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Many visitors to Iceland opt for a winter holiday when the nights, snow and ice are at their most captivating. Here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in Iceland in winter time.
Godafoss waterfall, Iceland in winter
Is Iceland Worth Visiting in Winter?
Absolutely. While it can get cold (it’s not called “Sunland”!), visiting Iceland in winter is always a good idea. Snow blankets the landscapes, the Northern Lights are visible for longer, and it’s the only time of year to experience the country’s unique ice caves.
The colder climate brings some challenges that aren’t there in warmer months, but Iceland winter is an unforgettable experience quite unlike anything else on Earth.
Here’s a quick guide of the best things to do in Iceland in winter.
What is there to do in Iceland in winter?
There are plenty of Iceland winter activities to enjoy. From Iceland winter tours to events and festivals - you can create an Iceland winter itinerary you prefer.
1. See the Northern Lights in Winter
The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are among the most enchanting things you’ll see in your lifetime. Caused by sun particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the result is a cosmic ballet of dancing lights in the night sky. People travel from all over the world to take a Northern Lights tour.
Northern Lights over the Mountains in Iceland
Because they’re only visible at night, and daylight hours reduce greatly during the winter months, it is the best time of the year to see this phenomenon.
These lights are special even for us Icelanders, and we’re lucky enough to witness them many times. And even for those of us who see them often, the Northern Lights are too wonderful to keep to ourselves. When you see the lights, you call your mom straight away and then jump on social media to tell your friends. Only once you’ve shared it with everybody do you stop to bask in this spectral beauty.
Couple enjoying the Northern Lights in Iceland
If all of this sounds appealing, you can check out our Northern Lights tours, where you can experience the natural wonder that is the Aurora Borealis.
2. Take an Ice Cave Tour
Crystal Ice Cave in Iceland
Only available in winter, the enchanting ice caves are definitely something you shouldn't miss while visiting Iceland in winter.
A glacier hike is one of the most exhilarating activities in Iceland. It can be done together with ice caving or ice climbing or alone. There are several spots where you can go glacier hiking in Iceland. Among the most popular ones are Sólheimajökull, Vatnajökull, Snæfellsjökull, and Langjökull glaciers.
On Solheimajokull glacier, there are several glacier hiking tours to choose from. The Glacier Experience is one of the most popular ones, offering an easy and exciting glacier hike. If you want to add a little bit extra to your experience, choose a glacier hike with an ice climbing option.
Guided glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier, Iceland
If you want to travel to the "Earth's Center," as Jules Verne depicted it in his famous book "Journey to the Centre of the Earth," book a tour to Snæfellsjökull glacier. This tour offers a challenging hike for experienced hikers with a spectacular view over the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Meanwhile, Langjökull glacier offers a one-of-the-kind experience in the man-made ice tunnel. Visit the longest and the 2nd largest glacier in Iceland and see it from the inside!
Man-made ice tunnel in Langjökull glacier, Iceland
Snowmobiling in Iceland is an adventure you won't likely forget. Imagine driving to the top of the glacier with nothing but mountains and snow surrounding you. A thrilling ride on a snowmobile is just a must-do for every adventure-seeker!
It should come as no surprise that a country called “Iceland” has embraced skiing!
Skiing has been popular in this country for some time. Our ski areas (we won’t call them resorts because that is not technically what they are) are small and the mountains aren’t particularly high.
Still, downhill skiing in Iceland is a fun experience. Close to Reykjavik, Bláfjöll (or the Blue Mountains) is family-friendly and perfect for beginners. If you want a little more action, Akureyri, the capital of the north, is a very charming city with a wonderful ski area.
The hot springs in Reykjadalur are always a fine way to spend half a day. It’s a relatively easy hike up to a valley where the river meets the hot springs, making it the perfect temperature for a bath.
The Blue Lagoonis probably one of the best Iceland tours in winter, especially if you're looking to warm up.
Northern Lights above the Wooden Cabin in Iceland
If you time your winter visit to Iceland just right, it’s perfect to use the darker hours of the day for a dip, where you could spot the Northern Lights as you float around in the warm water of a hot spring. The pools are also considered a much-needed remedy to soothe tired legs and minds after a long day of hiking and exploring.
Don’t forget to pack the right gear! Getting cold is a sure way to dampen the mood on those hikes. The temperatures won’t be frigid, but we would advise doing some research on how to layer your clothes in an effective way.
Snorkeling in Iceland in winter? Yes, this might seem crazy at first, but hear this out. Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have in Iceland and, truly, all around the world. The temperature in Silfra stays between 2-4°Celsius (35-39°Fahrenheit) throughout the year, making it accessible in all seasons.
Guided snorkeling tour in Silfra Fissure during winter, Iceland
What can you expect while snorkeling in Silfra? You can expect to swim in a crack between two tectonic plates drifting apart. These two plates are actually two separate continents - North American and Eurasian. The water in Silfra is so clear that you can easily see 100 meters below you!
Mesmerizing blue water and rocks which can be seen by snorkeling in Silfra, Iceland
The snorkeling tours are available with a pick-up from Reykjavik or meeting directly at Silfra, within the Thingvellir National Park. Into the Blue tour is particularly popular with beginners. Here you will receive all the necessary equipment (including high-quality dry suits) and a dive master guide to take of you during the whole experience.
8. Food and Drink Tours
The atmosphere changes in Iceland in winter. As nights get longer and the temperature drops, indoor get-togethers get cozier.
Icelandic bars can go shoulder to shoulder with any in the world: the décor tends to be homely or chic, we’re great at cocktails and know what we’re doing when it comes to beer as well.
Icelandic food doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Indeed, we love fresh ingredients, innovation and especially quality seafood. TheReykjavik Food Walkwill bring you everywhere from classy restaurants to mouth-watering food markets.
Further afield in Stykkisholmur, theViking Sushi Touris a tasty tour of local seafood delicacies. The tour also includes sightseeing, where you’ll bear witness to incredible landscapes.
9. Enjoy Winter Festivals
Iceland has a number of indoor and (yes) outdoor events in winter.
A world-famous music fest that draws bands and fans from every corner of the globe. Previous Iceland Airwaves performers include Bjork, Vampire Weekend, Robyn and even Yoko Ono.
Iceland is a perfect place for Christmas markets, with its winter wonderland appearance, winter festival atmosphere and – of course – close proximity to Santa Claus! Christmas markets are part of Iceland and pop up throughout the country in December.
Christmas Markets in Iceland
New Year’s Eve
We like to ring in the new year in style, with partying, reflection and (of course) spectacular fireworks. Reykjavik is an especially good place to enjoy NYE celebrations.
This dynamic Iceland's capital offers tons of activities all year round, including in winter. If you're visiting Reykjavik for the first time, you can engage in a city walking tour or hop-on hop-off tour.
You can also go for day tours from Reykjavik. For example, this Northern Lights tour is a famous Iceland winter tour from Reykjavik.
Reykjavik, Iceland at night and Northern Lights above the city
Many visitors prefer Iceland winter travel, as they can enjoy unique marvels like the Northern Lights and ice caves, before unwinding in a warm spring or comfortable bar. Prepare for your Iceland winter vacation and maybe see you on a glacier sometime soon…