Take walks on ice-strewn beaches, spend nights spying the Northern Lights, then warm up in geothermal hot springs at the country’s hug-like hotels.
Stark landscapes, sub-zero temperatures and very little daylight. Iceland shouldn’t work as a winter wellness destination, but – oh, my – does it ever. After all, as the dark inky skies of winter set in, now’s the perfect time to catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights, luxuriate in steamy hot springs and explore the country’s many natural wonders – all without the crowds. Here are some of the best ways to slow down and soothe your soul in Iceland, and the best spa hotels from which to do it, all bookable via Culture Trip.
The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most popular landmark. So, why not settle in for an indulgent stay at a hotel on the edge of the glassine geothermal pool? Retreat guests get access to private hot springs, as well as the main lagoon – ideal if you want a quieter, more secluded experience. The spa uses algae, silica and other minerals in its stress-busting treatments, and there’s a steam room and plunge pool to boost your immune system. TV-free rooms are calming earth-toned cocoons overlooking a moss-draped lava landscape.
If you’re keen to see the magical, life-affirming dance of the elusive Northern Lights, this aurora borealis observatory near Reykjavik offers the perfect set up. You can scan the skies – hot chocolate in hand – from the cosy geodesic viewing dome, before setting off for a guided walk around the lava fields with your expert guides. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll spot them, but half the joy is in the hunt.
Icelandic winters can be chilly indeed, but this hotel has plenty of ways to warm you up, including a heated outdoor pool and sauna. Nearby River Varmá (meaning “warm river”) is fed by geothermal waters – ideal for a morning dip – and you’re encouraged to boil your own eggs in the nearby hot spring. The outdoor hot tubs are a great spot to stargaze on long winter nights – you may even be treated to an aurora appearance.
It’s fitting that this plant-based cafe sits like a pot of gold at the end of the city’s much-loved rainbow road – a Pride-inspired artwork, turned permanent in 2019 – because its ethos is all about peace, love and respect. Nourishing dishes include lentil dahl and vibrant salads, but you’ll want to treat yourself to the insanely good vegan cheesecake, too.
This chic 13-room boutique sits along the Ring Road near Selfoss, just a 10-minute drive from the mighty Urriðafoss waterfall. After a wintry hike or excursion, warm up in your cosy room with panoramic views of the frostbitten plains, or thaw out in the indoor and outdoor thermal pools, hot tub or sauna. Even the breakfast buffet is designed to boost your health – help yourself to a shot of cod-liver oil or a bowl of protein-rich skyr (Icelandic yogurt).
Ready to embrace the country’s namesake ice? Save time to explore this expansive 8,300sqkm (3,200sqmi) national park. Home to Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland, every summer sparkling new ice caves are formed here by flowing glacial meltwaters – but they’re only safe to visit come winter. Pick a reputable tour operator such as Blue Iceland or Arctic Adventures, pack thermals and sturdy boots and prepare to have your soul soothed by Mother Nature.
Year-round, huge chunks of smooth, clear ice from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon wash up on this black-sand beach – an awesome, otherworldly sight. In winter, the ‘bergs tend to be much bigger, the light is soft, like a persistent sunset (a photographer’s dream on a clear day) and crowds are few – meaning you can enjoy this sparkling spectacle in near solitude.
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