Things to do in bad weather in Iceland
The weather in Iceland is nowhere as severe as most people think, but there is a caveat! The gulf stream which keeps Iceland warmer than other lands on the same latitude can deliver very severe storms.
All about storms in Iceland
Most storms in Iceland are fairly wild versions of the kind of storms which happen around the coast elsewhere in Europe. I should know, I lived on the coast of England for many years! These storms usually do not cause any disruption in Iceland, people dress for the weather, almost all tours and regular buses run, people go to work and school, and even go swimming in outdoor pools. Life just goes on as normal – mostly visitors can just carry on with their plans – but, maybe, this is a good time to do something indoors?
Severe storms in Iceland
These don’t happen very often, here I am talking dangerously severe storms. Polar lows or Arctic depressions can cause extreme winds, on 7th December 2015 the Hallsstaðaháls weather station in East Iceland recorded a wind speed of 72.6 m/s, officially double hurricane force. Icelandic storms can be as much about the snowfall as the wind speed! On 26th of February 2017, Reykjavík awakened to an overnight snowfall of 51 cm, not far off the 1937 record of 55 cm. By mid-morning calm was restored and massive snowdrifts sparkled in bright sunshine.That afternoon most buses in reykjavík were running. What did I do myself? I explored the snow then took buses 12 and 28 to Vatnsenda, a stunning lake-side area. As soon as things are safe, dress well and get outside! Exceptional weather delivers exceptional sights! Do check out the road conditions at safetravel.is before you drive anywhere.
Things to do in Reykjavik when it rains
If you want to shelter from the rain or wild weather for a while there are so many choices, so I will just share my top six rainy days in Reykjavík favorites:
- Þjóðminjasafnið Íslands, the National Museum of Iceland at Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík. You are taken on a journey from settlement times to the present day, everything from seafaring to religion and government, society, costume, and home life through the centuries. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 until 17:00, it is very easy to spend a few hours here, there is a shop and the popular café offers lunches, drinks, snacks and beautiful cakes.
- Whales of Iceland at Fiskislóð 23-25, Reykjavík 101 is open every day from 10:00 to 17:00. There are 23 extremely life-like models of various whale species on display. I was very impressed with the quality of the information.
- Aurora Reykjavík at Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík is open every day from 09:00 to 21:00.The interactive northern lights displays and film are stunning. Nothing is as good as the real deal out in nature but this place is seriously impressive. Great northern lights souvenirs and free coffee.
- Sjóminjasafnið, the Reykjavík Maritime Museum at Grandagarður 8, 101 Reykjavík is open every day from 10:00 to 17:00. Everything about seafaring and fishing in Iceland and how these have shaped the nation from settlement times nearly 1150 years ago. Guided tours of the Coast Guard ship, Ódinn, are offered at 13:00, 14:00 and 15:00. The café is good.
- Perlan Museum at Öskuhlíð, 105 is Reykavík´s state of the art glacier and ice cave exhibition, open daily from 09:00 to 19:00. Everything about the glaciers, their history and how their likely disappearance will impact on Iceland and the rest of the world. Walk through an incredible man-made ice tunnel, see amazing illustrations and learn all about these ice giants. Only 490 ISK per person to get to the outside viewing deck, on a rainy day the views over the city can still be good.
- Go to the galleries: The National Gallery at Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík is open every day except Mondays in winter from 11:00 to 17:00. Kjarvalsstaðir at Flókagata, showing the works of Jóhannes Kjarval and at least one other artist, is my absolute favorite. I just love it! If you want you can buy a 3 in 1 ticket to get you into Ásmundarsafn, the sculpture gallery at Sigtún, Reykjavík (open daily from October to April 13:00 to 17:00 and 10:00 to 17:00 in summer) and Hafnarhús at Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík (open everyday 10:00 to 17:00 and until 22:00 on Thursday). Why not use a wet day for an arts and culture safari?
How to save money on a rainy day in Reykjavik?
The Reykjavík City Card will get you into the galleries mentioned above, the National Museum and give you a reduction at many other indoor attractions. You also get free entry to local buses and thermal swimming pools. Swimming in an open-air pool or languishing in the hot tub is surprisingly good in bad weather.
Things to do in Akureyri in bad weather
My trip to North Iceland in March 2014 was hit by storms. I went to Akureyri on the last bus to get through. I intended moving on to Dalvík after a couple of days, then Siglufjörður, these plans changed quite a bit. I still say this was best ever trip in Iceland!
