What To Do In Iceland In December

The Northern Lights, Christmas Markets, and Yule Baths

Fully licensed travel agency & tour operator
October 1, 2019
author Sofie

By Sofie

Sofie is a free-spirited journalist from Kentucky who lives a nomadic lifestyle, and spends much of her free time in airports on layovers.

December in Iceland is hard to beat. During the holiday season, Reykjavik lights up with yuletide activities and events. Witness the magic of the Northern Lights during the winter solstice and bathe in hot springs surrounded by snow. Don't miss out on this magical time of year and join the holiday festivities, Christmas markets, and New Year’s 10k run!

Things to Do in Iceland in December

Explore Ice Caves

Ice caving tours are the perfect winter activity. The freezing temperatures in December keep the caves solid, unlike in warmer seasons. When things heat up the ice caves begin to melt and move with the glaciers. So take advantage of the cold weather and join an ice cave expedition to one of these amazing ice palaces.

Blue Ice Cave In Vatnajokull National Park

Blue Ice Cave In Vatnajokull National Park

Discover the fascinating world deep inside the ice. Walk through the world's largest ice tunnel Langjokull and witness moulins (glacier mills), crevasses and streams of running water. The scenery and sites that surround these ice formations makes the journey all the more beautiful. If you want to see Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, check out these tours that include additional stops to Glacier Lagoon Jökulsárlón or the Skaftafell Nature Reserve.

Iceland for First-Timers Winter Edition (Things to do & See!)

Travel South Iceland

If you want to sample all the diverse beauties in Iceland then travel around the Golden Circle and hit the South Coast. Take the famous Golden Circle tour route presents some of Iceland's most popular landmarks from Thingvellir National Park and the geysers to Gullfoss Waterfall. The well-traveled route of the South Coast is full of beautiful scenery and awe-inspiring natural attractions.

Gullfoss Waterfall In Winter

Gullfoss Waterfall in winter

The wondrous coastline displays the wildly different landscapes of the country. Marvel at giant ice floes in the glittering Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon, and then visit explosive volcanoes and geysers. Guided multi-day tours pack all the best sights of the South Coast into one all-encompassing excursion.

Blow Off Steam In Hot Springs

Taking a dip in a pool isn’t just a summer activity in Iceland. Winter is a popular season for locals to enjoy the country’s many hot springs. What better way to take in the snow-covered scenery than from the steamy waters of a thermal swimming pool.

Sunset at Blue Lagoon Geothermal Bath

Sunset at Blue Lagoon Geothermal Bath

Because of the geothermal activity below, these pale blue waters can stay upwards of 38°C (100°F) even in the winter months. Iceland’s most famous geothermal bath, the Blue Lagoon is a must-see attraction. Located in Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, just take a bus from Reykjavik to visit the lagoon. Rich in silica, algae, and natural minerals, hot springs are as healing as they are relaxing. 

Want to see some Icelandic attractions before you hit the springs, explore lava caves on a combo day tour or book a blue lagoon multi-day tour.

Shop Festive Christmas Markets

What better way to celebrate the holiday season than filling up your bags with artisanal goodies? Whether you are looking for presents for friends and family or souvenirs for yourself, you’re guaranteed to find something at one of Iceland’s famous Christmas markets. 

Christmas Market in Reykjavik

Christmas market in Reykjavik

Staying in Reykjavík? Walk downtown to Ingólfstorg Square to stroll through the Christmas Market at Ingólfstorg. The twinkling lights, alpine wooden huts, and ice rink of this seasonal display are sure to get you into the holiday spirit.

Ice Skating In Reykjavik During Christmas

Ice skating in Reykjavik

For even more yuletide fun travel to the Christmas Village in the suburb of Hafnarfjörður. There you'll be greeted with the smells of traditional treats and the sounds of live music. Wander the stalls and shops for lovely handcrafted Icelandic gifts.

Things to See in Iceland in December

The Northern Lights

Winter in Iceland is the best time of year to hunt for the Northern Lights. Because of Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, days in December get super short - perfect for spotting spectacular aurora views. Take advantage of the limited sunlight and head out into the snowy wilderness for an unbeatable experience. 

Northern Lights In Iceland

Northern Lights in Blue Lagoon

December has the ideal conditions for a Northern Lights show. To raise your sighting chances join a guided tour. Aurora experts will check the weather conditions, aurora forecast and scout out the best viewing spots.

Northern Lights above Kirkjufell mountain

Northern Lights above Kirkjufell mountain

Escape the city and ride out into the Icelandic countryside on a Minibus or Super Jeep tour. Guides will have cameras to snap photos of you with the Northern Lights that you can take home with you!

If you have more time and want to check out Icelandic highlights on your way to the hot springs try a mult-iday tour. Explore The Golden Circle, Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the South Coast during the day and scan the sky for emerald lights at night.

Quick Tips: The Northern Lights In Iceland

  • Check the aurora forecast (the stronger the aurora, the brighter the colors)
  • Wait for clear skies 
  • Leave the city to avoid light pollution 
  • Ditch the roads for darker skies 
  • Join an experienced aurora guide on a Northern Lights tour

Events and Festivals in December

Ingólfstorg Ice-Skating Rink: December 1 / Reykjavik —    Pull-on your skates and glide into some holiday fun at the “Christmas Ice Skating plaza” right in the center of Reykjavik. To kick off December, NOVA mobile company sets up an annual skating rink next to the Christmas Market at Ingólfstorg. No need to bring your own equipment, just some yuletide spirit. A fun activity for families, couples, and friends. 

