Iceland in December: What to expect?
What to do in Iceland in December? How is the weather in Iceland during winter? What are the top things to do in Reykjavik in December? How is the temperature?, Can you see the Northern Lights in December? Where to see the Northern Lights and all about Christmas and New Years Eve in Iceland!
Are you thinking about visiting Iceland in December? Yes! If so, I would from the bottom of my heart recommend you to GO for it! Book your ticket now and don’t look back. Then, continue reading this blog post with all about Iceland in December for more info on what to expect in our cold, harsh but most beautiful month of the year.
Text by: Egill Fannar Halldórsson
Last Updated: 30/07/’18
First a few words on what to expect in this article!
- Northern Lights in December – Where & when to see them
- Top Things to do in Iceland in December
- Best local tours in December (with prices & availability)
- Restaurants in Reykjavik – We help you to get a reservation for the holidays
- Christmas in Iceland, all you need to know!
- New Years Eve in Reykjavik, Iceland with it’s endless amount of fireworks
- And lastly, the ultimate New Years Eve Party in Reykjavik
Make sure you check out: The Best Day tours from Reykjavik in December!
Weather in Iceland in December
December is one of our absolute most beautiful months of the year in Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s hard to beat super cold crispy winter days, with snow everywhere you look and only warm Christmas lights to light up the day. And of course, after the lights go out, you might see the dancing aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) above you to keep the night lit up as well.
One thing you must know: December is when we have our shortest days. In other words, December is the darkest month of the year in Iceland. Since our beautiful northern most capital of the world is located so close to the arctic circle, the days get super short in the winter … And of course, it’s the opposite in the mid summer with 24 hours of daylight!
With that being said, the days in December consist of very limited daylight – Normally only a few hours per day. The 21st. of December is our winter solstice. The shortest day of the year – Or the longest night. Normally the amount of daylight is around 4 hours, from around 12 PM – 4 PM. For some people, this long night might sound a little terrifying, but all doubt goes away if you are lucky enough to have the night lit up by snow or the magical Northern lights!
Average temperature in Iceland in December
The average temperature in Iceland in December is from -1°C to +4°C. That is about 30-39°F. In other words = Do bring your warm clothes! There is not a huge difference in temperature or weather in general between different parts of Iceland but wether you decide to stay in Reykjavik, Akureyri or any other town, you should dress properly.
Your Iceland gear should consist of a parka, wool or fleece sweater, warm under layers, hiking/winter shoes, warm hat, gloves and waterproof pants. And dress with layers on top of layers! It will be cold but it will also be beautiful. Just make sure to dress warm and it’s better to be able to take layers off than being cold.
If you stay warm, then nothing will stop you from having a blast!
Here is a blog post I wrote earlier with more detailed information about What to Wear in Iceland during Winter.
You might also like: Our Most Recommended Northern lights tour
Top Things to do in Iceland in December
December is a special time in Reykjavik and all of Iceland. The Christmas season is a huge thing for us locals and that means that almost every single person will be happily filled with that warm Christmas spirit from the end of November and through the whole holiday season.
Here are a few suggestions for awesome things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland that is especially awesome in December:
- Wrap yourself in all your layers of clothes, take a romantic walk in down town Reykjavik and try to find all 13 hidden hologram Santa Clauses around the city (they will be hiding in windows and on buildings!). Also, you must stop to enjoy warm coffee/hot chocolate and Icelandic pastries at some local shop that you can’t pronounce the name of! (Psst! If you don’t know where to begin, here is a blog about our top coffee shops in town!).
- Try to see the Northern Lights! December is one of the best months of the year and has the highest chance of seeing the Northern lights. You have two ways to do this; either renting a car to search for them yourself or going on a guided northern lights tour. Both have their pro’s and cons. Renting your own car can be a lot of fun since you’ll be able to take it at your own pace which is always nice. But it would be nice to have 4×4 all-wheel drive car since the roads can get slippery during winter. Going on a Northern Lights tour is my first recommendation for Northern Lights as you’ll have an expert scouting out the best areas in Iceland to give you the absolute highest chances of seeing the lights. The tour also teaches you the basic tricks to be able to photograph the Northern Lights which adds a lot of fun to the experience. Regardless of which option you’ll go with – I wish you the best of luck on your northern lights hunting adventure!
- Enjoy some winter activity! To make the absolute most of your winter wonderland trip to Iceland, do something awesome in the snow! My personal favorite is Snowmobiling on top of glaciers! An adrenaline adventure mixed in with glacier sightseeing. How cool does that sound? Other fantastic recommendations is going on a glacier hiking/ice climbing adventure, to visit ice caves or simply go out and play in the snow!
