As we’re teetering on the edge of Iceland’s Christmas winter wonderland phase, visiting Iceland in November is the last time you’ll be able to get the best of what Iceland in the winter season has to offer, but without the hefty price tag.
Many who want to experience the Northern Lights, are traveling on a budget, and have a bunch of winter activities on their Iceland bucket list chooses to visit the island in November, and, in this article, we tell you why and what you can expect from a November trip.
Is November a Good Time to Go to Iceland?
November is a GREAT time to visit Iceland for various reasons. But don’t let us sway your decision. Take a look at this quick overview of pros and cons and see if it will be the right fit for you:
You won’t find any of those pesky peak season summer crowds here on the island anymore, which makes visiting attractions and doing all sorts of activities around the island much easier.
Without any peak season crowds, you also won’t find any peak season prices, and you’ll find that your budget can stretch much further.
Conditions in November are perfect for spotting the Northern Lights.
You can truly get the Christmas winter wonderland experience in Iceland without any of the hefty festive season price tags, since the Christmas lights and decorations will already be up and the Reykjavik Christmas market will already be open (if you visit at the end of November).
The weather in Iceland in November has definitely shifted towards the winter season, so don’t expect meek and mild weather with warm summer temperatures.
We have roads and routes here on the island that close every year during the winter season and by November many of these will already have closed, really messing with potential road trip plans.
The same dark conditions that make it possible to see the Northern Lights, make experiencing a Midnight Sun impossible (you’ll need 22+ hours of daylight for that).
Driving in Iceland in November
It may not be winter just yet, but, unfortunately, the road conditions might have you believing otherwise.
So, if you consider yourself to be a bit of a nervous driver, or you’re simply not used to driving in the snow and ice, you’ll need to come mentally prepared. Or have a backup plan (which may need to include a backup driver). Because of the road conditions, you will also have to chat with your rental agent about driving in Iceland snow tires and any other gadgets and accessories you may need.
This conversation will also include which insurance coverage you will need. We also recommend that you have a chat with your rental agent about the exact roads and routes you might be planning on taking. This is because there are certain roads that you are legally allowed to access with only a 4x4 vehicle, such as the F-roads in Iceland.
But when you travel to Iceland in November, most of these roads (which are in the Highlands) will already be closed. But then there are other roads that may not have that prerequisite up front, but any local will advise you to not take it on with a normal vehicle.
You will also have to properly work out your road trip around the island, with road closures possibly derailing your plans. Just do your homework well before arriving on the island, chat with your rental agent and the locals, and always keep an eye on the Iceland weather forecast and the Iceland road conditions before heading out.
If you do this, a road trip around Iceland in November is still possible. Some of the routes to consider include:
Weather in Iceland in November
As we’re on the precipice of winter with fall taking its final bow, the weather in November will be very similar although still slightly milder than mid-winter, December in Iceland. Here’s a detailed outline of what you can expect:
How Cold is Iceland in November?
The temperature in Iceland in November varies between 1 and 8 degrees Celsius (luckily, still not those below 0 temperatures!), but the average temperature in Iceland in November usually sits around 4 degrees Celsius. You will probably hear one of our local myths when you’re here on the island, claiming that our capital city is warmer than the rest of the country.
Although this is true when comparing Reykjavik in November with a northern city such as Akureyri in November, it’s actually a general misconception. This is because the buildings of the city create a sort of shelter against the worst of the weather elements and makes Reykjavik feel milder and warmer than its outskirts. But this is also not a phenomenon that’s unique to Reykjavik and can be experienced in all major towns and cities across the country.
Iceland Daylight Hours in November
Daylight hours in Iceland in November will only be about 8 hours and by the time you visit Iceland in late November, it will be a mere 5 hours of daylight each day. But it is exactly this overwhelming darkness that makes seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland in November possible.
And you also need to remember that Iceland is very well-geared for its darker months. This is not a situation of darkness falling and everyone starting to fumble around, just twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do. You can still carry on with your trip itinerary, as most attractions and activities are well-lit.
Speaking of well-lit… pleeeaaase do not sit in our well-lit capital city of Reykjavik in November and expect to see the Northern Lights. Light needs darkness. So, can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland in November? Yes, it’s almost guaranteed – if you move away from the glaring city lights.
Does it Snow in Iceland in November?
Absolutely! Remember when we said you’ll be able to experience an Icelandic Christmas wonderland? But in November, it probably won’t be raging blizzards, and you can expect the snowfall to clock in at roughly half its mid-winter average at just 8.7 centimeters.
