The task of creating the Best of Iceland Awards—to distil the very best that Iceland has to offer to travellers—was an interesting one.
Even though Iceland’s population of around 340,000 means many of the country’s settlements are tiny seaside villages, they have surprising differences in character. Some are former fishing towns that have reinvented themselves as pocket-sized creative hubs, with galleries, festivals, and accompanying restaurants, cafés and bars. Others are newly thriving spots with an emerging culture based on catering to tourists and passers by with plenty of places to stay and things to do. Others still remain all-but untouched coastal communities, quietly going about the business of fishing, farming or industry amidst great natural beauty, tucked away in the nooks of fjords far from the beaten track of Route One.
And that’s not to mention the sites of interest: the tiny, barely populated islands, accessible only by ferry; the far flung networks of deep Highland canyons; and the eccentric local history museums, the discretely signposted hikes to geothermal oases, glacier caves, and the viewing points across vast glacier tongues that you’ll find only if you get lucky, or know exactly what you’re looking for. The same goes for sightseeing adventures and guided tours: most parts of Iceland now offer a broad range trips to experience.
It’s important to note that when travelling in Iceland during the winter, the best laid plans often go awry. Winter sweeps over the island unrelentingly, making it necessary for travellers to pay close heed to the ever-changing conditions at hand. This goes doubly in midwinter, when the days are short, minor roads are often completely snowbound, staircases get icy, trails get slippery, and you might end up stuck in a small town because of a blizzard. As one writer notes here: “There’s no way to plan Iceland. Iceland just sort of happens.”
That said, winter travel has perks, too. The prices are somewhat lower, and the crowds thinner, especially in the north, east, and the Westfjords. You might get some privacy at the country’s innumerable pools, hikes, geothermal areas and waterfalls, where the steam and spray sculpts the snow into amazing shapes. And, of course, it’s the season when the radiant aurora borealis can be seen dancing across the night sky.
The winter edition of these awards tries to take all this into account. We combed over our panels—made up of local experts—selections, noting all the winners that are closed or inaccessible for the off-season, and tuning our picks to help you plan your perfect winter trip.
Whilst browsing the winners in the North, South, East, and West, you’ll read repeated warnings about checking road.is and en.vedur.is before embarking on a car journey, seeking out proper equipment and local information before a hike, and keeping the 112 emergency services number in mind if things go wrong. There’s a good reason for that—it’s hard to stress enough that winter here is both beautiful and fierce, in equal measure. Even if it means disrupting your itinerary a little, be sure to take danger signs, road closures, and weather warnings seriously. Icelandic nature doesn’t mess around, and we want you to get home in one piece.
So stay safe, and we hope this second edition of Best of Iceland Awards helps you to make the most of what this astounding wintery wilderness has to offer.
John Rogers, Editor, Best Of Iceland