Iceland in January… someone talk me out of this

Hear me out, because there are three things at play here:

  • Earlier this year I posted about my goal of seeing the Northern Lights, something I’ve yet to witness in my travels.
  • Icelandair flies nonstop to my new home airport, and I’m intrigued every time I see their planes parked on the tarmac.
  • I’ve also always wanted to visit Iceland, though assumed I’d end up going there in the summer. Then again, that’s wutmhen everyone goes, which also translates to much higher airfare and hotel costs (I’m not a betting man, though I’d guess it has something to do with the 21 hour days and temperatures in the 50s).

But Iceland really isn’t that far from Seattle, and it just seems like an awesome weekend trip. I’m looking at two different options.

The first option is to book one of the mighty tempting packages that Icelandair promotes. For example, on their website right now they’re promoting the “Northern Lights Off-Road Adventure,” which starts at $769.

I’d probably “upgrade” to the package which includes the Hilton Reykjavik, which costs $894 per person (assuming double occupancy).

The package includes the following:

  • Round-trip air on Icelandair from New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), Washington DC (IAD), Denver (DEN) and Seattle (SEA).
  • Three nights accommodation
  • Scandinavian buffet breakfast daily except arrival
  • Guided Off-road tour in specially-equipped LandRover (or similar, based on availability) vehicles (about 5 -7 passengers in each, with driver-guide) in search of Northern lights.
  • Sample of Icelandic schnapps during tour
  • Lobster feast dinner at seacoast restaurant
  • Evening Northern Lights hunt (sightings not guaranteed)
  • Airport taxes and fuel surcharges

My other thought was to just book flights and the hotels separately. Roundtrip airfare to Iceland is just ~$604 in the off season, and I’d even earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles. Besides, is there anyone that wouldn’t want to read a coach trip report? 😉

So what do you guys think? Am I nuts? I mean, what could possibly go wrong with traveling during a month where days are nearly four hours long and the average temperatures are below freezing? Anyone know what my actual chances are of seeing the Northern Lights in January?

As a reminder, I’m from Florida. Please talk me out of this. Because I’m pretty close to pulling the trigger on this one…

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Just book the package. It’ll be a huge hassle to book it all yourself and try to get around. It will save a lot of confusion and stress on your trip.

  2. Definitely do it! I did it last year and I’m from Los Angeles. Obviously the cold and snow was different from what I’m used to, but different is good.

    Also, keep in mind if the weather isn’t good, the tour doesn’t go, so try to spend a few days in Iceland so you can have multiple attempts at the tour.

    The Hilton is very far from the city center. There’s a Radission Blu and a few others that are right in the center. When it is cold and windy, you’ll want to minimize the amount of time you spend outside.

    And try the hotdogs at Bejarins Bestu.

  3. Absolutely do it! I visited Iceland over New Years a few years ago and it was amazing. I have a fair amount of info posted on my site about the trip that I put together for a friend who just went this past month – check it out.

  4. You’re not nuts at all! Perhaps you should consider using 55K Alaska Air points and going to Europe, with Iceland as a stopover…just sayin!

  5. Awww go ahead and do it Ben! After your “Night in Bangkok” how can bad can perpetual darkness and sub-zero winds really be? Umm, actually it can be pretty bad … I live in Chicago after all 😉

  6. This seems pretty damn cool. If chances of seeing the NOrthern Lights are pretty good I say go for it. Go with the package too. 8 hour flight for an extended weekend is a tidy little trip.

  7. Oh, and book the package, unless you’re a fan of $10 Big Macs. Eating out is very expensive in Iceland.

  8. If you want to experience he northern light and an enjoy exotic hotel, why not go to the Icehotel in Jukkasjaervi, Sweden.

  9. As long as you’re not doing the driving on the “Off Road Adventure” then do it!! (Although that would make for a fun trip report….Lucky gets lost on iceberg.)

  10. Seems fun – I’d consider it. Let me know if you’re actually going to pull the trigger and I may join you if that’s cool.

  11. It’s not that cold. It’s warmer than New York and Boston during the winter because of the gulf stream. I’d recommend staying for at least 3 nights to maximize your chances of seeing the lights. Also, make sure you go on a Golden Circle tour.

    I went in March last year and had a blast. You won’t regret it.

