What are the most popular things to see and do in Iceland in November? How cold is Iceland in November, and is it possible to see the Northern Lights? How many daylight hours can travelers expect in November, and how do the locals fill their short days? What is the weather like in Iceland in November? Where does COVID-19 fit into November travel? Read on to discover all there is to know about Iceland in November.
November in Iceland remains the perfect time to try all of the activities you would typically think of, like ice caving and snowmobiling, and even some you would not, like surfing and snorkeling! But, before getting into the details of what you could do on your November adventure, let’s look at how COVID-19 might affect your trip.
In the November of 2020, Icelandic tourism was at one of its lowest points in recent decades; the Novembers of the future, however, have far more promise. With a fantastic vaccination program administering over 400,000 jabs by the end of June 2021, the country was able to lift all local restrictions, and at the beginning of July, loosened its international rules.
Now, anyone vaccinated against COVID-19, from a list of approved countries, or with a certificate with proof of antibodies can enter after they pre-register online, without needing to worry about quarantine or taking tests.
As such, guests can once again arrive in Iceland hassle-free in November to embark on a range of thrilling activities such as Northern Lights hunting, ice caving, horseback riding, and snorkeling.
While you’re preparing for your journey, we recommend checking in with our COVID-19 information page regularly.
November is a wondrous month. Winter has arrived, so the multiple activities related to ice and snow are in full swing, but the Christmas month's business is still far away. With the lowlands often still snow-free, it's also an ideal time to travel around Iceland without worrying about the weather. Here are some of the top activities for travelers in Iceland in November.
The single most popular activity during the winter months in Iceland is visiting one of the country's many ice caves. Ice caving brings together a host of elements, including adventure and education. Stepping inside one of these bejeweled caverns, the pale-blue ice glittering around you is dreamlike. This is no place to forget your camera!
Ice caves are formed inside Iceland's glaciers during the winter months; new caves and networks are made every year, meaning that each visitor will witness something unique. Note, however, that ice caving is a specialized activity that requires a tour operator. Tour operators will provide you with all of the necessary equipment for your descent, including crampons and a helmet.
But Iceland's ice caves aren't all natural, though you can go on a tour to see the naturally-formed ice cave beneath the mighty Vatnajökull glacier. Alternatively, you can visit a human-made ice tunnel built into Langjökull glacier, which is a large scale ice sculpture, with carved rooms, statues, and "furniture" throughout--making this, possibly, the largest ice sculpture in the world. Both experiences are sure to wake your imagination and bring you to a deeper understanding of how truly delicate the ice caps really are.
Ice caving is also a unique opportunity to learn about the melting of the ice caps and the large implications of climate changes.
Photo from Hot Spring Hike of Reykjadalur Valley
One of the most intoxicating experiences in Iceland —save a visit to Lebowski Bar, that is—is bathing in one of the country’s naturally heated pools, called hot pots ("heitir pottar"). There are numerous hot pots around Iceland for you to luxuriate in; they make sitting outside in the cold a leisure activity, filled with hours of contentment, conversation, and immersion in Icelandic nature.
Consider the possibilities of something as simple as a heated pool; you're reclining in a hot pot. The Northern Lights dance overhead as the snow falls gently around you and disappear into the water. Iceland is incredible in November, having shed its summer skin to embrace the winter's cold magic.
The majority of Iceland’s natural hot springs are in the countryside, away from the city's light pollution; even if you don't spot the lights, you'll still be privy to an ornate blanket of stars.
Be wary, however: getting into a hot spring is a sensual activity because your body immediately warms up from the cold air. But getting back out is nowhere near as pleasant, so common sense dictates that you should leave your clothes somewhere close to the hot pot.
November in Iceland is one of the best times to see the elusive Northern Lights, due largely to the steady decrease in the number of daylight hours.
But, thankfully, as the days get shorter, the likelihood that you'll spot the Northern Lights, fluorescing in greens, purples, whites, and yellows, becomes greater.
The solar phenomena that cause the Northern Lights are always going on above us, but the sunlight drowns them out in the summertime. So keep your eyes open and skyward in winter to catch a glimpse of this pure light.
Those who have witnessed this amazing spectacle in the past will be quick to tell you that there are two prerequisites to spotting the aurora in Iceland; a high solar activity level and minimal cloud cover. It also helps to travel out of the city to avoid light pollution for the absolute best display available.
