Icelandic weather, in a nutshell, is fickle. It can be as all over the place as a Hemsworth brother’s accent. Many locals will joke that if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes. The weather in winter can range dramatically from the stillness of a winter wonderland to a full-on blizzard and even warmer rain storms which bring wind and slippery ice.
Sometimes the weather can be so extreme in Iceland that roads are shut down and unfortunately it can also mean that certain outdoor activities are postponed or cancelled altogether.
See also: Things to do during storms in Iceland
However, if there is a storm warning and some roads are closed, it doesn’t mean the fun should stop. If you have booked a tour, and it’s cancelled because of bad weather, first of all, be thankful that the tour operator has kept your safety in mind. In the south coast, winds have been known to blow cars off the road.
Secondly, don’t stress because there’s a tonne of indoor activities in Reykjavík to keep you entertained.
5. Enjoy a Night on the Town
Despite the frigid winters, Icelanders rarely have to deal with the cold when indoors. Geothermal water provides a cheap and efficient source of heating for homes, and as a result, even when buckets of snow are falling outside, heading to a restaurant or bar to catch up with friends isn’t really a hassle.
Those lucky enough staying in the downtown area only really have to brave the outdoors for a matter of minutes between their accommodations and the cosy warmth of a place.
The Reykjavík area is filled with cafes, restaurants and bars. Most venues are open almost every day of the year, and there’s a huge variety to pick from. It’s very common for locals to hop between bars throughout the night, and Reykjavík has the range to suit almost anyone.
See Also: Nightlife in Reykjavik
There’s nearly every bar you can think of; there’s Icelandic bars; English, Irish and Danish pubs. There’s a whole bar dedicated to the movie ‘The Big Lebowski,’ which has a movie quiz every Thursday night, and there’s a cocktail bar that looks like it could have been in an episode of Miami Vice (aptly named Miami Bar). Some venues cater to stand up comedy, drag, variety and live music.
There’s something special happening almost every night of the year in the downtown area. Keep in mind that from Sunday to Thursday most venues are legally required to close at 1am; on Friday and Saturdays, however, they are permitted to stay open till 4.30am.
For more ideas, see Top 9 Things to Do During Bad Weather in Iceland
4. Go See A Movie
Going to the cinema is a favourite national pastime. Going to the cinema as a foreigner in Iceland can be an interesting cultural experience. Icelanders often arrive at the eleventh hour, loaded with snacks and beverages to last the cinematic experience.
There’s no such thing as an indoor voice before the film starts either. If you’re Icelandic and you know the dude in the front row, it’s perfectly acceptable to call out over the crowd to say hi. This all stops, however, when the film begins.
If you watch a movie in one of the larger chains of cinemas like Sambíó or the university cinema Háskólabíó, you might be surprised to find that in 2019, movies are still shown with an intermission. Exactly halfway through the film, the picture stops and there’s a 15-minute break (hlé in Icelandic), this is for you to have a bathroom break and grab more snacks.
See also: The Story of Icelandic Cinema
Every film shown in the larger cinemas in Iceland is subtitled in Icelandic so it can be an interesting exercise if you’re trying to learn a bit. Sometimes you can even witness special moments in cinematic history, like when Jason Mamoa spoke Icelandic in Justice League, but still had to be subtitled in Icelandic… because well, his Icelandic was terrible.
The downtown arthouse theatre Bíó Paradís has films showing almost every day of the year. It’s also the home base for many international film festivals in Iceland.
They also have special film-themed events throughout the year too like Svartur Sunnudagur (translates to Black Sunday), where they show cult film classics from all over the world.
There’s also Prump í Paradís (Icelandic for: fart in paradise), an event hosted by comedian and cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson, which specifically shows films widely-regarded as bad, followed by the recording of a podcast about the film.
Some of the events at Bíó Paradís are in English and others are in Icelandic, so it’s better to check ahead of time which language it will be presented in.
3. Try an Escape Room
Escape rooms have become a very recent worldwide phenomenon. If you’ve never done one, just imagine the movie Saw, without all the violence. A group of people are locked into a room, and the only way out is to find clues and solve puzzles.
They can be an exciting activity for friends, family and colleagues because they force you to work together in ways you’re not necessarily used to.
Reykjavík Escape offers quite a few scenarios to test your wits. In The Scientist, participants take on the role of pharmaceutical employees who are deviously attempting to steal the formula for a cancer cure. The plan goes wrong when they accidentally trigger an alarm and have only an hour to find a way out, or risk being captured by police.
Image from Escape Room Adventure | The ScientistOne of the best things about escape rooms is not whether you are successful; the process of trying to get out of the room is where the fun lies. There are always surprises like not realising your friend Jimmy, whom you’ve known your whole life, was so good at maths or finding out your mother is so competitive.
When it’s over, you can view your victory or failure picture as a group. The debrief of the experience always provides hours of dinner and drinks conversation.
2. Have a Float
If you grew up watching The Simpsons, the first time you ever saw a sensory deprivation tank was probably in a fateful episode where Homer attempted to learn more about his brainy daughter, Lisa.
The principle behind a float session is simple, depriving the senses, and last year the first float centre opened not far from downtown Reykjavík.
On arrival at the float centre, you’re greeted by the staff who thoroughly explain how it all works and can answer any questions you have about the experience. You’re then taken to your float room. Here you shower and then you’re ready to float.
The tank is a large capsule filled with-Epsom-salt-rich water. The salt content is so high that it’s impossible to sink. You hop in and close the lid.
The float session is in complete darkness with no sound interruption, and the result can be otherworldly or euphoric. The water temperature is the same as skin temperature, so there’s a sensation of not knowing where you end, and the water begins.
Without a phone to distract you or watch to keep track of time, all you can do is relax and be alone with your thoughts. For some people, this is a terrifying thought, but most welcome the chance to unplug.
For some, it’s the first time they can remember that they have been alone, without a connection to the outside world, most people can’t even go to the bathroom without their phone anymore.
Not everyone has a life-affirming moment or feels euphoric after a float session, but most do report feeling incredibly relaxed and clear-headed after.
1. Book with a Backup Plan
There are a few tours in Reykjavík that take into account the unpredictable weather.
Most Northern Lights Tour Operators will offer a free ticket to come back again if you don’t get to see the lights when you book. This is understandable. The lights occur in the colder months which is also when storms and plan cancelling weather can strike.
The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon which makes it difficult to predict exactly when they will be visible.
Read more about the Northern Lights here
To see the lights, there needs to be dark and clear skies and the Icelandic meteorological office posts forecasts for the aurora during the winter months. Because of the Icelandic weather patterns, there have been times where a high chance turned out to be an aurora free night and other instances where there wasn’t a likelihood of them showing up at all, only to later find that there was an electric green boogie unexpectedly showing up in the sky.
This tour takes travellers on a hunt for the northern lights on a boat in the harbour. If the lights aren’t going to be showing up the night you have booked, you will receive a free guided tour of the Whales of Iceland Exhibition.
The museum, located in the Reykjavík harbour, is home to 23 life-sized models of whale and dolphin species. The tour comes with a complimentary drink and of course a free return ticket to try again for the Northern Lights another time.
There is an absolute smorgasbord of things you can do during bad weather in Reykjavík, but if you feel like wrapping yourself in a blanket cocoon and binge-watching your favourite new obsession, nobody’s going to judge you. We have Netflix in Iceland too.
Have we missed any amazing activities to do in Reykjavík during bad weather? Tell us about them in the facebook comments below.