Iceland in December: Things to See & Do

January 4th, 2022

Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois

8 min read

Imagine snowy streets lit up by Christmas lights, you have a mulled wine in hand and you’re strolling through Iceland’s majestic capital. That’s what your next December vacation could look like.  

With the guide below you’ll be able to plan an activity-filled December break. You’ll find out the best things to do at this time of year, including the best places to visit and top activities to try.

Is it worth visiting Iceland in December?

Long story short: yes! Iceland is a country that’s worth visiting all year long and has huge bonuses in summer and in winter. It all depends on what you’re after.

Within the context of winter, December is an incredible month to visit. That’s thanks to the festive atmosphere enveloping the capital, Reykjavík, at this time of year. Picture Christmas markets, fairy lights, ice skating, and plenty of opportunities to party.

Just in case you’re not convinced yet, here are the top reasons to visit Iceland in December:

  1. Have a Christmas to remember in Reykjavík
  2. Spot the dancing Northern Lights
  3. Enjoy top scenic attractions with fewer visitors
  4. Ring in the new year in style with bonfires and fireworks
  5. See Iceland’s natural gems in their winter coat, with snow and ice

A wintry Reykjavík with the snowy Esja mountain in the background.

This is the enchanting and romantic winter vibe that awaits you in Iceland. Below you’ll find top tips to visit Iceland in December, including a packing and weather guide and must-see places.

  • Would you rather visit early in October or November? Iceland Tours’ blog has all the info you’ll need!

Best things to do in Iceland in December

December is a top winter month to enjoy a vacation in Iceland. At this time of year, you could combine the celebrations and festivities of the vibrant capital city, Reykjavík, with some sightseeing.

Spend your days on thrilling excursions and your evenings lounging in hot tubs and geothermal pools. Or relax during the shorter days of December and spend the long nights looking out for the Northern Lights.

Above all, you’ll want to visit in December to soak up all the cozy and romantic atmosphere of Christmas. Go for a glass of mulled wine with your friends, or enjoy a walk under fairy lights with your SO. 

In December, visit Iceland and you could:

  • Embrace the festive mood at Christmas markets
  • Take a whale-watching tour from Reykjavík
  • Go on a glacier walk or ice cave tour
  • Soak in hot tubs or relax at top Icelandic spas
  • Visit the Golden Circle and its scenic highlights
  • Snorkel between continents at Silfra
  • Hunt for the Northern Lights
  • Head inside a lava tunnel
  • Snowmobile in the fresh snow atop a glacier
  • Celebrate Christmas and learn about the 13 Yule Lads
  • Spend New Year’s Eve at a fiery bonfire

Events in Iceland in December

The main activities that fill the December (advent!) calendar are the Christmas celebrations and New Year’s Eve festivities. 

Visit Reykjavík in December and you’ll be able to take in the Icelandic traditions and culture around Christmastime. During these holidays, the capital city is transformed into a magical winter wonderland.

If you’re staying for the whole festive period, you won’t want to miss the New Year celebrations, with champagne, sparklers, bonfires, dancing, and fireworks. Although technically we’re fast-forwarding to January now… 

  • Look up day tours you could add to your itinerary in Iceland. 

Best places to visit in Iceland in December

1. Reykjavík

Location: Southwest Iceland, an hour from Keflavík International Airport.

Why visit? In winter, we recommend staying inReykjavík so you can soak up the lively ambiance and buzzing nightlife in the capital. Enjoy Christmas shopping at the markets and evening strolls under the festive fairy lights. 

To experience a bit more than the capital, add tours to the Golden Circle, majestic frozen waterfalls, and perhaps to relax at the famous Blue Lagoon spa.

Don’t miss: The lighting of the Christmas tree on the first day of advent at Austurvöllur square, ice skating at Skautahöllin, and Christmas buffets and concerts all over the city.

2. Snæfellsnes peninsula

Location: Northeast of Reykjavík.

Why visit? Snæfellsnes is where you want to go if you’re after a taste of Iceland but don’t have the time to drive around the whole country. Here you’ll get beaches, rock formations, volcanoes, glaciers, lava fields, and waterfalls. Another bonus is its proximity to Iceland’s capital, only around a 2-hour drive north, making it easily accessible even in winter.

Don’t miss: Venture around the Snæfellsjökull National Park.

3. Golden Circle

Location: Southwest Iceland, near Reykjavík.

Why visit? The Golden Circle is a must-do circuit. Here you’ll get to see 3 of the most famous sights in Iceland: the exploding geysers of Haukadalur, the multi-tiered Gullfoss waterfall, and the UNESCO-listed Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park.

This is an ideal day trip to introduce you to the sights of the Land of Fire and Ice.

Don’t miss: Lunch at Friðheimar, a greenhouse where they grow vegetables with geothermal power.

Geothermal eruption of Gullfoss Geysir after sunset, Iceland

4. Vík

Location: South coast of Iceland.

Why visit? Vík í Mýrdal (or simply Vík) is the southernmost village in Iceland and the location of one of Iceland’s top black sand beaches, Reynisfjara. To get here, you’ll pass by the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. In winter, they are even more magnificent as they are often frozen or covered in icicles.

Don’t miss: From the beach in Vík, you could spot the Reynisdrangar sea stacks. Nearby you could also go ice caving inside a glacier.

5. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Location: Southeast Iceland.

Why visit? Pic or it didn’t happen, right? Well, the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is one of the most photographed places in Iceland and you’ll soon see why. Here you’ll be standing right below the largest ice cap in Iceland, Vatnajökull, and see icebergs break off from the glacier and bob across the lagoon.

