The Best Christmas Vacations are Unique
Christmas at home is something that many of us have come to enjoy. Spending time with family around a fire in a place where we have created Christmas traditions that seemingly last forever. There is a new norm coming to the Christmas season though, traveling to different destinations. In our new series “Unexpected Christmas Getaways” we will take you on a festive introduction to destinations that you may have never been familiar with, complete with recommendations for lodging, travel accommodations, and even what to do once you get there. This series here to help you plan the best Christmas vacations that will leave your friends and family speechless!
So sit back, grab a nice cup of hot cocoa, and enjoy the sleigh ride!
Is Iceland really worth it?
You may simply know Iceland as that big island that the Vikings once inhabited off the coast of Canada, but Iceland has rich traditions when it comes to Christmas time! Icelandic Christmas traditions actually begin on December 23rd with St Thorlac’s Mass or Þorláksmessa. This day was named after the patron Saint of Iceland, Thorlac Thorhallsson. On this day, most in Iceland finish their holiday shopping, wrap those final gifts, then head out to grab a drink at a local pub and eat Þorláksmessa, a type of fermented fish that is commonly served with potatoes. If you are in Reykjavik during this time you can smell this in the streets!
December 24th, or Aðfangadagur, is when the real Christmas festivities begin. While the morning may be spent finishing any preparations that have been left aside, the evening is filled with multi-course meals with families, exchanging of presents, and for many midnight mass. Books are a big part of the Christmas tradition and you can almost always expect to receive one during this night!
December 25th is a time of relaxation around Iceland, with most cozying up in homes to spend quality time with their close or extended family. You can hear laughter from homes as families enjoy Christmas movies and find themselves creating their own special traditions.
Finally this leads to December 26th, or “Annar i Jolum” (2nd Day of Christmas). This is a public holiday in Iceland that many use to meet friends for drinks, go to festive parties, or dance the night away at a local establishment.
If four straight days of Christmas sounds like the it could make for one of the best Christmas vacations ever, then Iceland may be the right place for you!
A Couple Things to Know
While Iceland is an amazing place to spend your holiday vacation, there are some things to know before you begin your travels. First, the temperature can be a bit chilly as you would expect. While the weather report may read a rather mild 28 to 49 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 to 4 degrees Celsius), the winds can be fierce causing it to feel much colder. The good news? Snow is typically abundant during the month of December. While this can lead to some unpleasant driving conditions, Reykjavic and the surrounding area typically have very well plowed and maintained roads.
The other major thing that should be noted is the hours of daylight that are available during the month of December, which range somewhere between 4-5 hours per day. The sun typically rises around 11am and sets between 3-4pm. But don’t fret because what this does allow for is more time to explore the beautiful Christmas lights and of course more time to try to catch the Northern Lights!
Booking Your Flight
Scheduling a flight into Iceland may seem like a daunting task for those that aren’t familiar with the country but it actually couldn’t be any easier!
If you are flying in from out of the country, you pretty much just have one option and that is through Keflavik International Airport, that is about 30 miles outside of Reykjavik. These flights are relatively short, with times from Europe averaging between 3-4 hours and times from the Eastern US averaging between 5-7 hours.
Prices for flights typically decline in price between November and March but can find themselves climbing back up during the few weeks around Christmas if not booked early enough!
Where should I stay?
Iceland is a relatively big place, but the majority of the population is fairly condensed. When booking a trip during December to see the Christmas festivities it is recommended by most to stay in its capital city of Reykjavik. This city is full of Christmas charm and many different types of lodging.
But depending on your taste lodging can be found in many different forms.
The KVOSIN Hotel
If you are looking for a quaint hotel in the heart of Reykjavik then go no further than the Kvosin Hotel. The hotel is located just steps away from the harbor, across the street from the City’s cathedral, and many of the city’s best restaurants. Whether you find yourself in the 26 sq m (280 sq ft) “Big Room” or the 17 sq m (180 sq ft) “Cozy Room” you are sure to find everything you need.
