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Visiting Iceland in January | The Ultimate Guide

Visiting Iceland in January | The Ultimate Guide

Verified Expert

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 northern lights hunting. 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 are covered in three feet (about one meter) of snow more often than not.

In January, Christmas festivities are coming to a close, traditionally giving way to a lull in tourism 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

Iceland in January is cold, snowy, and dark. This might leave you wondering if January is a good time to visit Iceland. Don't let the weather put you off. There's still plenty 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 are 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. 

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 air and water.

Kopavogur is one of the best pool centers in Reykjavik, 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 one of Iceland's most incredible adventures. 

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 a 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 South Iceland Super Jeep Tour | Golden Circle & Snowmobiling

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 over 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Reykjavik along the South Coast, and a glacier tour runs every day from Reykjavik.

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

Snorkeling and Diving in Iceland in January

Silfra has unbelievable colour and visibilityPhoto from Top-Rated Snorkelling Silfra & Horseback Riding Tour

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 top ten dive sites 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 and 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. 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 wetsuitPhoto from Top-Rated Snorkelling Silfra & Horseback Riding Tour

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 a swimmer

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 Silfra Snorkelling Tour

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

Horseback Riding in Iceland in January

Icelandic horses do not mind the January chill

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's popular for dressage and other equestrian sports because they have five gaits while most other breeds have just three or four.

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 (though this may just be pride speaking).

You can take horseback riding tours from Reykjavik. They can also be combined with excursions such as the Golden Circle, whale-watching, caving, and quad-biking.

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 to spot them. 

The sunrise and sunset times during January are as follows:

January 1

  • Sunrise: 11:19 a.m.
  • Sunset: 3:44 p.m.
  • Hours of daylight: 4 hours 24 minutes

January 31

  • Sunrise: 10:10 a.m.
  • Sunset: 17:10 p.m.
  • Hours of daylight: 7 hours 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.

Northern lights tours can be conducted in buses, for affordability, or via super jeep, to help get you further into the countryside and reach places other vehicles can't.

From both Reykjavik and Akureyri, 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.

You should only rent four-wheel-drive vehicles like jeeps or SUVs at this time of year. 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.

Christmas is officially over on January 6, or "the thirteenth of Christmas," when the last of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads has left town. On that day, locals 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 late January, hosted at the Harpa Hall by the Icelandic Composers' Society.

The festival brings national and international talent, focusing on up-and-coming artists and new Icelandic compositions. It aims to reveal and broaden the definition of contemporary music.

The Reykjavik International Games

Every year in January, the Reykjavik International Games take place. Here, the best athletes in Iceland compete in many different sporting events.

There's an amazing mixture of talent on display from fencing to dancing, powerlifting to skiing, martial arts to figure skating.

The events are primarily held in Reykjavik at Laugardalur park.


Celebrating Thorrablot during January in Iceland

Thorrablot is a cultural festival that happens in the month of Thorri, in the old Icelandic calendar. In 2022, it will start on January 21, and in 2023 it will start on January 20. The festival lasts until mid-February.

This is a sacrificial festival to honor the Icelandic gods. When Icelanders adopted Christianity, it stopped being celebrated. However, in the 19th century, it experienced a comeback.  

Today, this mid-winter festival includes a feast of historical Icelandic dishes called thorramatur. These dishes may sound strange but are a part of traditional Icelandic food culture.

A few items on the thorramatur menu include svid (boiled sheep's head), hakarl (rotten shark's meat), and hrutspungar (ram's testicles). Everything is washed down with shots of an Icelandic schnapps called brennivin. 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

3 days of winter wonders on this Jökulsárlón, Golden Circle, South Coast & Ice Caving with Northern Lights tour

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, it has some incredible geology and landscapes and is a historical site.

It was here that, in 930 AD, early settlers formed what would later become the longest-running, ongoing parliament in the world.

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, you can see the geyser Strokkur erupt every five to ten minutes.

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.

Iceland's South Coast in January

Seljalandsfoss in its snowy wonder.

The South Coast is second to the Golden Circle in terms of popular tourist routes. Route 1, south from 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, 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 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 place, 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, Iceland's most famous glacier lagoon.

Watching the icebergs cruise across the lake to the sea is mesmerizing; some can 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.

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.

For fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones, January is a great time to visit Lake Myvatn.

Many scenes of the hit show were filmed here, like those north of the Wall, including the Fist of the First Men and Mance Rayder's Wildling Camp. You'll be able to see the sites as they were shot beneath the winter snow.

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland in January

The Northern Lights over Buðir.

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has developed the nickname "Iceland in Miniature"' since there are many diverse landscapes and features along its 56-mile (90-kilometer) coastline.

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 has recently surged in popularity due to being featured in Game of Thrones. 

The second best-known attraction is Snaefellsjokull glacier and volcano, made famous by Jules Verne in the novel 'Journey to the Center of the Earth.'

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, the coastal fishing villages of Arnarstapi, Hellnar and Stykkisholmur, Mount Kirkjufell, 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).

The coldest day in Reykjavik (by far) was measured on January 21, 1918, at -12 F (-24.5°C)

Reindeer cross a field in Iceland in January.

If you are leaving Reykjavik, you'll need 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 maybe 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 27 F (-3 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.

It's not possible to hire a car with chains, but you can certainly request a vehicle with studded tires.

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 make sure you do 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 most likely have to be rescued, putting both yourself and those that 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. It means 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 East Fjords, which are otherwise challenging to traverse.

The shortest time needed to travel around the whole country is seven 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.

You can do the same activities on a seven-day package, which takes you counter-clockwise around the country to Akureyri, where you'll catch a domestic flight back to Reykjavik.

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 tourists 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've got you covered. If the weather isn't playing ball, there are plenty of things to do in Reykjavik in January. If the weather is on your side, the landscapes and activities available will help you have the experience of a lifetime.