Iceland in December looks like it got airlifted straight out of one of your favorite Christmas movies. When you visit Iceland in December, you are met by the most magical winter wonderland.
But, depending on what you have on your Iceland bucket list, December might not be the right time for you to take a trip to the island. So, whether you’re already planning on spending December in Iceland, or you’re not sure whether it’ll work for you, read on! We tell you everything you need to know.
Is December a good time to visit Iceland?
Whilst we think December is one of the best times to visit Iceland for a myriad of reasons, you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons to see if it’s the right fit for you. Here’s a quick overview:
It is absolutely beautiful! The Iceland landscape is draped in a thick blanket of snow with glistening icicles. Add on all the festive season lights and you truly have a magical Christmas experience on your hands.
Whilst December is a popular time for people to visit the island, it still doesn’t get as crowded as during the busy peak summer season. This makes things much easier when it comes to traffic on the roads as well as visiting our popular sights and participating in activities.
Without the peak season crowds, you also won’t find those hefty peak season prices. Therefore, you’ll be able to stretch your budget. Just keep in mind that (as in the rest of the world) we advise you to get all your shopping, etc. done before Christmas and New Year when prices skyrocket.
The cold conditions and the few daylight hours make it the perfect time to spot the Northern Lights in Iceland.
There are many seasonal activities and attractions that can only be seen and experienced during the winter months. These include things such as ice cave exploring, skiing, and snowboarding.
You won’t have nearly enough daylight hours to experience another of the island’s natural phenomena; the Midnight Sun. If this is something you want to tick off after a trip to the island, we recommend that you plan a mid-summer trip.
Certain roads in Iceland are closed during the winter months every year. This especially affects the Westfjords and the Highlands. Know that you’ll need to be flexible when it comes to your road trip route and if you’re dead set on exploring the Westfjords and the Highlands, you might want to stick to the summer months as well.
The road conditions can be very challenging. Especially if you’re a nervous driver or simply not used to driving in ice and snow.
Certain animals are pretty famous here on the island, but you’ll only be able to spot them at certain times of the year. Sadly, that does not include December. The Puffins (aka clowns of the sea) make the island their breeding ground between May and August, and there are many migratory whales who call the Icelandic coast home between April and September.
December Holidays in Iceland
The three biggest reasons people travel to Iceland in December is for Christmas, New Year, and our winter solstice celebrations. Here’s what you need to know:
Christmas (or Yuletide as we call it here in Iceland) is a much more extended affair than other places in the world. It actually starts on Sunday, four weeks before the 24th, when the 1st of 4 advent candles are lit (the next being lit on the next Sunday, and the next, etc.)
Then the official Christmas fun already begins on the 12th of December when the children start putting out a shoe in which a Yule Lad will leave them a present every night till Christmas Eve.
Although you’ll find the same Christmas wreaths, lights, and decorations the rest of the world likes to put up, you’ll also find plenty of other weird and wonderful Christmas traditions here on the island. Things such as Laufabraud (“leaf” bread), giving books as Christmas gifts, Jolakaka (Christmas Cake), and much more.
Iceland has become world-famous for its New Year celebrations. Not just for its parties, but the fact that the Icelanders completely light up the darkness with spectacular firework displays. For the bigger parties and events to ring in the New Year in Iceland, we recommend you stick to bigger cities such as Reykjavik.
The Winter Solstice
The winter solstice in Iceland is celebrated on the 21st of December and is the shortest day of the year (or the one with the most darkness, depending on how you look at it). Needless to say, this is a good excuse for a party and you’ll find festivities celebrating the winter solstice all over the island.
Some prefer to just join the celebrations at their local drinking hole, whilst others spend it with friends and family and some go to the Secret Solstice Music Festival. Whatever your preference, there will be a winter solstice party that’s the perfect fit for you.
The Weather in Iceland in December
As you can imagine, a winter wonderland comes with some extreme weather elements and some cold, but winter in Iceland definitely isn’t as bad as people think. Here’s what you can expect when traveling to Iceland in the winter on a December trip:
How Cold is Iceland in December?
You might be surprised to learn that Iceland isn’t as cold as you might think. The temperature in Iceland in December ranges between -2 and 4 degrees Celsius, but generally tends to stay around the 0-degree mark. There is a misconception here on the island that the Reykjavik weather in December is better than the weather beyond its borders.
And, although this is true when comparing Reykjavik to the colder cities in the north, the “Reykjavik weather is better” argument is based merely on an illusion created by the city buildings forming a type of shelter against the weather elements. The exact same phenomena can be found in the other bigger cities and towns here on the island.
How Many Daylight Hours are There in Iceland During December?
