When is the winter season in Iceland? What are the best things to do in winter in Iceland? What winter activities can you join? What are the best winter tours in Iceland? Read this to find all the answers to your questions about things to do in Iceland in winter.
The Icelandic winters are mainly known for the northern lights. The Icelandic winters are not as cold as one would expect, considering how north Iceland is. The Gulf Stream which brings warm ocean from the gulf of Mexico keep the weather in Iceland temperate during winter
In comparison, northern American cities such as Boston and Chicago have a lower average temperature during winter than Reykjavik. So, even though there is ice in the name of the country, it doesn't get as cold as you would expect this far north.
During the height of winter, from November to February, you can usually expect a lot of snow and ice and stormy weather. There will also be clear and crisp days in between. This is when driving conditions, in Iceland can be bad and driving in the countryside should only be attempted by those who are familiar with driving in difficult and icy conditions.
The temperature averages between -10 to 5 C. That's not considering the wind chill, which can make you feel like it's even colder than that. So layer up!
- See also: Driving in Iceland Safely
With that said, there are plenty of exciting winter activities on offer, besides sightseeing and the northern lights! If you want a package of all the best things to do, then check out this Iceland winter package, which includes a visit to an ice cave, hunting down the Northern Lights, a tour of the Golden Circle, and entry to the Blue Lagoon. You can also check out this 3-day winter tour of the South Coast, which also takes you to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and inside a blue ice cave.
Natural Ice Caves in Icelandic Glaciers
The natural ice caves that that can be found in Iceland's glaciers are among the most beautiful and unique natural attractions you can find in the country. Every winter ice caves form in Vatnajökull glacier, Europe's largest glacier. And every summer, they melt or fall apart. Therefore, you can only visit ice caves in Iceland during the winter.
This temporary existence of each cave makes each ice cave totally unique. The caves vary in size and shape, sometimes there are many of them, and sometimes there are few. All of them are breathtaking and have an alluring palette of the color blue.
As the caves can only be visited during wintertime, this is our number one recommendation of what to see during Iceland's wintertime! They are only accessible from around October and November until March.
Vatnajokull glacier is in the South of Iceland, with ice cave locations close to the town of Hofn. It's a 5-6 hour drive from Reykjavik. However, there is no shortage of beautiful natural wonders along the way, including waterfalls, hot springs and dormant volcanoes. So if you are driving from Reykjavik, then we recommend taking AT LEAST two days to go and see it. If you're pressed for time, then you can go on a day tour by flight to the ice caves.
The Northern Lights in Iceland
The northern lights are stunningly beautiful, but they are very unpredictable. There needs to be a clear sky to see them, and they vary in strength. Many people come to Iceland to see these gorgeous lights - and it's not hard to imagine why! On a good day, you can see the lights dance across the sky in various colors, ranging from white to green to pink and purple!
We like to think of the northern lights as a bonus to an otherwise great trip, as seeing them can't be guaranteed. However, the longer you spend in the country, the likelier it is that you will see them! So if you really want to see the aurora borealis in action, you should at least spend a week in the country.
- Check out this 7-day Northern Light Self Drive Tour.
- Or read more about the Northern Lights in Iceland
Bathing in hot springs in Iceland
Winter isn't all about ice and snow! You can bathe in hot springs all year round - but they are especially delightful in the wintertime. The most famous geothermal spa in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon, that's also Iceland's most visited attraction, along with the Golden Circle. A trip to the Blue Lagoon is often combined with other activities, such as a sightseeing tour or horseback riding. As it is very close to Keflavik International Airport it's also often visited on the way to or from the airport.
The Sky Lagoon was opened in the Reykjavik capital region in the year 2021 and has already become very popular and a premier spot for geothermal bathing in Iceland. Its infinity pool which overlooks the ocean is definitely worth trying, with a drink from the in-water bar.
Other hot springs pools to visit include the Secret Lagoon near the town Fludir. The Secret Lagoon is in a geothermal area but is actually Iceland's oldest swimming pool - a very warm pool to swim in! Now people mostly go there to float and relax.
Then there are the Nature Baths in Myvatn, the North's answer to the Blue Lagoon. The Nature Baths are not as crowded and located in a beautiful natural setting. Nearby is the stunning Lake Myvatn, one of Iceland's gems. There is a multitude of gorgeous sights in the area, including impressive rock formations and craters.
On the way to the Golden Circle, you can find the Fontana geothermal baths, located by Lake Laugarvatn. They are a perfect addition to the Golden Circle. What's most notable for this geothermal spa is that the baths are built directly above a steaming hot spring. There is also a pool to lounge in with a beautiful view over the lake itself. You can book a tour of the Golden Circle with a relaxing soak at Fontana which is a great way to end the day.
In addition to the hot springs, there are a number of swimming pools in Iceland, that all include at at least a few hot tubs and steam baths. There's a swimming pool in almost every town you will go through and many swimming pools in Reykjavik as well. This is a cheaper option than the natural baths and where you will meet a lot of locals, some of whom go there daily!
For a full overview of all the options available, check out our 30 Best Hot Springs and Geothermal Pools in Iceland and you're sure to find what you're looking for!
