What is there to do in Iceland in February? What is the weather like, and how dark will it be? Are the major natural attractions still open and will tours still be running throughout the month? Continue reading to learn all about Iceland in February.
In February, most of Iceland's landscapes and towns are blanketed in snow, and with more hours of darkness than light each day, it is an optimal time to witness the Northern Lights.
Despite the arctic-like climate, much of Iceland in February is still as accessible as other times of the year. It is possible to drive around the entire ring-road, but you can also base yourself in one place and visit many of the country's most iconic attractions from there.
- See also: The Ultimate Guide to Driving in Iceland
See Iceland's prime attractions clad in ice on this South Coast, Northern Lights, Jökulsárlón & Ice Cave tour
Many of these destinations will be much quieter than during the high season of summer or in December. In fact, for the past few years, February, has been among Iceland’s most quiet months, which allows you to find many natural landscapes far from being crowded.
What to do in Iceland in February
Those who heartily embrace the cold will find a wealth of things to occupy their time throughout February in Iceland.
Many activities that are conducted exclusively in winter, such as ice caving in Vatnajökull Glacier and Northern Lights hunting, are at their peak. Others, such as snorkelling in Silfra, develop a magical new charm when considering the effects of the snow and ice.
The best very best excursions are listed here below.
Northern Lights Hunting in Iceland in February
The vast majority of travellers coming to Iceland throughout winter are likely to see the Northern Lights. February is one of the best times to marvel over this incredible phenomenon, due to the hours of darkness and the fact that it is marginally less cloudy than in December, January and March.
|Time of Sunrise||Time of Sunset||Hours of Light|
|February 1st||10.07||17.16||7 hrs 9 mins|
|February 28th||08.38||18.43||10 hrs 5 mins|
The two factors fundamental to a successful hunt of the aurora borealis are having as clear a sky as possible, and as little light pollution as possible. It is usually best to get out of Reykjavík to see them, either on a guided Northern Lights tour or on a Northern Lights cruise, either onto Faxaflói Bay.
If you book a Northern Lights tour, it is best to schedule it as early as possible during your vacation. It is possible they may be cancelled due to inclement weather, or unsuccessful due to the unpredictability of nature.
Almost every legitimate tour operator, however, will allow you to take another trip out until you see them, so you’ll want as many shots as possible, just in case.
- See also: Northern Lights Cruise from Reykjavík
Ice Caving in Iceland in February
Another winter-exclusive activity in Iceland is ice caving in the naturally formed tunnels beneath Vatnajökull glacier, the largest icecap in Europe. Such an opportunity is incredibly rare, due to the sparsity of glaciers, their inaccessibility in many places, and the number of conditions required for their formation.
These caves can be reached between November and March every year in Iceland.
One of the factors that can limit the accessibility of ice caves is rainfall; after flooding, they are structurally unsound, and thus tours will be cancelled. Though February is a rather wet month, the average level of precipitation is slightly lower than throughout the rest of winter, making it one of the more promising times to book a tour.
If you wish to explore an ice cave, you must be part of a guided group. Some notable trips to the ice caves go over two or three days, and will also introduce you to incredible surrounding sights, such as the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Skaftafell Nature Reserve.
- Find Ice Cave Tours here
Whale Watching in Iceland in February
Photo from Winter Whale Watching
Whale watching is conducted from Reykjavík throughout the year. There are over twenty species of cetacean that frequent Iceland’s waters and many of them stay throughout winter.
White-beaked dolphins, known for being sociable, acrobatic, and unafraid of boats, are the most common species, with many feeding and playing in Faxafloi bay; harbour porpoises, though harder to see, are also year-round residents.
They are not the only ones, however. Orcas, pilot whales and beaked whales are all spotted on tours throughout February, as are the odd Minke whales who did not migrate. Furthermore, February marks the season that those which did migrate slowly start to return, although most will not be back until around April.
Photo from Whale Watching Tour from Reykjavík
Whale watching tours, like Northern Lights tours, have the potential to be cancelled or to lack any sightings; again, however, you can remedy this by ensuring you book this excursion early, as you can repeat any cancelled or unsuccessful tour on another day without charge.
If you are partaking in a whale watch, be sure to bring warm clothes to brace the sea winds. Most operators will have overalls you can wear on top for added comfort.
- See also: Whale Watching in Iceland
Lava Caving in Iceland in February
Photo from Raufarhólshellir | Standard Lava Tunnel Tour
Lava Caving is an especially fun activity during February, although it is a little more daunting than in the summer months. The reason for the added appeal is the beautiful structures of ice that form inside the tunnels.
As lava rock is very porous, water trickles slowly through it. When the water seeps through the ceilings in the caves, it often freezes in the sub-zero temperatures before dropping, slowly forming beautiful icicles. The water that does seep through often freezes when it hits the ground, forming equally mesmerising ice shapes.
This creates a stunning effect for those exploring within and allows for some magical photos. It can also, however, make the ground particularly slippery, so only those sure on uneven surfaces should partake. You will, however, always be provided with crampons on guided tours.
Photo from Vidgelmir Cave Explorer
Those seeking an easier trip should look into touring either Raufarhólshellir or Víðgelmir; both of these are wide and open, requiring no climbing or crawling, and they have walkways throughout to make your trip easier.
The more daring should look into touring Leiðarendi, which requires scrambling through small spaces and, after a particularly heavy snowfall, entry via a very narrow slide.
- Find Caving Tours here
Snorkelling in Iceland in February
Snorkelling in Iceland in February may seem like an activity only for the wildest of daredevils, but with modern drysuit equipment, it becomes possible for almost anyone. The snorkelling location, Silfra, is open year-round, and widely considered one of the top ten dive sites in the world.
Silfra is located in Þingvellir National Park. It is a ravine filled with crystal clear spring-water, with visibility that exceeds one hundred metres, thrusting you into a world of magical blue light and fascinating geology.
- See also: Diving and Snorkelling in Iceland
The only thing that can make this activity more special is being surrounded by snow and ice while you swim; snorkelling in a winter wonderland is a unique, mystical opportunity that can only be experienced in a very few places around the world.
Diving in Silfra is also possible, but the participants must be qualified drysuit divers, or have ten officially logged drysuit dives over the past two years.
The conditions to snorkel in Silfra are as follows:
- You must be over 16 years old
- You must be able to swim
- You must be taller than 145 cm and heavier than 45 kg
- You must have a medical waiver if over 60
- You must have a medical waiver if over 45 and a heavy drinker or pipe smoker
- You must have a medical waiver if there are underlying neurological, circulatory or respiratory problems
- You must not be pregnant
- Find Snorkelling Tours here
Glacier Hiking in Iceland in February
Glacier Hiking is one of the exciting activities in Iceland that runs throughout the year and is as rewarding whenever you go. Its appeal in the month of February, however, comes from the electric blue ice that armours the glaciers in midwinter, and the ice caves that randomly form across them.
The two main glaciers that are open for glacier hiking in February are Sólheimajökull and Svinafellsjökull, both in South Iceland. With an experienced glacier guide, you can immerse yourself in these fascinating features and learn a wealth about the geological history of Iceland.
- Find Glacier Hiking Tours here
Horse-riding in Iceland in February
One thousand years of evolutionary isolation have turned the Icelandic horse into a sturdy, strong, resilient animal that bears no issue with the cold climes of February. Unless the conditions are bordering a blizzard, they are more than happy to be outside, socialising and playing in the snow. That means horse-riding tours are available throughout the year.
Horse-riding is a great way to immerse yourself into the winter landscapes of Iceland, and to feel the history of a nation that relied on these steeds for their survival and prosperity; in fact, it is one of the most classically Icelandic experiences that you can have.
Other than evolving to develop a resistance to the cold, they also developed a high level of curiosity and intelligence, making them an absolute pleasure to spend a morning or afternoon with.
- Find all horse-riding tours here
Sightseeing in Iceland in February
Although much of Iceland’s interior and parts of the Westfjords are inaccessible throughout winter, many destinations are still accessible for sightseeing; it fact, it is possible to traverse the entire ring road, either as part of a guided package or by driving yourself.
Most travellers coming to Iceland seek to witness a diversity of landscapes and wealth of beautiful natural sites, and in February, they will not be disappointed. Below are four great examples of sightseeing destinations in February.
The Golden Circle in Iceland in February
Iceland’s most popular tourist trail consists of three sites: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Each of them is well-renowned for their dramatic beauty and unique charm, and most visitors to Iceland make an opportunity to see them. This remains to be the case in February.
Þingvellir is beautiful under a thick blanket of snow, with many of its features such as the waterfall Öxaráfoss at least partially frozen. The heat beneath the ground at the Geysir Geothermal Area makes it an island of multi-coloured earth within a sea of powdery white. Gullfoss has adorned the rocks that surround it with crowns of frost, which glisten beautifully beside the powerfully surging water.
The South Coast in Iceland in February
After the Golden Circle, the region that most visitors tend to flock to is the South Coast. The reason why is simple; it has an enormous range of the landscapes and landmarks most coming to Iceland are looking for.
There are the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss; the glaciers Sólheimajökull and Vatnajökull; the volcanos Eyjafjallajökull, Katla and Hekla; and awe-inspiring sites such as Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Reynisfjara black-sand beach, the plane wreckage at Sólheimasandur and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
The South Coast is thus incredibly popular throughout the year. One thing to be aware of if sightseeing it in February, however, is the dangers at Reynisfjara beach. There is no landmass between this coastline and Antarctica, meaning waves have an great stretch of distance and a huge amount of time to gather strength. They emerge unpredictably and have taken many people out to sea before, several to their deaths.
Heed the warning signs, and marvel at a distance.
- Find South Coast tours here
Lake Mývatn in Iceland in February
The Lake Mývatn region of North Iceland is a particularly great sightseeing destination in winter, especially for fans of the HBO Series Game of Thrones. It is here where the scenes ‘North of the Wall’ are filmed, such as the wildling camp of Mance Rayder and the cave with the love scene between Ygritte and Jon Snow.
Those who do not watch the show, however, can still marvel at the geological formations protruding from the lake’s frozen surface, the snow-topped lava at Dimmuborgir, also called the Dark Fortress, and the many other fascinating, ice-clad sites in the area.
- Find Lake Mývatn Tours here
Snæfellsnes in Iceland in February
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a 90-kilometre stretch often called ‘Iceland in Miniature’, as, along it, there are many of the different landscapes that are otherwise found only in distant parts of the country. Travellers here, no matter the time of year, can expect volcanoes, mountains, lava fields, stunning beaches, geological formations, countryside and historic villages.
In February, the mountains of the peninsula will no doubt be covered in snow, the rivers and waterfalls at least partially frozen, and the effects of the crashing waves on the craggy, cliffy coasts captivating. In this month, it is also not at all uncommon to spot orcas from the shore; in very few other parts of the country is this possible.
- Find Snæfellsnes Tours here
Festivals in Iceland
While most come to Iceland seeking its natural wonders, many also come for the vibrant festival scene of Reykjavík. Not a month goes by without certain events gripping the capital, drawing visitors and locals alike. Events like Sónar, Airwaves, Secret Solstice and Reykjavík Pride are all internationally renowned, and while none in February is quite so large, the three listed below are still very popular, unique, and culturally fascinating.
- See also: the Festivals of Iceland
Winter Lights Festival: 1-4 February 2018
The Winter Lights Festival occurs on the first weekend of every February and is a celebration of the lengthening of the days and the beauty of the wintery world. It begins when the lights all across the city are turned on, and follows with days of events that cover everything from music to sport, art to history, and industry to culture.
Two nights not to miss are Museum Night (February 2nd) and Pool Night (February 3rd), where these events and shows are taken to the city’s museums or public pools for some unique entertainment.
Reykjavík Rainbow Pride: 8-11 February 2018
While Reykjavík’s main pride occurs in August, there is a smaller, more intimate Pride that occurs in February. The Reykjavík Rainbow Pride goes over four days and brings the queer community out of the shadows of winter to celebrate diversity and equality.
