One great thing about Iceland is that there is no bad time to visit! This is a guide to the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter!
While most travelers know to expect the northern lights in Iceland during the winter months, they may draw a blank on other things to do.
This guide will help you discover several winter activities in Reykjavik – from glacier hiking (okay, so that is a day trip!) to exploring some of the city’s best museums!
I have visited Iceland three times and, to be honest, winter is my favorite season there!
Did we miss anything cool to do during winter in Reykjavik? Let us know your top picks in the comments.
In this post...
When is it Winter in Reykjavik?
In reality, some people say that Iceland has two seasons: mild winter and winter. However, the cold winter season usually is from November to March.
You may also experience frigid temperatures in October and April depending on the year.
Reykjavik Winter Daylight Hours
Since Iceland is just south of the Arctic Circle, it is one of the countries that experiences a dark winter.
At most, there might be five hours of daylight in one day during December.
The sun rises at around 11 AM and sets at around 4 PM during the winter.
However, don’t let the darkness deter you- there’s still so much to do in Reykjavik after dark!
Reykjavik Winter Temperatures
In the winter, the average temperature tends to be around 1-2 C (33-35 F). It’s possible for temperatures to go as low as -10 C (14 F).
The coldest month of the year is January. You can see the average winter temperatures below:
- Reykjavik in November: highs of 4C (39F), lows of -1C (31F); 12 days of precipitation
- Reykjavik in December: highs of 3C (37F), lows of -2C (28F); 14 days of precipitation
- Reykjavik in January: highs of 3C (37F), lows of -3C (27F); 13 days of precipitation
- Reykjavik in February: highs of 3C (38F), lows of -2C (28F); 13 days of precipitation
- Reykjavik in March: highs of 4C (39F), lows of -2C (29F); 14 days of precipitation
Does it Snow in Reykjavik?
Yes! Reykjavik does see a fair amount of snow throughout the year.
It’s possible to experience snowfall between October and May in Reykjavik.
Throughout the winter season, the average is around 309 mm (12.17 inches) of snow.
Can You See the Northern Lights in Reykjavik?
Reykjavik is actually the only capital city in the world outside of Nuuk, Greenland where it’s possible to witness the Northern Lights.
The best time of the year to have the highest chances of seeing this magical phenomenon is between late September and late March.
There are tons of tours that allow you to see the Northern Lights, and within Reykjavik, Öskjuhlíð Hill is the most prominent viewing platform.
Best Things to Do in Reykjavik in Winter
Go on a Northern Lights Tour
The best time to see the Northern Lights are from September to April. Iceland is very dark during the winter, which is ideal to catch the brilliance of the aurora.
If you live in a dark place with minimal light pollution, it is possible to catch sight of the Northern Lights from your bedroom window in Reykjavik.
Otherwise, you can travel north to Seltjarnarnes, a peninsula that is attached to the Grótta Island Lighthouse.
Both are about four and a half to five kilometers north of Reykjavik and have signature Icelandic baths you can relax in until the lights appear, including Kvika Foot Bath, which is open 24 hours.
About four kilometers south is Oskjuhlid Hill, a forested hill cloaked in darkness.
Additional suggestions by locals include Laugardalur Park, Klambratun, and Hljomskalagardur.
To guarantee the best sights and a complete experience on your trip, book a tour with Reykjavik Excursions!
Visit the Blue Lagoon
Relax in the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon and its geothermal spa and hotels.
The world-renowned hot springs attract visitors all throughout the year.
The management professionally organizes the flow of visitors to ensure that every visitor has an intimate, rejuvenating experience.
These healing waters are a mixture of 70% ocean water and 30% freshwater, thus creating geothermal seawater.
The silica from the lava of the volcanic earth’s natural wells reflects sunlight in the emerging water and creates the water’s iconic blue color, and is at a constant, tranquil 38C.
The two hotels of the lagoon are Silica Hotel and Retreat Hotel; from unlimited access to the lagoon to massages, facials, and cosmetics using the lagoon’s refreshing elements, float therapy, suites with its own private and hidden spa, to a Michelin star fine dining experience.
There are an overwhelming amount of amenities to select from for your experience. Click here to check out day trip transfers to the Blue Lagoon!
Go on a Volcano Hike at Fagradalsfjall
Fagradalsfjall is not only hard to pronounce, but it’s hard to miss.
The recently erupted volcano has created yet another opportunity for locals and visitors alike. Hike up the volcano and marvel at the lava fields within half a day.
Authorities have asked hikers to be extra attentive and hike at their own risk as conditions do change quickly, and due to its close proximity to the ocean, rain, fog, and cold temperatures can become a serious hazard.
The visual contrast of the lava from this year and last are fascinating– but don’t be fooled by the hardened crust!
Learn about the Reykjanes Peninsula with a tour guide, and the intimate details of Geldingadalur and Meradalur, where the Fagradalsfjall is located.
If you’re not so much into hiking, there are airplane and helicopter tours also available.
After your unforgettable trip, reward yourself at the end with a lava chocolate dessert!