  12. According to tripadvisor reviews, if you stay at the Hilton on a package, they won’t upgrade based on loyalty status. Just free internet, I believe? The lounge access is worth a good bit!

    Also, I think you can sometimes snag a Saga Class seat during Iceland Air check-in? I remember reading that elsewhere. Flew them earlier this year and really enjoyed their music lineup. Hilton vs Radisson Blue 1919. Hilton’s much quieter on weekends. Bus tours can be booked independently pretty easily, along with transfer

    Super Jeep/Land Rover was fun. My personal highlights were taking in a classical concert at Harpa and a glacier hike near Vik from “Volcano Hotel”.

  13. I went to KEF in early September. It was colder than now 🙂 They have a strange climate there. But it wasn’t that cold just below/above freezing and wind. I don’t think it gets much colder anyways.

    Landscape is awe inspiring but I’m not sure you will see too much with the little daylight as most tours require lots of driving (Golden Circle).

    Definitely hit the Blue Lagoon – expensive but amazing!

    The chain hotels I tried lacked ‘flair’ and the Hilton is a bit far off the city center. Try the Radisson Blue 1919 is probably the best of them.

    Reykjavik is a surprisingly urban and awesome city – it’s a must see for all FTers and beyond.

  14. Do it, Ben! Sounds pretty amazing — I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland, but never got around to it. Maybe I’ll see it through your pictures, so make sure to take pictures of the place itself as well as the plane/airport parts. And don’t forget the money shot of the busted car rental, of course. 😉

  15. I hate to be a complete buzkill, but wouldn’t it be easier/cheaper to go to Alaska and see the northern lights?

  16. I just looked up the average temperatures and Reykjavik actually is warmer in January than it is here in Ottawa. Just buy a new sweater (hopefully for less than 1,000 HKD…). The thing about cold weather is that you can keep warm by adding layers. I’ll take that over extreme heat any day.

  17. I went in January to see the Northern Lights. It was a direct flight from MCO. As Richard said, the weather can be iffy, so give it several days. I still think that the lifeguards at the Blue Lagoon wearing parkas while we were swimming was one of the most surreal experiences that I ever had!

    Make sure that you go to Gulfoss and Thingviller National Park as well.

  18. Definitely go for it. I was there a few years ago in November and still had a great time, biggest “winter issue” was lack of daylight. Consider doing the golden circle tour – it takes most of the day, but is well worth it to see a good bit of the area around Reykjavik. Run by the same group that partners with Icelandair.

  19. Just got back from Iceland in October and had a magnificent time there. Went out two night to see the Northern Lights and was lucky that both nights were clear. The Northern Lights were good but not as good as they were in Tromso, Norway on the same trip. However, would still recommend you take the trip. Be sure to visit the Blue Lagoon Spa while you are there.

  20. Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights but Iceland isn’t the best place… Northern part of Norway is much better !
    A package is very good thing but avoid the Hilton. Radisson Blu is a good choice BUT the 1919 is a much better option than the Saga.
    Try to avoid being in REK on a sunday night 🙂
    Late noon in Blue Lagoon and an excursion to Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss are a must to do.
    Saga class is a bit crap LOL
    But a long winter week-end in Iceland is a GREAT idea and if you’re lucky enough the Northern Lights are the experience of a lifetime !!

  21. By the way, we took advantage of using points to go from Orlando to Norway, First Class and flying round trip from Oslo to Iceland and seeing the Northern Lights both in Norway and Icelsnd…A must to put on ones bucket list.

  22. Go with the package, tours are fairly expensive, probalby in the $80 range so the packages are good.

    Our best fish this summer was at Cafe Haiti, a nice pan fried red fish.

  23. Just book it on your own. Though, if you do go and need recommendations on cold weather gear, I can recommend some stuff from my Everest Base Camp trek.

  24. I went with Icelandairs’ package a few years back and it was well worth it as we definitively saved money going that route. Stayed at the Hotel Loftleidir on site of the domestic airport which was kind of cool. Can’t speak for going in the winter time but I don’t think it would’ve mattered much to me as I enjoyed the friendly people and culture there as much as anything. I say do it and I can’t wait for that trip report!

  25. Not crazy at all, in fact I’m thinking of doing the same thing in January. I’ll be in the UK, so I could take an EasyJet flight over. I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights.

    Thanks for all of your great advice everyone!