The Exeter Hotel
If you’re looking for something a bit more modern while you stay in Iceland, then look no further than the Exeter Hotel. This hotel features a restaurant, a bakery where everything is made from scratch daily, as well as a sauna and fitness center complete with free weights. This hotel sits closer to the harbor than the Kvosin and just down the street from the art museum. If you want to splurge, be sure to book the Harbor suite that where you can sip your morning coffee on the balcony overlooking the beautiful waters!
The Reykjavik Residence Apartment Hotel
The final recommendation is the Reykjavic Residence, a hotel that offers a range of rooms from the economy studio that comes complete with a kitchenette and stove top to the two bedroom apartment that offers its own washer and dryer. The hotel is within walking distance to the Reykjavik restaurants and attractions and provides the best hotel options for those that may want more of an apartment feel.
These are just a few of the great options that are avaliable in Reykjavik but we encourage you to look for more!
What to do in Iceland
There’s no shortage of festive activities during the holiday season in Iceland, and especially in the city of Reykjavic. There seems to be something for everyone, ranging from drinks around the fire to getting cold and wet in an adventurous outdoor activity. While we aren’t going to cover everything, here are some fun things that we believe are can’t miss while spending time in Iceland.
Tour the Outdoors & See the Northern Lights
While some may be thinking that taking in the Christmas lights of Reykjavic while drinking hot cocoa seems like the ideal way to spend an afternoon, others want to strap on some crampons and head out onto the ice to see what the Icelandic winter has to offer. For these adventurous types, there is no shortage of fun to be had! While you can try to plan this all yourself, we highly recommend getting a guided tour such as the 3 Day Northern Lights Tour.
View Reykjavic from the Hallgrimskirkja
The Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran church located in the center of Reykjavik that is one of the tallest structures in the country. While the history in itself is interesting, taking 41 years to build, and the architecture is astounding, the real treat is the breathtaking panoramic views that can be seen from the top of the tower. If you are in Iceland, it’s worth visiting for the pictures alone!
Visit the Árbæjarsafn Museum
Want to see what an Icelandic Christmas was like decades ago? Then the Árbæjarsafn Museum is for you! This open-air museum allows visitors to see traditional Icelandic homes, help in the preparation of traditional Christmas foods, enjoy different activities such as decoration and candle making, and even has an old General store and coffee shop where you can get a hot drink to keep you warm and toasty! Be sure to check the schedule because in the winter it is only available for guided tours at specific times.
Visit Ingolfstorg Square
In what can only be described as a Christmas dream, Ingolfstorg Square in the center of Reyjkavic is transformed each year with over 100,000 lights and decorations. The square offers shopping in form of a Christmas market as well as an ice skating rink where you can skate the night away under the lights! Be sure to try some traditional food like a smoked leg of lamb!
Go Shopping on Laugavegur on December 23rd
Laugavegur is the main street to do your shopping when in Reykjavic. While a street full of shopping may not sound special, the real excitement happens on December 23rd. This day is one of the busiest times in Iceland for everyone to do their last minute Christmas shopping. While the streets may get crowded, the real excitement is the cheer that can be felt as the locals make their way from store to store greeting each other with all of the love that should be felt around the holiday.
Any day is a great day to shop on this street, but doing it on December 23rd makes it extra special!
There is so much more to do in Iceland than this article can contain but we listed some of the traveler favorites. For even more in depth information and guides about Icelandic trips we encourage you to visit Guide to Iceland.
Hopefully this article has introduced you to Iceland as a Christmas destination that you will enjoy. While it may be unconventional for many, it’s a trip worth taking and houses many once-in-a-lifetime activities that you will be telling your friends and family about for years.
If you have ever been to, or are from, Iceland let us know in the comments and give us your best things to do, places to stay, and tips for the holiday season!
And don’t forget to look out for our next entry in our Unexpected Christmas Getaways series!