Iceland Midwinter – Strange food and Amazing Northern lights

Sheep head, a traditional icelandic dish served at Þorri in midwinter.
Sheep heads are served at the midwinter feast during Þorri.

Midwinter is a very special time in Iceland. If you´re looking for an adventure of your lifetime in Iceland this is the time to visit.

Not only is this a great time to see the Northern lights in Iceland, it is also the highpoint of cultural activities in Iceland. The time between late January and late February is called “The month of Þorri.” 

Þorri is a month in the old Icelandic calendar where Icelanders celebrate their heritage with large feasts of traditional Icelandic food.

If you’re looking for an extreme food experience, you should definitely try this part of Icelandic cuisine. However, be worn, it is most certainly not for everyone but if you´re brave enough do give it a go! It doesn’t get more local than that.

Fermented Shark and a shot of Brennivín.
Fermented Shark and a shot of Brennivín.

What is Traditional Icelandic Food?

There are many things which can be called traditional Icelandic food. However the real stuff is what is called “Þorramatur” or the food only served during the midwinter festival “Þorrablót.”

These are usually Icelandic lamb products, produced in a very old fashion. It is also a great example of how nothing was left to waste throughout the centuries in Iceland.

The highlight of these feasts include, boiled sheep heads, ram’s testicles, sheep’s neck fat, liver sausage, whale blubber and of course the famous fermented shark. This is usually followed by drinking a strong alcoholic drink called “Brennivín” also known as Black Death to foreigners.

Not only does this food sound and look strange, but it also has a very unique smell as well. You see these are traditional dishes, so it is processed in a traditional way. Meaning it has been made sour in order to preserve it. This was how food was kept from going bad, back when there were no refrigerators.

This traditional food is not among popular foods in Iceland and is only available during midwinter. For those willing to try this very special and unique Icelandic food, it is best visiting Iceland in January and February.

It is tradition to drink Icelandic Brennivín with traditional Icelandic food.
It is tradition to drink Icelandic Brennivín with traditional Icelandic food.

Men’s day and Women’s day in Iceland

The Midwinter festival starts on a day known as Men’s day in Iceland and ends on Women’s day. The time between these two much celebrated days in Iceland is called  the month of “Þorri” where it is popular to go to a feast called “Þorrablót”.

On Men´s day and Women´s day it is tradition in Iceland that men and women give their better half some small gift and pamper them throughout the day. This is highly celebrated much like Valentine’s day in other countries. Whereas men and women bring each other flowers, often followed by a fancy dinner.

The origin of the celebration of Þorri in midwinter in Iceland can be traced back to the vikings which first settled in Iceland. Where they would have a great feast to honor the old nordic gods, such as Odin and Thor. 

This was made popular again in the 19th century and has been an important part of Icelandic culture and heritage ever since. 

In Iceland Men´s day and Women´s day are celebrated instead of Valentine´s day.
In Iceland Men´s day and Women´s day are celebrated instead of Valentine´s day.

Why does Iceland have a festival in Midwinter?

The answer is quite simple. It is because it is the darkest and coldest time of the year and instead of just sitting and waiting for it to pass, the people of Iceland celebrate in order to lighten up the mood. 

It is to have something to look forward to while outside everything is frozen and the winds are blowing in the darkness.

We know winter will end, we just must make it through midwinter and afterwards the weather will start to improve, and the days grow longer.

This is a tradition that has kept Iceland spirit up for centuries and we see no reason to stop. Even though the food might still not be to everyone’s taste.

If you get a chance, we recommend going to a feast and interacting with locals while trying out our strange but unique Icelandic dishes. There is no better way to get to know Iceland and the people of Iceland than eating some fermented shark and drinking Black Death Brennivín together.

The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik under the Northern Lights.
The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik under the Northern Lights.

Witness the Amazing Northern Lights in Iceland 

Strange food and weird traditions are not the only fun activities in Iceland during Midwinter. This is also a great time to catch nature’s greatest show, the Northern Lights.

The Northern lights, also called the Aurora Borealis, are only visible during winter and Iceland is the best place in the world to see the auroras. Therefore, January and February are ideal times to visit when hunting for the Northern lights.

SEE ALSO: Find Northern Lights in Iceland With This Comprehensive Guide

The Northern Lights are only visible after dark and in certain conditions. So, to see the Auroras, you need to be at the right spot at the right time. Therefore, a rental car will give you the best chance of seeing the Northern lights as you can make your own travel schedule.

Before going hunting for the Northern Lights, we recommend checking out the Aurora Forecast from the Icelandic Met office to find the best spot. This will increase your chances significantly of seeing the Northern Lights.

We recommend a 4x4 for winter driving in Iceland.
We recommend a 4×4 for winter driving in Iceland.

Winter driving in Iceland  

It is at most important to stay safe while driving. So, we also recommend seeing road and weather conditions before heading out.

For winter travel we recommend a 4×4 rental car in Iceland. There is a high possibility of snow and ice on the roads and a 4×4 will offer a much better chance of traveling in Iceland in January and February.

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Guide To Winter Driving In IcelandWe offer a wide selection on 4×4 that are perfect for a winter road trip in Iceland. From small once like the Suzuki Jimny, to medium sized SUV´s like the Kia Sportage or a large 4×4 like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.