Seljalandsfoss waterfall from an aerial angle

What's Iceland like in January? What's Iceland's weather like in January? What does Icelandic landscape look like in January?

January is the height of winter in Iceland, and although there has been a massive surge in tourism in recent years it is still considered to be off-season. This results in much fewer people being at popular locations around the country, but it also means you'll almost definitely be travelling to Iceland when there's plenty of ice and snow around and snowstorms may hinder your travelling schedule.



However, when the sky is clear, the Northern Lights can brighten the dark and long nights (January, along with December, is the month with the shortest daylight hours of the year in Iceland).

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in south Iceland by Radka Valova

And in some years, such as in 2017, the winter arrives late and there's hardly any snow on the ground for weeks. This can be seen in this gorgeous aerial picture of Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in south Iceland above, but overnight, a thick layer of snow can cover the entire ground.

In this article, you'll be able to see Iceland's beauty through pictures taken by Radka Valova. She travelled to Iceland in January 2017 and was kind enough to share her photos with Guide to Iceland and give us permission to post them here.



Gullfoss waterfall in January

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland in January

Above is an aerial picture of the Golden Falls, or Gullfoss. This is probably the most known natural attraction in Iceland, as the popular Golden Circle is named after this waterfall.

In wintertime, it is clad in snow and ice, and although there was no snow in Reykjavík in January 2017 you can see a thin layer of snow here, a mere 90-minute drive from the capital.

Gullfoss waterfall in January

During the coldest months, the path leading to the waterfall is often closed off due to heavy snow and ice - you wouldn't want to slip and fall next to this thunderous waterfall! Therefore people gather at the viewing platform next to the path as can be seen here.



Reynisfjara black sand beach in January

Reynisfjara black sand beach during January

Reynisfjara beach is a stunning location in south Iceland, no matter what time of the year. But Reynisfjara is also a life-threatening location, especially in January.

During winter months the (almost constant) wind in Iceland can get even more powerful, resulting in a number of storms occurring each winter. On especially windy days, the waves of the Atlantic Ocean turn into a breathtaking force of nature as the surf breaks on the picturesque rocks on Reynisfjara beach. 

Aerial view of Reynisfjara's dangerous waves in January

It's possible to spend hours here mesmerised by the sheer force of nature. However, it's also possible to be suddenly swept away out to sea by a large wave, or even a sneaker wave that seems to come out of nowhere and climbs much further inland than the rest of the waves.

All throughout the year, you should be extremely careful at this location, as a number of unsuspecting people have drowned here - even on calm days. If you visit this location in January, be extra careful and always stay at least 20-30 metres away from the surf.



Dyrhólaey cliffs in January

Dyrhólaey cliffs in south Iceland during January

Dyrhólaey, or Door Hill Island, is a beautiful location in south Iceland, right next to Reynisfjara beach.

Be aware that on top of the cliff it's likely that it will be quite windy, as you are right next to the sea and have no shelter. But this also results in unobstructed views to all sides. 

You can catch some stunning sunrise or sunset photos here over the endless sea, admire the crashing surf, the long stretches of black sand beaches or admire the rolling hills and farmland that vanishes into the towering glaciers inland.

Landscape surrounding Dyrhólaey in south Iceland

On the pictures you see here you can catch quite a bit of colour, as this was an unusually warm January. Don't be surprised if the roads are covered in much more snow than this during this time of year.



Glaciers in Iceland in January

Svínafellsjökull glacier in south Iceland in January

January is the perfect month to visit Iceland's glaciers. Above you can see Svínafellsjökull glacier, a glacier tongue that's a part of the much larger Vatnajökull glacier. Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue is a popular destination for glacier hiking.

The blue colour of the ice is strong when the fresh snow is compressed and becomes a part of the glacier. 

Blue ice inside a glacier ice cave in Iceland

You can often see the vivid blue colour in cracks on the glaciers, but the best way to admire the stunning blue colour of the ice is by going inside a glacier ice cave.

Entering ice caves is only possible when the weather is cold enough for the ice to be stable, if it gets too warm then it melts and the caves fill up with water.

Inside an ice cave in Vatnajökull in January

Therefore it's most likely that you can enter glacier ice caves between November and March, making January the ideal month to explore this amazing natural phenomenon. Note that it's necessary to go with a guide, as you need to go with someone that knows the area like the back of their hand. You don't want to fall into a crack that's obscured by fresh snowfall!



Iceland's contrasts in January

Colour contrasts in Iceland in January

Iceland is a land of endless contrasts. You'll find these contrasts in the weather, as well as on the ground. Even with a blanket of snow, you can still find the contrasts in the Icelandic landscape.

Inside a glacier ice cave in Iceland

You can, for example, be standing on a black sand beach, with the blue ocean in front of you, a lava field covered with snow behind you and the green Northern Lights dancing above you.



Víti in Askja in Iceland

Or you can find yourself in a geothermal area, where the ground is too warm for any snow to settle and the bubbling hot springs are centred in a ground rich with natural elements, lending it its vivid colours.

Above you can see the warm crater Víti, or 'Hell', in Askja volcano. This crater is situated in the Icelandic highlands and is under normal circumstances not at all reachable during wintertime in Iceland as all highland roads are closed during winter. 

Radka was extremely lucky to be able to visit this location in January, and only able to do so due to the spring-like weather conditions. 

Clear Icelandic roads in January

Although Iceland is not as cold as most people assume, clear roads and green landscape as can be seen above is not the norm in January, but it does happen from time to time. The weather is always very unpredictable in Iceland and can change every few minutes.



What to be aware of in Iceland in January

Icy roads in Iceland in January

To be perfectly safe when driving around the countryside make sure you check the road and weather conditions before you get behind the wheel, and we would always advise people to rent 4x4 cars during wintertime in Iceland.



Be careful when driving in Iceland in wintertime!

The cars pictured above are wrecks from road accidents in Iceland, that are situated just outside Reykjavík by the road heading south. Their display serves as a reminder to always drive safely in Iceland. On a sign below each car, people can see in numbers how many people have died on Icelandic roads each year.

That shouldn't deter you from hitting the road, however. If you want to drive yourself you'll be rewarded with gorgeous scenery and the freedom to choose your own itinerary, away from the crowds.

But if you're not used to driving in snow and ice, then we wouldn't recommend trying it for the first time in Iceland. If you want to let someone else do the driving and simply enjoy the views on the way, then there are plenty of winter tours available as well.



And if it's culture you're looking for, then be sure to check out the music festival Dark Music Days, held annually in Reykjavík in January.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall clad in snow in January