cars in around 45 minutes of driving. The car had a few moments of very slight sliding, but it was overall fine.

The bright orange lights are greenhouses, visible from what felt like tens of miles away.

Day 3

Our time in Reykjavik came to an end, so we headed off down the south coast towards our next accommodation. But before that, stopping at a few of the main tourist stops along the way.


There had been a fair amount of heavy rain overnight and that had washed away a lot of the snow, making our journey a lot less wintery looking than previous days.

We drove by Seljalandsfoss but didn't stop, we had a plan to visit that on our way back later in the week. Instead we headed for something I missed last time I was in Iceland, Skógafoss.


I had been excited to see the waterfall in its full wintery and icy form, so on the way I was a little disappointed to see a lot of the snow washed away. But actually arriving and seeing it, I had largely forgotten about that disappointment.


With full faith in my waterproof clothing, I decided to get a little closer to the waterfall. On my last trip, this sort of behaviour exposed the weaknesses in my boots (getting too close to Seljalandsfoss) and I was left with wet socks for the rest of the 14 hour trip. Not fun.


Everything held up, 100% waterproof. Warm and dry. Skogafoss is great and I enjoyed the hike up the hill to the top of the waterfall.

It was immensely windy, but the viewing platform really helps you appreciate the scale of Skógafoss.


Reynisfjara beach

Next up, the 'black sand beach'. Last time I was here, I don't think I realised how lucky I was. I had wet socks, I was hungry and feeling travel sick. However, the seas were relatively calm - allowing me to explore the 'caves' and also experience the basalt columns without any other people around.

This time was a different story. The signs at the beach were in red alert, telling people not to go on to the beach due to the rough conditions. People do die here due to the so called 'sneaker waves' that surprise tourists and pull them out to sea.

We kept our distance, took a few photos and videos and went on our way. The columns and caves are interesting, but it wasn't my favourite stop last time or this time. Worth seeing and I don't regret either stop though. It was also a lot busier than last time.


Our next accommodation

My last time in Iceland, the entire week's accommodation was spent in Reykjavik. Reykjavik is really nice and definitely worth spending time there, but it only compounded the downsides of the 'seeing Iceland by tours' - as almost every day was spent getting up for 7-9am tour bus pick ups and sat on said buses for many hours.

So this time, I wanted to stay somewhere more remote. We picked one of a set of 6 "tiny houses" in between Vik and Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

Our accommodation was located roughly in the area circled

The roads up to this accommodation were less frequently cleared, so the snow was deeper in parts. This is one route up to the F roads which are closed during winter, meaning other than those living or staying up here, there isn't much traffic - so the roads don't get the same attention. But they are ploughed at least once or twice a day, it was fine.

The accommodation itself was very cool. Modern, very warm, reasonably quiet even in strong winds, comfortable - everything you needed. The surrounding area was the key attraction however, and it lived up to expectations. It's located on private land by a host that has erected a few cabins for guests - with no one else really around - so the light pollution is next to none.

Another bonus - the accommodation offered free electric car charging. Our car, as mentioned prior, was a plug-in hybrid. Fuel is expensive in Iceland, so I took the opportunity to charge the battery and 60km or so of free range.


The lack of light pollution was important to increase our chances of seeing the northern lights, but spoiler alert: we didn't get to see them for the entire trip. Which is fine by me, I went to Iceland with no expectation of seeing them - which for anyone else going - I think is the right way to go. I just wanted to make sure that we were in a position to see them if the conditions were right.

There were times where if there were no clouds, we could have seen them based on the auroral activity, and times where there was less cloud coverage but low auroral activity. Primarily the issue we had was the near 100% cloud coverage though, which is the same story I had back in March 2022.

Overall, the accommodation was excellent and would recommend it. You can find the website below.

Giljaland Accommodation | Lodging in South Iceland
Our property is centrally located in one of the most beautiful parts of Iceland. Most nature attractions are within 90 minute drive from us.

Day 4

Jökulsárlón and diamond beach round 2, this was around a two hour drive. It had been snowing quite a bit overnight so the conditions were worse today, but still manageable.

As usual, amazing views along the ring road. We ran into what could be considered our first 'challenging' driving conditions on the way. Strong winds, reduced visibility, slippery roads. Bonus photo of a maniac carrying his dog in the back of his pickup, full of snow with no tailgate on. The dog was running around the back frantically at many points. Didn't seem safe!


