Plan your trip


When to go



Iceland in winter

Date 26 November 2023

Iceland in winter

Iceland in winter

Iceland in winter and summer is like visiting two different countries. You won't be seeing the same landscapes or doing the same activities, due to much shorter days and weather conditions.

Summer is the most popular season for visitors, but Icelandic winters are not without their charms, quite the opposite. This country is a popular destination for end of year celebrations for a totally exotic New Year's Eve.

While you can go any time in the winter, the months of March or October are often preferred because in January, for example, the days are so short you are limited to nocturnal activities. As the days get longer, you can enjoy both.

The heart of winter is December, January and February, and while these have the shortest days many visitors are drawn for end of year celebrations in Iceland or Christmas in Iceland.

The pros of Iceland in winter

L'Islande en hiver

Kleifarvtan in February

December to February is a magical time to visit Iceland, and here are some good reasons to choose this period:

  • Attendance is low at this time of the year
  • Housing and car rental rates are a bit more attractive (except during the end-of-year holidays)
  • It's the perfect time to see the Northern Lights!
  • A total change of scenery with snowy landscapes and waterfalls under the ice
  • Excursions to visit ice caves
  • Excursions to hike on glaciers

The landscapes are a dream, snow-covered and glinting with ice, the particular atmosphere of the polar light in winter is a unique experience in itself. For those who have been in summer, a winter trip will be like rediscovering the place altogether.

The cons of Iceland in winter

L'Islande en hiver

Reykjavík in winter: JAG_CZ @adobestock

As you an expect, visiting Iceland during the months of December, January and February has its drawbacks:

  • The short days can be difficult to adapt to, 4 hours of the hardest day of winter in January at just 9 am at the end of February.
  • The harsh island climate means unpredictable weather
  • Not the time of year to admire the midnight sun
  • Wildlife is hibernating and not easy to spot
  • Many trails and roads are closed, especially highland roads, and some trails are therefore inaccessible.

That's why one doesn't travel to Iceland in winter if they expect summer activities. One must be flexible in this season to adapt to weather conditions.

More complicated conditions in winter than in summer

Les routes Islandaises en hiver

Inevitably, in winter in Iceland the weather conditions are rather uncertain and of course it's very cold, although contrary to what one might expect at this latitude, thanks to the Gulf Stream it doesn't get that much colder some regions in France or England in winter. Temperatures vary between -5° and 5° but wind-chill is very real, so dress accordingly.

  • Warm, waterproof clothing is essential, as well as a windbreaker jacket. You'll need to layer clothing to stay warm and don't forget the extremities! Gloves, beanies, and scarves are key.
  • Pack some good walking shoes that can be used in the snow, or even cleats to avoid slipping on the ice.

As for the off-road trails in the highlands, not all of them are open due to weather conditions, which can be quite tough in winter (snow, etc.) so check with local information points.

It is important to prepare your stay to optimize your time and make the most of the many wonders of Iceland.

This is why in winter it is strongly recommended, even when staying around road number 1 or Reykjavík, to drive a 4x4 vehicle to facilitate travel in case of road that has become too snowy as these have much better handling than a city car.

Road number 1 (paved) on the south-east coast is accessible all year round, unlike almost all domestic roads.

In order to avoid unpleasant surprises when driving, avoid venturing off paved roads. A shortcut may be tempting, but small secondary roads, even if not officially closed, may be impassable and sometimes become dangerous. 

Be sure to drive safely and check the road condition website and weather alerts before starting out.

Climate and length of days in winter

L'Islande en hiver

Seljalandsfoss in February

Unsurprisingly, December, January and February are the coldest months of the Icelandic winter. While the Gulf Stream keeps things from becoming truly arctic, temperatures in winter are often negative. And if the weather indicates a temperature around 0°, you must take into account the wind-chill which is significant in winter. This means you'll often feel 7 or 8 degrees colder than temperatures shown.

The temperature is milder along the coasts or near the capital, but the center of the island and the north, which are difficult or even impossible to access in winter, are positively glacial.

More information and details on the length of the days and the temperatures on our weather page.

Average annual temperatures (Celcius)


For example, here are the lengths of the days for December, January and February compared to the rest of the year. A day does not exceed 5 hours in December and January (it's even 4 hours at the beginning of January...). However, the days get longer as early as mid-February.

Daily daylight hours


What to do in winter in Iceland?

L'Islande en hiver

Many tourists prefer short stays of 3 to 8 days during this period, as not all roads are clear, which limits exploration opportunities for nature-lovers.