Still, the Aurora can often be spotted within Reykjavik, and there are quiet corners in the city, like Klambratún Park or Grótta Lighthouse, where the lights will likely appear stronger.
Before booking a tour or driving out to chase the Aurora by yourself, you should routinely check the Icelandic Meteorological Office; on their website, make your way to the Aurora section to get an idea of their intensity, cloud cover that might obscure them, and the best times and places to see them.
Enthusiastic nature photographers will want to make the most of this experience since the lights never appear the same way twice. With each sighting, the lights reveal a new version of themselves.
Photographing the Northern Lights takes some background reading, given the low light conditions. The most important piece of kit—besides your camera—is a sturdy and reliable tripod.
One way for amateur photographers to make the most of this opportunity is by booking a tour with experienced Northern Lights hunters. Not only will they be able to take you directly to the best places to see and photograph the lights, but they'll also offer handy tips and advice on camera settings, focus, and perspective.
And Icelanders are known for bringing along a thermos of hot chocolate when they search for the Northern Lights...
Horseback riding in November is excellent fun, but the weather in Iceland is highly variable. Given its unpredictability, you might end up trotting through grassy farmlands or snow-covered meadows, crossing frozen stretches of land or flooded rivers. Wherever your route takes you, you can guarantee that when it comes to Icelandic horses, you're on reliable hooves.
The Icelandic horse is particularly well suited to a harsh climate; they have a double coat for insulation from the cold and are muscular and hardy. They are also a brilliant and personable breed, so you may get a little attached to your horse.
Your guides will provide you with all the necessary gear to ensure that you have the most comfortable experience possible and will also run through the basics of horseback riding. Then, it's time to pick a horse and gallop out into the Icelandic countryside.
Horse riding tours in Iceland are available across the country, and each route offers unique sights. The minimum age for horse riding is between 8-10 years old, depending on the tour provider, and each ride will last approximately two hours.
Surfing in Iceland seems to have been designed for on-the-edge thrill-seekers and high-stakes adventurers—those who can't quite find satisfaction unless they're riding the chilly waves of the tempestuous North Atlantic. Don't let that put you off, however, surfing here is like surfing nowhere else on the planet, but it's surprisingly accessible for newcomers to the sport.
November is one of the best months for surfing in Iceland; with wind speeds picking up, so too do the waves, making surfing in Iceland's frigid waters as thrilling as surfing in Hawaii or California. The surfing community is slowly growing here, with names like Ólafur Pálsson and Atli Guðbrandsson helping to bring this extreme sport into the hearts of both their countrymen and international visitors.
The biggest difference, of course, is the temperature of the water. 5mm-6mm wetsuits, hoods, and gloves are essential for surfing in Iceland. The vast majority of surfing in Iceland is done off the Reykjanes Peninsula, where the North Atlantic thunders against the craggy volcanic shoreline.
One of the best spots along the peninsula for surfing is the beach Sandvík, where conditions are reliable enough to offer beginner level breaks and waves, as well as fantastic panoramas of the surrounding landscapes. Even so, surfing requires a high level of respect for the ocean, as well as a high degree of physical fitness and an unabashed thirst for adventure.
If you are an already experienced surfer, you should reach out to the local surfing community in Iceland because they will be able to offer the best tips and recommendations about safely maximizing your time at your skill level.
The idea of Diving and Snorkelling in Iceland might make your jaw drop in disbelief, especially during winter. But never fear: Iceland is home to the world-famous Silfra Fissure, one of the Top 10 Dive and Snorkelling sites on the planet. Silfra Fissure is the most popular diving and snorkeling spot in Iceland.
Thankfully, snorkeling and scuba diving tours are available year-round at Silfra Fissure, meaning there's no reason to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Silfra Fissure is not world-famous for its wildlife, nor its caves or potential to explore, but for its crystal clear visibility. From the mighty Langjökull, century-old glacial water trickles through the dark volcanic rock networks at Þingvellir, purifying before spilling out into the fissure and forming a spellbinding canyon of blue and green. Because of the light current running through it, Silfra Fissure never freezes—not even in the dead of winter!
The current also helps to keep Silfra's water clear. Even if a snorkeller or diver in the group in front of you accidentally kicks up some sediment, the water will clarify in moments. With the sun rays pouring down from the surface, visibility can often reach up to 100 meters.
If you plan to take a snorkeling or diving trip in Silfra Fissure, you are in good hands with the experienced and personable guides who run the operation. All guides at Silfra Fissure are PADI Instructors or Divemasters, sticking to a 6:1 customer to guide ratio to ensure a safe and personalized experience.
