Discovering Iceland in Winter: A Comprehensive Travel Guide

From Northern Lights to snow-covered landscapes, plan your perfect Iceland in winter escape with our travel tips and must-see destinations.

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

Oh, so you're considering Iceland in winter? Let us guess: you're enticed by the dreamy visions of dancing Northern Lights, the thrill of snowmobiling across vast glaciers, and the idea of soaking in geothermal pools while surrounded by snow.

Well, you're in luck, my frost-loving friend! This guide is your new best pal, packed with advice and tips to make your Iceland winter trip the stuff of legends. Hold onto your woolen hats because we're about to dive into the frosty, awe-inspiring, and – let's face it – slightly intimidating world of Iceland in winter.

From the whimsical weather to the best places to park your coat, we are here to give you the lowdown on everything you need for a magical winter adventure. So read on and get ready to make some serious memories!

The Weather in Iceland in the Winter

Let's start by digging into the heart of the matter – the weather in Iceland. An Iceland winter isn't your typical winter wonderland. Here's an overview of what you need to know about temperatures, daylight, and precipitation before you book those tickets: 

iceland winter

Average Temperatures 

During the coldest months (November to March), you'd expect visiting Iceland in winter to be a spine-chilling experience, right? Surprisingly, winter temperatures in Iceland typically fall between -1°C (30°F) and 4°C (39°F). 

However, the mercury can occasionally dip down to a frigid -10°C (14°F) during particularly cold spells. The coastal areas, like Reykjavík, tend to be milder, while the central highlands and northern regions tend to be a bit colder. 


When it comes to precipitation during your Iceland winter trip, expect a mix of rain, sleet, and snow. Iceland's winter months, particularly from December to February, see more rainfall and snowfall, with an average of 13 to 15 days of monthly precipitation. The country's winter precipitation is characterized by rain and snow during these months.

Daylight Hours

One of the unique quirks of Iceland in winter is the short daylight hours. At the peak of winter in December, you can expect about 4-5 hours of daylight, typically from 11 a.m. to around 4 p.m. 

As you move into January and February, the daylight duration gradually increases, although it's still limited compared to the summer in Iceland. On the plus side, longer nights increase the chances of witnessing the magical Northern Lights. So, what's not to love?

Iceland winter daylight

When To Go

Choosing the right time for your winter Iceland itinerary is crucial to enjoying all the adventures the land of fire and ice offers. Though winter stretches from November to March, the best time to visit Iceland for winter activities is from late December to February. During these months, you can explore ice caves, chase the Northern Lights, and marvel at frozen waterfalls, making your Iceland winter itinerary truly memorable.

The Best Activities to Do in Iceland in Winter

Now, let's dive into the good stuff – the fun-filled, heart-pumping activities that make a visit to Iceland in winter an unforgettable, thrilling experience. Trust us, 'boredom' isn't part of the Icelandic vocabulary!

Chase the Dazzling Northern Lights

Chasing the Northern Lights is an absolute must when you're in Iceland in the winter. The dark polar nights provide an ideal backdrop for these natural fireworks. But remember, it is nature's performance, so conditions must be perfect.

Clear, dark skies away from city lights enhance your chances of witnessing this incredible spectacle. There are also Northern Light Tours that take you to some of the best spots in Iceland to seek out the lights.

These tours are a great way to increase your chances of witnessing this phenomenon, plus they also offer knowledge and insight from professional guides.

visiting iceland in winter

Soak in Geothermal Pools

One of the must-do activities on your Iceland winter vacation is to soak in geothermal pools. Picture it: you, submerged in steaming, mineral-rich waters, with snow gently falling around you. It's surreal, soothing and oh-so-Icelandic! From the famous Blue Lagoon to secluded hot springs, the country is dotted with these natural hot tubs.

A dip in these geothermal pools is not just enchanting, but also therapeutic. Make sure to check out our comprehensive guide on the best hot springs in Iceland to find your perfect geothermal getaway. Trust us, this is a winter wonder you don't want to miss!

Explore the Mysterious Ice Caves

One of the most exhilarating activities to add to your Iceland winter vacation itinerary is exploring the mysterious ice caves. These icy structures, formed by the ebb and flow of glacial rivers, are a sight to behold. Each cave is unique, with walls of sparkling blue ice that create an otherworldly ambiance.

Remember, safety is paramount, so join a guided tour with experienced local guides who know the caves inside and out. Ready to embark on this frosty adventure? Check out our detailed Guide on Ice Caves in Iceland for all the necessary information. Be prepared for an unforgettable journey through nature's frozen art gallery.

Sprint Across Glaciers on a Snowmobile

Snowmobiling across mighty glaciers is an adrenaline-pumping highlight of any Iceland winter vacation. Imagine racing across the pristine, snowy terrain, the icy wind in your hair, and the vast white expanse stretching out beneath you.

