Mount Kirkjufell on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in January

Visiting Iceland in January | The Ultimate Guide

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Learn everything there is to know about visiting Iceland in January. January is one of the best months for experiencing many of Iceland's top attractions, such as ice caving, glacier hiking, and aurora hunting. There's no shortage of fun tours to engage in Iceland in January. Read on to learn the best things to do, the temperature, the weather, tips for seeing the northern lights, and more.   

January is one of Iceland's darkest and coldest months. The sun is only out for a few hours a day, the roads are icy, and the landscapes can be covered in three feet (about one meter) of snow.

In January, Christmas festivities are coming to a close, traditionally giving way to a lull in visitors to the country and effectively making it one of Iceland's quietest months.

An aerial over Iceland's wintery landscapes.

For those who choose to visit Iceland in January, a less obvious season, this country delivers beautiful frosted landscapes, more hours of darkness to hunt for the northern lights, and fewer crowds at the places people want to see.

What To Do in Iceland in January

The interior of an ice cave during January in Iceland

The weather in Iceland in January is generally cold and snowy. Additionally, it gets dark in the early evening, making the days short. This might leave you wondering if January is a good time to visit Iceland. Don't let the weather put you off. There are a lot of things to do!

Multiple tours are still running across the country, some of which are best in the depths of winter, such as a visit to one of Iceland's ice caves and, of course, viewing the northern lights.

As long as you make the most of the daytime hours, you won't find yourself short of exciting experiences.

Visit a Geothermal Pool

Visiting the Blue Lagoon is a great way to warm up during January in Iceland

One of the best things to do in Iceland in January is to slip into one of the many naturally heated geothermal pools. Public swimming is part of life in Iceland. With dozens of geothermal public pools all around the country, no matter where you are, you'll be able to find one to take a winter swim.

With the colder temperatures, visiting a geothermal pool in January is a great experience. Many pool complexes have indoor and outdoor pools. The latter is especially great for swimming in January.

One of the highlights of a visit to Iceland is a trip to the famous Blue Lagoon. It's open year-round. The newly-opened Sky Lagoon is also great to visit, with its infinity pool overlooking the ocean, and is easily accessible from the city center of Reykjavik.

Whether you choose a public pool or a bucket list experience like a Blue Lagoon tour, swimming in these geothermal pools in cold weather is exhilarating due to the contrast between cold air and warm water.

Kopavogur is one of the best pool centers in the Reykjavik area, and it's easy to reach. The Blue Lagoon is located right between Reykjavik and Keflavik International Airport



Visit the Ice Caves of Iceland in January

Light piecing an ice cave.

January is right in the middle of the ice-cave season, which starts around mid-October or November and lasts until March.

The sub-zero temperatures ensure the caves' structural integrity, meaning they're accessible unless they have flooded.

The ice caves underneath the Vatnajokull glacier are fast becoming Iceland's most fascinating destination during the winter.



The best tour to the ice caves leaves from the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

The ice caves change every year due to the continuous movement of glaciers. This variation means that no two visits are the same, and sometimes you might be lucky enough to see more than one while on tour.

There are two-day and three-day packages that leave from Reykjavik, which will allow you to enjoy the ice caves, surrounding areas, and the South Coast.



Take a Glacier Tour

A fast-freezing glacier in Iceland.

Most glaciers are open for hiking throughout the year. This activity is excellent no matter when you do it, but in January, the glaciers have an otherworldly beauty as they're clad in fresh, electric blue ice.

Solheimajokull is the most accessible glacier to reach and hike. It's just a few hours along the South Coast, and a glacier tour runs every day from Reykjavik.

Those in the country's southeast could take a tour from the Skaftafell Nature Reserve to Svinafellsjokull glacier. Another option is to take a tour of Vatnajokull glacier, where you'll hike up the outlet glacier, Breidamerkurjokull.

Snowmobiling Tours in Iceland in January

Snowmobilers on Langjökull glacierPhoto from 10 Hour Super Jeep Tour of the Golden Circle with Snowmobiling and Transfer from Reykjavik

If you're not the hiking type, but would still like to explore Iceland's glaciers, there is a faster way to do it. A lot faster!

January is a great time of year to go snowmobiling and zoom across the fluffy, snowy plains of Iceland's glaciers. You can combine snowmobiling with the Golden Circle route with transfer from Reykjavik or you can meet on location for this 2.5-hour snowmobiling tour on Myrdalsjokull glacier.