- Bath in amazing hot water in the cold! You won’t find any more local thing to do in Iceland. You can either bath in our awesome local swimming pools that are all around Reykjavik or visit a natural hot spring in the countryside! The local pools in town are easy to reach and affordable – Here you can read about my personal favourite swimming pool in down town Reykjavik. There are tons of absolutely amazing natural hot springs, hidden – and scattered around Iceland. However, most of them are very hard to reach during winter and some roads might be closed (Here is our blog on Natural Hot Spring). But we also offer one kick-ass tour that will in one day take you around some of the most breathtaking sights of Iceland and end at one of my favourite natural hot springs in the country. You can view the Golden Circle and Hot Spring tour here.
- Eat the best local Icelandic (and warm) food in December. Ask anyone that has travelled to Iceland what they think about Icelandic food … it is amazing! Or at least we believe so. And Reykjavik is the foodie capital! Every restaurant in Reykjavik will, of course, be serving outstanding food but the seasonal specialty during the cold winter months are warm, hearthy cuisines and If you are a foodie, you should not hesitate to join our Reykjavik Food Walk!
But please notice that if you are travelling close to Christmas or New Years Eve, you need to book your tickets far in advance since we will get fully booked.
- Visit some of the many great museums in Reykjavik. My favourites are The National Museum of Iceland for history and what it means to be an Icelander (allow 1-2 hours here), The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavik 871+-2 (yes, the name is this long haha) but this is an super interesting place that will take you back to the viking age & the museum is built on top of one of the oldest man-made structures found in Iceland. Two more interesting museums to visit are RAM (The Reykjavik Art museum) and of course, the Penis museum (… The Icelandic Phallological Museum). Yes, you read that correctly …
The Best Tours in Iceland in December
There are two things you should definitely keep in mind for planning your tours in Iceland during December.
1) The last two weeks in December are very popular dates to visit Iceland and everything get’s booked up really early. Therefore, I recommend you to book your tours & hotels as far in advance as possible. 2) Since daylight hours are limited in December (4-5 hours during 21st. of December) you need to plan your trip carefully and I recommend tours rather than self-drive during the darkest winter months to ensure both your safety and that your excursions are planned for the best daylight-hours.
Here are my best local recommendations for tours to do from Reykjavik, Iceland in December:
If you are in Iceland for just a few days, this is the best ‘see it all, do it all’ tour of Icelandic nature and natural wonders! What I’m trying to say is that if you should do just one nature-exploring tour, it should be this one. See Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir erupting geothermal area, the beautiful Thingvellir national park and more.
This tour in particular is furthermore the highest rated Golden Circle in Iceland and costs only 10.900 ISK.
So when planning, This small group Golden Circle tour is not only a great tour to choose but the absolute best and highest rated experience by other travellers :)
Same as the recommendation above – another of what I would call the two “must visit” (and most popular) Icelandic nature tours available from Reykjavik. If you have enough days to take both Golden Circle and South Coast, that would be perfect and I know you would go home with a very big smile, eager to visit again to see more!
This tour will take you to the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland (Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss), the infamous Black Sand beach, the small coastal town of Vík and Sólheimajökull glacier among other things.
This tour is for everyone that wants to make the absolute most of their stay in the city and experience Reykjavik like a local. And isn’t that everyone?
In a small group, you will make a new local friend that will show you all about Reykjavik, visit 5-6 unique Icelandic restaurants, introduce you to the most authentic cuisines at each venue and take you on a short tour around Reykjavik – so you will experience all the best of the city in just one day. The Reykjavik Food Walk is also currently rated the #1 tour of over 350 tours available in Reykjavik on Trip Advisor, with 1000+ 5 star reviews.
You can find more information on the Reykjavik Food Tour here.
Oh yes, another one of my personal favourites! This is a whole different way to explore Iceland unlike anything else. Swap out the mini van for a super powerful 4×4 buggy car, driving off-road, up & down mountains and across rivers – with you in the driving seat. A really fun, adrenaline fuelled Iceland exploration tour only minutes away from down town Reykjavik.
PS. It is even more fun in the snow!
Of course, the Northern Lights. I’ve talked about this tour quite a lot in my other blog posts and already mentioned it above. Why? It’s the best. There are multiple way to see the Northern Lights (IF they are active on that particular night) but this tour is really adventurous & has the best ‘chance to see the Northern Lights’ rate I’ve seen so far. So, it’s my recommended Northern Lights tour.
Last but not least, I also mentioned this awesome experience earlier in this blog post and I’ll definitely stick to it. Get your own powerful snowmobile, head to Langjökull glacier and race through the icy desert like there is no tomorrow!