Some ideas for itineraries and sites of interest can be found here:

Here are a few things to do in winter:

Here is an example of a travel story

Visitors don't always rent vehicles, in fact most prefer half-day or full-day guided excursions.

So everything depends on your preference: total independence or a more or less organized tour activity.

Guided trips and self-tours in Iceland in winter

It is entirely possible to do a complete self-drive in winter. Here are a few examples of self-driving tours in Iceland in the winter:

For tourists who want to avoid taking risks on the road, and enjoy a guided tour in small groups, look into these options:

Iceland in winter on its own and excursions

Aurore boreale Budir

Goðafoss in winter: event @AdobeStock

For short stays, tourists often prefer the south and the Reykjavík region, which are generally the most accessible areas in terms of road conditions.

Many organize their stay independently and travel in rented vehicles but then take a few day or half-day trips for the expeditions that would be safer with a guide.

If you are considering a more sporty and adventurous stay, living on the edge, we have you covered. Numerous excursions are available at this time of the year. Most are concentrated near the capital, in the Golden Circle, along the south coast or the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Of course, the highlight and must-see excursion in winter is the hunt for the aurora borealis. Although it is perfectly possible to see and hunt the Northern Lights independently, it can be tricky and organized excursions have the best chances.

Aurores boreales Budir

Aurora Borealis over Buðir

Here are some examples of organized excursions to admire the Northern Lights:

You can also head to the south coast to see the magnificent Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls or the black sand beaches of Vik.

Some organized day trips even offer a return trip to Jökulsarlon.

For hikers, you can still find many open trails in winter, especially on the glaciers.

The southern ice caves are also popular with tourists:

Just like snowmobile trips:

Off-road trails are also possible in Landmannalaugar, with large 4X4 excursions organized by some specialists to be able to reach Landmannalaugar in winter without difficulties:

Whale watching trips are also possible in winter.

These tours are enough to make for a full holiday schedule, but there is no shortage of other activities. For example bathing in a hot spring surrounded by pure wilderness such as Seljavallalaug or the hot water river of Reykadalur.

If you want a rejuvenating weekend, you can, for example, go to the Blue Lagoon and relax in 38°C water, then wander the capital on your way to a gourmet meal at Le Perlan, where you can enjoy the panoramic view of the city from its revolving dome. Or on a budget you can head to a restaurant in the city center offering local specialties.

The “Jonatan Livingston Mavur” in Tryggvagata, for example, offers typical Icelandic dishes of fish and seabirds, or the “Lækjarbrekka” Bankastræti 2, where you can enjoy original Icelandic recipes such as puffin, lamb or shark...

To digest, there's nothing better than a nightcap in one of the city's many bars, or full-out partying with Icelanders if you can keep up!

December in Iceland

Décembre en Islande

Iceland in December - Rémy Penet @unsplash

In December we enter the heart of the Icelandic winter. Snow blankets everything and the days are brutally short.

Visits in December are necessarily very different from those you can do in August. Hikes in the highlands give way to ice caves excursions, dog sledding trips, or even glacier hikes.

Also, December the perfect time to hunt for the Northern Lights which coincides with the long nights of the winter equinox.

From a tourist point of view, the month of December is very busy during the end-of-year holidays, so book well ahead of time because accommodation is quickly sold out, especially in the capital. This is reflected in the price and availability of rentals.

A must do in December:

January in Iceland

Janvier en Islande

Icelandic road in January - Rémy Penet @unsplash

The month of January is very similar to December in terms of weather and the length of the days. This is still the cold heart of the Icelandic winter, everything is snowed under and the days are very short.

Hikes on the highland roads give way to ice cave excursions, dog sledding trips or even glacier hikes.

Like December, January is an ideal month for observing the Northern Lights.

From a tourist point of view, however, the month of January is not the most popular time to visit, aside the few days following January 1 for tourists who came to spend New Year's Eve in Iceland. Rental prices are lower than in December and it'll be easier to make reservations.

What to do in January:

February in Iceland

Eglise en hiver

Church in Iceland in February - Ludovic Charlet @unsplash

February marks a turn in the Icelandic winter. While temperatures are comparable to January or December, the days are longer so you can be out in the wild more often. You can count on 8 hours of daylight in the middle of February.

Snow is still on every surface in February. Hikes in the highlands give way to ice cave excursions, dog sledding trips or even glacier hikes.

Like December and January, February is ideal for observing the Northern Lights.

From a tourist point of view, February is not very busy, though still more than January, especially by French tourists enjoying their February holidays to spend a week abroad. Rental prices are lower than in December and it won't be too crowded.

What to do in February:

Other seasons in Iceland