Adelina is a curious writer, journalist, a keen traveler and a big fan of bonny Scotland, her second home after Lithuania.
December in Iceland has the least daylight, but the largest selection of festive activities. It’s the low season for tourism, but it doesn’t mean any less fun! Read on about the locals’ favorites leading up to Christmas and prepare to celebrate in Icelandic style.
Things to Do in Iceland in December
Soak in Hot Pools
Enjoy the Northern Lights while soaking in a hot pool
With nearly 20 swimming pools in Reykjavik alone and many more hot springs around the country, Iceland offers plenty of swimming opportunities. A relaxing dip in a steaming geothermal pool with a drink in your hand, on a dark Icelandic night is deeply satisfying. And it’s even more special when it snows.
Not packing a swimsuit on a winter visit to Iceland would be a big mistake!
There’s no better way to get into a festive mood than ice skating! The famous Ingólfstorg square in downtown Reykjavik turns into a winter wonderland for the entire month of December. The ice rink and surrounding Christmas market guarantee a merry atmosphere. Strap on your ice skates and prepare to glide with good old Christmas songs playing in the background.
Admission is free if you bring your own skates and helmets (or rent them onsite).
SNORKEL AT SILFRA FISSURE
The water in Silfra Fissure is incredibly pure!
If you think that snorkeling is only a summer activity, come to Silfra in the winter! Here at Silfra Fissure, snorkelers and divers can explore the underwater world between tectonic plates all year round. Snowy fields at Thingvellir National Park add an extra spark to winter snorkeling experiences. To make it even more idyllic, a cup of hot chocolate at the end of the dip quickly warms up those who feel a little chilly.
Ice caves are the most stable during December, one of the coldest months. It means that you’ve got the best chances to see the true beauty of glacier ice from inside the caves and not get your feet wet.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights
December is one of the best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. With little daylight, the dark sky allows plenty of opportunities to watch the natural phenomenon. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of auroras in the sky above you while relaxing in a hot pot. That’s a one-of-a-kind experience!
Make sure to check the aurora forecast before you go on the Northern Lights hunt in December. The stronger the aurora, the more impressive lights will paint the sky.
There are a lot of exciting events happening in Iceland during December, not to mention the biggest year’s celebrations – Christmas and New Year.
Christmas in Iceland
Christmas celebration in Iceland is a huge thing with its own unique traditions. What does Icelandic Christmas look like? First of all, the Icelandic kids are visited not by one but by 13 Santas! Icelandic Santas, known as “Yule Lads,” are actually trolls dressed up as Santas. Yule Lads are an inseparable part of Icelandic Christmas. Each of these trolls is known for mischievous traits, like licking dirty spoons, slamming doors, or stealing food.
Would you like to meet the Yule Lads?
During Christmas time, Reykjavik's streets are filled with lights and decorations. You'll hear the phrase "Gledileg jol!" meaning "Merry Christmas" everywhere you go.
New Year’s Eve in Iceland
New Year’s Eve is a huge deal in Iceland. On this occasion, people fill the streets of Reykjavik to watch the incredible fireworks. The festive mood is everywhere you look.
The end of the old year and the beginning of the new one is celebrated by a 10-kilometer run through Reykjavik. What’s peculiar about this run is that its participants are dressed in costumes, and the best costume even gets a prize! After a run, everyone gathers in Harpa for some refreshments.
Harpa is a famous event venue in Reykjavik
December 21st marks the darkest day of the year, and Icelanders have a very special way of mentioning it. On this day every year, the Imagine Peace Tower is being relit until New Year’s Eve on December 31st.
The light installation was created by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon. The monument, standing on Viðey Island in Kollafjörður Bay, has the words “Imagine Peace” written in 24 languages.
What to Know Before Visiting Iceland in December
Iceland might be cheaper in December
December is the low season for tourism, so you’re more likely to find cheap flights to Iceland just before Christmas or right after. Some of the other activities in the city might also be cheaper, as well as day tours and entrance fees to certain attractions. On the other hand, make sure to check the opening times for museums and swimming pools, as they might be open shorter than during the summer days. Also, keep in mind that festive days might affect the opening times too.
