Winter is a beautiful time of year to visit Iceland. Although the weather may be chilly and blustery, and the daylight hours may be short, the snowy landscape illuminated in golden light by the sun hanging low in the sky is unforgettable. Try to get out into the countryside and see as much as you can – I think you haven’t truly experienced the raw Icelandic landscape unless you’ve seen it both in summer and in winter! But if the weather doesn’t permit leaving town, or if you’d just rather spend a day in the world’s northernmost capital city, then there’s plenty to do to keep busy.
Whales of Iceland
The Whales of Iceland exhibition is located in the up-and-coming Grandi harbor district, just a 15 minute walk from the downtown area. They have life-sized models of every type of whale, dolphin, and porpoise ever spotted in the waters around Iceland, adding up to 23 species in total. The place has been decorated to look, feel, and sound like an underwater scene, so walking around there is a very soothing and immersive experience. But it’s also very educational, as admission includes an audio guide available in 10 languages. If you can, try to hop onto one of their live guided tours, offered at 10:30am and 1:30pm every day.
A new addition from this past summer is what they call the Fin Whale Room, named appropriately for the huge fin whale model found inside. It contains exhibits focusing on the conservation of whales and what we can do to help them, and a giant 8-meter screen shows beautiful whale footage throughout the day. There are also twice daily screenings of the documentary Sonic Sea in that room, also included with admission, at 11:00am and 3:30pm.
Their Big Little Whale Café, open throughout the day, has a nice variety of pastries and hot and cold drinks to fuel up for your next adventure.
FlyOver Iceland is a brand-new attraction that just opened this summer, also in Grandi and just around the corner from Whales of Iceland. It’s a flight ride simulation which straps you in and gives you the feeling of soaring over many of Iceland’s natural wonders and incredible scenery. A visit to FlyOver Iceland starts with two mesmerizing exhibits, one called The Longhouse where a grizzled storyteller introduces you to Icelandic culture, and another called The Well of Time where the resident troll Sú Vitra leads you on an amazing journey through Iceland’s storied history.
The flight ride itself is unforgettable – it makes use of a 20-meter wraparound screen, full motion seating, sounds, wind, mist, and even scents to make the experience 100% immersive. The ride starts every 15-20 minutes or so, making it easy to add to a busy schedule!
Perlan is a beautiful building with a large glass dome built atop six water tanks, each of which can hold up to 4 million liters of hot water for the residents of Reykjavík. It’s located a bit outside the downtown area, in a wooded area on the hill Öskjuhlíð. The main attraction there is Wonders of Iceland, a fantastic series of exhibits self-described as a “nature exploratorium.” If you’re interested in Icelandic nature, then this is a fantastic way to learn all about it while still staying out of the weather.
The Glaciers and Ice Cave exhibit teaches you about Iceland’s inspiring glaciers, with the main attraction here being an actual 100-meter long indoor ice cave, built with over 350 tons of snow from Icelandic mountains!
The new Látrabjarg Cliff is a realistic replica of the largest seabird cliff in Europe. At this exhibit, you can learn all about the area and the beautiful birds that nest there, including Atlantic puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and northern fulmars, using special augmented-reality viewers.
Forces of Nature teaches you about the geological wonders of Iceland, including volcanoes, plate tectonics and earthquakes, and of course geothermal energy, which provides 66% of Iceland’s primary energy use!
The planetarium at Perlan is the only one of its kind in Iceland, and throughout the day it shows beautiful footage of the Northern Lights in an exclusive show called Áróra.
After checking out the exhibits, don’t forget to step outside onto the observation deck, where you can get amazing views over the Reykjavík area!
Dinner at Kopar
After a day of exploring Reykjavík’s most amazing attractions, you’ll surely have worked up quite the appetite, so it’ll be time to find some delicious local food to fill up with! For dinner in the downtown area, I can recommend Kopar, an excellent restaurant in the middle of the Old Harbor. The décor and cozy atmosphere, together with amazing views over the harbor area, make it a perfect place for dinner on a cold day. Kopar serves up inspired Icelandic dishes, with lamb, fish, and seafood all on offer. I highly recommend checking out their Adventure Menu, an 8-course meal with a fantastic variety of foods from across their menu. Just make sure you arrive very hungry – you won’t want to leave a single bite behind!
Northern Lights by Boat
As the air cools down in the evenings, the wind tends to calm down as well. After dinner, if you want to hunt for one of the most fantastic wonders of nature for yourself, you can sail with Special Tours on one of our Northern Lights by Boat tours! Aboard our comfortable boats, it only takes about 20 minutes to sail away from the light pollution of Reykjavík into the fjord of Kollafjörður. Unlike on bus tours, you’re free to move around whenever you wish, whether to keep warm inside, visit our fully-stocked cafeteria, or use the restrooms. We also provide free warm overalls to use during the tour, which make a huge difference! We check the forecast carefully every day, and we only sail out when there is a solid chance of seeing the aurora borealis – but just in case the Northern Lights don’t make an appearance, you receive a free ticket to try again whenever you want.