Spending your winter in Iceland is a magical experience, and it can be cheaper than coming in summertime. Even though winter vacations in Iceland are getting more and more popular in recent years, many of the tourist attractions are still less crowded in the colder months. Of course, the amazing northern lights are the biggest attraction of all! Winter in Iceland has its own unique charm, and it can be good to know the ins and outs before you come.

When does winter in Iceland start?

Winter in Iceland – When, How and What

You might have heard the old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. Before you pack your bags, make sure your winter wardrobe is complete. To stay warm and dry, you have to layer your clothing. Keep the three-layer method in mind: wear an inner layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. The inner layer, preferably polyester, wool, or silk, is worn directly on your skin. These fabrics breathe and manage moisture well. The middle layer usually consists of a jacket or sweater and thermal underwear. These insulate heat and maximize warmth. And lastly, the outer layer protects against wind and rain. Also, shoes! Hiking boots are essential for Iceland’s rugged terrain.

How much sunlight is there during winter in Iceland?

Winter in Iceland – When, How and What

At the start of winter in October, sunrise is at 08:54 and sunset is at 17:27. So, there are roughly 8,5 hours of sunlight. Days are then getting shorter rapidly, though, with December as the darkest month. Until the 21st of December, days are getting shorter every day. On that day, sunrise is at 11:21 and sunset is at 15:29. The shortest day is only 4 hours, and if it’s clouded, it stays dark all day. Luckily Iceland is always looking beautiful during those midwinter days, with Christmas decorations and lights everywhere you go! Because days are getting longer after the 21st of December, January usually feels a lot lighter, with about six minutes more daylight every day! And in March is the tipping point, after which days in Iceland are getting longer than in most of Europe.

What is the winter weather like in Iceland?

Winter in Iceland – When, How and What

Icelandic winter is pretty mild and is only a bit colder than countries in Western Europe. Temperatures in Reykjavík can drop down to about -10 °C, with a high of almost 10 °C. The average temperature is just above freezing. In the North of Iceland, it’s usually a bit colder in winter and a bit warmer in summer. In general, there is quite a bit of snowfall in wintertime. Some towns can be snowed in for a while, making them only accessible by air travel. Even though the temperatures are mild, the weather is fickle, and especially the wind can throw a spanner in the works. Always be prepared for changeable weather and pay close attention to the weather forecast and road conditions.

What is the best month to spot the northern lights in Iceland?

Winter in Iceland – When, How and What

You are in luck, you can see the northern lights all winter long and Iceland is one of the best countries in the world to spot them. The season runs from September until mid-April. Sometimes you can even see them as soon as in August. To be able to enjoy the northern lights, you need dark and cold nights, and clear skies. Snow or rain can seriously interfere with the visibility of the lights. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that you will see this natural phenomenon, but keeping a close eye on the weather forecast and the aurora forecast will help you determine the right moment to go out. See our guide on how to see the northern lights in Iceland here!

What to wear during winter in Iceland?

Winter in Iceland – When, How and What

You might have heard the old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. Before you pack your bags, make sure your winter wardrobe is complete. To stay warm and dry, you have to layer your clothing. Keep the three-layer method in mind: wear an inner layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. The inner layer, preferably polyester, wool, or silk, is worn directly on your skin. These fabrics breathe and manage moisture well. The middle layer usually consists of a jacket or sweater and thermal underwear. These insulate heat and maximize warmth. And lastly, the outer layer protects against wind and rain. Also, shoes! Hiking boots are essential for Iceland’s rugged terrain.

When is the first day of winter in Iceland?

Winter in Iceland – When, How and What

In Iceland, we have an official “First Day of Winter” on our calendar, and in fact another one for the “First Day of Summer.” First day of winter has its roots in the old Norse Calendar, which only had two seasons, “winter” and “summer.” The chosen first day of winter roughly corresponds to the beginning of the old month of Gor, the first of the winter months.

What should I do during winter in Iceland?

Snuggle up in a sweater

Icelandic Wool

The Icelandic wool sweater, lopapeysa, is worn by almost all Icelanders, and they are also popular souvenirs. They are made from Icelandic woollopi. Icelandic sheep have fleeces that are divided into two layers. The upper layer is made up from long and coarse hairs, and the lower layer has shorter and softer hairs. Lopi, made from both layers, is light and warm, and durable and waterproof. The Icelandic lopapeysa is knit in the round so it doesn’t have any seams and it has a circular patterned border around the shoulders. They come in all kinds of colours, styles, and sizes, but they all have a decorative pattern around neck and shoulders, and sometimes also around the wrists. They don’t have a particularly long history, as they were first made in the 1950s, but they were an instant hit with Icelanders and have been extremely popular ever since.

Drink a hot cup of coffee

Whether you’re looking for a warm cup of coffee, a comfy couch to sit down on and read, or a place to meet with all your friends, you will find cosy coffeehouses all around Iceland. These are perfect places to take shelter from the weather. Icelanders are big coffee drinkers, and there are many kinds of brews available on this arctic island, from caffeine-free soy cappuccinos to double espressos and from a simple black coffee to a caramel frappé with cinnamon drizzle.

