It was around 4 am and I was watching an American Football playoff game on mute in a dive bar while rap music blared and locals sang along. Outside three girls were dressed in Pokémon and bunny snuggies, looking for a party and the snow was falling fast. It occurred to me that maybe I might be too old for Reykjavik in January.
See More Photos and Tips about Iceland Here
When my daughter suggested a layover in Reykjavik after a visit to her aunt and uncle in Britain for her winter break, I was anxious to go. Everyone had been talking about Iceland. With a “ free stopover” program with both WOW and Icelandair, lots of people have been enjoying 3-7 night stopovers in Iceland on their way to and from other European and North American destinations. People in the tourism industry I spoke with said these airline programs created a boom in tourism that lifted an economy that tanked in 2008. While tourism saved the economy, some would argue over tourism also ruining the country. In the summer, reservations are essential, expect to wait in lines for major attractions and prices are high for food and lodging. But everyone who goes raves about the amazing scenery, friendly people, natural geothermal pools, adventurous outdoor activities and unending nightlife.
A January trip elicited a lot of raised eyebrows from friends. Even if it's a great place for millenials to spend their winter break, was it a good idea for me (celebrating the second half of my first century!) to go? Why go to Iceland in January, when it’s cold and only light for about 4-6 hours a day? But at the time we left, Iceland was 20 degrees warmer than the city I was leaving! And with geothermal pools everywhere, warding off the chill is as easy as soak in the nearest pool! But the biggest plus, is that despite a short day to see the sights, is that you don’t have to fight the tourist hoards. Buses were only half full, we were able to walk into the best restaurants without a reservation for dinner, there were no lines at restaurants and viewpoints, and we were even upgraded to a 3 bedroom apartment at our centrally located lodging, Room with a View.
With fully equipped kitchens, friendly 24 hour front desk staff to assist with booking excursions, and the perfect central location, Room With A View is a great place for a winter stay. Many times while wandering around town, we would head back to the hotel to warm up a bit or unlayer as it warmed up, and the hotel was never more than a few blocks from anywhere in Central Reykjavik! The only downside to this in a city that parties till 4AM is that the street noise of people coming and going can be disruptive to sleeping; be sure to bring your earplugs if you stay here. But any "street exuberance" was well worth the easy, central location!
I did my best to keep up for 5 days, enjoying meeting young visitors and locals alike during my daily pool soaks, late nights in the bars, and daytrips around the city. If Reykjavik is a great destination in January for college students, it's also a good destination for the young-at-heart! While I hope to return for a midsummer visit to see more of the country someday, with a positive attitude and youthful mindset, I survived and really enjoyed a winter break trip in Reykjavik.
We found that as a college break trip, Reykjavik in January delivers.
- Because it's only daylight for about 4 - 6 hours a day, it doesn't matter if you sleep in till nearly noon. Many stores and cafes don't even open till 10 AM. Tours are usually scheduled to coincide with the daylight, leaving around noon.
- Let's face it, with a 20 YO drinking age and great bar scene, Reykjavik is attractive to young people. Because of a high tax on alcohol, (two beers can cost the equivalent of 25-30 USD, but keep an eye out for cheaper "shot" specials, usually designed to quickly lower inhibitions about the prices! Most young people begin partying at their hotels with duty free purchases brought in from the airport. Then around 10 PM or later, start lining up to enter a variety of fun and funky bars scattered around downtown Reykjavik. While drinks are expensive, there are no cover charges, so people flow in and out of various hot spots every hour or so. Another January advantage? No lines at the bars!
- With a variety of thermal pools from the heavily touristed Blue Lagoon to the local community pools, a relaxing tension reducing soak is just what is needed after Midterms.
- With fewer tourists, it's easier to find deals on lodging, and it's possible to book tours and rooms even at the last minute. During the popular summer months, planning ahead is required to book hotels, restaurants, and popular tours
- No rental car is needed to explore downtown Reykjavik. Local buses and airport transfer services run regularly and are easy to figure out. Most of the cities popular attractions are within easy walking distance, certainly no more distance than the average college student does walking to and from classes in a day!
- Tours from Reykjavik are well organized and pick up and drop off from central bus stops near a variety of accommodations in town, making it easy for students to get around other parts of the country without a car.
- The one downside; All this popularity has made Iceland very expensive. Most students would need to plan carefully to make Reykjavik fit their college break budget! The good news about January, is that lodging can be found at a better bargain, and a few more "specials" are offered at bars and cafes. We were even offered some "next day" tour discounts by our hotel.