Arriving at the glacial lagoon, the first major difference I noticed over my last visit was the relentless, piercing, icy cold wind coming from the glacier. It was penetrating my gloves and I had to, for the first time, put my 'lining' gloves on under my actual gloves just to be able to feel my fingers again.

Luckily, like my last visit, the sun came out - which really brings out the blue in the ice.

During certain times of the year, boat tours are offered in the lagoon - but in January - with the lagoon seeming almost static given how packed with icebergs and surface ice it is, that isn't feasible. Definitely a different experience than last time, and I got to explore a bit more of the area.


Diamond Beach

Last time I came here, the tour dropped us off on the less popular side of the river coming from the lagoon into the sea. This time, I came over to the other side. Again, a bit of a different experience than last time - different levels of ice flows coming out from the lagoon and being washed up on to the beach.

We had some great lighting conditions for it and it was genuinely pretty cool. It wasn't a particular highlight when I came last time, but this time had something a bit extra.



We decided to try and get a bit more into today, even though we were racing against the sunset. So we headed towards Skaftafell, to see Svartifoss, Hundafoss and the general area.

On the way, the weather decided to provide some entertainment on the road. A note on the video and images here, we found that things were actually a bit more visible through the camera than with the naked eye.


The road surface was mostly fine, just poor visibility and high winds. Other tourists tend to seem to apply their hazards in such conditions, I would situationally do that, but always turn on my front and rear fog lights. Often you wouldn't necessarily have any other drivers in front or behind you nearby, this time we did though.

As usual though, whilst we did experience a fair amount of challenging weather whilst driving, by the time we arrived at Skaftafell - it had cleared up. We were pretty lucky in this regard, it seemed like we only really ever had to endure tricky weather conditions whilst we were in the car.

The hike up to Svartifoss was enjoyable, it was initially a bit snowy and windy, but it soon cleared up and became a nice evening walk as the sun was setting. Very few other people around and some great views.


After this, we headed back to our accommodation - as it was getting dark. It did start snowing relatively heavily on the way back and the roads back to our accommodation, being less frequently used at this time of year, had a fair amount more uncleared snow.


It wasn't the worst to drive in, but definitely had to sit up and pay a bit more attention.

For the rest of the night, we made another attempt at looking out for the northern lights from our cabin (and watching various apps to see if there was any break in the cloud cover + auroral activity), but with no luck.

Day 5

Our last day in this accommodation, heading back west down the south coast. Given it had snowed quite a bit over the last couple of days, I wanted to stop by Skogafoss again to see it all snowy and icy, as I had originally hoped.

But before that, we experienced the worst driving weather of the entire trip as we were leaving the accommodation.

As I mentioned earlier, the visibility through the phone's cameras was actually higher than with the naked eye at many points.


Visibility was so low at points that I instinctively washed the windscreen to try and improve it.

The winds were very high, the visibility was down to a few metres at most at some points. Sometimes it was so low I couldn't see the next set of reflective bollards until I was around a metre away from them.


For much of this, the surface of the roads weren't too bad. The studded tyres, 4 wheel drive and snow terrain mode on the car did the job. You could feel the car slide a little bit here and there, shift side to side a little on the rear under the very heavy winds, but overall - it was fine.

About the worst of it was having to cross a bridge, as what I came to find when crossing bridges here, was that snow would gather in deeper piles at the entrance and exit of bridges. If you hit them too quickly, you're likely to lose control.

I was crossing a certain bridge in the conditions above and I was naturally going a lot slower than I normally would. As I was exiting the bridge, the front wheels entirely lost grip and began to slide for a few metres. Which was an opportune moment for the only car I had seen so far that morning to come towards me in the opposite direction.

It turned out fine, I just let off the power, steered slightly into the skid and waited for the front tyres to grip back up and carried on fine. But it was the right time to have this lesson: at lower speed. Later in the day, I would be going down roads at 90km/h and would specifically slow down a lot more for bridges because of this, and even at the much slower speeds I did experience the fairly hefty loss of grip in those situations still.

I also saw two other cars in front of me hit such snow drifts too quickly and momentarily lose control, with them slamming their brakes on in a panic (making the situation worse). It's something I hadn't seen spoken about so much when others would give tips about driving in Iceland - but the regular occurrence of snow piling up on either side of bridges on roads you could otherwise be doing the speed limit on is one of the bigger dangers I found.

The conditions above lasted around 30-40 minutes of driving, ending with a nice hailstorm.


On the destinations for today.. there was another bunch of crazy weather on the way to the next stop, but I think you get the point from the above videos, it's much the same.