As 11% of Iceland's surface is covered by glaciers, meaning there are multiple options when it comes to snowmobiling around the country. You are sure to find the perfect snowmobile tour for you and get the adrenaline pumping!

Snorkeling and Diving in Iceland in January

Silfra has unbelievable colour and visibility

Snorkeling and diving in Iceland in January may seem like a terrifying prospect, but with modern drysuit equipment, it is, in fact, a rewarding and exciting opportunity.

Silfra, where most snorkeling and diving tours happen, is a natural spring in a fissure that never freezes over. It's regarded as one of the best diving spots in the world.

The reason for this is its location and visibility. Silfra is located in Thingvellir National Park, meaning it's right between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia and is surrounded by incredible natural formations.

The ravine will be lined with snow and beautiful ice sculptures at this time of year, making the surroundings even more dramatic, which makes the scene especially magical for photographers.

It's also a spring. Therefore, the water has been filtered underground for decades through porous lava rock, meaning the visibility exceeds 328 feet (100 meters).

A snorkeller, well protected by their wetsuit

Snorkeling Safety Requirements

Although snorkeling and diving in Silfra in January is a reasonably safe activity, you must meet the following conditions to partake:

Drysuit Snorkel

  • Minimum age: 12
  • Maximum age: 60
  • Minimum height: 4 feet 7 inches (145 centimeters)
  • Minimum weight: 99 pounds (45 kilograms)
  • Experience needed: must be able to swim

Wetsuit Snorkel

  • Minimum age: 14
  • Maximum age: 60
  • Minimum height: 4 feet 9 inches (150 centimeters)
  • Minimum weight: 110 pounds (50 kilograms)
  • Experience required: must be able to swim

Drysuit Dive

  • Minimum age: 17
  • Maximum age: 60
  • Minimum height: 4 feet 9 inches (150 centimeters)
  • Minimum weight: 99 pounds (45 kilograms)
  • Experience needed: At least 10 logged drysuit dives OR be a certified dry suit diver 

A snorkeller as photographed from below.Photo from Fantastic 4 Hour Wetsuit Snorkeling in Silfra Tour

It's possible to take a snorkeling or diving tour from Reykjavik. You can even combine snorkeling tours with other activities, such as caving and visiting the Golden Circle.

Horseback Riding in Iceland in January

Icelandic horse in its winter coat

Photo by Andreas Tille, from Wikimedia Creative Commons

Horseback riding is possible throughout the year and is very popular among locals and visitors.

Not only will this experience allow you to see some beautiful winter landscapes, but it will also introduce you to the charming Icelandic horse.

This breed has many unique traits. It is incredibly sure-footed, as it has traversed deserts, rivers and lava fields for over a 1000 years. It has five gaits, when other horses have just three or four, the fifth gait being 'tolt' which is a smooth and ground-covering four-beat gait.

Secondly, it's well-beloved across the world because of what Icelandic horse owners will tell you is its curiosity and intelligence relative to its mainland counterparts. In January, the Icelandic horse has its winter coat, making them look extra fluffy and adorable!

There is a wide selection of horseback riding tours to choose from, many of the departing from Reykjavik. They can also be combined with excursions such as the Golden Circle or whale-watching.

See the Northern Lights in Iceland in January

The dancing auroras during Iceland in January

Can you see the northern lights in Iceland in January? Yes! 

Visitors in January have an excellent chance of spotting these elusive lights. With fewer sunlight hours, there's a greater chance of spotting them. 

The sunrise and sunset times during January are as follows:

January 1

  • Sunrise: 11:19 AM
  • Sunset: 3:44 PM
  • Hours of daylight: 4 hours and 24 minutes

January 31

  • Sunrise: 10:10 AM
  • Sunset: 17:10 PM
  • Hours of daylight: 7 hours and 2 minutes

You can often see the aurora borealis in the city of Reykjavik. However, the less surrounded by light pollution, the better your view will be.

Those seeking an excellent show should get out of the capital and into nature. Even a visit to Thingvellir National Park, a short drive from Reykjavik, can improve your chances of a spectacular light show.

The auroras over Grótta Lighthouse.

For affordability you can go on northern lights tours on a bus, or you can get further into the countryside and reach places other vehicles can't on a super jeep.

From both Reykjavik, you can take a northern lights cruise, which offers the unique opportunity to not only witness the auroras in the sky but to admire them reflected in the water beneath you.

