Iceland likely doesn’t rise to the top of your list when considering possibilities for Christmas and New Years. It’s winter. It’s cold and often plagued with winds and blizzards during its deep winter months. And it only has about four hours of daylight that feels more like early twilight that time of year. And yet, it’s precisely those conditions as well as its exuberant, unique and quirky holiday traditions based on Icelandic folklore that make the winter holidays in Iceland an unforgettable holiday experience.
Iceland isn’t the first destination that comes to mind as a place to spend Christmas and New Years. Yes, its THE place to visit now, but normal people venture there in the high season of summer and fall when you can circumnavigate the nation on the Ring Road. When all roads are passable, the temperature is pleasant and everything is open. On the downside, the airfare is more expensive, the accommodations aren’t cheap and the island nation is over run with tourists.
We’re going in the dead of winter when the temperature hovers at freezing and there’s only six hours of daylight. When its the low season and many of the rural museums and sights are closed. We’re going then because Iceland has quaint Christmas traditions and one of the world’s best New Years Eve fireworks shows, all research subjects for future travel articles I’m writing.
Of our ten days in the country, half will be spent Reykjavik and half will be spent seeing the sights outside the capital. For part of the trip, we needed a 4 wheel drive, budget accommodations for four outside of Reykjavik and some idea what’s open in the off season. For that I turned to a surprising and very helpful resource – Hostelling International Iceland.
Their website is filled with information including a country map of all the hostels, detailed information and links for each one, a comprehensive downloadable booklet, suggested trip itineraries and the offer to make all of your hostel and vehicle rental reservations. As I’ve been researching their possibilities, they’ve been responding within 24 hours to my various questions. How far between the hostels that are open that time of year? It’s on their website. What’s their advice about driving from Hostel A to Hostel B a distance away? They reminded me there’s limited daylight and suggested there would not be much open on that road that time of year. Do the hostels have a private room (for me) and dorm room for the three young adults who are part of my intrepid band of fellow travelers? Yes! What’s their recommendation about a travel guide? Their downloadable itineraries provide detailed information and they give you a travel CD as part of their service that explains the sights. What are the hidden fees? There aren’t any. They provide the reservation service for no fee and the vehicle pick up and drop off has no extra fees because some of our group is staying at their Reykjavik hostel.
We leave in two months. I’m looking forward to finally seeing the fabled northern lights, Elf School (more on that later), rural hostel living, hip Reykjavik, a glacier tour and the quaint Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve!