When researching the best time of year to visit Iceland, many people look at planning their trip during low season. The winter months of December, January and February see the roads covered in snow and the sky lit up with the dazzling displays of the Northern Lights. With Christmas soon upon us, you may be wondering what to expect with a December trip to Iceland. There are a few essential things to know. You’re probably wondering just how cold it gets in Iceland in December. Another thing to consider is what the weather is like, and if there is snowfall. Lastly, the number of daylight hours will play a significant role in planning activities. December sees the winter solstice, which means a reduced amount of time for daytime activities.
Average December Temperatures in Iceland
While December is not the coldest month in Iceland (that distinction belongs to January), it still gets pretty chilly. Temperatures will vary according to which part of the country you’re in. The warmest and wettest part of Iceland is in the south. The North’s proximity to the Arctic Circle will naturally make it colder. On average, the mercury reading on the thermometer drops down to 30 ºF (-1 ºC) on the coldest nights and rises to around 39 ºF (4 ºC) during the day. So while it’s definitely cold, it’s really not as bad as you had likely imagined. Even though it rests at a high northern latitude, Iceland is blessed with the with the currents of the Gulf Stream. The warm ocean tides bring less frigid waters from the North Atlantic.
Precipitation and Snowfall in Iceland in December
Anyone who has been to our small Nordic island in the summer or has seen pictures knows that snow does not blanket the ground all year long. But in December, there is definitely snow in Iceland. The combination of high levels of precipitation mixed with temperatures that hover right around the freezing point makes for snowy, icy conditions all month long. December is one of the wettest months in Iceland, but most of that rainfall will freeze before it touches the ground. If you’re looking to have a white Christmas, Iceland is definitely an ideal holiday destination. It’s one of the most beautiful times of the year, especially in cities like Reykjavik and Akureyri. Christmas lights illuminate the streets while shop windows and cafes glow with the warmth of patrons celebrating and doing their best to stay warm and cozy.
What to Pack and Wear
Now that you know what to expect in terms of snowfall and temperatures for Iceland in December let’s talk about keeping you warm! The simple yet oh so important strategies of dressing for Iceland in the winter can be summed up in one word: layers. And not just any old layers. Bringing your warmest clothes may not be enough. Picking the right pieces made from the right materials is crucial. We don’t want you getting frostbite! So what should you pack for your winter weather arsenal?
Well, your suitcase should have at least one pair of thermals. That means a long-sleeved shirt and thermal leggings to wear underneath all of your clothing. Materials like Merino wool are perfect for this. They wick moisture from the skin, trap body heat, and resist odors. Top off your base layer with a toasty pair of woolen socks. Next up is your mid-layer, which is also designed to keep in as much warmth as possible. Choose warm fabrics like wool or fleece. The next layer is your insulating layer. Materials like down can be quite warm, but if down gets wet, it has a tendency to deflate and takes a long time to dry. Your best bet is some kind of waterproof and windproof insulated jacket. Waterproof or water-resistant pants are also quite useful in this layer. Lastly, your shell layer is going to protect you from the elements. A high-quality rain jacket or other waterproof outer layer is going to keep out the moisture. One that cuts down on the wind will also contribute to you feeling warmer.
By following the four-layer rule of dressing for winter in Iceland, you’ll be ready to face just about anything Mother Nature throws at you. This includes copious amounts of snow, hail, sleet, and more.
Length of Days and Average Hours of Sunlight
December sees the winter solstice in Iceland. It usually occurs around the 21st or the 22nd of the month. The shortest day of the year has around four hours of daylight, which isn’t very much. If you come at the beginning of the month, you’ll get closer to five hours. This doesn’t take into account civil twilight, which adds a few extra hours to the day. Including civil twilight, Iceland gets around seven hours of light, even on the darkest of days. So if you’re wondering how many hours of true daylight Iceland gets in December, the answer is around four to five hours. But if you want to know the times between when it is pitch black, it’s actually closer to seven hours.
The Northern Lights in Iceland in December
The season to see the Northern Lights in Iceland runs from October to March. You can definitely see the Northern Lights in Iceland in December and in fact, it’s a really good time to visit. While the cold is not a direct factor in aurora activity, it does play an indirect role. You need clear skies to be able to view the Aurora Borealis, and skies are usually clearest on extremely cold nights.
December Weather in Iceland (Temperature, Daylight Hours, What to Pack)
As you can see, December is a great time to go to Iceland. While the weather may be a bit unpredictable, that’s true all year long. You just need to factor in a bit of snow. One of the bonuses is the number of cool activities that await you during this winter month. In addition to the cold, clear nights create ideal conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. You also have the stunning blue ice caves and glacier caves, and frozen waterfalls like Gullfoss. Winter, and December in particular, are truly magical times to visit Iceland. So throw on your warmest fuzzy gloves and winter hat, and head on over.