Discover Why December is the Perfect Time to Visit Iceland

Svanhildur Sif Halldórsdóttir

Svanhildur Sif Halldórsdóttir

From chasing the Northern Lights to experiencing Christmas and New Year's Eve, this article is your guide to a memorable December adventure in Iceland.

Table of Contents

Visiting Iceland in December

Nestled in the heart of winter’s embrace, Iceland in December is a magical wonderland waiting to be explored. As the days grow shorter and the landscape transforms into a pristine white canvas, this Nordic island unveils its unique charm.

Join me on a journey through this enchanting land, where icy landscapes meet cozy Christmas traditions and the Northern Lights dance in the velvety night sky. Bundle up, and let’s discover the beauty and warmth that make December in Iceland an unforgettable experience.

Average Weather in Iceland in December

A graph showing weather averages in Iceland in December.

Icelandic weather in December is a study in unpredictability, embracing the essence of winter’s capricious nature. This means that visiting Iceland in the winter months is only for those who are flexible, open to changing their plans, and have a sense of adventure. 

In December, average temperatures are around 32°F (0°C) for the whole country, with Northern Iceland usually seeing colder conditions than the capital area in the Southwest. This means that those who come to Iceland expecting a White Christmas might be disappointed.

Though the whole land is often blanketed in pristine snow in December, some regions sometimes remain snow-free around the 25th of December, a phenomenon Icelanders call “Red Christmas.” 

Red and decorated Christmas House in Akureyri, Iceland.
Christmas House – Akureyri, Iceland. Photo credit: Justin Poulsen via Flickr.

The brisk winds of December add another layer of charm and challenge to the Icelandic winter. As you venture through this land of extremes, be prepared for the possibility of storms, which can make your journey even more…uhm…exhilarating. If you’ve booked with Traveo, your travel advisor becomes a trusted ally in the face of such extreme weather, helping you adjust your plans to ensure a safe and unforgettable Icelandic experience.

So, whether you find yourself under a snow blanket or enjoying a “Red Christmas,” the weather in Iceland during December adds a touch of unpredictability to an already remarkable adventure.

Is December the Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Iceland?

A silhouette of a couple standing under green northern lights.
A couple standing under the northern lights.

December in Iceland is undeniably enchanting, and many wonder if it’s the best time to chase the elusive Northern Lights. As the month of December unfolds, it brings with it some unique advantages and a few challenges when it comes to Aurora hunting.

One significant advantage of December is the extended darkness. With daylight hours at their shortest, thanks to the winter solstice, there are more hours of darkness to increase your chances of spotting the Northern Lights. The extended nights create a perfect backdrop for the celestial spectacle, making it easier to witness the dancing colors painting the Arctic sky.

Northern Lights over Mt. Vestrahorn on the Stokksnes Peninsula, reflected in the sandy beach below.
Mt. Vestrahorn

However, December weather can be capricious. Snow and cloud cover might obstruct your view, so patience is key. The temperature can also be chilly, so bundle up to stay comfortable during your Northern Lights quest.

So, while December offers some of the darkest nights for Aurora viewing in Iceland’s darkest month, the unpredictability of Icelandic weather means that it’s not a guaranteed show. Nevertheless, with the right preparation and a touch of luck, you can experience the magic of the Northern Lights in December, making it a fantastic time to visit Iceland for this celestial wonder.

What to Pack for a Winter Trip to Iceland

Happy woman with backpack traveling in the snowy mountains of Iceland

Packing for Iceland in December requires a thoughtful approach to staying warm and comfortable amidst the chilly winter wonderland. From cozy layers to essential gear, here’s a guide to help you prepare for your Icelandic adventure.

  • Pack Warm Layers: You’ll often move from a warm vehicle to the cold outdoors; that is why layers are key since you can always remove or add an item of clothing. Pack thermal clothing, including long underwear, woolen sweaters, and a good insulated jacket.
  • Sturdy Footwear: Don’t forget waterproof, insulated boots with good traction for navigating icy terrain.
  • Gloves, Hats, and Scarves: Keep extremities cozy with insulated gloves, a warm hat, and a scarf to shield against the cold winds.
  • Waterproof Outerwear: A quality wind and waterproof jacket and pants are essential for staying dry in wet conditions.
  • Thermal Socks: Pack several pairs of warm, moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet toasty.
  • Swimsuit: Surprisingly, you may want to take a dip in one of Iceland’s geothermal pools or hot springs, so pack a swimsuit. Sitting in warm water and breathing crisp, cold air is one of my absolute favorite things to do in December.

How Long Do You Need in Iceland in December?