Don’t miss: Literally just across Route 1, you can go for a stroll along Breiðamerkursandur (AKA Diamond Beach) to admire shining chunks of ice against the black sand.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon at the foot of Europe's largest ice cap, the Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland

Bonus: The Ring Road

Location: Route 1 circles the entire island. 

Why drive it? For the ultimate road trip, drive all around Iceland along Route 1, aka the Ring Road. This is feasible in December, granted you’re a confident winter driver of course. And it’s good to be aware that you’ll need to set off before sunrise to arrive at attractions during daylight. 

You’ll get to explore most parts of Iceland, seeing fjords, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and canyons along the way.

Don’t miss: All the locations above, as you’re likely to pass them on your road trip. In North Iceland, take some time to explore the main city of Akureyri and the Lake Mývatn area.

Frequently asked questions about Iceland in December

Finally, below we’ve answered some of your top questions about visiting Iceland in December:

What is the weather like in Iceland in December?

Falling smack in the middle of winter, you can expect typical Icelandic weather, which means an unpredictable mix of snow, rain, and wind. On average there are highs of 4°C (39°F) and lows of -1°C (30°F).

What is the average temperature in Iceland in December?

So how cold does it get in Iceland in December? Well, not as cold as you might expect! In the capital, the average temperature at this time of year is 1°C (34°F).

Is there snow in Iceland in December?

It’s likely to snow in Iceland during December, but it varies from year to year. At higher altitudes, like up in the mountains, snow will start settling, adding a winter wonderland touch to the landscape. At sea level though, fallen snow may not stay longer than a few days.

The Reynisfjara black sand beach covered in snow, with the Reynisdrangar rock formation in the distance.

How are the driving conditions in Iceland in December?

Winter driving in Iceland can be tricky, but road trips is doable at this time of year. You’ll need to hire a sturdy vehicle, preferably a 4×4 drive, for a more comfortable driving experience.

You’ll also want to make yourself aware of safety precautions and road regulations in Iceland. For example, day and night, you are required to keep your headlights on in Iceland.

It’s good to be flexible when visiting Iceland in winter, especially if you’re on a self-drive tour. Every day before setting off you should check the weather and road conditions so you know what’s ahead of you and if you need to change your plans.

If you prefer to skip the winter driving challenge this time around, you could choose to stay in Reykjavík. The capital city makes for a great city break, with its thriving nightlife, trendy restaurants and cafés, and welcoming geothermal swimming pools. 

To enjoy some of the countryside, just hop on day tours to the top places you’d like to explore nearby.

How many hours of daylight does Iceland get in December?

December is the darkest month of the year in Iceland, with the shortest days and longest nights. This is because, in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice coincides with 21 December, the shortest day of the year.

In general, you can expect 3 to 5 hours of daylight in Iceland in December. For example, in mid-December, the sun rises around 11:30 a.m., and sets by 2:40 p.m. in the north and 3:30 p.m. in the south.

This means you’ll need to be smart about the way you spend your daylight hours. But long nights will give you plenty of hours of darkness to chase the Northern Lights or relax in a geothermal hot tub.

Can I see the Northern Lights in Iceland in December?

Yes, it’s possible to spot the Aurora Borealis in Iceland during this month. To see them, you’ll need the right solar activity and a clear, dark sky.

As mentioned above, December boasts the longest nights of the year. This means you’ll have that much extra time to go on Northern Lights tours.

Make sure to get away from the bright city lights for your best chances of spotting the dancing lights in the sky.

It goes without saying, but because the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon, no one can promise you will see them during your visit.

But if the conditions are clear and the solar activity is strong, you may well be lucky enough to witness them! It’s truly spectacular and a highlight of visiting Iceland in winter.

The Northern Lights dancing above a lake

Can you see whales in Iceland in December?

Whale watching is a fun, must-do activity in Iceland and it is available in summer and winter alike. 

In December, you’re likely to spot dolphins, harbor porpoises, and minke whales. Visitors to Iceland in winter include a pod of orcas that feast on herring near the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

What to wear to Iceland in December and what to pack?

You’ve planned it all and now all that’s left to do is pack your suitcase. But what should you bring along? December is the middle of winter in Iceland and so you’ll want to be ready for cold, windy, and snowy conditions.

To help you know what clothes to pack for Iceland in December, here is a packing guide for your winter trip:

  • Fleece or lightweight wool sweaters
  • Insulated and waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof (or even snow) trousers
  • Warm gloves, scarf, and hat
  • Thermal underwear (long johns) and socks
  • Swimwear and towel to visit a spa or hot springs
  • Hand cream and chapstick to keep hydrated in the winter conditions

The thing to remember is to bring plenty of warm layers. That way, whatever the weather, you can enjoy the activities you have planned in maximum comfort.

And what shoes should you wear in Iceland in December? We recommend you bring or wear a sturdy pair of waterproof hiking or winter boots. Don’t forget thick socks to keep you as warm as possible.

Some excursions may lend you extra clothing to keep warm, but make sure you’ve brought the essential warm layers with you.

You can read more about preparing for a winter trip with our blog: Tips for Iceland in winter – weather and packing guide.

Planning your trip to Iceland in December

Now that you’ve got all the info you need, how should you go about planning and booking your December vacation to Iceland? 

Iceland Tours offers a good selection of winter tours, including Northern Lights packages. Start by picking the way you want to explore, either by staying in Reykjavík and enjoying multi-day tours or by taking the wheel with a self-drive itinerary.

Then you can choose a specific tour that fits your wishes. You can also add optional activities to fill your days with even more adventures. Simply book online and our team in Iceland will take care of the rest.

Make your next holiday season even more memorable by visiting Iceland!

Tags:

Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois