Iceland in the winter? A lot less freezing than you may think. The “Land of Natural Wonders” never earns its name more than during this season of fairytale caves and endless adventures.
Despite its northern location, Iceland doesn’t reach dreadfully freezing temperatures – not even in the dead of winter. Why? The country sits on top of a hot spot, and the Gulf Stream moves all the way from Mexico to warm it up. The result is a rather temperate climate, with a winter that is only slightly colder than Western Europe’s countries.
So, what can you expect in the winter?
- The season lasts from September until April. The coldest months are November through February.
- Temperatures in the southern lowlands average around 0°C (32 °F), while the colder highlands average about −10 °C (14 °F).
- You can never be sure what the weather will be like later through the day, so wear layers, always.
- The weather affects driving conditions, so driving through the countryside – specifically in the east and the Westfjords – can be dangerous.
Now that you know you won’t have icicles dripping from your nose, let’s get into all the things that you can put on your itinerary during your winter visit…
(For ideas about a visit regardless of season, take a look at the Top 16 Outdoor Activities in Iceland.)
Hunt for the Northern Lights
The best time to see this bucket list favorite is in the winter. Known as Aurora Borealis, the lights are like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Put on your boots and begin your hunt – the reward will come in shades from white to green to pink to purple.
By utilizing forecast websites like Vedur – or by asking other travelers and even locals – it isn’t too difficult to find the lights. Increase your chances of success by avoiding bright big cities and nights with a full moon, and keep your eyes on the glittering sky. Or join a tour and let the pros guide you.
Check out plenty of amazing tours that will take you to the northern lights
Blink-and-They’re-Gone Ice Caves
The ice caves of Icelandic glaciers are a temporary magical addition to Iceland’s already mystifying landscape. They appear in the winter and melt or fall apart in the summer, making each cave something new and unique.
Striking in their blue color and abstract shapes, these caves feel like the result of a wizardly spell. From November to March, this should be number one on any list. But exploring on your own is a very complex process that requires research and equipment, so joining a tour is highly recommended.
Among the most notable are the Vatnajokull Ice Caves; at 8,100 km², the glacier is the largest ice cap in Europe, with some ice walls up to 1,000 m in thickness.
Check out our picks for the best glacier exploration tours
Snorkeling in the Winter – Very Possible, Very Beautiful
Wait…in the freezing water? Beneath the freezing surface?
Wearing a drysuit keeps you warm enough to snorkel and explore without fear. As for diving, this takes a bit more courage – but if you’re up for it, put on a thick wetsuit and jump in! (Under supervision, of course. Being brave does not mean lacking precaution.)
The most popular location for these water activities is Silfra, a fissure between the North American and Eurasian continents and the only place in the world where you can dive and snorkel in a crack between two tectonic plates.
Endless Adventures, from Whale Watching to Golden Circle & Waterfall Daytrips
Iceland has become a top destination for people all over the world, which means there are quality tours and guides available countrywide. When planning your visit, you can start by finding your accommodation in Reykjavík.
Thanks to Iceland’s large size, you don’t have to worry about bumping into tourists on every corner. So check out the OutdoorVisit list of top outdoor adventures Iceland has to offer, hop on a plane, and go on the trip of a lifetime!