  26. Northern Lights are a very elusive thing, the conditions must be just right, not sure what all the conditions are but it does start with very cold temps….go and enjoy the experience and if you see the Northern Lights it will be an added benefit.

  27. It seems to me the Hilton is a bit outside of town or at least less convenient, I think I would book in the downtown area especially in the middle of winter.

  28. Seems really foolish to me. I’ve been to Iceland (well, quite a few years ago, before it became nauseatingly trendy), and liked it. But as much as I liked it, I certainly wouldn’t go all that way just to see the aurora. Get on a flight to Alaska for that. Plenty of places you can get to much more quickly and less expensively for that. You’re just a few hours away from good aurora watching – although you don’t earn all those Cool Kid point by flying to Ketchikan or Petersburg. So ask yourself why you want to go – if you just want to feel better about yourself because you’ve been to a trendy destination, then by al means, jet off to Iceland. If you just want to see the Aurora, fly AS a couple hours north and you won’t even need a passport. Or wait for the next big solar eruption (they happen all the time), check the space weather, and drive 2 hours east on I-90: you’ll see all the aurora you need (honestly, you can see good auroral displays easily if you pick the right night and just get over the Cascades). You won’t impress anyone by bragging about your night in Ellensburg, though.

  29. I am from Boston so I also saw that deal I’m also thinking about pulling the trigger it can’t be that cold and it’s only a weekend I could spend the whole time at the bar or just walking around in museums. I almost forgot I could also spend the whole day in the hot springs

  30. Do Fairbanks instead if you’re just looking to see the Northern Lights. I’m going for 4 nights in March. Airfare using miles on Alaska, $30/night at a nice hostel, and a rental car for around $200. I’d personally want to spend a lot more time in Iceland in the summer seeing the amazing scenery.

  31. I say do it. It’s going to undoubtably be better then staying here where you’ll have NO chance at clear skies or anything to possibly look up at like the wonderful northern lights. Your new state gets the least amount of sunshine out of any state in the country lol.

  32. There’s good advice above, Lucky. If the aurora is not just the frosting, but the cake, you want to do your due diligence. You want a place with minimal cloud cover in winter, and I’m not sure that’s Norway or Iceland. Inland Alaska or Yukon (Whitehorse) are usually the go-to places. The Japanese fly there to consumate marriages or conceive children under the aurora.

    The University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks is a hole, BTW) has a great online Aurora Forecaster that may help you figure out where to go, and just as importantly, when.

  33. I live in downtown Bellevue too 🙂 When IcelandAir started flying out of SeaTac a few years ago, we snapped up their $399/RT specials, and went to Reykjavik for a long weekend in January. Blue Lagoon, night pools, Northern Lights…and the runtur (ask a local). One of the best weekends ever. GO GO GO.

  34. Good luck, man! You were borderline suicidal after two days in Seattle but let’s hope the lack of sun in Iceland doesn’t kick in until after you’re on the return!

    Do go, though.

  35. Do it! I went there a few years ago in February. It was actually colder here in NYC than it was in Iceland. A day at the Blue Lagoon is a must. There’s something quite awesome about sitting in the warm geothermal springs when it’s 35 F air temp.

  36. You should do it! I went to Iceland in September, and it was freezing then (and no Northern Lights!) so I don’t think you’re really going to find a “warm” time to go, ever. (And it was worth every penny, too. I did a week-long stopover on IcelandAir for free as part of a RT ticket from JFK to Munich for Oktoberfest.)

  37. A close call, it seems like, at 55 to 2. Guess I have to do it now? 😀

    Should also probably do Alaska, though the prospect of flying Icelandair coach and flying to Iceland actually sounds quite intriguing.

  38. Just got back from Iceland, I was there for airwaves as for my 2nd trip to Iceland.. I love it very much and I think I will go there every year… People are lovely and landscpae is amazing… and I was lucky to catch northern light every time I was there….

  39. Is it not possible to book an award flight in business using Alaskan or other miles? Although, reading a coach trip report would be amusing…

  40. Go in end of July when Its light till 3 or 4AM. Icelandair Saga class ( their BusinessFirst) sucks. Its like a non-PS UA 757 except with useless metal foot rests that swing up from below the seat in front of you. Saga Class food worse than UA domestic first. Iceland itself is very nice.

  41. @ Jess — Their business class is very similar to domestic first class, so probably isn’t worth the premium for a relatively short flight.