The next step was Dyrhólaey, a small peninsula up a hill overlooking Reynisfjara beach. Despite the very clear conditions, this was the only time the weather interrupted any sort of activity or stop. We drove to the top of this hill on rather narrow roads that, thankfully, had been cleared very well.

On the way up and as we parked up, the car was shaking and moving a lot by the force of the wind. It was possibly the strongest wind I've ever experienced. We got out and attempted to have a look around, but at one point as I went to walk towards the edge of one of the cliffs - a gust of wind pushed me towards it way faster than I was comfortable with.

I managed to take a few photos of the great view from up there, but we quickly left as it wasn't a very pleasant experience. Struggling to stay stood up and sand being blown into our eyes.

Skógafoss round 2

As I mentioned earlier, the plan was to do a very quick stop by Skógafoss to just see it in it's full winter coat. It was definitely worth the stop again and it was a different experience.


Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui

On the way down the south coast on day 3, we deliberately skipped past Seljalandsfoss with the intention of coming on the way back. Last time I was in Iceland, this was a stop on our south coast day tour and this is where I discovered the limits of my 'waterproof' boots.

Again, a bit different again in winter - but this time I got to visit the nearby hidden waterfall, Gljufrabui.

It requires stepping into a cave sort of thing and walking through the small stream, or balancing on potentially icy rocks that people use as stepping stones. It's a fun little place, definitely worth visiting if you're here.


Another in a long line of waterfalls, we stopped at Urriðafoss. Supposedly the most voluminous waterfall in the country and is in a nice little area. There was only a couple other people around and we had the place to ourselves for a little while.


I'm not sure why I turned the camera around here, I thought I'd share my gormless-mouth-open expression with the world and not trim it out for a bit of variety.

Kerid crater

Probably not the best time of the year ... or day for this, Kerid crater, going by the photos online looks kinda interesting when it's not covered in snow. But we went quite late (17:30) and had a look around.

It's... a crater.

Final accommodation

For the final night, we stayed in an accommodation around 45Km outside of Reykjavik - it was a remote place away from much light pollution. A small cabin set up behind a family home.

Because the route to it was not a public road, the car struggled a bit in the deeper snow here. I had initially thought I was going the wrong way and had reversed into a small ditch, I jumped out of the car and immediately realised I was in near knee-high snow. I ran over to the host's home and spoke to them to ask for directions on where to park.

Upon returning to the car and attempting to get going, the car wouldn't move initially. I jiggled it around a bit and managed to get it going with the help of the snow terrain mode. The 4WD definitely helped a lot here as the rear wheels spun, the front ones managed to pull me out.


Overall a nice accommodation. It was warm and the hosts were great, and crucially patient as I immediately locked the keys from the lockbox inside the cabin. I had to run to the host's home and embarrassingly ask for a spare key, reading the reviews - I wasn't the only one to do this though.

Final day

Our flight was at 19:30, so we still had the morning and afternoon to fill. Of course we had to be at the airport for around 17:00 to drop the car off, so we didn't plan too much, just a couple of stops.


The first stop was in the geothermal town of Hveragerði. We were there for the sunrise.

We walked around the area a bit, and got up close to some of the hot springs. Would have loved to have more time here and in the surrounding geothermal park.


If you like the smell of eggy farts, there are few places better.

Blue Lagoon

I was torn on this, I didn't go to the Blue Lagoon last time I was here very much deliberately. I wasn't planning on it this time either. It didn't seem all that appealing to me because it's one of the very top tourist attractions in the country.

It's entirely man made, it's literally factory run-off water that happened to turn blue due to the mineral content in the rocks the water was emptied onto. But.. as I said earlier regarding the Sky Lagoon. It being man made and a tourist experience doesn't mean it can't also be enjoyable, so with a few hours to spare and it being very conveniently located near the airport, it seemed to make sense to at least give it a go.

It's definitely busy, it wasn't so busy to significantly dampen the experience, but it's busy. The experience overall was fine, the water is nice, it feels good. However of the geothermal experiences I've had in Iceland, I rank them as so:

  1. Secret Lagoon
  2. Sky Lagoon
  3. Sundhöll public baths (nothing fancy here, often where the locals hang out - regular pool but I went a few times and loved it)
  4. Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon isn't a bad experience, it was enjoyable and the facilities are well maintained and clean. But for a few reasons, I think it sits at the bottom of the list for me:

  • It's feels a bit inauthentic. Sky Lagoon is as artificial as the Blue Lagoon, but it still felt like a better experience.
  • It's busy.
  • It's more expensive.
  • The Sky Lagoon's "7 step ritual" was more enjoyable than the silica face mask they dollop into your hand at the blue lagoon.