Increase your blood flow with Brennivín

Brennivín

A glass of alcohol can make you feel warmer quickly, so why not try some Icelandic schnapps when you’ve been out and about in the snow? If you need to warm up, go to the first bar you see and get yourself a glass of Iceland’s signature drink, Brennivín, also known as Black Death. It is the traditional drink for the midwinter feast of Þorrablót. Brennivín is made from fermented grain or potatoes and is flavoured with caraway fruits, and has an alcohol percentage of 40%. A popular combination is eating a piece of hákarl (fermented shark) before drinking a shot of Brennivín. Skál!

Warm your hands at a New Year’s Eve fire

Campfire

According to Icelandic folklore, on New Year’s Eve, it’s necessary to burn away the old year to make room for the new one. This explains Icelanders’ love for fireworks this time of year, but also manifests itself in the New Year’s bonfires, or Áramótabrenna, an Icelandic custom dating back to the late 18th century. For the last few years, Reykjavík has hosted 10 of these bonfires varying in size. The New Year’s bonfires are lit at 20:30 unless stated otherwise. These bonfires do not have any official schedule, but people gather around the fire and celebrate the end of the year. These events are especially popular with families and children.

Wear the right clothes

You might have heard the old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. Before you pack your bags, make sure your winter wardrobe is complete. To stay warm and dry, you have to layer your clothing. Keep the three-layer method in mind: wear an inner layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. The inner layer, preferably polyester, wool, or silk, is worn directly on your skin. These fabrics breathe and manage moisture well. The middle layer usually consists of a jacket or sweater and thermal underwear. These insulate heat and maximize warmth. And lastly, the outer layer protects against wind and rain. Also, shoes! Hiking boots are essential for Iceland’s rugged terrain.

Winter Clothing Iceland

Don’t forget your camera

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Iceland is a paradise for photographers. The winter sun is weaker than in summer, resulting in a unique light. Combine this with the serene snowy landscape, complete with waterfalls in icy caves, and you have excellent ingredients for a beautiful snapshot. Let’s not forget the northern lights, that’ve lured photographers to Iceland for many, many years. They can be tricky to capture, but with our beginner’s guide to photographing the northern lights you will be sure to succeed!

Know where to go

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The weather in Iceland is unpredictable and it’s good to know a couple of cosy places to hide if necessary. Reykjavík is home to lots of interesting museums and expositions. The Glacier Exhibition in Perlan will lead you through a replica of an ice tunnel that ends in an exposition about Icelandic glaciers. After your visit to Perlan you can go downtown for a cup of coffee. The quirky café Babalú and vintage hot spot Stofan should be on your list. It’s also possible to book a bus tour. Bus drivers will take the weather into account and when it’s bad, you can always warm up in between stops. On sunny days, book a glacier walk. With clear sky the view from the glacier is phenomenal.

Go Skiing

How to Stay Active in Iceland During Winter

Even though Iceland doesn’t have high mountains like Switzerland, it is a ski paradise – if you know where to go. Bláfjöll is a popular ski area, conveniently situated just half an hour outside of Reykjavík. It’s the largest ski resort in Iceland, with runs of varying difficulty levels covering a total of 15km. In North Iceland lies Hlíðarfjall, Akureyri’s top-notch ski resort. Floodlit slopes guarantee skiing in the dark winter months, and ski and snowboard lessons are offered on-site. It has 30 slopes in total, and elevation levels differ between 500m and 1,000m above sea level. Iceland also has a lot to offer for cross-country skiing and heli-skiing enthusiasts.

Try Ice-Skating

Ice-skating

Ice-skating is a fun winter activity and Reykjavík offers a couple of good options for those looking to show off their skills. Ice-skating is a fun activity for visitors and locals of all ages. You can go to the large ice-skating rink in Laugardalur, a recreational area where you will also find Reykjavík’s botanical garden, a zoo, and a large pool. Tjörnin is a big lake in downtown Reykjavík. In wintertime, the lake can freeze over, and the ice can get thick enough to walk, ice skate, or even play football on. The City of Reykjavík sometimes clears off snow on part of the lake when it’s sub-zero but sunny out, creating a natural public ice rink. Rauðavatn, a lake on the outskirts of Reykjavík, is also cleared off snow whenever possible to create a natural ice rink.

Go Hiking and Running

Hiking Winter

Running and hiking are possible in Iceland in winter and tracks can be beautiful, but please keep in mind it does get cold, snowy, and icy, so dress appropriately and consider wearing spikes or other strap-on traction options. That being said, Iceland is beautiful for running and hiking. Not only is the scenery breathtaking, but tracks are also usually pretty much empty, and the air is very clean. Run along the coast, through downtown Reykjavík, or along mountain tracks (if you have the proper gear and after you check their safety!).

