In my post on packing for Iceland in December, I mentioned feeling a bit of uncertainty about what to expect weather and temperature wise. Would there be snow? Would things be super cold? Would I look like a tourist? As it turned out, yes, sort of yes, and no, but it’s possible that your mileage may vary if you visit the country in the late fall, too.
My travel happened to be bookended by two blizzards, leaving about 16 inches of snow in Reykjavik before I arrived. The day I left, the city was gearing up to be hit with a “once every 25 years or so” blizzard featuring hurricane speed winds. But, while I was there, the weather was fairly mild. It averaged around 0 degrees Celsius, although one day the temperature did fall to -8 C. There was the occasional snow and some pretty strong winds. Still, it was all in all not that bad.
Although a lot of guesswork was involved in terms of what to bring (my main concerns were getting my carry-on under the 10 kg weight limit IcelandAir has and not being cold), in the end, I was completely fine. Aside from one day spent on a bus traveling the Golden Circle, I spent most of my time in the capital city itself. Here are my recommendations for things to take along on a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, so that you don’t look like a super tourist and so that you don’t freeze.
1. Doc Martens
I’ll be honest here, I almost didn’t pack my Doc Martens. I thought they took up too much space in my suitcase (they did) and that they weighed too much (they didn’t. I weighed them and they were just 2.5 pounds). I was going to pack a floppy pair of suede boots instead.
Am I glad I didn’t do that. Let’s just say this, Docs are awesome. They look good, they keep your feet warm, and you can stomp through huge amounts of snow in them without getting your feet wet. As I mentioned, there was a lot of snow in Reykjavik. Some of it was shoveled away the first few days I was there, a lot of it wasn’t. Which meant that I had to walk through piles of snow to get from point A to B. In the Docs, that totally didn’t matter.
Ok, sure, you can get “winter boots” like Sorels, but I think they look a little obvious and aren’t nearly as versatile as Docs. They’d be fine if you’re going out on an adventure in the country, but if you’re wearing them around the city, you might stand out a bit.
2. Uniqlo Heattech Stuff
I’m not really sure how Uniqlo’s Heattech clothing and accessories works in terms of keeping you warm — it traps in your body heat and recirculates it around you or something, but it’s really pretty effective. I got a long-sleeved “extra warm” top and a short-sleeved top, plus a pair of gloves and some tights and was perfectly comfortable, even on that -8 degree day.
The great thing about Heattech tops is that they are thin and tight fitting, so they don’t add a lot of bulk to your shape and you can wear them under even the tightest fitting tops. I have a pretty fitted merino sweater that I wore over top of the long-sleeved top and it didn’t look bumpy or weird.
As far as the tights went, I found them warm enough to wear on their own with just a wool skirt over top. They also came in handy on the night we saw (or rather, sort of saw) the Northern Lights, when I wore them under a pair of jeans. I also put a pair of socks on over top of the feet part of the tights to keep my feet warm.
The Heattech gloves I had weren’t actually all that warm. They were fine on the warmer days (when it was above 0), but on the cold ones I actually put on another pair on top of them for extra warmth. You can use the Heattech gloves with your phone or other touch screen devices, which is nice when you’re trying to take a picture outdoors and really don’t want to take your gloves off.
3. Something Waterproof
It either snows or rains frequently throughout the day, so you want something that will keep the water off of you that isn’t an umbrella, which will just get shredded in the wind. I went the down jacket route as my outer layer, but I’m sure anything is fine as long as it repels water and keeps you warm. The Patagonia jacket I got is hydrophobic, so water actually forms beads on the surface of it, which looks cool. I would just brush the water away when needed. It was also windproof, so the gusts of wind didn’t bother me either.
Although a waterproof coat is a must, I’m going to say that waterproof pants are probably overkill if you’ll only be hanging around in the city. I saw a few people wearing them around Reykjavik and they just looked overdressed. I mean, what to do I know, they might have been about to go tour an ice cave or tramp around the mountains in the snow. But, when you’re sitting in a toasty warm bakery in the middle of a city, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, looking like you just came off of a ski slope looks a bit silly. And like a tourist.
4. Fitted Jeans
As you might know, I recently got a pair of flares from Madewell and they are great. So great that I almost brought them along with me. Thanks to the snow, I’m glad I didn’t. The flares would have just dragged on the ground and gotten soggy. It’s no wonder you see Icelanders wearing skinny jeans a lot. My recommendation is to pick jeans that fit close to the ankle or that are slightly bootleg, so that they cover the top of your boots. I worn a slim fitting pair of bootleg jeans from Loft and ended up cuffing them slightly so that they didn’t drag.
5. Your Swimsuit
Swimming’s a big thing in Iceland. You can shell out the big bucks and hit up the Blue Lagoon, or you can do what I did and visit a public swimming pool. I think admission to the pools is something like 600 ISK, which is slightly less than $5 (at time of writing). If you get a Reykjavik City Card (which I totally recommend), the cost of admission to the pool is included for the time the card is valid, so you can pretty much go for free.
I ended up going to Sundhollin, which is the oldest pool in the city. It also happens to be near the city center, so it was a short walk from my hotel. And, the swimming pools at Sundhollin are indoors, while most of the other pools in the city and surrounding area are outside. The hot pots (hot tubs) at Sundhollin are outside, but they are heated to a toasty 42 Celsius or 39 Celsius (there are two) so you don’t even notice the cold air around you.
The one thing I didn’t have was a towel, but no worries, as you can rent one from the pool for around $5. You can also rent a swimsuit, too, but do you really want to do that?