The Secret Lagoon tops the list for me because it does feel a bit more authentic, it's definitely still a tourist attraction, but it has some history to it and it is in a more natural environment. It's called Iceland's oldest swimming pool and it is a construction, but it's a construction around existing natural hot springs that feed the pool continuously.

It's not as flashy as the Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon, but it's less expensive, simpler and I found a more enjoyable and memorable experience.

Finally though, I should address my mention of Sundhöll - one of a few public baths in Reykjavik. These are really inexpensive and from my experience, not anywhere near as frequently visited by tourists. The changing and shower rooms were immaculate and it offers a few different pools:

  1. A large indoor swimming pool
  2. A heated outdoor lane swimming pool
  3. Hot tubs on the roof
  4. A large outdoor heated 'whirlpool bath'
  5. A heated shallow kids pool with fountains
  6. Sauna and cold plunge

The price for adults is less than £8 each, around 10x less than the Blue Lagoon. Is it as flashy or instagram-worthy? Definitely not, but I actually enjoyed my experience at these 'basic' public baths a fair amount more.

When I went in 2022 in March, it was always relatively quiet - but of course as Iceland's popularity as a tourist destination continues to sky rocket, it may be quite a different experience today.

Going home

After the Blue Lagoon, we headed straight to the airport to drop the car off. The drop off at Blue Car Rentals isn't contactless, you are required to go in and hand the keys to a person - but I passed the keys to the staff member, they saw I was with zero car - and as such had zero excess insurance anyway - asked if I had any problems, I responded no - and he sent me on my way with a thank you. All done in 30 seconds.

No hassle, and as I said, I can't rate Zero car / blue car highly enough. The best rental experience I've had and when I come back to Iceland, and I will be coming back, I'll be going with Zero car again (assuming I don't get a campervan or something..).

That pretty much concludes the trip, the flight back wasn't particularly interesting aside from some slight delays due to them having to continually clear the runway, but it was all good otherwise.

Driving experience

I've mostly covered everything on this, but I'll summarise:

Driving in Iceland in the winter can be difficult and dangerous. There weren't any moments where I felt particularly unsafe, but there were moments where it was possible to get into trouble should you do the wrong thing.

There were a few cars by the side of the road that had been in accidents, it does happen - and in January this year, Iceland experienced the highest death toll for a single month ever with 6 people. For reference, in 2019 - 8 people died in the entire year.

Driving in such conditions shouldn't be underestimated - but I do believe if you follow well established principles of driving in such conditions and you know you'll be able to drive with confidence, without panicking and know when you need to slow down or even stop, you'll likely be fine.

The website to check frequently on the condition of the roads is trafficinfo.is, it allows you to click on particular roads to see their conditions, webcams, how much traffic has gone by, wind speed (an important one). safetravel.is is another useful website.

Iceland will regularly close roads if they believe it's too dangerous. As there isn't really any alternative routes outside of the Reykjavik area, if your destination is on the other side of a closed road - you're likely going to have to find somewhere to stay for the night. You need to be prepared to have your plans disrupted, which may include not being able to reach your booked accommodation.

I drove around 1200km over the 6 days, not the most, but we did spend a lot of time driving. The scenery whilst driving is amazing and the actual layouts of the main roads are really nice and simple. They're long, with not many sharp or twisty bends, plenty wide enough (one lane in each direction). When conditions are clear, I'd say if you're used to driving around British country roads - they're actually more challenging by a decent margin than most of the main roads in Iceland.

If you're going to Iceland in the summer, then you shouldn't have much to worry about at all. Unless you're going on the F roads, in which case - those can be difficult, dangerous and often barely even roads, with river crossings often necessary as part of your route.


I love Iceland and given the massive increase in popularity over the past 10 years, I'm obviously far from alone. I've done the main attractions twice now (slightly different experiences each time), seen Reykjavik and the South Coast. Next time, I'll want to explore the north, west and east of Iceland.

I also want to explore the highlands via the F roads (which are closed until June/July). I want to rent a suitable car and drive some tricky paths and conditions into the most remote areas of the country, because I'll admit - I enjoyed driving in Iceland throughout. I like the challenge.

There's still so much I want to see and experience in Iceland and I'll definitely be coming back a few more times yet.