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Aug 31, 2022

Iceland in Winter - What to See and Do

A panorama of Reykjavik city in winter

If you're looking for a winter getaway, why not consider Iceland? Despite what you may think, Iceland is a great place to visit in the winter. Although the temperatures can be chilly, there are plenty of reasons why an Icelandic winter itinerary is well worth your time.

There are seven regions to explore: South Iceland, North Iceland, East Iceland, West Iceland, Westfjords, Reykjanes peninsula, and the capital city Reykjavik. All offer exciting activities, incredible natural beauty, and regional Icelandic cultural experiences.

When is winter in Iceland?

Winter in Iceland typically lasts from November to March. However, the exact date range can vary depending on the year.

Icelandic winters are generally colder than winters in other parts of Europe, but they are still relatively mild compared to winters in North America.

The average temperature during the day is around freezing, but it can drop below zero at night. Despite the frosty weather, winter is an excellent time to visit Iceland due to the stunning scenery. The country is blanketed in snow, and the aurora borealis (northern lights) are often visible. When planning a trip to Iceland during winter, be sure to pack your warmest clothes.

A waterfall in winter in Iceland

How cold is Iceland in winter?

Iceland is a country of extremes, and that includes the weather. In winter, the average temperature in Reykjavik dips below freezing, and it's not uncommon for snow and ice to cover the ground.

However, the further inland you go, the colder it gets. In the highlands of Iceland, temperatures can plunge to -30 degrees Celsius or even lower. And while the days are shorter in winter, they're also darker, as the sun only rises for a few hours each day.

If you are prepared for the cold and dark, Iceland will provide a stunning and unique winter experience.

Diamond Beach full of icebergs in Iceland

Is Iceland completely dark in winter?

No, Iceland is not entirely dark in winter. While the days are shorter and the nights are longer, there is still plenty of daylight during the winter months.

The year's shortest days have around 4-5 hours of daylight, from December to January. However, there is still enough daylight for people to get around and enjoy the outdoors. So, while it may be darker than other times of the year, winter in Iceland is still a beautiful and magical time.

A person standing under the northern lights in Iceland

How many hours of daylight does Iceland get in the winter?

If you're planning a trip to Iceland in winter, you may be wondering how much daylight you can expect. From December 21st to March 21st, the sun only rises for a few hours each day. The good news is that daylight hours gradually increase during this season, from an average of 5 hours on December 21st to nearly 21 hours on June 21st.

A road underneath the northern lights in Iceland

Is Iceland worth visiting in winter?

Winter is a great time to visit Iceland. Although it's cold, the country is incredibly beautiful, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. The shorter days mean you can enjoy the long nights and the darkness means you’ll have plenty of opportunity to witness the spectacular aurora borealis.

Another excellent thing to do is go on a whale watching tour - you're almost guaranteed to see some whales, and it's a fantastic experience. Icelanders love their whales and spotting one is always an experience so read up on your whales in our special blog about these gentle giants before booking your tour. You can also go snowmobiling, dog sledding, or even enjoy a soak in one of Iceland's many geothermal pools. So, you can still have an incredible travel experience despite the colder weather.

Icebergs on a black beach in Iceland

Is it safe to drive in Iceland during winter?

Many people don't realize that it's also an amazing driving place. Despite the snow and ice, driving in Iceland during winter is quite safe - as long as you take some basic precautions. First, ensure your vehicle is in good condition and has winter tires. Second, respect the speed limit, drive carefully, and be prepared for sudden weather changes. Finally, always carry a map and supplies in case you get stranded. By following these simple tips, you can safely enjoy all that Iceland offers - even in the middle of winter. In our Driving in Iceland blog and Safe Travels in Iceland, you can read more about driving and safety precautions on your travels in Iceland.

Aerial photo of a road and bridge in rural Iceland

Get a glimpse of the northern lights in Iceland

If you've always dreamed of seeing the aurora borealis (northern lights), then a winter trip to Iceland should be at the top of your list. The best time to see the northern lights in Iceland is from late September to early April, and it is one of the best places in the world to view them.

The long and dark winter nights provide the perfect conditions for aurora watching. And with its wide-open spaces and lack of light pollution, Iceland offers some of the best aurora views in the world. So, for an unforgettable winter experience, add Iceland to your list. You won't regret it.

Northern lights over a mountain in Iceland

Take a dip in the Icelandic hot springs, pools, and spas

Iceland is a land of extremes, and its winters are no exception. But despite the cold temperatures, there are plenty of reasons to visit Iceland in winter. One of the most popular attractions is the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa set in a volcanic landscape. The lagoon is heated by water from nearby hot springs, and its mineral-rich waters are said to have therapeutic properties.

In addition to the Blue Lagoon, there are also several other geothermal pools and spas around Iceland. For example, the Secret Lagoon is one of the oldest pools in the country and is in the small town of Flúðir. The pool is fed by water from a nearby hot spring, and visitors can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside while relaxing in its warm waters.

For more information, we have provided everything you need to know in your guide to Iceland’s hot springs.

Woman bathing in a hot spring in Iceland

Discover Iceland's waterfalls

Iceland is best known for its waterfalls, and for a good reason - they're spectacular. And while you can see them any time of year, winter is when they come to life. The best time to see the waterfalls is just after a snowstorm when the cascading water is contrasted against the sparkling white snow.