For three days heavy snow swirled and the wind howled. I swam in the outdoor pool and basked in the hot tub, wrapping up like an Eskimo for my walk back to the hostel. I went on snow-blasted walks alongside the magnificent Eyjafjörður Fjord, pausing for a hot drink at the airport café, for more than an hour I sat in the warm, mesmerized by the Fjord at its most magical. Plenty of my time was spent at the Art Museum, an exhibition at the library, little galleries and quirky shops, and lazing in Café Ilmur, The Blue Note and Bautinn, all charming candle-lit coffee houses. I went to a concert at Græni Hatturinn, cooked meals at the hostel alongside people from all over the world, read books and totally relaxed. On Saturday the sky cleared and the northern lights danced over the Fjord. By Sunday the bus was running, two days later than planned I made it to the little fishing town of Dalvík. A quick meal and I was out again, walking around in deep snow beneath a clear sky for hours, relishing the kind of stillness which only comes after a storm.
What to do in bad weather in Iceland
Most people who come to Iceland are well dressed and prepared for bad weather, so heavy rain, snow, or the ordinary kind of storm will not get in the way much. Out in the countryside, options are limited but you will still find something you can do indoors if you want. Libraries in remote communities often have art or photography displays, and at least some information in English. Heimaey Library on the Westman Islands is particularly impressive with an art exhibition and a folk museum. Bókasafnið means library, so you need to look out for this. Café culture in Iceland is strong, small towns and villages often have a café. Swimming pools are great places in bad weather – resting in the hot tub with raindrops or snow falling is so special. Most pools offer refreshments and many rural supermarkets have a comfy coffee area too.
Bad weather gives great opportunities to visit museums and visitor centers, there are a few about the country. I will share a list some of my countryside favorites:
- Skógasafn, The Skóga Museum is a great folk museum, showcasing so many aspects of local life in 6 historic buildings – it is very hard NOT to spend a few hours in here. Situated just off the Ring Road, 1 km from Skógafoss waterfall and 30 km West of Vík, the museum is open every day all year from 10:00 to 17:00.
- Galdrasafnið, the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft is at Hólmavík. Did you know that almost all of the witches burned in Iceland were men? Information is available in several languages. The museum and restaurant are open every day from 09:00 to 19:00.
- Hvolsvöllur has a Saga Center, open from 10:00 to 17:00 every day except Monday, telling the story of Njáls Saga, I spent some hours on a wonderful wild and wet day last November here. The new Lava Center at Hvolsvöllur has fabulous interactive displays. If volcanoes are your thing this is your place!
- The Settlement Center in Borgarnes is open every day from 10:00 to 21:00, great displays and info about the Vikings who settled Iceland and a popular restaurant.
- Húsavík has some museums and folk exhibitions which are open all year.
- Visitor centers are great places to pick up on local information, their staff can give you the best tips on travel conditions and where it is best to go. They have displays and local history information and you can often get a coffee to sip whilst you browse. I really enjoyed exhibitions at Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Lake Mývatn, Reykjahlíð, Egilstaðir, Skaftafell, Hof at Akureyri, Höfn í Hornafjörður, Gljúfrastofa at Ásbyrgi and Seyðisfjörður Visitor Centers. Most have art displays as well as local info and history – so these are good at any time. There are quite a few around and new ones are springing up, so keep your eyes open for these. A few are private, information is available for free, they then make a small charge for something extra like an exhibition or a film. I was very impressed with the privately run, fairly new visitor center at Eyrarland, less than 1 km from the beach at Reynisfjara, opposite the church. The shop sells only locally made souvenirs, entrance to a short film showing spectacular footage of Iceland, will set you back 700 ISK including tea or coffee.
- Country guest houses, hotels, and hostels normally have free WiFi, comfy areas, some books, sometimes DVD´s and often board or card games too. So when you come in from the wild weather you can cozy up and chill out. Even in the country finding somewhere interesting to hunker down for an hour or longer is not that hard!
Top 3: What not to do in a storm in Iceland
- Number 1 on this list is ignoring severe weather, flood or avalanche warnings – they are issued for very good reasons. It is soooo… tempting to look outside, say it does not look too bad and set off. Conditions will be very different in the country, sometimes even in another part of the city. Ice on the road can make winter driving in Iceland hazardous – who wants the extra risk of being trapped in a snowdrift or the car literally being blown off the highway? You could be risking your life and the lives of the wonderful volunteers in the Icelandic search and rescue teams.
- Not checking safetravel.is or vedur.is before you set off and at regular intervals is a major mistake. Conditions could have changed a lot since last night, or even in a few hours.
- Feeling over-confident to drive in ice, snow and/or very strong winds when you have no experience of these things. My advice is to forget driving and take a tour in winter. Your driver will be expert in handling Icelandic conditions, you can just get on with enjoying Iceland safely.
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