Just keep in mind that the more north you go, the more extreme the Iceland weather becomes, so you can expect more cold, more snow, and more everything if you’re planning on visiting Akureyri.
Rainfall in Iceland During November
Whilst you will experience rainfall when visiting Iceland in November, it will still not be torrential showers. You are looking at an average of about 80 mm, which equates to roughly 10 days of rainy weather all month. And even when the rainy weather hits, you’ll still find plenty of things to do in Iceland in November.
How Windy is it in Iceland in November?
The wind has definitely picked up since it took a little breather during the summer months, and when you visit Iceland in November, you will find wind speeds averaging about 30 kilometers per hour. But this is still not as rough as the 35+ kilometer per hour winds we experience mid-winter that can quite literally (and does!) rip car doors right off their hinges.
What to Pack and Wear when Visiting Iceland in November
With limited packing space, it can be tricky to pack for an almost winter trip to the island. That’s why we created this handy Iceland packing list that you can use as a guide. But also keep the following in mind when it comes to what to wear in Iceland in November:
Always wear layers. We have a local saying that goes “you can expect all four seasons in a day in Iceland”, and the difference between the outdoor and indoor temperatures can also be quite extreme. If you wear layers, you’ll always be prepared and will be able to take something off when warm or put something on when cold.
Sunglasses are incredibly important – especially when it snows. This is something that most who are not used to snow find completely counterintuitive. But, believe us, you will add at least a million wrinkles to your face from all the squinting when the sun reflects into your eyes.
The same goes for sunscreen as a highly underestimated item on your packing list. If you’re going to spend time outside, always remember to apply sunscreen. It may be cold and overcast, and you may be walking in centimeters of snow, but you will 100% be sporting a sunburn at the end of the day if you didn’t put sunscreen on.
We cannot stress the waterproof clothing and other waterproof accessories enough. Except for the fact that it will protect you against the snow and rainfall, you will also thank us when walking on the wet, muddy trails of the Iceland hot springs or are the only ones not getting drenched by a waterfall’s mist and spray.
Leave your umbrella at home and stick with the raincoat. With our legendary Iceland winds, that umbrella won’t even last a day.
Best Things to Do in Iceland in November
If you are still wondering what to do in Iceland in November, here are a few ideas you can consider adding to your trip itinerary:
We hear you; why would I go camping if we’ve just discussed an Icelandic winter wonderland? But you don’t have to be the next Bear Grylls to brave the camping grounds here in Iceland. Simply rent a campervan, and you can live in comfort whilst still immersing yourself in nature and the majestic Icelandic landscape. But camping in Iceland is not just another fun thing to do, it also helps drastically cut down on accommodation costs.
You can even go one step further with your budget-saving tricks and buy a Camping Card. This card will leave you only €159 out of pocket, but grants an entire family of 2 adults and up to 4 kids access to a variety of campsites across the country for 28 nights! When considering that campgrounds generally charge between $10-$20 per person per night, this equates to massive savings.
Have a Soak in a Hot Spring
You will find hot springs all over the island. This is because the volcanic activity heats up the underground water supply. You can choose between a natural hot spring in its original setting or one of the local geothermal pools that utilize hot springs that might not be so easily accessible or even too hot.
Whichever you opt for, our hot springs are incredibly rich in all sorts of minerals and have been credited with having healing properties, especially when it comes to dermatological problems. Our natural hot springs generally come with spectacular views and a sense of isolation, whilst our geothermal pools come along with some extra options to pamper yourself with such as restaurants serving local cuisine and spas offering various spa treatments.
Many are unaware of how big skiing in Iceland actually is. In fact, we play host to quite a few international skiing competitions. Needless to say, this is one of the top things to do in Iceland in November.
You will have your pick of ski resorts when you come visit the island; from Bjafoll and Skalafell in the south of Iceland to 7 different resorts in the north of Iceland, including Dalvik and Tindastoll.
Explore an Ice Cave
November is the perfect time to explore the ice caves in Iceland. This is because the majority of our ice caves are closed during the warmer months due to safety concerns (ice melts, remember?). But it is this ice melting that also ensures that you will never see the same ice cave twice – even if it technically is the exact same ice cave. The ice cave you see one year will look completely different when visiting it the next year.
The ice caves can only be explored on a guided tour (once again, due to safety reasons), but this is one experience we highly recommend you budget for. One cannot explain what it feels like to be completely enveloped by glassy, bright blue walls of ice. Some of the ice caves to add to your to-do list are Crystal Cave, Katla Ice Cave, and the Vatnajökull Ice Caves.