It's an adventurous way to experience Iceland's majestic winter landscape, and it's suitable for beginners and seasoned snowmobile riders alike. Joining a snowmobile tour is the best way to explore the glacial terrain with professional expertise and reliable snowmobiles. 

And if skiing or snowboarding is more your speed, don't miss out on exploring some of the top ski resorts in Iceland for a thrilling downhill ride.

Trek the Majestic Glacial Trails

Trekking the majestic glacial trails is another exciting activity to explore during the winter in Iceland. You'll have the opportunity to traverse some of the most famous glaciers, such as Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe; Langjökull, known for its vastness, or Snæfellsjökull, a stratovolcano with a glacier.

These hikes provide stunning views of the winter landscape, making it a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts. If you're interested in learning more, check out our guide to the top 5 glaciers in Iceland

Spot Majestic Whales in their Natural Habitat

Iceland's winter offers the unique opportunity to spot majestic whales in their natural habitat. Being located in the North Atlantic, Iceland's surrounding oceans are home to an array of whale species.

The winter season, with its nutrient-rich waters, attracts these magnificent creatures, making it an ideal time for whale watching. You can also go on a boat tour where you might be lucky enough to spot minke whales, humpbacks, or even the mighty blue whale.

A boat tour will take you up close and personal with these underwater giants, so don't forget to bring your camera. Learn more about this incredible adventure in our detailed whale-watching guide in Iceland.

Whale watching in Iceland

The Most Popular Tourist Destinations in Iceland in Winter

Now that you're familiar with the thrilling activities you can enjoy in Iceland in winter, let's move on to the most sought-after destinations. These popular tourist spots showcase the unique beauty and charm of Iceland during winter, offering unforgettable experiences.

Explore the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a must-see in your winter itinerary in Iceland. This popular 300-kilometer (190 miles) route takes you through some of Iceland's most stunning landscapes.

From the geysers of Geysir, the breathtaking Gullfoss waterfall, to the historic Thingvellir National Park, each landmark offers a unique winter spectacle. A day's drive will let you experience all these incredible sights, making it a perfect addition to your Iceland winter journey.

Golden circle in winter

Discover the South Coast

Discover the South Coast of Iceland in the winter and witness nature's dramatic transformations. This region is well-known for its stunning black sand beaches, majestic waterfalls like Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, and fascinating glacier lagoons such as Jökulsárlón.

Take a walk on Reynisfjara beach, renowned for its striking basalt sea stacks, or explore the quaint coastal village of Vík. No trip to Iceland in winter is complete without exploring this beautiful region.

Iceland winter vacation

Marvel at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

During your Iceland winter vacation, don't miss the chance to marvel at the mesmerizing Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. Situated in Southeast Iceland, it's a spectacle of icebergs floating in glacial waters.

View the lagoon from the shore or take a boat tour for a unique perspective, providing an up-close encounter with the icebergs. This unforgettable experience is a must-add to your winter Iceland itinerary.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Iceland

Visit Vik i Myrdal

During your winter trip to Iceland, ensure you visit the charming village of Vik i Myrdal, located on the southernmost tip of the island. This quaint seaside town, famous for its black sand beach, Reynisfjara, offers breathtaking views of basalt sea stacks against the white snow. Don't forget to explore the iconic red-roofed church for a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.

iceland winter tours

Experience Akureyri

Experience the charm of Akureyri, a must-add to your winter itinerary in Iceland. Nestled in the northern region of the country, Akureyri is often called the 'Capital of North Iceland.' This picturesque town offers attractions like the iconic Akureyri Church, the Botanic Garden, and the stunning Lake Mývatn. Make sure to soak in the geothermal waters of the Mývatn Nature Baths, a less crowded alternative to the famous Blue Lagoon.

Akureyri, Iceland

Much Does It Cost To Travel to Iceland in the Winter

Now that you've fallen in love with the idea of going to Iceland in winter, you might be ready to sell a kidney to pay for the trip. But before you do anything drastic, it's important to understand the budget requirements of your holiday. Let's have a look at how expensive is a trip to Iceland.


Flights can be a significant part of your Iceland winter travel budget. Flight prices vary greatly depending on your departure location and the time of year. Generally, you can find round-trip flights from New York to Reykjavík in winter for around $300-400. However, flights from London can be as low as $80-100. Remember, these are rough estimates, and actual prices may vary.


During an Iceland winter vacation, accommodation options range from budget hostels to luxury hotels. Prices for a double room can start from $80 per night in a basic guesthouse, going up to $200 for a mid-range hotel. However, it's essential to note that prices for accommodations in Iceland can fluctuate based on factors like location, demand, and the specific time of booking.

General Iceland Winter Information


Experiencing Iceland in winter presents a unique opportunity to delve into Icelandic cuisine. Traditional winter fare includes heartwarming soups, hearty stews, and fresh seafood. Prices for a meal at a mid-range restaurant can range from $40 to $50 per person. For food lovers, don't miss out on trying the famous Icelandic lamb soup, perfect for the winter chill.

Transport And Other Expenses

Visiting Iceland in winter brings along additional expenses, such as transport. Car rental fees vary, starting at around $94 per day, including basic insurance. However, driving on the icy winter roads can be challenging, necessitating a 4x4 vehicle, which could cost upwards of $115 per day. 

Moreover, navigating Iceland's attractions might require guided tours, adding to the expense. Fuel costs, entrance fees to attractions, and winter gear are other aspects to consider in your budget.

Iceland winter transport

When is the Best Time to Go to Iceland in the Winter

So, you're all fired up about visiting Iceland in winter but unsure when to pack your bags? You want to know when is the best time to go to Iceland and when to expect the lowest prices. Let's break it down for you.

  • Peak Season: In late December and early January, tourists flock to see the Northern Lights, making it the peak season for winter in Iceland. The days are short, but the darkness maximizes Northern Lights viewing opportunities.
  • Shoulder Season: The months of November and March mark the shoulder season. There are fewer crowds, and the balance between daylight hours and chances of seeing the Northern Lights is reasonable.
  • Off-Season: October and April, the transition months between winter and summer, constitute the off-season. Winter activities are winding down, and wildlife like puffins begin to appear, offering a different kind of experience.

Iceland off season activities

Tips for Planning a Winter Trip to Iceland 

When planning a winter trip to Iceland, consider the following:

What to Pack 

Dressing for Iceland's winter is all about layers. Here is what you'll need:

  • Thermal underwear
  • Woolen socks 
  • Waterproof boots 
  • Heavy-duty winter coat
  • Hats, gloves, and scarves 
  • Don't forget a swimsuit for soaking in geothermal pools 

iceland winter travel

How to Get Around

Renting a car in Iceland provides the utmost flexibility, particularly during winter when public transport options are limited due to weather conditions. It's highly recommended to request a reliable and sturdy 4x4 vehicle equipped to navigate the icy and often challenging winter roads with ease. This ensures a safe and comfortable journey as you explore the breathtaking winter landscapes.

Snowstorm Survival

If you are stuck in a snowstorm, stay in your car to maintain warmth and protection. Ensure you have a winter emergency kit in the car, including blankets, food, and a flashlight. Familiarize yourself with the specifics of driving in Iceland in winter before your departure to ensure safety and preparedness.

Driving in Iceland in winter

Comparing Different Iceland Winter Tour Operators

Choosing the right tour operator can significantly impact your Iceland winter experience. Here's what to consider when comparing different Iceland Winter Tour Operators:

Who To Book With

Local operators like Scandinavian Travel have intimate knowledge of the country and its culture; they understand the needs of travelers visiting Iceland in winter. Scandinavian Travel offers an incredible range of winter activities, from ski tours to snowmobiling and dog sledding.

What To Look For

When evaluating tour operators, consider the variety and quality of tours offered, including the size of the touring group. Look for balanced itineraries with a mix of popular attractions and unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences. Make sure to check the operator's safety record and customer reviews.

Iceland Winter Itinerary

Best Hotels and Restaurants for an Iceland Winter Vacation

Ready to freeze your toes off and empty your pockets in style? Let's dive into the best hotels and restaurants for an unforgettable Iceland winter experience.

Hotels and Restaurants in Reykjavík 

  • Hotel Borg: This elegant, Art Deco-style hotel in the heart of Reykjavík offers luxurious rooms and top-tier service. A perfect base for your winter exploration, with cozy, chic interiors and stunning city views.
  • Grillmarkaðurinn: A must-visit restaurant for food enthusiasts. It combines traditional and modern cuisine, utilizing fresh, local Icelandic ingredients. The cozy ambiance and exceptional service complement the delectable dishes.

Hotels and Restaurants In Other Parts of Iceland

  • Hotel Rangá: Situated in a serene location near the Rangá River, this luxury hotel offers an ideal viewing spot for the Northern Lights. Its warm and welcoming ambiance, along with exceptional service, makes it a favorite among Iceland's winter visitors.
  • Fjorubordid Restaurant: This seaside restaurant in the quaint town of Stokkseyri is renowned for its decadent lobster soup. The fresh, locally sourced seafood, combined with the stunning ocean views, offers a unique dining experience.

Why Experiencing Iceland in Winter is a Must

If you're not already itching to grab your woolies and head to Iceland in winter, well, we question your sense of adventure. But all jokes apart, it's a magical snow-clad wonderland waiting to be discovered, and we've laid out everything you need to know. So, stop daydreaming, quit your scrolling, and start booking your winter escape to Iceland. Trust us, your social media followers will thank you!

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