I believe for travellers that are not used to snow … or glaciers – this might just be the most adventurous thing to do.
You definitely want to make sure that you don’t miss out on the vibrant Reykjavik nightlife! You might already have heard about the Reykjavik nightlife scene – with over 80 bars in only one street, all open until 04.30am and Icelanders that are very, very committed to their drinking (hah!).
We believe the Reykjavik Nightlife is absolutely awesome and very unique – and that makes it definitely worth experiencing for travellers on their way to Iceland.
The first ever – the original – Wake Up Reykjavik experience is the Reykjavik Bar Crawl and it takes you in and around the Reykjavik nightlife scene – to our most favourite local bars to experience a night on the town and our most favourite drinks we think you just must try while in Iceland!
Christmas in Reykjavik
Who doesn’t love Christmas? I think I can honestly say that during your Iceland trip in December you won’t come across a single person that doesn’t love this beautiful season. These are the effects that the holidays will have on Reykjavik:
- Everybody should be in an even better mood that normal. WARNING: This might actually result in friendly Icelandic people become even more friendly!
- The whole city will be lit up with Christmas lights – Very useful during these dark days!
- There will be hidden Icelandic Santa Clauses all around the city!
- Everyone hopes for white Christmas. It isn’t unlikely that Reykjavik will be covered in snow in December.
- The streets might smell like cinnamon! We use that a lot for our Christmas baking.
- There will be even more locals on the Laugavegur main shopping street than usual to buy presents.
- We always host a very special Christmas Reykjavik Bar Crawl with an ugly Christmas Sweater theme on the 23rd. of December! This year it will be on a Sunday so it will be extra big. If you plan on joining us, make sure to secure your spot in advance since it always get’s fully booked really early.
- Almost all Tours and restaurants get fully booked! Book early and contact us if you’d like us to help you with restaurant recommendations and reservations!
Ingólfssvell (Ice skating plaza in the Heart of Reykjavik)
On the 1st of December, one of the largest mobile companies in Iceland (NOVA) sets up a “Christmas Ice Skating plaza” right in the Heart of Reykjavik! This is really starting to settle in as one of our must do things on Christmas as the plaza really sets the Christmas tone in Reykjavik!
If you are in Iceland in December, make sure to pay the plaza a nice visit to get your Christmas vibes flowing!
New Years Eve in Reykjavik
Alright! Just to get honest with you. This night is CRAZY in Reykjavik as Icelanders really celebrate New Year’s Eve like no other. For just more than a week, the ban for fireworks (yes, any kind of fireworks!) is lifted so every single person in Iceland is allowed to spend their entire month salary on explosives to light up the sky. And of course, we do so!
This is also the biggest party night of the whole year (I know what you are thinking, alcohol & explosives go great together!). And if you are in Reykjavik for NYE, I must recommend you to join our awesome New Years events. It’s a must and we always get fully booked far in advance for our NYE events. This year (2018) we will host our awesome Reykjavik Bar Crawls to warm up for New Years Eve on the 27th, 28th, 29th. and the 30th. of December. But for the 31st. of December, we will host the Ultimate New Years Eve Party in Reykjavik! This will without a doubt be the biggest party of the year & is perfect to make your NYE in Iceland absolutely unforgettable. Click the link for more info!
Note: We will update the page & reveal details about the 2018/2019 party when it get’s closer to the event.
I also wrote a big and awesome blog just entirely about New Years Eve so if you are visiting for this huge night, I would definitely recommend you to read this: Everything you need to know about New Years Eve in Reykjavik.
Restaurants for Christmas & New Years Eve: Iceland 2018
Hey! This is a new post update for the holidays in 2018!
I know everyone wants to eat out at a great, local fine dining restaurant at least once during their Iceland stay. Specially during the holidays. Therefore, if you are visiting Iceland during Christmas or New Years Eve, please get in touch with us and I (or my colleagues) will recommend you the best available restaurants over the holidays and help you to make a reservation for your perfect date :)
Please note that it’s my experience for the past 5 years that every single restaurant in Reykjavik get’s fully booked very far in advance. Usually more than 1-2 months in advance so it’s necessary to make reservations early. Drop us a line and we will help you out!
You can get in touch with us here.
To Sum It Up …
If you are crazy enough to be thinking about visiting Iceland – and doing that during the darkest month of the year. Absolutely go for it! You are going to love it. It’s a beautiful season unlike any other. And you probably won’t find any travel destination more epic than this. Snow, Blizzards, Northern Lights and the city will be more alive than ever. We are looking forward to seeing you!
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