You can also rent a car and drive yourself out into nature to find the lights. 

You'll want to ensure the aurora forecast is rated above three and check the cloud cover to find the places with the clearest skies.

At this time of year you should only rent four-wheel-drive vehicles like jeeps or SUVs. You should also make sure to request studded tires from the car rental company to ensure maximum traction on snowy roads. Renting a car in Iceland in January does come with risks and should only be undertaken by confident drivers experienced on icy country roads.

Festivals in Iceland in January

Festivals occur throughout the year across the country. While the summer months are generally much busier, there are still exciting cultural events throughout January that draw many visitors.

New Year's Eve

January in Iceland begins in the full swing of a party.

New Year's Eve celebrations start on December 31. Firework displays start at midnight and last for a few hours. Thousands of Icelanders buy fireworks and set them off all over the city.

Vantage points such as Hallgrimskirkja allow you to see the sky filled with color. You'll struggle to find a more exciting New Year's Eve than in Reykjavik. It may not be the biggest celebration you'll have seen, but certainly one of the most fun.

In Iceland, the Christmas season ends on January 6, or "the thirteenth day of Christmas," when the last of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads leaves town and goes back to their home in the mountains. On that day, Icelanders light bonfires in several locations around Reykjavik and the countryside, and any leftover fireworks are ignited in celebration.

Dark Music Days

For music lovers, the Dark Music Days festival takes place in early January, hosted at Harpa Concert Hall and the Nordic House by the Icelandic Composers' Society.

The festival brings national and international talent, showcasing innovative contemporary music and new Icelandic compositions. Established in 1980, the festival has premiered more new works of music than any other Icelandic cultural event.

The Reykjavik International Games

Every year in late January, the Reykjavik International Games take place in Laugardalur stadium. Competitions take place in 20 different disciplines, ranging from karate, athletics, swimming and cross-fit. In recent years, some e-sports have even been included in the program.

World records have been set at this competition as well as many national records are regularly set for Icelandic sports. The games take place across two weekends and there's a wide range of different sports and games for anyone to enjoy.

Thorrablot

Celebrating Thorrablot during January in Iceland

Thorrablot is a cultural festival that happens in the lunar month of Thorri, in the old Icelandic calendar. In 2023 it will start on January 20. The first day of Thorri is Bondadagur (Man's Day), on that day the man of the house is honored. Thorri ends in mid-february when Konudagur (Woman's Day) arrives, which is dedicated to the women of Iceland.

During this festival, Icelanders honor their ancestors by dining on various food that have been eaten in Iceland through the centuries.

As Iceland has mostly been a poor country throughout its history, and surviving the long dark winters was very hard. Icelanders had come up with various ways to make the food last during the winter when nothing could grow,  and make sure to use absolutely everything of the animal, as no food could be afforded to be wasted.

Therefore some of the food items that are feasted on during Thorri, might not seem appetising to outsiders, but they were necessary for Iceland's survival for over a 1000 years. Some of these food items include svid (boiled sheep's head), hakarl (fermented shark) or hrutspungar (ram's testicles).

Not all of the food is so intimidating, you can also have some tasty smoked lamb (hangikjot) or highly nutritious stockfish (hardfiskur). During the months of January and February, many of these local delicacies are sold in supermarkets in case you want to try them.

Icelandic turf house in the 19th century

Icelandic turf house with hardfiskur (stockfish) being dried outside. Photo from Wikimedia Creative Commons.

Icelanders hold parties called Thorrablot during this lunar month, in honor of the sacrificial feasts of the Norse settlers, where they dine on various traditional Icelandic food while drinking brennivin, Iceland's signature distilled beverage. After the feast, locals party all night long, telling stories and singing.

Being invited to one of these feasts is a real honor!

What to See in Iceland in January

Since January is mid-winter, many parts of Iceland are not accessible. The roads into the Highlands, for example, are entirely blocked with snow, many parts of the Westfjords cannot be reached, and it may be tough to navigate the East Fjords.

However, the most popular destinations such as the Golden Circle, South Coast, and Snaefellsnes peninsula are still easy to reach and particularly beautiful under a blanket of winter snow. 

Some of the top things to do in Iceland in January are popular sights year-round. Some of these attractions are even more spectacular in winter.

The Golden Circle in Iceland in January

Geysir blasts hot steam into the freezing air.

Of all the attractions in Iceland, those on the Golden Circle trail are the most popular.

