By Carey Jones
Updated March 09, 2016
© Carey Jones

Odds are the last place you’re thinking about traveling in the winter is somewhere with “Ice” in the name. And while it’s a bit light-challenged, Iceland in the winter is an incredible place.

Its snow-blanketed landscapes are stunning, the Northern Lights are unforgettable — and Reykjavik makes the most of all that darkness—it gives Icelanders so many more hours of nightlife. And as a bonus, flights and hotels are much cheaper outside the popular summer months. So book a flight (only 4 hours from the East Coast), pack your best bathing suit and your warmest jacket, and get to know Iceland in its winter state. Here are five reasons to go right now.

1. The party scene

It gets dark by 4pm. The sun doesn’t come back up until 10am. When the night feels like it never ends, why wouldn’t you party all the time? Reykjavik has the nightlife of a city five times its size, from hipster cocktail dens to live music venues to all-night gay bar dance parties to the Lebowski Bar — yes, a whole bar dedicated to the glory of The Dude, with a menu of more than a dozen White Russian variations.

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2. Naturally heated swimming pools

Icelanders love their pools in the winter—and we would, too, if we had geothermally heated, mineral-rich hot water running through every corner of our country. Even the tiniest middle-of-nowhere towns will have a pool with naturally warmed waters. And outside the cities, natural hot springs are just as tempting.

3. The Blue Lagoon

The granddaddy of all the pools. The geyser-heated, iridescent-blue pool is the temperature of a hot bath, so even if it’s snowing, you’re warm as can be in the water. Steam rises up all around you for a surreal fog that makes you feel as if you’re on another planet; other bathers even five feet from you are obscured by the mist. Paddle your way up to the swim-up bar, order an Icelandic beer, and breathe a sigh of contentment.

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4. Nature, man

You can visit Iceland’s majestic mountains and geysers in any season — but they look even more spectacular in the snow. From snow-covered lava fields to frozen waterfalls, the winter sights are truly stunning.

5. The Northern Lights

It’s impossible to describe the breathtaking sight of the Northern Lights, but here’s the closest I can get: Imagine you’ve never seen a rainbow. Then one day, the clouds of a thunderstorm part, the sun streams in, and you see the gorgeous, vivid full arc of a rainbow. And then about seventeen other rainbows stretch across the sky. And then they all start moving.

That’s what it’s like to see the aurora borealis. Get far enough outside the city on a clear winter night and, depending on solar activity, your odds are good of catching the Northern Lights — whether just a green mist across the sky, or a full-on multi-colored light show rippling its way from one horizon to the other. (Even if your aurora show isn’t the best, the stars you can see from middle-of-nowhere Iceland are breathtaking.)

Watching nature’s most beautiful light show, you just have to think, No wonder the Vikings thought their gods were fighting all the time. If those kinds of light shows cascaded across the sky, night after night, you would probably think something supernatural was going on too.