There are very few daylight hours when visiting Iceland in December. On average, you’re looking at roughly 4 hours of daylight each day with the sun rising at about 10:45 and setting at 16:00.
How Strong is the Wind in Iceland in December?
The Icelandic winds are pretty legendary, and these bad boys have been known to rip car doors straight off their hinges. Unfortunately, December is the second-windiest month of the year in Iceland, with wind speeds that average a staggering 25 kilometers an hour but have been known to blow at 35+ kilometer an hour speeds. So, you’ll need to be prepared and always keep an eye on the Iceland weather forecast.
How Much is the Snowfall in Iceland in December?
December and January are the months with the most snowfall in Iceland, and you can expect a total of roughly 499 mm of snow in the month of December. Once again, you’ll need to be prepared and always keep an eye on the weather forecast.
How Much is the Rainfall in Iceland in December?
December is definitely one of the wettest months of the year in Iceland, but it’s not always due to the rain (we have snow, sleet, etc.). But you are likely to experience some rainfall during your December trip to the island with the month averaging about 32 mm of rain.
Driving in Iceland in December
As we already touched on, driving in Iceland in December can be quite challenging. Know that you will be dealing with snow and ice on the road. So, if you’re a nervous driver or simply don’t have experience driving in these types of conditions, you might need to stick to public transport and opt for guided tours that include transport.
But if you’re not such a nervous nelly, or you’re used to these types of road conditions, a quick chat with your rental agent will be all you need to get out on the road:
Discuss the roads and routes you’ll be traveling. As we already mentioned, certain roads are closed during the colder months each year. You might have to adapt your planned route (or the routes on your Iceland wishlist) to accommodate this.
Also, discuss the roads and routes you want to take to ensure that you get the correct vehicle. There are certain roads, like the F-roads in Iceland, that legally require you to only access them with a 4x4 vehicle. Even though most of the F-roads are closed during the wintertime, there might just be one or two that you are going to hit. Then, of course, there are also a few roads that, even though you’re not legally required to drive a 4x4 on, any local will well advise you to do so.
You’ll need to make sure that you have all the seasonal gear and accessories you will need. You will need everything from ice scrapers to snow tires in Iceland, so make sure that all these things are included with your rental. If not, whether it can be added at additional cost, or whether you need to purchase these items elsewhere.
Make sure that you have sufficient insurance coverage for winter and the roads you intend to take on. Additional insurance policies such as Sand and Ash Protection, for example, will need to be considered.
The Best Things to Do in Iceland in December
When visiting Iceland in December, you’ll be able to have an absolutely jam-packed trip itinerary. Here are a few activities and attractions you can add to your Iceland to-do list:
Hunt the Icelandic Northern Lights in December
As we already mentioned, December brings with it the perfect combination of cold and darkness to see the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky. If you want to go Northern Lights hunting, we do recommend that you get out of the city. If, for example, you’re in Reykjavik in December, the city lights will make it nearly impossible to spot the lights. You need to go where it’s more remote and there is little to no light.
Soak in a Hot Spring
Going to places such as the Blue Lagoon in Iceland in December is a much-loved activity. It is the contrast between the warm water and the cold exterior that makes this such a memorable experience. Add on the fact that our hot spring water has been credited with all sorts of healing powers and it’s a win-win situation.
Go on a Road Trip
The road conditions in December in Iceland can be tricky to navigate, but the one road trip you can never go wrong with, irrespective of season, is the Golden Circle in Iceland. This route is jam-packed with some of the best attractions and activities the island has to offer and is always open to the public unless there’s a sudden road closure due to unforeseen circumstances.
Explore an Ice Cave
As we already mentioned, most of the ice caves in Iceland are only open during the colder months due to safety concerns, so when you’re visiting the island during December, this is one activity that should be at the top of your to-do list. For the same safety reasons, the ice caves can only be explored via guided tour, so make sure that you’ve booked your spot.
Go Horseback Riding
Iceland boasts its own breed of horse called the Icelandic Horse, so horseback riding on the island will always be a unique experience. These beautiful creatures can perform an extra gait called the tölt and are known for their friendly nature and pony-like stature, and if you’re visiting the island in December, you will find them with their thick, fluffy winter coat.
Visit the Local Museums
Iceland is famed for its unusual, exciting, and interactive museums. Whilst many keep museum visits for those bad weather days, we highly recommend that you reserve at least a couple of days for all the interesting museums here on the island.
You can look forward to museums such as the Saga Museum where wax figures tell the tales of the most historic and legendary moments of the Icelandic culture. The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft delves into the mystical and mysterious side of the island. And The Icelandic Phallological Museum is where you can get to see the penis of every mammal you can find here on the island.