Thingvellir is usually first visited from Reykjavik. Located right between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which characterizes the entire area. Deep gorges, mossy lava fields and waterfalls down cliffs. 

It was here that, in 930 AD, the early settlers of Iceland formed what would later become the longest-running, working parliament in the world. It was also where Iceland's declaration of independence was ceremoniously signed in 1944.

The Geysir Geothermal Area in Haukadalur Valley is the second stop on your drive around the Golden Circle.

Steaming fumaroles and streams break up the snowy earth, and the soil wears unusual and vivid colors. Here, the geyser Strokkur erupts every five to ten minutes, giving you plenty of photographing opportunities.

Gullfoss, surrounded by ice

Finally, you'll get the chance to see Gullfoss waterfall. One of Iceland's most iconic sites, it pours in two tiers down into a dramatic gorge.

In January, the rocks surrounding it are caked in ice, making it even more mesmerizing to look upon - a true winter wonderland.

There are multiple Golden Circle tours to choose from, whether it be on a bus, minibus, or jeep, and they can be paired with horseback riding, a visit to the Blue Lagoon, or a drop-by at an ice cream farm!



Iceland's South Coast in January

Seljalandsfoss in its snowy wonder.

The South Coast is second to the Golden Circle in terms of iconic Iceland routes. The Ring Road, southeast of Reykjavik to Hofn, has many incredible features and is worth visiting.

The first sights you'll reach are two waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. The former tumbles off a concave cliff, making a very unusual sight, whereas the latter is much wider and more powerful.

Continuing along the route, you'll see many glaciers, such as Myrdalsjokull, which covers Katla volcano, the notorious Eyjafjallajokull volcano, Solheimajokull glacier, and Solheimasandur before reaching the village of Vik.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland in January.

Around the charming town of Vik, there's some beautiful coastal scenery. You can see the Dyrholaey cliffs and rock arch, Reynisfjara black sand beach, and the Reynisdrangar sea-stacks.

The waves are unpredictable and dangerous around Vik, so take good care. After enjoying this area, you'll travel through the vast lava fields until finally reaching the Skaftafell Nature Reserve.

Skaftafell is a lovely region with lava fields and forests, glacier tongues and lagoons, rivers and waterfalls.

It's especially popular with hikers, as routes are tailored to all abilities. One of the best routes will take you to Svartifoss waterfall, renowned for the hexagonal basalt columns surrounding it.

The ice of Jökulsárlón

The final site on the South Coast is Jokulsarlon, the famous glacier lagoon.

Watching the icebergs cruise across the lake to the sea is mesmerizing. Some can even reach the size of multi-story buildings.

When they reach the ocean, they wash up on the black-sand shore, named 'the Diamond Beach' due to the way they glitter in the surf.

There is a multitude of South Coast tours to choose from, like this small group 11-hour sightseeing tour, or you can do exciting activities such as glacier hiking, ice caving, or snowmobiling.

North Iceland in January

Goðafoss in the depths of winter

North Iceland is an incredible place and is accessible through the winter season. It's possible to drive there or take a flight from Reykjavik's domestic airport to the capital of the North, Akureyri, weather permitting.

Covered in a blanket of snow and still lit with festive lights, Akureyri is an incredibly charming town.

It has many boutiques, restaurants, and bars and is surprisingly lively throughout the year. Akureyri also arguably contains the best ski slopes in Iceland.

By driving a short distance from Akureyri, you'll be able to see incredible waterfalls, such as Godafoss, and Dettifoss, if the road conditions permit.

A bubbling mud pot in the Mývatn region.

North Iceland's most popular destination throughout the year is Lake Myvatn.

This diverse region is renowned for its wide array of sites, such as the lava fortress Dimmuborgir, the Namafjall geothermal area, Viti crater, and the craters of Skutustadagigar.

Many scenes of the HBO series Game of Thrones were filmed around the area of Lake Myvatn, if you want to put yourself in the footsteps of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland in January

The Northern Lights over Buðir.

The Snaefellsnes peninsula has gained the nickname "Iceland in Miniature" since its 56-mile (90-kilometer) coastline has many diverse landscapes and features that characterize Iceland's nature.

Nowadays, the best-known attraction in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is Mount Kirkjufell. This arrowhead-shaped mountain is just a 1.5-mile (2.5-kilometer) drive from the village of Grundarfjordur and was featured in Game of Thrones. 