Celebrate Þorrablót, an Icelandic Midwinter Festival Þorrablót
Celebrate a revived pre-Christian midwinter festival!
Thorri is the month in which it takes place, on the 13th week of winter– which is usually the first Friday after January 19th– and “blot” means sacrifice in Icelandic, and thus the name clearly suggests its intentions.
Thorrablot is a sacrificial festival in honor of the pagan gods, however today it is another occasion to gather together.
Before and during dinner, traditional songs are sung, speeches, poems, and stories are recited, and games are played.
In addition, there are stage performances, and traditional dancing after supper until the break of dawn.
Albeit the delicacies on display are a bit unconventional to describe, they are part of the traditional Icelandic cuisine and must be loved for a reason: svið, boiled sheep’s head, hákarl, rotten shark’s mean, Brennivin, a schnapps distilled from caraway and potatoes, and blóðmör, solidified sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach.
Go on a Glacier Hike at Skaftafell National Park
Witness and hike across a glacier at Skaftafell National Park. The Vatnajökull glacier is Europe’s largest, and the duration of the hike itself takes up to an hour and a half.
The impacted ice on its surface has deep cracks, crevasses, and even vertical shafts, which are formed by the melting water dispersing into the fissures and cracks.
As you hike towards the small ice tunnels, you’ll be overwhelmed by the glory of the mountains’ peaks, covered in ice in the distance.
To ensure that you can enjoy what you can during your hike without overburdening yourself, be sure to pick up the items and materials necessary for the trip: crampons, ice axes, steel frames, harnesses, and helmets– and arrive with hiking boots, of course!
Do not try “to wing” the freezing terrain of Skaftafell National Park, nor the Vatnajökull glacier; safety first, mind-blowing scenery second, and an unforgettable experience third!
Go Ice Skating and Shopping in Ingólfstorg Square
Shop and ice skate in Reykjavik’s old town at Ingólfstorg Square.
The Christmas Market and skating rink is open all December, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and continues until New Year’s Day.
The square is transformed into a Christmas village that meets Winter Wonderland aesthetic with Christmas trees and more than 100,000 light bulbs.
The Christmas Market is known to sell homemade sweets and desserts, handmade crafts, roasted almonds, traditional bjúga, and a variety of smoked meat, such as leg of lamb.
Enjoy the free event all throughout the month with your loved ones. If you forgot your ice skates, don’t worry– there are rentals available, along with helmets!
Reykjavik’s prime location in the northern part of the world fulfills a nostalgic feeling and completes the Christmas puzzle piece.
After skating, perhaps evade the light pollution and go even further north to observe the Northern Lights!
Check Out the Árbær Open Air Museum
Dive right into the cultural heritage of Reykjavik at the Árbær Open Air Museum.
It is one of six museum experiences included in the Reykjavik City Museums, all of which present the history and culture of the Icelandic people from the time of their settlement until the modern era, and is about a fifteen-minute drive from the center of the city.
To preserve the identity of the people and of Old Reykjavik as they entered the modern era, the city came together to establish the museum.
Originally a farm, Árbær was also transformed into an open-air museum in 1957, with a village of 20 historical buildings relocated from the city’s center, forming a town square in addition to the farm.
This specific museum focuses on the architecture and lifestyles of the past in Reykjavik and has a variety of highlighted exhibitions and events held throughout the year, including showcasing of traditional craftsmanship.
Taste Icelandic Cuisine on a Food Tour
Take a tour around the downtown area of Reykjavik whilst tasting the traditional flavors of Icelandic cuisine.
Discover the life of the locals in various shops and restaurants and sample eight different dishes and delicacies over a span of three hours.
Explore with the guide the locations of small, family-run restaurants and shops to famous, world-renowned ones; get the experience of a local by going to hidden gems and secret hangouts.
Enter a new world by trying a mixture of authentic flavors with the Icelandic lamb soup, a variety of seasonal meats and cheeses, Iceland’s raved lobster soup, and of course, the famous and authentic skyr hot dog.
The informed tour guide will give you a historical synopsis for each dish, the best times to eat, and will guide you on your foodie experience, and give you suggestions for the rest of your stay in Reykjavik.
Head Out on a Whale Watching Excursion
Witness whales up close on a whale-watching excursion from the coast of Iceland.
Meet your tour guide at the city center’s Old Harbor and sail out to Kollafjöður; from there you will be near Videy Island and Faxaflói Bay, which are both popular destinations for bird and whale watching.
From the bay, you can see a ring of mountains in the distance, including the Snaefellsjökull Glacier, another spectacular site to experience the best of Iceland.
The duration of the tour will be three hours, therefore it is crucial to be prepared for the cold breeze and potential waves splashing you as you sail the Atlantic Ocean.
The guides will provide their passengers with warm overalls in addition to spacious indoor cabins with heating, WiFi, and a bar.
With the narration of the experienced tour guides, you will witness sights of minke, killer, and humpback whales, as well as dolphins and harbor porpoises.
Enjoy the Winter Lights Festival in February
Celebrate winter with the annual Winter Lights Festival and honor the growing sunlight of the closing period of darkness.
From February 3rd to 6th, experience the light installation and art of the outdoors in Reykjavik’s city center.
The event is free of charge, and the entire city is in on this anticipated celebration.
The thermal pools have stages with music performances and are illuminated, all the major museums incorporate dance and theater performances, lectures, live music, film, and readings, and the Reykjavik Ski Resort is open for winter activities.
The six main light installations in the city center include the iconic Hallgrímskirkja, two different light shows at the Harpa Concert Hall, the Reykjavik Art Museum, the National Gallery of Iceland, and the Reykjavik City Hall and De-LuX– all of which have their own names.
The illuminating combination of art and entertainment enters its prime at 18:30 and 22:00 every night of the festival.
Take a Langjökull Ice Cave Tour
Explore the inside of the Langjökulll Glacier.
It is Iceland’s second largest glacier and the fourth largest in Europe and is known for its blue ice.
The tunnel itself is manmade, but it is the world’s biggest and it allows visitors to marvel at the glowing ice and the natural layers of the glacier that formed about 3,500 years ago.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime journey, with ice caving, snowmobiling, and off-roading with jeeps, in addition to hiking.
Take a shuttle to Klaki, a Glacier Base Camp, from Húsafell; there, an experienced guide will check your garments and provide you with warm overalls, and afterward, together you will board a glacier truck and head toward the cave entrance.
Throughout the duration of the tour, the guide will teach you about geology, the history of the glaciers, how they are formed, and specific facts about this glacier and tunnel in particular.
Explore the National Museum of Iceland
Witness 1,200 years of history at the National Museum of Iceland. The structure of the exhibitions provides a clear chronology from the colonization of the island to the present day.
Evenly divided into seven periods, the narration of the museum highlights details that are often overlooked.
See preserved artifacts from the first centuries of the island’s settlement from 1,100 years ago. Witness the transition from the pagan Norse tradition to Christianity, which includes the adoption of medieval Christian culture.
A shift in sovereignty is also showcased from when the King of Norway expanded his kingdom to Iceland, followed by the takeover from the Danish Empire, and thus artifacts of war, including spears, shields, and swords, are on display.
The museum even presents the transition of the urbanization of settlements, all the way to the present day. Stop by the museum shop for souvenirs, or at the cafe for refreshing food and drinks!
Go on a Golden Circle Day Tour
Depart from the city center until Hveragerdi, where you can take a break and stretch your legs. Then, resume your trip toward Kerid Crater, a 3,000-year-old lake made from a volcanic crater.
Afterward, you will proceed in the direction of the iconic Gullfoss waterfall, with water originating from the Langjökull glacier that feeds the Hvítá river, producing a roaring cascade– spraying and drenching anyone that gets close.
Continue the voyage to the Geysir area, where you can catch sites of the spouting geyser of Strokkur up close, and take a serene lunch break immersed in nature.
Finally, the bus will continue to Þingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and formulate the rocky cliffs, fissures, and dramatic, rift valleys.
Marvel at Hallgrimskirkja
The emblem of Reykjavik would without a doubt be the Hallgrimskirkja, a 73-meter cathedral designed in the modern fashion, but dependent on traditional Icelandic motifs.
It is a Lutheran Church and it sits at the center of the city on Skólavörðuholt Hill.
Take a tour of the church any day from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, and the tower closes half an hour before the general closing time.
The church tower provides a stunning, panoramic view over the surrounding areas of the city, including the impressive waters, and of Reykjavik.
This church is often the centerpiece for many festivals, including the Winter Lights Festival held in February, and is illuminated with a light show, which in turn illuminates the entire city.
It is important to be mindful of religious services, concerts, funerals, and weddings; thus, try calling beforehand or checking the church’s website before planning a day around seeing the cathedral.
Go to a Community Bonfire on New Year’s Eve
Iceland takes advantage of its deep, dark, winter nights with early fireworks in anticipation of the upcoming New Year.
The fireworks start as early as 8:00 PM, and last until half an hour to an hour before the actual transition into the New Year.
This is primarily because the whole country is too busy laughing at the world with the Icelandic TV comic show Áramótaskaupið, which when it closes, is the cue for the real firework show to begin.
Many locals in Reykjavik either watch the fireworks near the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral or shoot their own from Klambratún park or Landakotstún park.
You can get cozy around the many bonfires that are organized throughout the city; the bonfires themselves are a tradition from the Middle Ages in which people used to burn the old things they no longer needed.
Although the tradition is well preserved, most Icelanders simply gather around the bonfires to sing together.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
We have stayed in several places around Reykjavik over the years (and not all we’d recommend, sadly)! Here are some of our top picks!
- Reykjavik Residence Apartment Hotel (Reykjavik)
- Reykjavik Lights Hotel (clean and modern design)
- Center Hotels Arnarhvoll (lovely boutique hotel)
- Sand Hotel (fabulous location on Laugavegur)
Did we miss any of the best things to do in Reykjavik in winter? Or places close to Reykjavik? Let us know in the comments!
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- Glacier hiking at Skaftafell tour
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