Winter in Iceland: travel advice and tips
Don't be daunted by winter travel to Iceland. There’s so much to love about winter here – including the short and softly lit daylight hours, the long nights potentially filled with northern lights, and the beautiful snowy landscapes. Sunrise happens late, so you don't have to get out of bed early to catch the pink dawn skies, and sunset can last for hours.
Gullfoss waterfall at sunset
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…
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. Start here, with our short video made in partnership with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue.
Resources for winter travel in Iceland
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.
safetravel.is – a project of the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue.
vedur.is – the website of the Icelandic Met Office has everything from weather and aurora forecasts to earthquake reports.
road.is – the official source for information on road conditions.
timeanddate.com – a handy place to see sunrise and sunset times, and how many hours of daylight you can enjoy. Look for twilight times too, when there is some light but the sun is below the horizon.
Ice caves are generally accessible between November and March
Average temperatures and daylight hours
Did you know that Reykjavík winters are surprisingly mild? The average January temperature in Reykjavik (-0.6°C / 31°F) is similar to New York City and Berlin.
There's not a lot of daylight hours for exploring in winter (especially in December and January, with 4 to 7 hours of light), but the abundant dark skies bring a greater chance of viewing aurora.
Read more about the seasons in Iceland, and how they impact the best time of year to travel.
Winter in Iceland: how to dress
A big part of staying safe is also 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 wear 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).
Winter in Iceland: how to travel
Exploring at your own pace with a rental car is a great way to visit, and we can help you with fly & drive packages. We also offer a range of vacation packages that combine flights, airport transfers, accommodation and tours.
If you want to base yourself in Reykjavík and explore (maybe letting the local experts navigate the roads and the weather conditions), we have a full menu of day tours and excursions that can take you to steaming lagoons, black beaches, glaciers and waterfalls. Activities range from snowmobiling to horseback riding – and of course we have expert guides to help you see the northern lights.
The Blue Lagoon with a dusting of snow
Driving in Iceland
We've also got advice for safe driving in Iceland, with useful year-round tips.