Gullfoss waterfall in the winter, covered in frost and snow
Gullfoss Waterfall in the winter

The ideal duration for your Icelandic adventure in December depends on your travel goals and the experiences you wish to embrace. So, while a week can provide a comprehensive exploration of the island’s beauty, a shorter trip can also be filled with enchantment.

For a well-rounded journey, consider spending 7 to 10 days to discover South Iceland, the Golden Circle, ice caves, and the vibrant Reykjavík. This timeframe also allows you to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture, soak in geothermal spas, and hunt for the Northern Lights. 

If you have limited time, a 3 to 5-day visit can still offer a taste of Iceland’s December magic. Focus on one region, like the Golden Circle or the South Coast, and prioritize your must-see attractions.

Northern Lights over icebergs at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Iceland.
Aurora Borealis in Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon.

Guided tours, with professional local guides and drivers well-versed in navigating Iceland’s December conditions, allow you to travel further and explore more. Their expertise not only ensures safety but also maximizes your time, letting you dive deeper into the wonders Iceland offers.

On the other hand, self-driving tours provide a sense of freedom and adventure. While they offer flexibility, guided tours add a layer of insight and efficiency.

Whether opting for a guided journey or a self-drive adventure, in the end, the duration of your December adventure in Iceland depends on your preferences. Whether it’s a week or just a few days, Iceland will undoubtedly leave you enchanted and wanting more.

December Self-Drive Tours in Iceland

Beautiful winter landscape, empty highway with snowy roadside around it, wintertime road trip vacation in Iceland

Driving in Iceland during December offers a unique adventure, but it’s essential to be well-prepared for the ever-changing road conditions. The Icelandic winter can be harsh, with snow and ice covering many routes, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country. However, roads around South and West Iceland, including the famous Golden Circle, are usually more accessible.

All Winter Self-Drive Tours at Traveo include a 4×4 vehicle equipped with winter tires for added stability and traction on the roads. They also include GPS, free and unlimited Wi-Fi, and 24-hour roadside emergency service. 

If you’d rather not drive, you can always opt for a guided tour, whether small-group or privately guided. Aside from not having to worry about icy roads, you’ll also gain insider information about this land of fire and ice from your friendly, local guide.

A woman standing in front of ice bergs on Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland.
At Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

Exploring South and West Iceland by car in December is a rewarding experience, offering a mix of natural wonders, cultural attractions, and charming towns. Here are some recommended driving routes:

  • The Golden Circle: This iconic route covers the geothermal wonders of Geysir, the majestic Gullfoss waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park. It’s an ideal day trip from Reykjavík and is usually well-maintained in winter.
  • The South Coast: Head east from Reykjavík to explore the stunning Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, black sand beaches at Reynisfjara, and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. These destinations are accessible along the main Ring Road, which is typically plowed regularly.
  • Snæfellsnes Peninsula: This captivating area in West Iceland boasts a dramatic coastline, the iconic Snæfellsjökull volcano, and charming fishing villages. Roads to Snæfellsnes are usually manageable in winter.

Road Conditions in December

A car driving in a snowstorm in Iceland.
Snowy Iceland

Driving in Iceland’s winter wonderland can be breathtaking, but safety is paramount. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Icy Roads: Adjust your speed according to road conditions. Icy patches can be treacherous, so be vigilant and reduce your speed when necessary.
  • Stay Informed: Listen to local news and updates on road closures and storms. Weather conditions can change rapidly. If you booked with Traveo, check your emails regularly; your travel advisor will tell you if there is a need to make any adjustments to your itinerary.
  • Daylight Hours: Keep in mind that December days are short, so plan your trips accordingly and avoid driving in the dark whenever possible. All Traveo’s itineraries account for these short days, but you have to do your best to stay on schedule.
  • Stay on Marked Roads: Off-road driving is strictly prohibited in Iceland, so respect nature and stick to designated routes.

Driving in Iceland in December requires careful planning, but the rewards are immense. With the right preparations and a sense of adventure, you can witness Iceland’s natural beauty in all its winter glory while staying safe on the road.

Top Things to Do in December in Iceland

Happy couple in front of South Iceland's Skógafoss Waterfall in the winter.
Enjoying the view at South Iceland’s Skógafoss Waterfall.

So, is Iceland just about ice and frost in December? Absolutely not! There are a myriad of enchanting experiences that can help you embrace the winter wonderland of Iceland in December. From witnessing the Northern Lights painting the night sky to indulging in cozy traditions, this chapter unfolds a guide to the must-see and must-do adventures that make December in Iceland truly magical.

Bundle up and get ready to explore the best this Nordic gem has to offer during the festive season.

Northern Lights Hunting

Northern Lights over the black church of Búðarkirkja on Iceland's Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Northern Lights over Búðarkirkja Church.

