Winter is one of my favorite times in Iceland. The months of December, January and February see the country covered in snow. Its formerly lush green landscapes are magically transformed into a winter wonderland. When driving around the island’s Ring Road, it feels as if you’ve landed inside a snow globe. If you come to Iceland for a winter holiday, you won’t be disappointed. It’s true that the weather is cold at this time of year, but that opens up a whole host of possibilities for things to do. Everything from glacier hikes and ice caves to skiing and snowboarding is available. This is also a great time to view the country’s famous Northern Lights. So if you are a winter lover and don’t mind a little bit of a chill, start planning your winter trip to Iceland. Let’s go through a quick rundown of the winter activities that await you.

What are Iceland's best winter activities?

What to Expect During Winter in Iceland

Temperatures in Iceland during winter are not as cold as you might think. Average daytime highs are around 39 ºF (4 ºC), but today, for example, was much warmer than usual. Overnight lows usually dip down to between 26 ºF and 30 ºF (-1 ºC to -3 ºC). Iceland gets a lot of precipitation this time of year in the form of snow, ice, and sleet. There are also winter storms and snowstorms that you need to prepare for. Dressing warmly is your best defense against the elements. I always recommend the four-layer system of a base layer, mid-layer, insulating layer, and outer shell layer. This combination of clothing will keep you both warm and more importantly dry as you enjoy your time outdoors. Lastly, it’s important to know that you will experience between four to six hours of daylight during winter in Iceland. Plan your activities accordingly.

Iceland’s Best Winter Activities

It’s Glacier Time

The mercury reading on the thermometer dropping means one thing: things start to freeze. This bodes well for anyone looking to spend time getting up close and personal with one of Iceland’s many glaciers. Where to begin? Well, you could bundle up, lace up your hiking boots, and head out on one of the many glacier hikes available at Skaftafell, Vatnajökull, or Langjökull. Snowmobile tours are also another really popular option. Those looking to go inside the glacier can explore the cavernous interior of a glacier cave. The electric blue hues of the ice and shapes caused by melting water or something you will not soon forget. Another activity is trekking the long tube of an ice cave. Water has frozen do the inner walls of a regular cave, which gives it an icy, blue and white color.

Glacier hikes, ice caves and glacier caves are great winter activities in Iceland

Whichever activity you decide to partake in, remember to bring a waterproof jacket and pants, a light sweater, wool or fleece, light synthetic or quick dry pants, a hat, thin gloves, a small backpack, sunglasses, sunscreen, food, water, and your camera. Invest in quality clothing and stay away from sneakers and jeans.

Keep Warm in the Winter – Take a Dip in Iceland’s Geothermal Pools

When it’s cold outside, nothing feels quite so good as sliding into the geothermally heated waters of a hot pool. And you don’t necessarily have to go to the Blue Lagoon. Iceland has tons of hot pots, hot springs, and heated pools for you to choose from. From the spa experience at the Myvatn Nature Baths to the two-person hole in the ground at Landbrotalaug, there’s something for everyone. It’s true that Iceland temperatures hover around zero in the winter. This means that if you’re taking a dip outside, you may find yourself scurrying in the cold to get into the warm water. But it’s definitely worth it once you feel those wet, welcoming waters hit your skin. You’ll feel your stress melt away as you watch the steam rise from the water’s surface.

Taking a dip in a geothermal pool is a great winter activity in Iceland

The Northern Lights – A Very Cool Winter Activity

Being able to see the Northern Lights dancing in the sky is probably one of my favorite things about the colder, darker months in Iceland. Mother Nature’s greatest light show is on display as waves of emerald undulate in the sky. The cold winter nights help create the clear skies which make viewing conditions ideal. You can either book an excursion or go on a Northern Lights hunt on your own. Whatever you choose, make sure to get out of the city. The less light pollution and cloud cover, the better. And it goes without saying, but you’ll need to dress warmly in order to keep out the chill.

The Northern Lights - A Very Cool Winter Activity

Exploring the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most famous tourist route, encompassing three spectacularly diverse attractions, each offering a unique experience of Iceland’s natural wonders.