Quite different to the summer pride, the Rainbow Festival seeks to bring people out into the country as much as possible, to make the most of Iceland’s February landscapes and the Northern Lights. That being said, there is a Welcome Party at Kiki and the legendary Pink Masquerade Ball, which are alive with entertainment and fantastic costuming.
- See also: Gay Iceland | All You Need to Know
Stockfish Film Festival: 23rd February - 5th March
Stockfish Film Festival is an international event, where over thirty arthouse films produced locally and around the rest of the world are shown in the cinema Bío Paradís. This is a great opportunity for individuals in different film industries to network, and for the rest of us to enjoy some compelling movies. Not only this, but workshops, lectures, classes and panels run throughout the 11-day festival.
- See also: the Story of Icelandic Cinema
What to know about Iceland in February
Photo from Things to do during storms in Iceland'
Those coming to Iceland in February are sure to have an incredible time immersing themselves in the quiet, wintery landscapes and thriving city culture, but should be aware of several things before arriving. These issues relate to keeping yourself safe, and most of them regard driving and the weather.
Driving in Iceland in February
Iceland’s roads, though usually well-maintained, can be perilous. In the winter months, they become caked in ice and lined with snowdrifts; heavy rain, snowfall and omnipresent darkness can seriously obscure vision; and even strong winds can destabilise vehicles in certain areas.
It is therefore essential that you only rent a car if you are confident driving under difficult conditions, experienced driving icy, rural roads, and that the vehicle you are using is a four-wheel-drive.
Because February is a quieter season, this is even more essential than ever; if you were to have an accident or get stranded out in the country, there is a chance you could go unnoticed for quite a while.
It is wise to stock your vehicle with a charged phone, fresh water, food and blankets in preparation for this eventuality, but it can be avoided altogether by registering your travel plans, so that if you are missing you can be located.
It is also very important to check the weather website to see the conditions expected for wherever you are driving. This page will also show you areas vulnerable to dangers such as avalanches in certain areas.
The roads website, meanwhile, will inform you which are currently open at any given time. As previously noted, the roads into the Highlands and many through the Westfjords will certainly be shut off, as will all labelled ‘F-Roads’.
It is absolutely essential that you never traverse a road that is cordoned off, and equally important that you never drive off-road. Doing such a thing in summer is ridiculous and damaging enough (not to mention illegal with huge fines and potential prison time attached), but under winter conditions, such an action could turn fatal in moments.
Weather in Iceland in February
The average temperature in February in the capital, Reykjavík, is 1° (33.8° Fahrenheit). It is also one of the country's wetter months, with an average of 83mm precipitation.
The February weather is notorious for unpredictable turns, and it is likely you will experience snow, wind and rain all throughout your stay. You should, therefore, bring thermal underwear, warm layers, waterproof and preferably windproof outer-layers, scarfs, hats, gloves, and sturdy shoes, preferably hiking boots.
Finally, because of this volatile weather, it is not possible to camp in February in Iceland.
Suggested Itineraries for Iceland in February
Now that you know all about what to do in and what to know about Iceland in February, it may be useful to see some potential itineraries to display how you could best spend your time. The following suggestions are based on the amount of days you have in Iceland, and can easily be amended to better suit your tastes, plans and budget.
The Stopover Traveller
The Stopover Traveller arrives to Iceland midday on a Friday and takes a Flybus from Keflavík International Airport to the Blue Lagoon. Here, they welcome themselves to Iceland by basking in the azure waters, feeling the contrast of the geothermal warmth within and brittle wind outside.
Once they have enjoyed a silica mask and a good relax, they will head to their Reykjavík hotel, and settle in. They’ll have time to wander the sites of the city before having a dinner in one of its unique restaurants before bed.
As the stopover traveller is only in Iceland until the next Monday, they want as much of an authentic Icelandic experience as possible, and to make the most of the time of the year that they have come. For that reason, they have decided to book a two-day tour that will take them across the South Coast, allowing them to see its many sites and to explore an ice cave.