  42. The trip is worth doing. Contrary to popular perception, Iceland is actually quite pleasant in winter.

    Icelandair 757s in Economy Class are another story. I’ve spent dozens of nights on board them and I assure you that you wouldn’t want to spend the night in the Y seat. Not that the Saga seats are much better, but you get a bit more space. Due to the “short days” in Iceland and the time difference, your circadian rhythms could be badly affected by significant lack/loss of sleep and that will affect your “Icelandic experience”. Reykjavik is a town for night owls. 🙂

    Finally, the Nordica (now the Hilton) is a perfectly fine hotel. It’s like living in an IKEA showroom with a view. Location isn’t perfect, but Reykjavik is not a large town by any means and taxis are easily available.

    PS – As a bit of trivia, I flew on what was then (may still be) the world endurance record for a wingletted 757 back in 2007 with Icelandair. Five of us ferried an aircraft 6724 kms from Keflavik to Accra nonstop (8h47m). Got a chance to see the Northern Lights from the jumpseat as we climbed out of KEF. Unforgettable experience.

  43. Go for it!

    Making cold weather acceptable is only matter of proper clothing.

    ps. I live in northern Finland, even more north than Iceland. It ain’t that bad.

  44. The best vacation I ever took as a single guy was to Iceland. The scenery is pretty amazing and the nightlife is unbelievable.

  45. Do it! I still read my trip report to Iceland from time to time and the memories of it on flyertalk. You posted here once for others to read 🙂 I plan to go back but this time in the winter so I look forward to your trip report!

  46. I returned from Iceland this past Tuesday. I loved it over there but I would not go in January. The wind which is the worst for driving and snow storms were not fun over there. Also, If you really want to see Northern Lights go to Norway. That is the place where they are outstanding. I was disappointed in the Northern Lights in Iceland and I saw them for 3 of the 5 nights I stayed.
    With that said. I rented my car through Budget and drove. I went north one day and turned around as there was a bad snow storm. The rest of the time I stayed in the south. It was good in the south and flying home people complained that went to the north that they were stuck in a snow storm and didn’t see any Northern Lights. From the South I was able to see them. I stayed at a terrific place Hótel Grímsborgir that included breakfast and dinner. Iceland food is very expensive. Overall enjoyed my vacation but when I do it again it will be in Sept/October. Daylight was from 9:30am-3:30 sunset and stay lit until about 5pm.

  47. I forgot to write that in January I imagine it is 100% darkness and that you will miss seeing the beatiful scenery that iceland has and the waterfalls probably will be frozen.

  48. Luck — When Iceland Air first started service out of BWI, I ended up booking a flight to LHR in coach for $350 RT with a stopover for a few days in Iceland on the way back … in December. Yeah, it was dark … but it was amazing trip. Swiming in the Blue Lagoon at night in winter was something I’ll never forget!!

  49. Alaska coach is actually surprisingly comfortable. I’d pick a coach seat on an AS 737 over the Icelandair 757 any day of the week.

    But it’s pretty obvious you’re going regardless of any rational considerations.

  50. I would go but wait until summer. If the Aurora is what you want to see, I agree with the other posters that a hop to ANC or FAI would make more sense and would be a better time/$ investment in order to have a shot at the Aurora. Also, while Icelandair miles earn Mileage Plan credit, Alaska flights would net you some MVP qualifying credit on Alaska (or EQM on Delta or American.) You also have UA as an option to ANC, although my last attempt with that resulted in a FIM to AS 🙂

  51. At the risk of being accused of bias, I’d also suggest Norway. (Disclosure – I’m a Brit living in Trondheim) Iceland is a lot of fun in the summer, but northern Norway rocks bells for the Northern Lights and there’s loads of packages available. You could even scoot off to Svalbard using hardly any points on SAS (assuming they survive until then) as it counts as domestic travel even though it’s a seriously long distance. That would be two very unique experiences in one trip…

  52. I don’t know what you decided, but I’m going in January for five days, because I really don’t have a great chance of seeing the northern lights when there’s 19 hours of sunshine. I hope you go, because I’ve been checking the temps, and Iceland is warmer than NYC in January (because of the water moderating the cold).

  53. So… did you do it??
    Am planning to go this January, but afraid that it will be too dark to see anything and too bloody cold!!!
    I am from Australia.

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