Gullfoss Waterfall

  • Gullfoss, or the ‘Golden Falls’, is one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls. In winter, the waterfall transforms into a frozen wonderland with ice formations and snow-covered surroundings.
  • The waterfall is known for its powerful flow and the way it plunges into a deep gorge. On sunny days, the mist from the falls can create rainbows, adding to its beauty.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Geysir Geothermal Area

  • The Geysir geothermal area is home to the famous Strokkur geyser, which erupts every 5-10 minutes, shooting water up to 30 meters in the air.
  • The area is a geothermal marvel with hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. The contrast of the steaming earth against the winter snow is a sight to behold.
  • Walking paths allow visitors to safely explore the area and witness the geothermal activity up close.

Geysir Geothermal Area

Þingvellir National Park

  • Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance. It’s the birthplace of the Icelandic Parliament and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, offering a unique opportunity to walk between two continents.
  • In winter, the landscape of Þingvellir is particularly striking, with the snow-covered lava fields and frozen lakes.

Þingvellir National Park

Embracing Festive Spirits

Iceland’s festive season, known as “Jólin”, is a time of joy, light, and celebration, contrasting with the country’s long, dark winter nights.

Christmas Celebrations

  • Christmas in Iceland is a blend of traditional customs and modern festivities. It officially starts four Sundays before Christmas Eve, with the lighting of the first Advent candle.
  • Reykjavík transforms into a winter wonderland with its Christmas markets, light displays, and decorations. The city’s main shopping street, Laugavegur, is particularly festive.
  • The Yule Lads, a unique Icelandic tradition, are 13 mischievous characters who visit children across the country in the 13 days leading up to Christmas. Each night, children place their shoes by the window, and the Yule Lads leave gifts for those who have been good and potatoes for those who haven’t.

Christmas celebration in Iceland

New Year’s Eve Celebrations

  • New Year’s Eve in Iceland is a spectacular affair. It’s a night filled with fireworks, bonfires, and gatherings.
  • Community bonfires, known as “Áramótabrennur”, are a significant part of the celebrations. These bonfires, where people gather to sing and dance, symbolize burning away the troubles of the past year.
  • At midnight, the sky lights up with fireworks, a sight that is truly breathtaking. Unlike many countries where fireworks are centrally organized, in Iceland, families and neighborhoods often set off their own, creating a widespread and vibrant display.
  • After the fireworks, the night continues with parties and celebrations, often lasting until the early hours of the morning.

Best Winter Activities in Iceland

These are just some of the many things you can do while traveling in Iceland in the winter. With snow on the ground and people heading outside to soak up the atmosphere, you don’t want to miss out. Plus there’s the added bonus of the money you save from deals offered by tour operators and car rental companies. Warm up with some delicious coffee, a hot and hearty soup, and get ready to experience winter in Iceland.

Frequently asked questions about things to do in Iceland in winter

What can you do in Iceland in winter?

In winter, Iceland offers a plethora of activities including chasing the Northern Lights, participating in Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, snowmobiling, glacier hiking, exploring the Golden Circle, visiting icy waterfalls and glacier lagoons, ice caving, relaxing in hot springs, enjoying road trips, horseback riding, and attending winter festivals.

Is Reykjavik worth visiting in winter?

Absolutely! Reykjavik in winter is a hub of activity with festive celebrations, cultural events, and easy access to winter activities like Northern Lights tours and Golden Circle excursions. The city’s charm is enhanced by its winter scenery and cozy atmosphere.

How many days should I spend in Iceland in winter?

A minimum of 7 to 10 days is recommended to experience a variety of winter activities in Iceland, including the Northern Lights, Golden Circle, and a few days in Reykjavik for cultural experiences.

Is Iceland cheap in winter?

While Iceland is generally an expensive destination, winter can be slightly more affordable. Accommodation prices are lower, and fewer tourists mean better deals on tours and activities. However, it’s still important to budget accordingly.

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