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls, and it's easy to see why - it's simply beautiful.  Skógafoss is another must-see; at 200 feet tall, it's one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland. And for an awe-inspiring sight, visit Dettifoss - considered by many to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Finally, Goðafoss is also worth a visit; often referred to as the "Waterfall of the Gods," it's one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Iceland.

Iceland has many waterfalls. To help you pick the ones you would most like to see, we have highlighted our favorites in the top 10 must visit waterfalls in Iceland.

A waterfall in Iceland with blue skies


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Explore the picturesque capital of Iceland: Reykjavik

Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the country’s only city. It's also the world's northernmost capital, and though tiny compared to most metropolises, Reykjavik is full of charm. With its colorful houses, lively nightlife, and beautiful setting on the water, Reykjavik is worth a visit. Reykjavik is also home to many fascinating museums and cultural attractions. The Reykjavik Maritime Museum is a must-see for history buffs. And what better time to go than in winter?

The city also comes alive during the festive season, with Christmas markets, lights, and concerts. So, if you're looking for a winter wonderland, Reykjavik is the place to be. You won't be disappointed.

A rainbow over the city of Reykjavik

Get a taste of Icelandic food and drink

Iceland is a land of many winter events and festivals, many of which revolve around food and drink. From the Feast of Thorrablot to the Winter Lights Festival, there are plenty of opportunities to sample traditional Icelandic cuisine. And what better way to wash down all that hearty food than with a glass of Brennivin, Iceland's signature schnapps? But, of course, the best thing about visiting Iceland in winter is that you will have many opportunities to taste an array of the country's unique cuisine.

Enjoy the many festivals Iceland has to offer

There are a variety of winter events and festivals to enjoy in IcelandLink opens in a new tab. For example, the Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF)Link opens in a new tab is a fantastic event for movie lovers. Or for live music, Iceland has two winter music festivals Iceland AirwavesLink opens in a new tab and Dark Music DaysLink opens in a new tab. And, of course, there are the Christmas and New Year celebrations, and the lesser known St. Þorlákur day and Epiphany, along with a number of other weird Icelandic holidays.

If you're looking for an unforgettable winter experience, the winter events and festivals offer something for everyone, and you'll create memories that will last a lifetime.

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland on a winter's day

Visit Iceland and try glacier and snow activities

For some glacier and snow adventures, there's no better place to visit than Iceland. The snow-capped mountains and crystal blue waters are an amazing sight to behold, and there's no shortage of activities to keep you busy. There's something for everyone, from snowmobiling and skiing to snowboarding and dog sledding.

Iceland's glacier lagoons are a must-see for any winter traveler. Set against the backdrop of the enormous Vatnajökull glacier, these massive lagoons are full of floating icebergs and provide a truly unique experience. Langjökull is one of the largest glaciers in Europe and is a popular destination for glacier hiking and snow cave exploration.

While they can be visited year-round, winter is the best time to see them in all their glory. You can hike on the glacier or take a boat tour to get up close and personal with these natural wonders. So, if you're looking for spectacular winter glacier and snow activities, Iceland is the place to be.

Dogs pulling a sled on a glacier in Iceland

Iceland's Golden Circle is a must-see

Iceland is a land of contrasts, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the coldest months. During this time of year, the days are short, and the nights are long, but the country is transformed into a winter wonderland. Touring the Golden Circle is one of the best ways to experience Iceland in winter. This popular route takes you past some of the country's most iconic sights, including the geothermal valley of Haukadalur, Gullfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National ParkLink opens in a new tab. While the weather can be unpredictable, Iceland in winter is a truly unique place that should not be missed.

A geyser in Iceland spouting

Iceland is the perfect place to go whale watching

Whale watching is one of the most popular tourist activities in Iceland, and for a good reason. The country is home to a variety of whale species, including humpback whales, minke whales, and orcas. Winter is an ideal time to see these majestic creatures, as they often migrate to Icelandic waters in search of food.

Whether journeying to Iceland on your own or taking a guided tour, whale watching is an unforgettable experience. There's nothing quite like seeing a massive whale breach the surface of the water, and the best way to experience it is in the scenic Iceland winter.

An underwater pictures of a sperm whale

Enjoy Iceland's Christmas and New Year

Iceland is a magical place to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year. For starters, the country is blessed with a spectacular natural setting. Snow-capped mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, and black sand beaches are just a few reasons why Iceland is one of the most popular destinations in the world. But what really makes Iceland special is its unique culture and traditions.

During the holiday season, the country comes alive with Jólin, a centuries-old tradition that celebrates the return of the sun after the long winter nights and the birth of Jesus. Jólin is marked by a number of festive customs, including the thirteen Yule Lads, who leave small gifts in the shoes of good children (and mischievous tricks for those who have been naughty).

Bonfires and fireworks are a common sight during the holiday season, and it's not uncommon to see people riding horses or walking on stilts. Iceland also has a strong sense of community, making it a great place to celebrate with friends and family.

Fireworks in downtown Reykjavik with the city pond in the foreground

Final Thoughts

Have we convinced you that a winter trip to Iceland is the perfect escape? We've given you plenty of ideas for things to see and do in this stunning country, but there are always more adventures waiting to be had. With its unique landscape and plethora of activities, Iceland is a magical destination that will never get old. So, what are you waiting for? Get packing!


No matter where you decide to go in Iceland, you can book your trip today with PLAY.

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