In December, chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland becomes a mesmerizing quest. The best way to experience this magical phenomenon is by joining a Northern Lights tour. 

These guided adventures take you to the optimal viewing spots, away from city lights, maximizing your chances of witnessing the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis. Snuggled in warm layers, you’ll find yourself gazing in awe as the vibrant lights paint a cosmic masterpiece.

Whether you’re a stargazing novice or a seasoned aurora enthusiast, these tours promise an unforgettable encounter with nature’s own light show, making your December nights in Iceland truly magical.

Ice Caving

Female explorer in the ice cave, Iceland
Exploring an ice cave in Vatnajökull National Park.

December in Iceland unveils a world of enchantment, and exploring ice caves is a winter adventure like no other. Guided ice cave tours take you deep into the heart of glaciers, where crystalline formations create a breathtaking underground realm.

Accompanied by a trained glacier guide, you’ll traverse the glacial landscapes, marveling at the mesmerizing shades of blue that dance within the frozen walls. These tours, led by knowledgeable guides, provide a safe and immersive experience, allowing you to witness the ephemeral beauty of ice caves sculpted by nature’s hand.

From beginners to seasoned adventurers, December invites you to discover the magical allure hidden beneath the surface of Iceland’s icy wonders.

Blue Lagoon

Woman enjoying the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
Woman enjoying the Blue Lagoon in snow.

December invites a unique blend of contrasts at the Blue Lagoon, where the crisp winter air meets the soothing warmth of geothermal waters. Picture yourself immersed in the milky-blue embrace, surrounded by the rugged Icelandic landscape blanketed in snow. The experience is not just a soak; it’s a sensory journey where breathing in the cool air enhances the relaxation.

Beyond the Blue Lagoon, other geothermal spas beckon, like the Secret Lagoon, Sky Lagoon, and Fontana. There are also countless public swimming pools around the country, offering a more budget option to unwind in geothermal bliss.

So, make sure your December in Iceland is not just about exploring the icy outdoors but also indulging in the therapeutic embrace of its warm waters.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve

Two Yule Lads walking down snow-covered Laugavegur Street in Reykjavik, Iceland
Yule Lads walking down Laugavegur Street, Reykjavik.

Experience the heartwarming embrace of Icelandic Christmas traditions in December!

Dive into the festive spirit with a jólahlaðborð, a Christmas buffet featuring local delicacies that celebrate the season’s flavors. As night falls, wander through the streets adorned with dazzling Christmas lights, transforming towns into enchanting wonderlands. Don’t miss the chance to capture a moment with the mythical Christmas Cat in downtown Reykjavík, a quirky tradition that adds a touch of folklore to the holiday cheer.

As December bids farewell, brace yourself for a New Year’s Eve celebration unlike any other. Icelanders welcome the arrival of the new year with a spectacular display of fireworks that turns the night sky into a canvas of color and light.

Join the festivities, whether in Reykjavík or smaller towns, and immerse yourself in the joyous chaos of fireworks illuminating the Arctic darkness. Embrace the warmth of Icelandic hospitality, bid farewell to the old, and welcome the new in a blaze of winter brilliance, making your Christmas and New Year’s in Iceland a truly unforgettable experience.

Summary

A person standing in front of Skógafoss Waterfall in the Winter.
At Skógafoss Waterfall in South Iceland.

So, why should you visit Iceland in December?

December in Iceland unfolds a magical wonderland, blending enchanting landscapes, cozy traditions, and celestial phenomena. As days shorten and the country drapes itself in snow, Iceland reveals its unique charm, offering a diverse array of experiences.

The weather in December embodies the capricious nature of winter. Temperatures averaging around 32°F (0°C) across the country create a wintry landscape, although the possibility of snow-free regions, known as “Red Christmas,” might surprise visitors.

December is renowned for its Northern Lights, and with extended hours of darkness, it’s an ideal time for Aurora hunting. However, the weather can be fickle, so patience is key.

Green Northern Lights behind Mt Kirkjufell in Iceland and reflecting in the lake in front of it.
Northern Lights behind Mt. Kirkjufell

When preparing for a December trip to Iceland, pack warm layers, sturdy footwear, and essential cold-weather gear. And whether you plan to stay for a week or just a few days, guided tours can help you maximize your exploration, with local experts guiding you through the beauty of Iceland.

The journey in Iceland doesn’t just stop at exploration. It invites immersive experiences with ice cave tours, visits to geothermal spas like the Blue Lagoon, and partaking in Icelandic Christmas and New Year’s celebrations filled with festive traditions and a sky ablaze with fireworks.

In a land where winter magic and adventure go hand in hand, Iceland in December promises a journey of a lifetime. So bundle up and embark on an unforgettable Nordic adventure.

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