Iceland in December is a magical, mystical place. Full of weird food and dark cozy nights.
It’s the time when our name really fits our surroundings. However, traveling during that time can be daunting. You don’t know what the weather will be like, you don’t know what to wear, and what to look out for.
Here’s the thing, Iceland in December can be very cold and uninviting.
It’s also one of the best if not the best months to visit Iceland.
The northern lights, the winter evenings, the snow, and running to the hot tub to get out of the cold.
These are only a few things that make Iceland in December so special.
In this blog, I’ll help you get the most out of your time on our little island in December and give you an idea of what to expect and some tips on what to do!
Here is an overview of what I’ll discuss;
- The weather
- What to wear
- Where to stay
So let’s pop your Icelandic cherry!
How cold is Iceland in December?
The average temperature is around 1°C/33°F
So kinda, sorta cold. Sometimes? Maybe?
Looking at those numbers you might think that Iceland isn’t all that cold. And only looking at the numbers you’d be correct.
Iceland (and especially the south coast) doesn’t get incredibly cold all that often. Though that might depend on your definition of ‘cold’.
Let me give you an example of a classic Icelandic day.
The sun is shining when you wake up and look outside your hotel window. It looks to be a good day.
You get dressed and put on a thick sweater because it says it’s 2°C/35°F outside which isn’t all that bad and you’re just running out to grab some breakfast.
As you come out of the lobby and the doors open, you’re greeted by a gust of wind that chills you to your bones. You quickly realize your error and run back inside to grab your parka.
We call that ‘Gluggaveður’ or ‘Window weather’.
My point is, that you can never really trust the Icelandic weather and should be prepared for anything.
But this then begs the question,
Why is Iceland cold?
It’s because of the pesky wind and rain.
In December, Iceland doesn’t get a lot of sunshine. The shortest day of the year is the 21st of December when we get a whopping 4 hours of daylight.
The sun rises at 11:30 am and sets at 3:30 pm.
The weeks leading up to and following the winter solstice will also be very short. You can expect around 5-6 hours of daylight, again including sunrise and sunset.
The key then becomes to use your time wisely.
Once you get out of the city there are no street lights and driving in complete darkness can be very dangerous for those that are not used to it.
Make sure to drive carefully and don’t let any car behind you push you to uncomfortable speeds.
Pro tip: In the winter time they shine caster lights to illuminate Seljalandsfoss and it’s definitely worth seeing in the dark.
So we know Iceland is cold, but what can you do about it?
Clothes in Iceland
Good clothes, good shoes, and LAYERS, LAYERS, LAYERS!
In December, the key is to keep warm and dry. Good socks are a must and if you can get your hands on semi ‘waterproof’ socks then all the better.
I recommend a parka which will keep you warm on super cold days and dry on rainy ones.
A good pair of outdoor pants will make sightseeing a lot more pleasant.
A beanie and a pair of gloves are a must.
Hiking boots are also very important to have. Especially if you’re planning on going glacier hiking, visiting Seljalandsfoss, or the black sand beach.
If you’re going glacier hiking you’re required to have a good pair of boots and Seljalandsfoss and the black sand beach will be very wet.
So what does a well-covered individual look like?
Head – Beanie
Upper body – Thick sweater, parka, gloves
Legs – Thick cozy pants, outdoor pants.
Feet – Good socks, hiking boots, and crampons.
You can add as many layers underneath the parka and outdoor pants as you feel necessary.
If you follow the blueprint above, you won’t have to ask yourself ‘How cold does Iceland get in the winter?’
Cause you’ll be well covered!
That is all you need to know about the Icelandic weather and how to prepare for it.
The next step is to decide where to stay on our little Island.
Where to stay on your Icelandic trip
Let’s begin with the big apple itself.
Reykjavík in December
Here I’ll discuss where you should stay in Reykjavík
And I don’t mean which hotel, but rather, the location.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of each location?
You can find hotels outside the city center.
This is a good choice if you have a car and want to stay in a more quiet place.
However, sometimes the roads aren’t cleared of snow as fast as they are in the center, so if you’re unlucky, you might have a difficult time parking there.
That is not the usual case, only something to be aware of.
Most of the time the hotels are located conveniently close to a bus stop. So instead of driving you can jump on the bus instead!
The suburbs are also where you can find a bit more interesting hotels, for example, Reykjavík domes, which is located in Grafarvogur and is very easy to get to.
Pro tip – If you’re staying at Kópavogur it’ll make the trip to Sky lagoon very easy!
A bit closer to the center
As we get a bit closer to the center not much changes from the suburbs. It’s quiet and calm, though there will be a bit more traffic.
However, it gets easier to either walk or take the bus, and you won’t be as reliant on the car if you want to do anything in Reykjavík city center.
Pro tip – If you’re staying at an Airbnb or hotel outside of the city center, make sure to check out the local public swimming pool. Most likely there won’t be a lot of people there!
Here is where most of the hotels are located. You’ve got a lot of options to choose from and I’ll give you the best locations to think about.
You don’t want to be directly on Laugavegur, which is the main street. This is because of the noise. Especially during the weekends.
It’s much better to stay a street or two away.
That way, you’re in the heart of everything but won’t have to deal with all the noise.
Look at streets such as;
These streets are a 5-minute walk from the main street!
If you need to take the bus then Hlemmur square or Lækjatorg are very close by. Hlemmur is the main hub for all of the buses that go downtown and Lækjatorg is where two of the most important buses stop, nr 1 and 6.
The main issue with staying downtown is the parking. So if you don’t have a car, then great!
If you do, here are the parking meter prices.
There are 4 tiers of parking P1, P2, P3 and P4
- P1 – 250 ISK per hour
- P2 – 125 ISK per hour
- P3 – 90 ISK per hour
- P4 – 125 ISK per hour but only on weekdays.
Areas P1, P2, and P3 are payable from 9 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays.
Outside of those hours, it’s free. So don’t pay anything on a Sunday!
P4 zones are payable from 8 am to 4 pm Monday-Friday only.
Outside of these hours, and on weekends, it is free.
Here are a few places where you can park for free or really cheap!
Above I’ve highlighted a p3 parking lot. It’s a few minute’s walk from Laugavegur and usually, there isn’t much traffic there
Hallgrímskirkja is a very popular place and will have a lot of people fighting for a spot. I’ve highlighted a parking lot next to it that belongs to the school which is also located there.
It is free to park there, doesn’t matter when. However, please be aware that the students use these parking lots, so maybe don’t park there in the middle of the day.
This is a small parking space that is free after 7 pm and on weekends. It does have a gate that is open when it’s free but closed when it’s not. Make sure that you don’t forget your car there and get locked in.
Finally, we have a small parking lot right above Laugavegur. This used to be free but might cost money when you’re reading this. Make sure to double-check when you park.
This parking lot is meant for businesses around the area and a kindergarten which is next to it.
Due to this, make sure to only park there late in the evening or during the weekend.
Don’t forget to download the EasyPark app.
That way you don’t have to buy tickets and place them in your car.
Just use the app!
Now that we’ve covered the City, let’s move out into the countryside.
Northern Iceland in the winter
In the cold, cold north you have a lot of choices. You can stay at a guest house in the middle of nowhere, in the center of Akureyri, Húsavík, Mývatnssveit, Dalvík, and the list goes on.
A great place to stay is Mývatnssveit. It’s a beautiful place but it does get incredibly cold.
So make sure to dress well.
They also have their own lagoon called Mývatn nature baths which are a must-do if you’re in the north!
The key to traveling in the north is to have a good car with a 4×4 drive.
If you’re not comfortable driving in the dark or in extreme weather conditions, then maybe choose a bus instead.
I would recommend staying at Húsavík or Mývatnssveit solely because it’s a bit more ‘out of the way’ than Akureyri.
In Húsavík they have Geosea, a thermal pool located on a cliff and overlooking the ocean.
While Akureyri has the forest lagoon.
And since you’re up in the north, you should try them all out!
But what about the most popular part of Iceland?
The south coast.
The south coast in December
On the south coast, you can stay in guest houses, Selfoss, Vík, Hella, and plenty of other places.
They’ve got some cool hotels such as the buuble hotel which is an amazing experience.
Though I would recommend staying at Vík since it’s a beautiful little town and it’s very central in terms of attractions.
Since I mentioned that you won’t have a lot of daylight in December, using Vík as a hub will help you get the most out of your time on the south coast.
If you keep my advice in mind when deciding where to stay in Iceland, you’ll be just fine!
Now onto the next part –
To rent a car or not to rent a car? The eternal question.
I’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of both options so you can make an informed decision.
Driving yourself around Iceland is the best way to experience our little country. It gives you the freedom to make changes and discover hidden gems.
But, there’s a catch.
When driving in Iceland in December you have to be very mindful of the weather and the extreme conditions.
Here are the main points to be aware off;
- Black ice
- When did it last snow? Is there a lot of it?
- Did it rain yesterday? Then most likely the road will be icy.
- Tight roads
Make sure to check out vedur.is for the weather report before you travel.
Also, a great website is road.is, which tells you the state of the roads. If they are closed, icy, or easily accessible.
Alright, so maybe you don’t want to drive in Iceland. Then what can you do?
Get someone else to drive!
Here I’ll go over some tips to have in mind when taking a bus to your destination.
- Wear warm clothes
- Wear good shoes
Since you’ll be doing a lot of walking and sightseeing make sure to be wearing a good pair of water-resistant shoes and a parka so that you don’t have any reason to stay on the bus!
Before the trip, you can go to your local supermarket and buy a sandwich, banana, nuts, or energy bar to bring with you on the trip!
That way, if you get hungry or don’t want to spend too much on the stops you’re all set!
The benefit of taking a tour is of course the safety since you’ll be driven by an experienced driver that knows what to look out for and how to react.
Now that you’re aware of the weather, what to wear, and where to stay, it’s time for the last question (and the biggest).
What on earth should I do in Iceland in December?
8 Activities in Iceland in December.
I understand that you don’t want to waste your time in Iceland after you’ve gone through the hassle of getting here!
So below are 8 of my personal recommendations for activities!
Glacier hiking in Iceland
Glacier hikes are absolutely stunning. It’s something I recommend to everyone who comes to Iceland. It’s a unique experience that can only be done in a few places on this earth!
If you got the time for it, you won’t regret going hiking on a glacier
Food walks in Reykjavík
Icelandic cuisine is simple (very simple) but delicious. It consists mainly of lamb and fish but boy have we managed to do a lot with it!
I recommend taking a food tour early on in your trip. Not only to experience Icelandic food but also to make use of the food guide, who can give you tips that you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten!
Swimming pools in Iceland
The jewel of our country. The local swimming pool.
We’ve got a lot of public pools in Iceland and jumping in one in the middle of winter is an amazing experience.
While the storm rages around, you’ll be safe and cozy in the warm hot tub.
Here are my 3 recommendations;
Prepare to be cold!
Silfra is a fissure that can be found in Þingvellir. Its crystal blue waters are very popular amongst divers and they come from all around the world in order to dive there.
It’s a very popular (and cold) snorkeling spot and will definitely be a highlight of your trip. Also, if you have a PADI license then you can dive there!
Note, that in order to dive in Silfra, you must have a dry suit certificate or at least 10 dives with a dry suit in order to dive in Silfra.
Ice caves are a truly unique experience. You’re given a helmet and a headlight and then off you go, into the deep!
Being underneath the ice is a crazy feeling!
I am very confident that you will not regret going to an ice cave during your stay in Iceland.
New years eve
I’m not sure if New years eve counts as an activity, however, since this is a blog about Iceland in December, I have to mention it.
It is an amazing experience that you don’t want to miss. If you’re planning a December trip, make sure to stay in Reykjavík during the 31st because you will not regret it!
We wrote a blog about it, check it out if you want to know more!
You absolutely must try and see the northern lights. Since December is the darkest month, your chances of seeing them are much higher than in March for example.
My advice is, don’t go to bed without checking if the northern lights are visible.
We wrote a blog that tells you what to look out for, so check it out!
Final words –
These tips and suggestions will help you enjoy your time in Iceland and truly take advantage of the winter cold without letting it get in your way!
And if you need any clothes, check out our selection!
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org