What to Do in Iceland in January

The Best of Iceland, Away from the Crowds

Fully licensed travel agency & tour operator
December 13, 2019
author Adelina

By Adelina

Adelina loves time in the countryside, long walks in the forest, and late nights by the fire. She's a writer and journalist who believes there’s a story everywhere. You just need to find it.

Iceland in January is the best time to experience Iceland the way locals do. The days are short and the winds are strong, but the chances of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland in January are also at their peak. Dance at a music festival, enjoy a firework display on the 13th day of Christmas, or join a fun guided tour without having to fight hundreds of tourists for the best views!

Activities in Iceland in January

Ride a Snowmobile on a Glacier

Two Men Snowmobile On Langjokull Glacier Iceland Snow Winter

Ride a snowmobile on Langjökull, the second largest glacier in Iceland

Riding a snowmobile is a thrilling experience no matter what. But riding a snowmobile on Langjokull, the second-largest glacier in Iceland, while surrounded by snow-capped peaks is even more special! Whether you drive the snowmobile yourself or enjoy the ride from the backseat, snowmobiling is something everyone should try at least once. With piles of snow all around, January is the perfect time to give it a go!

Visit an Ice Cave

Glacier Ice Cave Katla

Winter is the best time to visit ice caves because low temperatures keep them solid

Don’t miss your chance to explore the fascinating world hidden inside Iceland’s largest glaciers. Low temperatures in January guarantee that the ice caves are solid, whereas in the warmer months they begin to melt and crawl together with the glaciers.

Visiting an ice cave is an extraordinary experience. The oldest ice caves contain an entire spectrum of shades of blue, making them look out of this world! January is one of the best months to enjoy this majestic sight.

Where to Ski or Snowboard

Girl Snowboarding Snow Powder Downhill

Iceland is home to many resorts for winter sports enthusiasts

Iceland isn’t the world’s most famous winter sports destination, but it’s only a matter of time until it becomes one. A number of great skiing and snowboarding resorts are open around the country. Along with classic skiing and snowboarding, the resorts offer cross country-, cat-, and heli-skiing, as well as winter hiking. 

Various ski resorts feature trails of different lengths for skiers and snowboarders with all levels of experience. Most resorts also provide skiing lessons, so if you’ve never tried winter sports before, this January might be the right time to do it!

Ride an Icelandic Horse

You can’t see puffins in Iceland in January, but you can ride an Icelandic horse! Horseback riding is a fun family activity available all year round. Icelandic horses are short but mighty and kids love them. These animals are very intelligent and friendly. Their thick fur keeps the horses warm in winter. This horse breed is unique to Iceland, so you simply must meet them.

Iceland has plenty of great spots for horseback riding. Ride on a beach, through lava fields, or on riding paths. Icelandic horses are known for their special gait that isn’t found in any other horse breed. See if your horse can ride in tölt!

Things to See in Iceland in January

The Golden Circle

Golden Circle Strokkur Geysir

Strokkur at Geysir Geothermal Area puts on a show every 5 to 10 minutes

If you’re wondering what a real-life winter wonderland looks like, visit the Golden Circle in January! Thingvellir National Park becomes covered in fluffy white snow. Thingvellir is a special place to Icelanders because it’s a historic site and home to Iceland’s Parliament, Althingi. At the national park, you can clearly see how two tectonic plates drift away from each other, even when the site becomes a white field. 

Geysir Geothermal Area is as active as usual, with the mighty Strokkur geyser spitting up water high in the air every five to 10 minutes. The steam from the hot springs will keep you warm even on the coldest days.

Gullfoss Waterfall in January is as pretty as ever. The water from the Hvita River cascades down in two stages, putting on quite a show. Framed in white fields and snow-covered mountains, Gullfoss looks even more impressive.

Visiting the Golden Circle is a great option during short days. You can visit all three sights in one afternoon and make the most of January’s limited daylight.

Events and Festivals in January

Þrettándinn: January 6 / All Iceland — Also known as Twelfth Night (although the literal translation would be “the thirteenth”), this day marks the end of the Christmas season. Þrettándinn is full of tradition and surrounded by legends. According to folktales, it’s the day when cows speak and seals transform into humans. Many Icelanders celebrate the thirteenth day of Christmas with bonfires and fireworks.

Bonefire Rreykjavik Eve

Large bonfires are lit to celebrate Þrettándinn all around Iceland

Reykjavik International Games: January 24 - 27 and January 30 - February 3 / Reykjavik — For two weekends, Reykjavik becomes the center of sports competitions. Athletes from all over the world compete in 18 individual sports, including Olympic weightlifting, swimming, and figure skating. Along with the games, various organizations host a joint sports-related conference. This year’s conference covers violence in sports.

Conductor Directing Symphony Orchestra

The Dark Music Days festival is held during — you guessed it — the darkest days

Dark Music Days: January 26 - February 2 / Reykjavik — Myrkir Músíkdagar is an annual music festival held at Harpa Concert Hall. Founded in 1980, the festival is the stage for contemporary and new music artists to present their work. Dark Music Days is held during the shortest and darkest days in Iceland. It features both Icelandic and international performers.