The second best-known attraction is Snaefellsjokull glacier and volcano, made famous as the entry point of the 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' in Jules Verne's classic science fiction novel.

Mount Kirkjufell on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in January

These are not the only sites you can see on the peninsula in January.

You can encircle it and see features such as the seal colony at Ytri Tunga and the coastal fishing villages of Arnarstapi, Hellnar, and Stykkisholmur. Along the way, you will find natural wonders such as Djupalonssandur beach, the Budahraun lava fields, and the Londrangar basalt towers.

You can also see the Snaefellsnes Peninsula on a day tour from Reykjavik or over two days to fully immerse yourself in it.

The Weather in Iceland in January

There are many things to see and do in Iceland in January, but the weather this time of year is a concern for many visitors. How cold is Iceland in January? Find that answer and more below. 

Weather in Reykjavik in January

The temperature in Reykjavik in January averages between 30 F and 33 F (1 C and -1 C).

Reindeer cross a field in Iceland in January.

If you are leaving Reykjavik, it's wise to check the website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office to know what the weather is like at your destination.

Iceland Weather in January

Iceland's weather in January can be notoriously fickle. January is a reasonably wet month too. There's an average of 3.5 inches (88 millimeters) of precipitation, which will come in all forms. You'll likely experience rain, snow, hail, wind, and even some sun during your January stay in Iceland.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast because storms are common in winter. Storms can bring powerful winds with them, so pay attention to weather warnings, especially if you are on a self-drive tour around Iceland.

Pack wind- and waterproof clothes, plenty of thermals, and good hiking shoes.

The Temperature in Iceland in January

Overall the average temperature in Iceland in January is 31 F (-1 C). However, it may be more windy or wet depending on the different areas you visit. For example, the southern areas of Iceland may be slightly warmer than the northern regions.

You cannot change the weather, so if it affects your plans, there are plenty of things to do if the weather in Iceland in January is bad.

Driving in Iceland in January

An icy road in the midst of winter.

If you want to rent a car in Iceland in January, we recommend you only do so if it's a four-wheel drive and you have a lot of experience driving on icy roads.

Most car rental companies have vehicles with studded tires, but the best idea is to make a request a couple of days before your arrival to ensure you get one.

It's also wise to read up on Iceland's driving etiquette, which is quite particular due to the variation in terrain.

Before every journey, you should make sure to check road conditions. It's not only the weather you need to worry about. Roads can also be closed by avalanches and floods.

If a particular road is marked as closed, it's not possible to drive it. Do not attempt to drive on closed roads as you'll be putting both yourself and those that will need to come to assist you at risk.

You might also face a fine and high towing fees, which are not covered by insurance.

Suggested Itinerary for Visiting Iceland in January

The wall of an ice cave

There are many things to do in Iceland in January, and you can tailor any itinerary to suit your group's needs, budgets, desires, and time constraints. Below, however, are general itineraries.

Most people visiting Iceland in January will feel more comfortable taking guided tours than driving themselves. That way, there's no stress associated with navigating the dark, icy roads in inclement weather.

One way to eliminate all stress is to book a package deal that includes all accommodation, transfers, and tours.

Goðafoss Waterfall in winter

A package is a great way to see as much of Iceland as possible - some even circle the whole country, allowing you to see the remote East Fjords, which are otherwise challenging to traverse.

The shortest time needed to travel around the whole country is eight days. Although if you take a more extended package, such as a twelve-day package, you'll see more sites like the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Both of these tours will allow you to have an opportunity to explore an ice cave and hike a glacier.

You'll also have ample opportunity to spot the magical auroras in the endless night sky.

The incredible Diamond Beach.

If you have less than a week, you can consider shorter packages that allow you to visit certain areas without overstretching yourself.

For example, you can spend five days seeing the sites around Myvatn or spend four days exploring the South, including a visit to an ice cave.

Reykjavík clad in snow in January

To conclude, travelers will find many exciting winter activities and landscapes on their journey around Iceland in January despite the chilly weather. Opportunities to see the Northern Lights and many other winter-only sites abound.

With few other travelers at the best and most popular sites, a January holiday here should be an immersive, authentic Icelandic experience you'll remember for years to come.



Whether you're traveling to Iceland in January and staying in Reykjavik or planning a winter wonderland trip around the whole island, we hope we have helped you plan your trip. Are you hoping to visit Iceland in January? If you visited Iceland in January, what are some fun activities you engaged in?