Pingdom Check
02/06/2024 | 10:00 AM

Winter in Iceland: Travel advice and tips

Icelandic winters are a wonderful experience. There’s so much to love about this time of year here, from the long nights potentially filled with northern lights to the beautiful snowy landscapes. Plus, this is when Iceland's natural beauty truly shines, with late-morning sunrises bringing pink dawn skies, and spectacular sunsets that can last for hours.

Gullfoss waterfall in winter snow

Gullfoss waterfall at sunset

Despite the short daylight hours, there’s plenty of activity going on during Iceland’s winter. Christmas and New Year's Eve are big celebrations that do a great job of brightening the darkness. Then there's all the traditional knitwear, cozy gatherings, books to read, geothermal pools to soak in, ice caves to explore, skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling adventures, and so much more...

However, winter travel can also bring some safety concerns, with cold temperatures, limited daylight, and sometimes tricky road conditions.

But don’t be daunted. We’ve put together this guide to help you get prepared for your trip and find out everything you need for the perfect Icelandic winter vacation.

Resources for safe winter travel in Iceland

Winter is a great time to visit, but it should also involve a little extra planning. It’s important to do your homework before a winter vacation in Iceland, so you know how to stay safe and be prepared for anything the elements can throw at you.

It's good to know that winter conditions in Iceland can stretch from September to April (don't worry, it's definitely not all storms!). Here are some resources to check out, and learn what to expect. These are also excellent resources to check while you're in Iceland, to know what the day ahead holds. – developed by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, this handy website is full of safety information for people traveling to Iceland, from driving tips to hiking safety. – this is the website of the Icelandic Met Office. Here you’ll find everything from weather and aurora forecasts to earthquake reports, great for doing some forward planning for your trip.

road.ishiring a car in Iceland? Make sure to check out this official source for information on road conditions and closures throughout the country. – this website is a handy place to see sunrise and sunset times, and how many hours of daylight you can enjoy during winter in Iceland. Look for twilight times too, when there is some light but the sun is below the horizon.

We've also put together a short video made in partnership with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue to show you what to expect when you travel.

Average winter temperatures and daylight hours in Iceland

Did you know that Reykjavík winters are surprisingly mild? The average January temperature in Reykjavík is about -0.6°C / 31°F, similar to New York City and Berlin at this time of year.

Lows of around -10°C / 14°F are more commonly experienced outside Reykjavík, with the northern parts of Iceland (and the empty interior highlands) reaching the coldest temperatures overall.

There's not a lot of daylight hours for exploring in winter, especially in December and January, with 4 to 7 hours of light a day. However, the abundant dark skies bring a greater chance of viewing the aurora, which can be particularly active during the winter.

Looking for some inspiration for your trip? Read more about the seasons in Iceland, and how they impact the best time of year to travel.


Winter in Iceland: how to dress

Alongside planning ahead, a big part of having a great vacation and staying safe is dressing well for the weather. It's important to wear warm and waterproof clothing that you can layer. Here are some ideas of what to pack to successfully tackle the Icelandic winter:

  • An underlayer or base layer of clothing – both top and trousers. Lightweight merino wool or synthetic thermal materials are recommended (not cotton!).
  • A middle layer that provides insulation and retains body heat. Recommended materials include wool, fleece, down and synthetic.
  • An outer shell of waterproof and windproof jacket and trousers (GoreTex, for example).
  • Scarf, hat and gloves.
  • Thick, warm socks (not cotton).
  • Sturdy, warm and waterproof walking boots.
  • Microspikes or crampons will come in handy for walking on slippery surfaces.
  • Year-round advice for Iceland: bring your swimsuit! Sitting in the warm geothermal waters is a cozy delight.
  • Pack a flashlight (torch), and leave your umbrella at home (it's usually too windy for them).

How to get around Iceland during winter

Exploring at your own pace with a rental car is a great way to visit Iceland throughout the year, especially during the colder months. Luckily, we can help you with our Fly and Drive packages that offer unlimited mileage with 24-hour assistance included.

It’s important to check road closure and safety information ahead of any travel plans, especially if you’re hiring a car. To help you prepare, we’ve also got a video all about driving in Iceland in winter:

If you don’t want to drive, there are other options such as city taxis, buses, and even domestic flights you can use to get around. We also offer a range of vacation packages that combine flights, airport transfers, accommodation, and tours to help make planning your trip easier.


Winter tours and activities in Iceland

There are plenty of winter-friendly activities in Iceland to enjoy, with day tours and excursions suitable for all types of travelers.

Let the local experts navigate the roads and the weather conditions as they take you to steaming lagoons, black beaches, glaciers and waterfalls. Popular winter activities in Iceland range from snowmobiling to horseback riding – and of course we have expert guides to help you see the northern lights, too.

There’s also lots to do in and around the city of Reykjavík itself, from walking tours and museums to winter festivals, so you’ll never be short of things to do in Iceland’s winter.

So, what are you waiting for? Browse flights to Iceland from the US, and start planning your winter vacation today.