Diamonds of Tar Beach  

We'll share with you a secret 

a sizeable percentage of our friends don’t know,

even the ones who’re especially travel-savvy.

Iceland in winter is far more stunning than Iceland in the summertime. At this time, it takes on a unique imagery, and even though the Arctic days are shorter and nights longer (and colder), it’s your best – and in some cases – only chance to see some of the most exquisite natural wonders the summertime visitors are sure to miss out on. Yes, it’s true that the aurora borealis can be visible during other times of the year, but what if your bucket list included distinctive adventures as exploring the innards of an ice cave, or following a glacier along its slow amble across the river? Then, for you, winter is the only time to go. 


So, if you’re in Iceland over the Christmas, you’ll see sights such as these, and trust us, they wouldn’t even be the tip of these (very literal) icebergs on your trip, since the competition is going to be stiff, and the waiting list long.

We will never forget the first time we came across a chunk of glacier sitting on the beach near Jökulsárlón, the surrealness of the  imagery rivaling dripping clocks in a Dali painting. We were about a mile away one early morning chasing some grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) swimming in the frigid waters nearby, in what was supposed to be our primary focus for the day. There were a handful of professional photographers around me busy composing their shots.  Then, we saw what at first glance looked like a giant shiny crystal mansion in the middle of the tar black volcanic rock and sand beach. It was hard to tell what it was but the fact that it sparkled in the faint Arctic sunlight triggered us into action. We drove around the icy bridge as far as we could and walked the rest of the way. And then, there it was, a huge dollop of the Vatnajökull glacier, magically appearing in the most unlikely of places.

It  was quite an absurd scene, so much so that we had to make sure we weren’t trespassing in a movie set. We estimate the crystal that lay in front of us to be no less than fifteen feet in height and double that in width. And all of its 4C’s checked out – the cut, the color, the clarity, and the carat weight – all looked far superior to any diamond we had ever seen. We quickly went to work, feeling sorry for the hordes of tourists who were sure to arrive later in the day only to find a puddle of melted water quite drab to be of any interest. After a long while, camera batteries exhausted, we decided we had had enough of this exquisite piece of natural sculpture as we got ready to pack our photo gear.

As we walked up to our SUV, we realized from that new vantage point many more sparkles strewn all over the emptiness just around the corner. We walked upstream to find countless other crystal glaciers of all imaginable shapes and sizes, still in their pristine state. 


That morning in Jökulsárlón we had little choice but to rummage through all backpacks to look for any remaining spare batteries.


    Ice caves are a special feature that only form in certain conditions, and if you want to ever step into one of these on your Iceland trip, you better make it there in the winter. From looking at documentaries on National Geographic to following David Attenborough’s BBC series, we’ve always been interested to explore the intricacies of ice caves and take part in professional tours there, and Iceland and winter made this possible.


    But is it okay to bring your family along for the ride? Aren’t ice caves nature’s freak shows, ready to buckle anytime under their own weights? Turns out, a family visit to these places will make you wiser in more than one way. And your children will thank you for not leaving them behind.


    We had been to Iceland on one occasion before, but that was during October, which is considered to be the shoulder month. For venturing inside ice caves, you need to wait until at least after the second week of December – or if global warming changes the equations – likely forever. There's another reason to experience this while you still can, for climate change was  very much on the back of our minds during this return visit.


    So, early one morning we journeyed to the top of Vatnajökull glacier, which happens to be the largest one in Europe. What we saw there left each one of us speechless. 





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