Before entering the water, your guides will give you a thorough briefing on what to expect in the water, how to use your equipment, and how to stay insulated from the cold. They will give you a run-through of your equipment and personally help you to get dressed.
Whale watching is available year-round in Iceland and makes for an exhilarating morning or afternoon. Whale watching is available from numerous ports across the country, the most popular being Faxaflói Bay, in Reykjavík, and the waters surrounding Akureyri. Whales are extremely common off the coast, meaning that it's nearly guaranteed that you'll spot the marine life that thrives here.
The Icelandic waters are home to numerous whale species, including humpback whales, orcas, minke whales, blue whales, sperm whales, and fin whales. Visitors also often spot harbor porpoises and white-beaked dolphins. Avid birdwatchers will likely encounter several seabird species, including gulls, fulmars, auks, ducks, and gannets.
If during your stay the weather looks too horrendous for a three-hour boat trip, you can always visit the cozier Whales of Iceland, a natural history museum that aims to educate about the whales particular to Iceland and those in the larger world.
With winter upon us, there's no better time to explore Iceland's gigantic ice caps, which have been the subject of many documentaries. Hiking the glaciers is a highly personal way to encounter these enormous natural formations, allowing visitors to comprehend the sheer size, power, and age of the ice beneath their feet.
All glacier guides in Iceland are well trained and highly experienced, ensuring your safety and enjoyment throughout the hike. Glacier hiking operators in Iceland will supply you with all necessary equipment, including ice axes, crampons, helmets, and harnesses, while sharing their extensive knowledge of glaciology with you.
The panoramas from the top of the glacier are extraordinary and seem to continually broaden as you reach higher summits. Seeing Iceland from this perspective—from the thin air, from its highest points—is a true privilege. The memory of your glacier hike is certain to stay with you for the rest of your life.
November in Iceland is one of the perfect times to take part in a rather unexpected sport: dogsledding! And Iceland is the perfect place to embrace this wild, exhilarating, and incredibly unique experience.
The dogs that will pull your sled in Iceland are either Greenland dogs of Siberian Huskies, both of which are strong, intelligent, and reliable breeds that have transported people across snowy deserts for centuries. Greenland dogs have higher endurance than their Siberian counterparts but lack their speed. In fact, Greenland Huskies are so reliable that hunters in their native Greenland still prefer to use dog sleds over snowmobiles, thanks to their reliability.
Your musher will share his passion for dog sledding with you, teaching you the basic commands and techniques that will ultimately allow you to steer the sled without hurting the dogs. Usually, 4-5 dogs pull a sled at any given time, but if two people ride, that number jumps to 6-10 dogs. The fastest dogs can pull the sled up to 20 km per hour along the snow.
Age limits for dog sledding in Iceland vary by companies, but the standard age is generally 16 years old. Children ages 12+ may be allowed to operate a dog sled, but it's at the discretion of the guide operating your tour.
Snowmobiling across one of Iceland’s mighty glaciers is another excellent option for travelers to the country in winter. Snowmobiling in Iceland presents a fantastic opportunity to add a level of exhilaration to your holiday; nothing quite gets your blood pumping like gorgeous sights at high speeds.
There are a number of glaciers for snowmobiling; Langjökull, Mýrdalsjökull, the grazing area Súlumýrar (near Akureyri), and Tröllaskagi ("Troll's Peninsula"). Each area differs from the other, but all allow you to go full throttle.
Your guide will tell you how to safely and correctly operate the snowmobile and provide thermal outerwear, helmets, and gloves (it is still recommended that you wear some warm layers under them, however). To snowmobile in Iceland, you must hold a valid driver's license and have a taste for speed.
November is one of the best times to go lava caving because the lower temperatures cause delicate ice sculptures to form against the rock, creating a compelling contrast between fiery red and sky blue. Caving in November is a fascinating activity, during which time you'll be sheltered from the outside elements and often tumultuous weather.
Visitors to these caves will also have the chance to see ancient stalagmites and stalactites, magma columns, and paleochannels—the petrified paths underground rivers. Some caves even have sheep fossils from the Settlement Age hidden deep inside the cavern, remnants of early Icelandic husbandry.
November is a good month to visit for those who want to get deeper into the local culture, especially if you are a music lover. The weather might be cold, but the venues of Reykjavík are ablaze with events to keep things hot throughout winter.