Turn Yourself into a Viking
You won’t have the right to start pillaging your nearest village, but there are plenty of opportunities for you to become a Viking here on the island. You can go sailing on an authentic Viking ship. Join in a feast with your fellow Viking warriors in an authentic Viking Village. Or you can dress in traditional Viking garb and accessories and have your portrait taken at Mink Studios by one of the photographers that worked on the set of Game of Thrones.
Admire the Architecture
If you appreciate architecture, one of the best things to do in Iceland in December is to visit some of our most impressive and historical buildings. From island-inspired buildings such as Hallgrimskirkja to modern buildings such as the Harpa Concert Hall – you’ll understand why the Icelanders have been named one of the most creative nations in the world.
Go Christmas Shopping in the Capital
As the festive season looms, one of the best things to do in Reykjavik in December is to get your Christmas shopping done on Laugavegur Street (the capital’s most famous shopping street).
Here you will find a wide range of shops selling anything from outdoor gear, and clothes, to Iceland souvenirs, and home décor. And in between hitting the shops, you can re-energize with some local Iceland food favorites and craft beers at one of the restaurants or cafés. It probably also doesn’t help your credit card that most shops stay open ‘till 22:00 from the 15th of December.
Visit the Waterfalls
We have 10,000 waterfalls here on the island, but there are a few incredibly unique, not-to-be-missed waterfalls in Iceland such as Dettifoss, Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, and Glymur. Many think that it would be a waste of time to visit the waterfalls during a time that everything is frozen, but if you visit one of the waterfalls on your trip to Iceland in December, you’ll understand what a magical experience this can be.
Either the majority of the waterfall is frozen in time as if someone pressed the pause button, or the water keeps tumbling to the ground below whilst icy tentacles seem to be crawling over the cliff edges. Add a white blanket of snow at the bottom, and it looks like a scene out of a sci-fi movie.
Go on a Glacier Hike
What is better than a hike in Iceland? Well, a glacier hike in Iceland! And there’s no excuse why you can’t do this type of hiking in the middle of the winter season. As with the ice caves, this is an activity that can only be done via guided tour due to safety reasons, so be sure to book your spot. Also, check the age restrictions as most tours do not allow smaller kids on these tours.
Take on the Ski Slopes
Iceland is actually a mecca for skiing and plays host to a number of international ski competitions such as the Fossavatn Ski Marathon. But, don’t worry, you don’t need to be a professional to join in the fun. Our ski resorts cater to every age and skill level. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, the following ski resorts come highly recommended:
Icelandic Festivals and Events in December
As can be expected, the period over the festive season and New Year consists of a LOT of festivals and events, the majority of which won’t even be properly advertised or even annual once-off events since most festivities last for days or even weeks on end. But here are just a few events to consider if you want to plan ahead:
The New Year’s Eve Run
Yes, there are some of us who don’t end the year staring at the bottom of a bottle and coming up with New Year’s resolutions. This 10-kilometer New Year’s Eve Run is an annual event held in downtown Reykjavik and is definitely not your usual race. It is open to all ages and fitness levels and participants are encouraged to wear their most weird and wonderful costumes to take home the prize for the most unique costume.
The Yule Lads Bath
Join the yule lads for a bath! Ok, it’s not quite as dodgy as it sounds. The Yule Lads in Icelandic folklore are essentially mischievous Christmas elves. So, each year in December, the exact date can be confirmed here, actors dressed up as the Yule Lads head to the Myvatn Nature Baths where young and old can spend a relaxing and silly soak in the hot springs together.
What to Pack and Wear when Visiting Iceland in December
We understand that it can be confusing knowing what to wear in Iceland in December, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t handle the cold well and if you need to consider all the things you’d like to do on the island during this time. That’s why we created this handy Iceland packing list that you can use as a guide. Just remember to include the following:
Long, winter coat
Waterproof down jacket
Moisturizer and lip balm (you won’t know dry like an Iceland dry)
Visit Iceland in December & Become the Star of Your Own Christmas Movie
As we’ve already said; visiting Iceland in December feels like you are transported straight into a Christmas movie (which even included elves in Iceland!).
And now that you know what there is to do in Iceland in December, it’s up to you to create the type of movie you’ll star in; is it going to be action-packed with skiing, horseback riding, and hiking?
Or is it going to be a bit more chilled with relaxing soaks in the hot springs, visits to the museums, and trips to local architectural hot spots? Whatever it is, we suggest yourent a car in Iceland if you are planning on exploring the island beyond its bigger city walls. And once you’ve got your own wheels, you can get up to any December Iceland adventures your heart desires!