Days are the shortest
Every day in December has around four hours of daylight, and the 21st of December is the shortest day of the year. How do Icelanders deal with short days? The answer is simple — they make the most of the daylight and don’t worry about the darkness. Sightseeing, while the sun is up, and immersing in steaming geothermal pools when the sky goes dark, might just be the answer!
Iceland has special Christmas traditions
To get in the true Christmas spirit, follow Icelandic Christmas traditions! Why don’t you place a shoe in the window for the Yule Lads to leave presents in? Or craft a delicious Laufabrauð with your friends or family? Iceland has plenty of traditions to get you into the festive spirit.
Oh, and if you truly want to commit to these traditions, don’t forget to wear warm clothes on Christmas Eve, just to avoid being gobbled by the Christmas Cat.
New Year’s Eve
Fireworks at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon are impressive!
If you head out to celebrate the New Year at 10:30 pm on New Year's Eve and there’s not a single soul outside, don’t worry, you didn’t mix-up the dates. Everyone’s at home, watching Áramótaskaupið, Iceland’s annual comedy special that glues most of the nation to their televisions.
As soon as the show is over, around midnight, everyone heads out and the real party begins. Prepare for plenty of fireworks, bonfires, and smiley faces! Icelanders know how to celebrate the New Year.
Iceland Weather in December
Icelandic roads in December get very icy
December is one of the coldest months in Iceland. The average temperature varies from 28°F (-2°C) to 49°F (4°C). It can feel rather frosty outside the city because the wind is quite harsh, so we recommend you don’t get tricked by these seemingly mild temperatures. Just like during any other month in Iceland, you can never tell what the weather will be like.
If you’re a fan of white Christmas’, you’re likely to get that in Iceland. Just keep in mind that snow and ice can get very thick, especially in rural areas. Be especially careful while driving in Iceland in December. If you don’t feel comfortable driving a rental car, the best idea is to join guided multi-day tours or go on a day trip, where you won’t have to worry about road conditions.
What to Pack for Iceland in December
Make sure you dress for the weather!
There’s only one rule when it comes to packing your clothes for Iceland, and it also applies when you travel to Iceland in December. Dress in layers. The more layers you dress in, the more comfortable you’ll be, no matter the weather. Remember this golden rule and also consider packing:
A Warm Jacket
Waterproof Winter Shoes
Gloves and a warm hat
While there’s not much daylight in December, the sun gets pretty intense during that short time when it’s up. Packing a pair of sunglasses is also a good idea!
Welcome to Iceland’s natural winter wonderland! On this glacier hiking tour, step on Falljökull Glacier. The ever-changing ice cap will surprise you with its ice formations and crevasses. Explore in the shadow of Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur.
Falljökull hiking tour departs from Skaftafell Nature Reserve and is available to beginners as
Iceland’s South Coast has a lot to offer, but some of the best gems are hidden well underneath the surface. On this tour, you’ll visit the crystal ice cave lying deep inside a massive glacier. This natural wonder enchants its visitors with vivid colors and a dancing light show inside the cave.
Weather in December might cause unexpected surprises, such as road closures. But on this tour, that’s not an issue. We’ll pick you up from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in a super jeep that doesn’t need any roads.
Make the most of the short days by traveling around the South Coast and exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This 5-day adventure combines the highlights of the Golden Circle, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, a visit to an ice cave, and the best sights on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, among others!
To make it the perfect winter tour, you’ll also hunt for the Northern Lights, that might appear at any point of the ride. Keep your eyes peeled and prepare for a holiday that will stick in your memory for a long time.
Iceland looks like a natural winter wonderland most times of the year, but December turns it into a joyful Christmas fairytale. Visit Iceland in December to get in the festive spirit. Who knows, you may even get presents from the 13 mischievous Yule Lads. Even if you don't, make the most of Icelandic winter with our winter tours!