Photo by rickkidsunite
Iceland Airwaves is one of the country’s largest and most beloved festivals, attracting both local and international talent, as well as a cluster of music fans from across the world. For three melodious days and three nights, the country transforms into a musical composition itself, with almost every establishment—be cafes, bars, or art galleries—playing home to performers.
Rolling Stone writer David Fricke wrote of Iceland Airwaves " the hippest long weekend on the annual music festival calendar," whilst Jonah Flicker of Pitchfork Magazine cited the festival's "unbelievable zest for music and celebration."
The festival has come on a long way since its first appearance in 1999, which took place in an aircraft hangar at Reykjavik airport. Now known for its good-time atmosphere, intimate performances, and wealth of new talent, Iceland Airwaves has become one of the premier events on the city’s social calendar, attracting music journalists and scouts from around the world.
2017's line up, for example, included a vast array of Icelandic artists including Ásgeir, MammuÌt, Gróa, Tappi Tíkarrass, Sturla Atlas, and Kælan Mikla. On the international side, festival-goers can expect to see Milky Whale, Ama Lou, Benjamin Clementine, Fleet Foxes, Jo Goes Hunting, and Mumford and Sons, among many others. To put it simply, Iceland Airwaves 2017 was one of the festival's biggest gatherings yet, and 2018 will be even more spectacular.
November 16 is Icelandic Language Day, a celebration of the country's unique language and a reminder of the importance of preserving it in a global age. The holiday has been celebrated since 1996, and its name translates, literally, to "day of the Icelandic tongue."
Icelandic is a remarkable language with an incredibly complex declension system, and it's noted for its use of neologism (as opposed to using foreign loan words). For example, the Icelandic term for a computer is tölva, comprised of the words "to count" and "oracle."
The day coincides with the birthday of beloved Icelandic poet and naturalist, Jónas Hallgrímsson (16 November 1807 – 26 May 1845). Jónas Hallgrímsson was one of the founders of the Icelandic journal, Fjölnir, first published in Copenhagen in 1835, which was instrumental to the country's independence from Denmark.
On November 16, Icelanders—and especially Icelandic youth—are encouraged to use only Icelandic.
On this day, many cultural and educational exhibitions are hosted at venues around Reykjavik, including primary schools and even Harpa Concert Hall. There are also many awards handed out to those who have helped promote Icelandic literature and language over the last year.
Flights to Iceland in November are considerably cheaper than at other times of the year. Roundtrip flights from the U.S., for example, are as cheap as $350-$400. This is an enormous saving on the summer rate, which is often double the price.
The price dip also goes for the vast majority of international gateways; flights to and from the UK will average out at around £100 total—that is, if your tickets are booked a couple of months in advance.
The reason for this discrepancy? November is not within the peak tourist season in Iceland, meaning that those who arrive will find far fewer crowds, more choice for accommodation, and, most importantly, a unique winter wonderland, almost entirely to themselves.
Iceland is a land of immense and silent beauty, best appreciated in seclusion with unspoiled focus; in that sense, November is an ideal month to gain a new perspective on this wonderful country.
Tours that Operate in Iceland in November
You will find that most tours available throughout summer are still operating in November. Winter excursions often present Iceland’s most popular tours and activities in an entirely new way, showcasing both the diversity of this country’s seasons and its sheer potential for fun and adventure.
Despite the often cruel temperatures, tour operators are on hand to provide you with the necessary thermal wear, making activities such as a winter horseback ride, scuba dive, or a glacial hike as comfortable as their summer counterparts.
You can easily rent a vehicle to cross snow-laden roads, and there are plenty of indoor attractions—museums, art and photo galleries, novelty bars, and cafes—that offer respite in between sightseeing journeys. In truth, the obstacles that winter presents shouldn't be, in fact, obstacles, but rather, a part of the adventure!
Being the land of oppositions and unpredictable weather, November can range between warm and dry to wet and chilly to downright freezing and filled with snow. However, it is generally one of the more stable winter months, making it an excellent time to travel.
The average temperature in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, hovers between a brisk 1°C-8°C (33°F-46°F), measuring even lower at the high altitudes of the Icelandic highlands. November also sees more cloud cover across the country, rising from 66% to a 72% likelihood.
Iceland begins to feel emptier, a touch closer to its natural equilibrium, reminding us that yes, this is still very much Ice-land.