Oslo Christmas Tree Lighting: December 1 / Reykjavik  — This decades-long tradition marks the start of the Christmas season. Since 1951, the City of Oslo, Norway has gifted Reykjavík with a Christmas tree as a sign of friendship between the two nations. Head over to Austurvöllur Square to watch the tree lighting, listen to Christmas music, and greet the Yule Lads.  

Yule Lads Bath: December 7 / Mývatn —  Instead of Santa Clause, Iceland has 13 Yule Lads. Party with Yule Lads during their annual bath in the Mývatn Nature Baths. Fun for all ages, spend the day frolicking in the mountains and hot springs with these merry men.

Yule Lads in Dimmuborgir

Yule Lads in Dimmuborgir

Christmas at the Iceland Symphony: December 14 / Reykjavik —  Enjoy festive Christmas music performed by the Icelandic Symphony orchestra along with a group of young artists. A popular holiday activity for music lovers, join the fun and treat yourself to some cheerful yuletide sounds. The concert will include seasonal music favorites from various countries.

Imagine Peace Tower Lighting: December 21 / Viðey Island — Created by Yoko Ono, the  Imagine Peace Tower is an outdoor art display dedicated to John Lennon. Each year Yoko travels to the Icelandic island of Videy to light the art installation on the late musician's birthday. On December 21st, the statue is re-lit to celebrate the winter solstice.

Skate Fish Icelandic Dish Served

Skate Fish Icelandic dish

St. Þorlákur's Day: December 23 / Iceland — Þorláksmessa is a celebration to honor Þorlákur Þórhallsson, Iceland's only patron saint. On this day, Icelanders celebrate St.Þorlákur by eating fermented skate. The intense aroma of this traditional fish dish can be smelt all throughout the city. Despite the smell, Icelanders still fill the city center for last-minute shopping as shops are open late until 11 p.m. 

Christmas: December 24-25 / Iceland  —  Expect to be greeted with “Gleðileg jól!”, the Icelandic yuletide greeting, all through December. This month is one of the most exciting times to visit because of all the holiday activities. Festivities officially start on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve when Christmas trees are lit across the country. Enjoy Christmas markets, festive museum displays, tours, and restaurants throughout the capital.

New Year's Eve 10k Run

New Year's Eve 10k Run In Reykjavik

New Year's Eve 10k Run: December 31 / Reykjavik  —  Race into the New Year dressed in your most colorful costume at the New Year's Running IR event, one of the largest running events in the country. 

Participants are encouraged to throw on their craziest clothes, wigs, and hats for this fun 10k. The race takes off from the famous Harpa Concert Hall and snakes along the east of Sæbraut in downtown Reykjavik. Even if you aren't the first one across the finish line you still have the chance to win best costume.

New Year's Eve: December 31 / Iceland  —  Reykjavík lights up with fireworks on New Year's Eve. Thousands of Icelanders pour into the city to watch booming fireworks displays and party all night long. For one night only, the Icelandic Search and Rescue sells fireworks to be set off all around town. For a birdseye view of the fireworks head to Hallgrímskirkja Church!

What to Know before visiting Iceland in December

Iceland’s Weather in December

The weather in Iceland is always unpredictable and December is no exception. You could get snow, sleet, or rain all in the same day. While it is not the coldest month of the year (January) the temperature still ranges between -1° and 4°C (34°F and 39°F), so bundle up.

Icy Winter Road And Northern Lights

Icy winter road and Northern Lights

If you are planning to brave the weather and head to Iceland this month there is one more thing to keep in mind: limited sunlight. December is a dark month with only a few hours of daylight per day. These short days continue until the winter solstice on December 22nd, the shortest day of the year. On the solstice there is around 4 hours of daylight from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. Visitors don’t miss the sun much though when the Northern Lights fill the sky.

What To Wear In Iceland in December

December is a beautiful time to visit Iceland. To stay warm and dry make sure you bring the right gear:

  • Waterproof gloves, a hat, and a scarf 
  • Warm layers 
  • Waterproof and windproof parka 
  • Thick sweater (wool or fleece)
  • Swimsuit (winter is the best time to bathe in the hot springs)
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Winter boots 

Remember there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. So layer up and enjoy the snow! 

Tours in Iceland in December

The Crystal Ice Cave Ice Caving Tour

Watch the lazy ice floes at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon before setting off on an ice cave adventure. The tour begins at the famous icy lagoon, where you can spot seals lounging on the icebergs.

Descend into Vatnajökull Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe, and roam the ice cave below. Explore the crevasses and streams of the giant crystal cave while your guide teaches you about this awesome geological marvel. 

Magical Auroras Northern Lights Tour 

Longer nights shine bright with the Northern Lights! December has the longest nights which raises your chances to see the lights. Leave Reykjavik and park out under the night sky for a green solar show.

Join one of our intimate tour groups and ride along the Southern Peninsula as we hunt for these rare emerald auroras. Our aurora experts scout out the best locations for your aurora borealis experience. 

3-Day Jokulsarlon, Golden Circle and Ice Caving Tour

Tour the stunning South Coast of Iceland and hit Iceland's most famous natural attractions. This three-day road trip takes you along the popular Golden Circle Route, with stops at Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir Geothermal Area  

Trek the icy landscapes of the Skaftafell Wilderness Area, wander through deep blue ice caves, and stroll along black sand beaches. Perfect for anyone who wants to sample the diverse countryside of Iceland.

What To Do In Iceland In December | Extreme Iceland