Remain in light
In Reykjavík and beyond, there are some activities that are available only in the winter season. January can be made into a lively month, with a few ideas and a bit of willpower—never before has the frozen city pond looked as inviting, or a glögg by the open fireplace seemed so tempting.
The hardest part is often deciding to do something and getting going, so push yourself to get out of the house and you’ll rarely regret it. Instead of dozing the morning away, you can flick on a SAD lamp, down some lýsi, pull on some colourful clothes, and head out into the snow.
Catching the few rays that are available is best done towards noon, so it’s best to get moving when the pink sunrise is reflected from the snowy streets and mountains. After 3pm it’ll get gradually darker, and that’s when you can line up some fun stuff from the list we’ve assembled for you.
Enter the glacier
January is peak season for winter tourism in Iceland. This is the season to head out to Vatnajökull on an ice caving day trip to experience the glacier’s vast and ever-changing ice caverns. There are a few companies offering trips, operating buses from Reykjavík for an early start—with any luck, you’ll see the sunrise as you reach the southern coastline.
Don’t be an arsonist
There’s no reason to go mental and set stuff on fire for the light, FYI. Just go sit by the fireplace at Uppsalir Bar at Hotel Reykjavík Centrum instead.
Get wet on purpose (for a change)
Hire a car and head out in search of wilderness hot springs on the south coast (there’s a handy guide in our last issue, and on our website), or treat yourself toa fancy spa day at the Blue Lagoon. For those on a budget, hit the city’s geothermal pools with their naturally hot water, steam rooms and outdoor hot pots. Nobody has ever felt worse after doing these things, that’s a promise.
Keep watching the skies
The Aurora Borealis is in full swing in January, and offers a famously fantastic spectacle, from a spectral green glow to dancing blues and pinks. You’ll have to stay alert to see it—keep an eye on the aurora forecast, or take a tour when the chances are at their highest. Twitter is useful for real-time updates, but get out quickly if you hear the lights are out—they can be gone for the night after a dazzling ten-minute display.
Hit the slopes
There are two skiing areas, Bláfjöll and Skálafell, both within a 25-minute drive from Reykjavík. There are buses available to either, and you can hire all the gear you need for just under 5,000 ISK.
There’s a lighthouse at the picturesque Grótta area, on the city’s western shore, which can be reached on foot via a causeway at low tide. Yoko Ono’s peace tower shines bright from Viðey Island in the city’s harbour, although boat rides to the island only operate at weekends in winter. Because it’s freezing out there tbh.
The Perlan building has a gelato parlour, a restaurant, and unencumbered views looking in all directions, and is open until 21:00 each night. Loft Hostel’s roof terrace offers a great view of snowy central Reykjavík and white rooftops. Kolabrautin, the restaurant at the top of Harpa, has a two-for-one cocktail happy hour 16:00-18:00. Hallgrímskirkja church tower is open until 17:00 every day and offers beautiful views, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Dress to kill
While many Icelanders choose to wear black at this time of year, make an effort to wear colours instead. Bright colours are proven to positively affect mood, so playful socks, scarves and hats will help exorcise the demons of darkness. Check out downtown stores like Gyllti kötturinn, Kiosk and Spúútnik to brighten up your wardrobe.
This one is for your own health and sanity. Don’t forget the Vitamin D supplements and to stock up on avocados, berries, bananas for vitamins—and anything colourful, just for the fun of it. There’s a healthy, tasty selection of food at the well-lit white-cube health restaurant Gló if you feel like eating out, and an oat milk latte at Reykjavík Roasters will do wonders for your spirits.
Walk on water
When the city’s covered in snow, you’ll find downtown Reykjavík’s pond, Tjörnin, deeply frozen. This is your signal to go and cross it, always with a company!
Snow, darkness, SAD –Is it time to hibernate?