November might not be the best time to arrive in Iceland for those travelers who would rather enjoy a holiday uninterrupted by the likes of an irrational forecast. That said, the weather during any month is something of a mystery here. As the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.”
In terms of light in winter, November 30 will only have five hours of sunlight. For those traveling from the 16th onward, you can expect sunrise at 10:00 AM and sunset at 4 PM, meaning you'll need to maximize your daylight hours. In terms of precipitation, it goes without saying that rain, sleet, hail, and snow are typical during this season, and you should dress accordingly.
In whatever form, water is omnipresent here, so it's best to accept it with an open heart—because you will get wet.
Lots of rain and snow, combined with the cold, can cause hazards. The mountain roads (known as 'F' roads) are closed to all traffic because of, among other things, the potential for avalanches, the instability of the terrain, and the chance that roads might be blocked upon returning, thus leaving a vehicle and its inhabitants stranded and out of reach.
If you wish to reach certain places but cannot find accessible routes, you should consider booking a tour; tour operators have both the experience and the vehicles to handle the rough territory properly.
Remember, venturing up closed roads independently is strictly illegal, and it's very unsafe. The fines for taking a closed road are staggeringly heavy, and you are very likely to end up in the wilderness in need of rescue by Icelandic search and rescue (Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg).
It is never good to be caught unawares when traveling. Good preparation is always the key to an enjoyable trip, so here is some good advice for those visiting Iceland in early winter.
Photo by Jorunn
Iceland in November is cold. It's the beginning of winter, and as your trip progresses, the temperature is going to drop. Hence, wearing several layers of thermally protective clothing is the best way to ensure that the harsh climate doesn’t get in the way of enjoying your time here.
In fact, November is as good a time as any to purchase a ‘Lopapeysa,’ the traditional Icelandic sweater. The wool that's used for lopapeysa is woven from unspun Icelandic sheep wool, called lopi. It's uniquely warm (the sheep need to protect themselves from the cold, too!) and water-resistant.
Originally conceived of in the mid-twentieth century, the lopapeysa has since gone through two fashion revivals; first, in 1944, as a national symbol when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark and, later, following the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. In that sense, the lopapeysa has become an invented tradition and a means of celebrating Icelandic identity.
During November, you will not be able to access the interior highlands of Iceland at all. However, the vast majority of other attractions are still on offer, especially those along Iceland’s Ring Road (Road Number 1).
Driving in November comes with its own hazards; thanks to the country’s deteriorating weather, you'll likely encounter thick fog, blizzards, and heavy rainfall at some point along your journey. Remember to leave ample room for the driver in front of you and to refrain from speeding; Iceland’s main country roads are often long, empty, and temptingly wide.
Also, be aware, as ever, that driving off-road in Iceland is strictly illegal and punishable with very steep fines. Not only is driving off-road unsafe but it also irreversibly damages the delicate balance of this country’s natural environment.
Even though November is an excellent time to see the Northern Lights, there can be no guaranteeing what the cosmos will be up to on any given night. The Northern Lights are notoriously elusive and, despite the best intentions of all involved, there is always a chance that you'll be disappointed.
Northern Lights tour operators always let their customers know well in advance if the hunt for the lights is likely to prove fruitless. Even if you do end up on a Northern Lights trip and, for the sake of example, the Northern Lights fail to appear, you'll still have an opportunity to learn about the starry night sky above.
Icelanders are avid coffee drinkers, with the average Icelander taking around 9kg of coffee beans per year. In fact, Icelanders love their coffee so much, you’ll almost always find free coffee in local supermarkets, banks, and retailers—and some Icelanders use the grounds to scrub their skin after a wintry dip in the North Atlantic.
It should come as little surprise then that there are top-notch cafes on almost every street corner downtown. With a Starbucks or Costa nowhere in sight, Icelandic coffee culture is personalized, community-driven, and fiercely competitive, ensuring some of the highest-quality roasted coffee found in the world. It is also fair trade.
Many cafes also offer free refills, allowing their guests to sit back, soak up the city's creative atmosphere, and while away the hours in a cozy cafe. Cafes like Te & Kaffi, Kaffitár, Reykjavik Roasters, Café Babalú, and C is for Cookie offer free refills.
Check out some of the Guide To Iceland itineraries if you're looking for inspiration for your November holiday to Iceland. We've included a number of itinerary durations to help you find the best fit:
How was your holiday experience in November in Iceland? We would love to read about your time here in the comment box below.