Watch Ice Hockey

How to Stay Active in Iceland During Winter

Hockey has been practised in Iceland since 1950. The tradition started on frozen ponds and rivers. Icelandic weather made it hard to play outside which kept the sport only available for a select group for a long time. The first outdoor artificial rinks were built in 1990, improving the conditions somewhat. Around the 2000s, the artificial rinks in both Akureyri and Reykjavík were covered. The ice hockey league was formed in 1991, and the season runs from October to March/April. These days, three teams are competing in the league. Of course, you can try to play ice hockey yourself if you have the equipment, but otherwise, it might be fun to go watch a game or two.

Check the weather forecast

Snow Iceland

Icelandic winter is pretty mild and only a bit colder than countries in Western Europe. Temperatures in Reykjavík can drop down to about -10 °C, with a high of almost 10 °C. The average temperature is just above freezing. In North Iceland, it’s usually a bit colder in winter and a bit warmer in summer. In general, there is quite a bit of snowfall in wintertime. Some towns can be snowed in for a while, making them only accessible by air travel. Even though the temperatures are mild, the weather is fickle, and especially the wind can throw a spanner in the works. Always be prepared for changeable weather and pay close attention to the weather forecast and road conditions.

Drive safely

driving in Iceland

Be prepared for icy and slippery roads if you decide to rent a car. If you end up on a slippery road, don’t make sudden changes, braking, turning and accelerating should be smooth. You will need to increase your braking distance on icy roads. It will take you much longer to brake, up to ten times longer than in non-icy conditions. Slow down when necessary. Heavy snow and icy roads can be very dangerous if you don’t adjust your speed to the circumstances. Always check the weather forecast and road conditions before you head out. Don’t let yourself be surprised by bad weather conditions or closed roads. If you’re not comfortable driving in these conditions, you probably shouldn’t rent a car in winter. This is not a problem, as there are many tours you can take instead.

Go to a swimming pool

Swimming Pool Reykjavík

We know how cold it is, but believe us, going to an outside pool is one of the best things you can do in winter. It’s the perfect way to warm up in the middle of winter. The thermal pools usually keep a temperature of 30°C, perfect for swimming. But the best part are the hot tubs, with temperatures ranging between 36°C and 44°C. Icelanders love soaking in hot tubs while chatting, discussing, or arguing about daily life. The most famous pool is the Blue Lagoon, but Reykjavík also has some great thermal pools.

Wear layers

Ice

You might have heard the old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” To stay warm and dry, you have to layer your clothing. Keep the three-layer method in mind: wear an inner layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. The inner layer, preferably polyester, wool, or silk, is worn directly on your skin. These fabrics breathe and manage moisture well. The middle layer usually consists of a jacket or sweater and thermal underwear. These insulate heat and maximise warmth. And lastly, the outer layer protects against wind and rain. Also, shoes! Hiking boots are essential for Iceland’s rugged terrain.

Make use of the daylight

Dark Iceland

At the start of winter in October, sunrise is at 08:55 and sunset is at 17:25. So, there are roughly 8,5 hours of daylight. Days are then getting shorter rapidly, though, with December as the darkest month. Until December 21, days are getting shorter every day. On that day, sunrise is at 11:20 and sunset is at 15:30. The shortest day is only four hours long, so if you want to explore Iceland, make sure you are out and about when the sun is shining.

Explore an ice cave with a guide

Ice caves are a natural wonder only accessible in winter. If you want to go to an ice cave, never head out alone, always go with a certified tour operator.  From Reykjavík, several spectacular day tours are organised to ice caves on the south coast and in the southeast of Iceland. If you venture out to an ice cave, remember to dress warmly, wear proper waterproof outdoor clothing and bring hiking boots. But most importantly, enjoy this unique experience.

Warm up in a café

Coffee and waffles

If you’ve had it with freezing cold temperatures and snow, head to one of Reykjavík’s cosy cafés. Icelanders love a good cup of coffee, and the many coffeehouses downtown are proof for this. Inside, comfy chairs and sofas and hot beverages are waiting for you. A break at one of these coffeehouses will warm you up in no time.

Go northern lights hunting

Northern lights

You are in luck, you can see the northern lights all winter long and Iceland is one of the best countries in the world to spot them. The season runs from September until mid-April. Sometimes you can even see them as soon as August. To be able to enjoy the northern lights, you need dark and cold nights, and clear skies. Snow or rain can seriously interfere with the visibility of the lights. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that you will see this natural phenomenon, but keeping a close eye on the weather forecast and the aurora forecast will help you determine the right moment to go out.

Keep your plans flexible

Iceland Winter

The weather in Iceland is fickle and the most important thing is to stay safe. By all means, make plans, but be prepared to change them if the weather is acting up. Check the weather forecast before you set off and don’t risk driving far if the weather is bad. If you’re not used to driving in wintry conditions, or feel uncomfortable, take a guided tour instead.

What's On locations in downtown Reykjavík

  • Laugavegur 5 (Main Office)
  • Laugavegur 54 (Trip)

Opening Hours:

  • Mon-Fri 9:00 - 17:00 through phone or email.
  • (Opening hours are limited temporarily)

Contact What's On

The official source for safe adventure in Iceland is safetravel. It’s located in our Laugavegur 54 location.