Visit a Waterfall
We have a staggering 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland, so you’ll have your work cut out for you if you want to see all of them. Our waterfalls are quite unique when it comes to the individual features and aesthetics of each one, so, whatever you do, do not miss out on visiting the following popular waterfalls here on the island:
Become a Viking
Look, visiting the island is not going to give you free-reign to start looting local stores, but you’ll definitely get the opportunity to sail on an authentic Viking ship, get dressed in traditional Viking garb, and have your portrait taken, as well as eating at a real Viking feast in a Viking Village.
Dive/Snorkel the Silfra Fissure
The Silfra Fissure is a tear (fissure) in the earth that’s formed where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pushing apart. This tear is now filled with the clearest of glacial water and one can dive or snorkel the Silfra Fissure to, literally, be suspended between two continents. And since you dive/snorkel with a dry suit on, the Silfra is open to the public all year round.
Just keep in mind that if you’re planning on diving, you’ll need to bring a valid diving license with you and have sufficient experience underneath your belt. Otherwise, you’ll need to grab the snorkel gear like the rest of us.
Shop till You Drop in the Capital City
It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, you’ll always find that infamous shopping street. In Iceland, that’s Laugavegur Street in Reykjavik. And whether you’re looking for souvenirs, authentic Icelandic woolen items, clothes, or outdoor activity gear – you’ll find all of this and more in Laugavegur.
Visit a Museum
Any country rich in country and history such as Iceland is bound to have a bunch of museums, but we can assure you that Iceland definitely has some of the most interesting. Whilst many visitors reserve the museums as rainy-day outings, we highly recommend that you dedicate a few days to them (there is a plethora of them!). Some of our favorites are:
Go Whale Watching
You may just have missed the various migratory species that call the Icelandic coast home between April to October, but you’ll still find plenty of these magnificent ocean giants in our waters. One of the best places to go whale watching in Iceland is in Husavik (the so-called whale capital of Iceland), and you’ll find many whale watching tour operators to choose from there.
Stroll Along a Black Sand Beach
Our beautiful black sand beaches are yet another product of the volcanic activity on the island. What we perceive as black sand is actually eroded hardened lava. We have many must-visit black sand beaches here on the island, such as Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach where the beach stretches out in front of you for kilometers or Diamond Beach where pieces of ice that wash up on shore glisten like diamonds in the sunlight.
Visit One of Our National Parks
We have three official national parks here in Iceland, all of which hold their own must-see and must-do attractions and activities. These are Snæfellsjokull National Park, Thingvellir National Park, and the ever-growing Vatnajökull National Park where other parks and reserves keep being added to its borders.
Experience a Geyser
Iceland geysers are an incredibly interesting phenomenon since it’s essentially little volcanoes that erupt with water instead of lava. Iceland is home to the original geyser, the very first found in Europe, and the reason why we call geysers “geysers” in the first place! To delve into this origin story, you’ll need to visit Geysir. Although Geysir is now dormant, its sister geyser, Stokkur, is still very active.
Marvel at Our Architecture
In such a historic and creative country as Iceland, it’s no surprise that we boast some of the most incredible architectural works of our time. If you have an appreciation for engineering and art, be sure to check out Hallgrimskirkja, the Harpa Concert Hall, and The Nordic House.
Go Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is always a fun activity, but in Iceland, it’s an incredibly unique experience. That’s because the island has its very own breed of horse called the Icelandic Horse. These beautiful creatures are known for their pony-like features, friendly nature, and being able to perform an extra gait called the tölt.
Icelandic Festivals and Events in November
Icelanders don’t really need an excuse to celebrate, so you’ll always find a jam-packed events calendar whenever you come to visit. Here are a few of the festivals and events you can look forward to in November:
The Reykjavik Book Fair
The Reykjavik Book Fair is an annual event hosted by Icelandic publishers at the end of November and usually lasts for about a week. During the fair, you can look forward to exhibitions, readings, discussions, and great deals on a variety of books.
Iceland Airwaves is a music festival in Iceland that has a line-up of various local and international musicians from a wide range of music genres. Just double-check the dates before you come, since the festival is sometimes held at the end of October in Iceland.
Icelandic Language Day
Icelandic Language Day is on the 16th of November and is a day when the country celebrates its unique language and rich linguistic heritage. This day is celebrated with various events held across the country.
Iceland in November; the Icelandic Winter Wonderland Pre-Party
There is no other way to describe a trip to Iceland in November than an Icelandic winter wonderland pre-party. You will get to experience the very best of our festive season without the exorbitant fees and rates, and you’ll find plenty of things to see and do here on the island to keep you busy throughout.
Just remember to rent a car in Iceland if you want to properly explore the island and all it has to offer. Hope to see you here in November!