Glacier Hiking in Iceland
Iceland has many glaciers, the biggest ones are Vatnajokull, Langjokull, Hofsjokull and Myrdalsjokull. Hofsjokull is the hardest one to reach as it is in the interior of Iceland, but the other ones are fairly easily accessible for travelers. Most glacier hiking tours during the winter are at Solheimajokull in south Iceland, which is a part of Myrdalsjokull glacier.
Even on a sunny and clear day, you need to make sure that you are dressed warmly and take extra layers of clothing with you, since you never know if the weather is going to change. As you can imagine, it can get pretty cold on top of a glacier! Also, make sure that you wear good hiking boots that cover your ankles. You will be provided with crampons to attach to your boots, making it easier to get a grip on the snow and ice.
Glaciers are continually moving, crawling forwards, and melting, creating incredible landscapes in the process! When on a glacier hiking tour, you'll definitely see ice and snow but also a lot of sand, ash or rocks that the ice digs out, like paint on a white canvas. The ice can also contain deep cracks and crevasses that may be hidden with snow, so it's important that you go with a guide that knows the glacier and the area well and can take you on a safe route such as this hiking tour on Solheimajokull glacier.
To experience a snowy white winter landscape that isn't easily found in most places around the world, you should definitely look into going on a glacier hiking tour! You can even try your hand at glacier climbing as well, ice axe in hand!
Dogsledding in Iceland
Any nature and dog lover shouldn't miss out on exploring the icy landscapes of Iceland with the help of some furry friends! You can go on a 2-hour intimate tour of only 1-2 people on each sled, carried by adorable Siberian husky dogs that love nothing more than running on powdery snow.
Each sled is controlled by a musher and pulled by 6-8 dogs. Your musher will teach you how to work with these highly-trained dogs and the basics of dog sledding. This type of tour is ideal for families with children, or any adventure seeker looking to do something different.
Check out our selection of dog sledding tours in Iceland and find the one that works best for you.
Snowmobiling in Iceland
Snowmobiling is available all year round on both Langjokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers. Most snowmobile tours include an hour on the snowmobile. You will zoom across the snowy plains high up on the glacier and have spectacular views on clear days. This is a great trip to go on if you want a little bit of action and adrenaline, but also taking time to take in the landscape, as you're in control of your own snowmobile. Therefore, it's a great way to explore a glacier and have some fun!
This snowmobile tour at Langjokull is combined with the Golden Circle, a perfect day trip combination for first-timers in Iceland!
Snorkelling and diving in Iceland
Perhaps not what you'd think of as a winter activity, but both snorkeling tours and diving tours are available all year round in Iceland. Iceland's most famous diving location is Silfra, a crystal clear ravine at Thingvellir National Park where you can dive or snorkel between tectonic plates with a visibility of up to 120 meters!
The water in Silfra stays the same temperature all year round, so there's not much difference in diving there, whether it's during the summer or the winter. The temperature is only about 35 F (2 C) all year round, so the dives and the snorkeling are generally done in drysuits that will keep you warm despite the almost freezing water.
Skiing and Snowboarding in Iceland
Surprisingly, skiing and snowboarding are not massively popular in Iceland - or at least not in Reykjavik. The reason: Not enough snow!
Although Iceland gets a fair bit of snow each year, the country's temperate weather means that the snow tends to melt every few days, and not enough stays put for a stable ski season. On top of that, the weather is sometimes too windy to open the ski resorts.
However, there are at least a couple of great ski resorts that are worth a visit in Iceland. The one near Reykjavik, is Blafjoll. Another in the north of Iceland, near Akureyri, is Hlidarfjall. There you can rent gear, including skis and snowboards.
All ski resorts are moderately priced, and you can choose to get a 1, 2 or 3-hour pass. If you rent a car in Iceland, you can get to Blafjoll from Reykjavik, it's about a 30 minute drive. Hlidarfjall is also located a short drive from Akureyri, making it easy to reach if you're up north.
Sightseeing in Iceland
Now you should know that there is no shortage of fun activities you can engage in while visiting Iceland during the winter. However, in the end, Iceland's strength is it's unique natural beauty, and that is also on full display during winter.
Therefore, we definitely recommend taking the time to either go on sightseeing tours of some of the natural wonders around the country, or rent a 4x4 vehicle and go on your very own self-driving tour during winter and see the winter wonderland for yourself.
Gullfoss is especially impressive during wintertime, as it is surrounded by icicles, and the thundering water bursts through layers of thick ice! Strokkur never fails to spout scolding hot water up in the air, no matter what the temperature is above ground. And Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO heritage site, is beautiful and rich in history.
The South Coast has the beautiful waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss and the stark, black sand beach Reynisfjara with the picturesque sea stacks Reynisdrangar near the shore. In the south you can also find the glacier lagoon Jokulsarlon and the nearby Diamond Beach. You can drive the south coast yourself or take a look at our wide selection of South Coast tours.
New Year's Eve in Iceland
If you are spending New Year's Eve in Iceland, expect to see a lot of fireworks!
Icelanders like to gather with their families and friends for dinner on New Year's Eve, then go out to bonfires that are lit around the city, before going out and lighting tons of fireworks! On every street corner in Reykjavik, there will be fireworks and sparkling lights going in every direction, before and after midnight.
So if you're thinking of coming to Iceland over the winter, there is no shortage of things to do!
- Find out more about Christmas in Iceland here
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