Iceland is dreamy. Ethereal landscapes guarantee a wonder-filled vacation. Natural hot springs, breathtaking waterfalls and volcanoes- talk about an explorer’s paradise.
A friend and I planned on visiting for five days in December 2015, hoping a winter visit would better our chances of seeing the Northern Lights. We were prepared for cold temperatures, but weren’t prepared for Reykjavik to be hit with the biggest snow storm the city had seen in 20+ years.
Despite the weather challenges, we still had a phenomenal trip. If anything, not being able to do some of our planned activities just gave us another reason to visit this stunning country.
10 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter
- Iceland only gets four to seven hours of daylight during the winter, which may conjure images of darkness, but in truth- the long sunrises and sunsets everyday are spectacular
- And, fleeting light combined with black lava fields makes you feel like you’re on another planet
- Winter temperatures are surprisingly mild, usually hovering in the mid-30s. As long as you wear layers and bring waterproof clothes, plus sturdy boots, you’ll be fine to wander Reykjavik or any of the country’s natural attractions
- The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most visited attraction, and in the winter, crowds are thinner. We took an overnight flight, landing in Iceland at ~6:30 am, and headed to the Blue Lagoon as soon as we were off the plane. We loved watching the sun rise while soaking in the hot springs
- Winter is prime Northern Lights viewing time, but that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to see them. Their visibility depends on the level of activity and cloud coverage. Unfortunately, the weather when we visited in December meant we weren’t able to hunt for the Northern Lights, but- that just means I’ll have to return someday!
- Reykjavik may not have the Christmas markets found in other European cities, but the holiday lights are darling- definitely worth seeing on an evening stroll around town
- Most of the popular tours (Golden Circle, South Coast) still operate in the winter, and can be especially stunning (frozen water, ice crystallization, and so on)
- Wandering Reykjavik is more enjoyable than at other times of the year when tourism is at its peak- on our December visit, we never had to wait in line for anything (restaurants, bars, etc.) and enjoyed being able to mingle with locals
- Glaciers cover roughly 10 percent of Iceland’s terrain, and while you can visit them at any time of the year, the water running through their vaces freezes only in the winter. Two of the most popular Crystal Caves for ice tours in the winter are Vatnajokull, in South East Iceland, and Langjokull in the South West. Google ‘Iceland Crystal Caves’ to understand why this is so special
- Since there are so many misconceptions about Iceland in the winter, November, December and January are the low season- which means you’ll likely find great flight and hotel deals
All said, while I’d recommend going in the winter, I’m also already planning a trip back next summer to do the midnight sun run and see more of this phenomenal country.
Interested in visiting Iceland in the winter? Check-out my guides:
- The Complete Guide to Iceland
- Reykjavik: City Guide
- 5 Things to Know Before Visiting the Blue Lagoon