What to Know Before Visiting Iceland in January

Iceland’s Temperature in January

Two Children In Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

January is cold, but as long as you dress properly, it won’t be a problem!

January is one of the coldest months in Iceland. The average temperature in Reykjavik hangs around -0.6°C (31°F). The highest average is 1.9°C (35°F), and the lowest is -3.1°C (26°F). Normally, the temperature doesn’t drop below -10°C (14°F), which is the lowest temperature ever recorded in Reykjavik.

While these temperatures might not seem very extreme, keep in mind that January is also quite wet. On average, January in Iceland sees 41mm (1.6 inches) of rainfall. The precipitation comes in every form possible. Expect everything from snow to rain to sleet. 

The wind can also be harsh in January. Windproof clothes should be your favorite garments for this month in Iceland!

What Are the Daylight Hours in Iceland in January?

Icebergs On The Black Sand Volcanic Beach Vatnajokul

Days in January are short, so make the most of the daylight hours

There are about 4 to 7 hours of sunlight in Iceland in January. On the 1st of January, the sun rises at around 11:19 a.m. and sets at around 3:43 p.m. Daylight significantly extends throughout the month, and the sunrise on the last day of January is at 10:09. The sunset is at 17:14, producing over 7 hours of daylight.

While it’s still rather dark in Iceland in January, the days are progressively getting longer and the world seems to slowly awaken after the winter hibernation.

What To Wear In Iceland in January

Man In Cold Weather Iceland Boot Dawn Jacket Winter

Dressing in layers is always a good idea in Iceland

The answer to this question doesn’t change much throughout the year, no matter what month you visit Iceland. Dress in layers! We recommend wearing warm (preferably thermal) underwear, waterproof overalls, a fleece or a sweater, and a waterproof jacket. Gloves, a scarf, and a hat are also musts. 

Warm socks and warm shoes are also essential. There’s nothing worse than soggy socks in your shoes, especially when it’s cold outside!

Don’t forget to bring your swimwear — relaxing in natural geothermal pools is a great idea all year round.

Driving Conditions in Iceland in January

Superjeep On Langjokull Glacier

It’s best to avoid driving in Iceland in January

Driving in Iceland in January can be a challenge. Roads get icy and are often snowed-in and closed. Most places are only reachable by 4x4 vehicles and may even require special gear.

If you’re not an experienced driver, you should avoid driving for your own safety. 

If you still want to travel, join a guided tour, where experienced drivers with special cars will take you to all the places you want to visit. You can sit back and relax because your tour guides have all the necessary equipment and knowledge to take you to your destination safely.

Camping in Iceland in January

Camping Tent Winter Loads Of Snow Cold

Camping in the snow is not as romantic as it might seem

Camping in January is not recommended. Most campsites are closed for the winter season, and even with special winter camping gear, conditions are not ideal. While it might not be that cold, the bitter wind is the real deal-breaker. 

Plenty of hotels, guest houses, and hostels are ready to take you in during winter. January is normally less busy than other months, so finding accommodation shouldn’t be a problem.

Tours in Iceland in January

Snowmobiling & Ice Caving in Langjokull

 Two Men Snowmobile On Langjokull Glacier

Snowmobiling on a glacier is a fun and exhilarating experience

Join this day tour from Reykjavik or from Gullfoss and ride a snowmobile on the second-largest glacier in Iceland, Langjokull! 

Spend an hour riding a snowmobile across the massive glacier while mountains tower above the horizon. After this extreme experience, visit a natural ice cave that formed over thousands of years. This is the ultimate experience for winter enthusiasts who love adrenaline and snow-covered nature!

Golden Circle Surprise — Minibus Tour with Aurora Watching

Landscape In Thingvellir National Park Snow Winter River Canyon

Thingvellir National Park turns into a winter wonderland in January

The Golden Circle and aurora watching is the best combo tour that will brighten up even the darkest day in January. Enjoy a full day of adventures and sights that resemble a winter wonderland!

Visit the highlights of the iconic Golden Circle and enjoy Thingvellir National Park covered in fluffy snow. The steam and hot water rising from the ground at Geysir Geothermal Area will warm you up, and Gullfoss Waterfall will take your breath away! Finish the day with a hunt for the Northern Lights. January is one of the best times to see this natural phenomenon!

8 Days in Iceland & Northern Lights Tour

Northern Lights Vestarhorn Reflection Mountains

Short days and dark nights in Iceland create the perfect conditions to see the Northern Lights

See the best of Iceland on this 8-day tour! Visit the most famous sights, including the Golden Circle, the South Coast, Eastfjords, and North Iceland. Enjoy various activities, including whale watching, glacier hiking, and hunting for the Northern Lights.

This wholesome tour includes accommodation and the best activities. The 8-day Iceland tour is for everyone who wants to make the most of their time in Iceland in January!

Planning a trip to Iceland in January? Check out these winter tours!

What to do in Iceland in January | Extreme Iceland