They will thus wake up early on Saturday, to meet their guide, hop into the minibus, and start their tour. They will get to see many of the South’s great sites: its waterfalls, its black sand beaches, and the incredible Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
As they will reach this final destination later in the day, they will keep their eyes peeled over the icebergs in the lake in hunt of the Aurora Borealis, and keep searching when taken to their hotel in the south-east for the night.
The next morning, they will be taken to the edge of Vatnajökull glacier, for the exploration of an ice cave. This otherworldly experience, through tunnels of ethereal blue ice, will no doubt be the highlight of their holiday, and the bane of their camera’s memory card.
After marvelling over one of nature’s greatest wonders, they will be taken back along the South Coast to Reykjavík. Once in the capital, they’ll check back into their hotel, then head out for a little taste of the city’s nightlife.
- See also: the Nightlife in Reykjavík
The Stopover Traveller will have planned their departure for late afternoon on Monday, having time for a quick tour in the morning. They opt into a morning horse-ride tour.
After this authentic Icelandic adventure is complete, they will locate the Flybus and be whisked back to the airport, marking the end of their short but rewarding holiday to Iceland in February.
If the Stopover Traveller were to have one extra day, they would use it to see the famous sites of the Golden Circle, but not wanting to miss any action, combine it with a snorkelling in Silfra tour.
The Getaway Traveller
The Getaway Traveller has come to Iceland for ten days, to fully immerse themselves in February’s winter landscapes.
Initially, they considered taking a 10-Day Winter Self Drive Tour around the Circle of Iceland, or another 10-Day Self-Drive that would allow them to spend longer in the south and west of the country, due to the convenience that would come in the booking process and the utility of being given a detailed itinerary.
However, they have little experience on icy roads, so instead opt to look into packages and guided tours instead.
They consider two packages that could fill most of their time: a 9-day minibus excursion that would cover the ring-road of Iceland including the East Fjords and Lake Mývatn, and a 10-day one that would immerse them the south, part of the Highlands, and the West, including the Snæfellnes Peninsula.
This Getaway Traveller, however, is eager to see both the northern sites such as Mývatn without missing the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, so, in spite of the ease of buying a package and letting others sort out the details for them, they choose to combine a few tours themselves.
What the Getaway Traveller chooses to do is arrive in Iceland via Keflavík Airport, and like the Stopover Traveller, head straight to the Blue Lagoon before settling into their accommodation in Reykjavík for the evening. They plan for an early night, as they have booked a seven-day tour the following day.
This guided tour will take them to a wealth of the sites they have dreamt of seeing. They will get to see the sites of the Golden Circle and South Coast, with the opportunity to hike a glacier and explore an ice cave; they’ll then see the remote beauty of the East Fjords as they head towards Mývatn, and enjoy the diverse beauty of the North.
On the seventh day, they will get to visit the charming town of Akureyri, before flying back to Reykjavík that evening. If the Northern Lights evaded them throughout their tour, they'd have an excursion booked this night to head out and catch them.
The only part of the country left to see that the Getaway Traveller arrived for is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. They will, therefore, take a guided day tour, which will bring them to all the major sites, such as Snæfellsjökull glacier, the Lóndrangar basalt formation, and Mount Kirkjufell.
If staying one extra day, they could turn this into a two-day tour instead, which will allow them to go whale-watching in hunt of Orcas and on a lava-caving excursion.
The tenth day will be the departure day, but as the Getaway Traveller has not yet had a chance to explore the capital fully, the morning will be spent wandering the streets of Reykjavík, taking in the winter wonderland of a city beneath its seasonal blanket of snow.
All the museums and galleries they could be interested in seeing can be visited this day before catching the Flybus and plane home.
- See also: Reykjavík Guide
To conclude, although Iceland is still cold and dark in February, still deep in the throes of winter, it remains an incredibly magical place. In fact, considering the relative lack of crowds, ever growing balance between night and day, and wealth of winter activities, the month has a compelling charm that is sure to make your holiday special.