Iceland is an astonishing country whatever the season but we can just tell you that in December, Iceland is just something else. Something to do with the ambient Christmas mood, the cinnamon smell in the streets, the snowy landscapes or dark days with the Northern Lights dancing in the sky… Let us talk you through what December looks like in Iceland.
Indeed, December is the darkest month of the year in Iceland, with the Winter Solstice taking place the 21rst of December, making it the shortest day of the year. The average amount of daylight during this month is about 4h with the sun rising around 12pm and setting around 4pm. We can assure you, this is quite an experience to live in a lifetime! On the occasion of the Winter Solstice, every year, the Imagine Peace Tower on Videy Island, in Faxafloi bay, in Reykjavik, is relit until the end of the year. This column of light has been created in memory of John Lennon, by Yoko Ono with the word “Peace” written in 24 languages on it. There is a ferry and tours bringing you there to be present to the ceremony. The advantage of the very little daylight is that you can enjoy longer beautiful sunsets in the middle of the day with the sky filled with pinkish colors.
As soon as Halloween passes, you can already feel the Christmas spirit entering the dance with decorations appearing progressively to the windows of the houses, fairy lights on balconies and Christmas lights everywhere in the streets. Every year, for the first day of December, the mobile company Nova, sets up the Christmas Ice Skating Plaza in Ingolfstorg, in the city center of Reykjavik. The occasion for you to show off your ice skating skills.
As Iceland was not originally a Christian country, Christmas celebrations are putting both Lutheranism and Paganism together. The Christmas season officially starts when the great Christmas Tree is lit in the capital, at the square of Austurvollur. This event also is the occasion for you to see the first Yule Lads. The Yule Lads are thirteen brothers from the Icelandic folklore, each one of them having a day before Christmas where they do mischievous and sneaky acts.
In the city you will see restaurants offering Christmas buffets and all the shops open until late in the evening, Christmas concerts and shows are popping up in different bars.
In the Reykjavik area, in the city of Hafnarfjordur you can discover a little bit more about the Icelandic folklore and traditions and really feel the Christmas spirit over there.
The 24th, 25th and 26th are national holidays in Iceland as the 24th is Christmas Eve, the 25th is Christmas Day and the 26th is St Stephen’s Day or the day dedicated to opening the gifts, Boxing Day. The 23rd of December is called Þorláksmessa, basically this day we usually go downtown with friends to have some drinks before celebrating Christmas with the rest of our families.
The advantage of longer nights is more time to hunt auroras. As the days last about 4h and the nights are about 20h long, you will have plenty of time for this activity! Those incredible flames dancing in the sky in the North Pole are visible during the winter season and during the Christmas season, it is somehow even more magic! The only conditions for you to appreciate this incredible show is a clear sky from clouds and a high solar activity. You can either drive by yourself to try to find the perfect spot or you could go on tour with us where our knowledgeable expert guides will drive you to the perfect spot to catch those astonishing green lights.
You may have heard that Iceland is quite a cold country. You have kind of a clue in the name of the country with ice in it. Well indeed, winter in Iceland can be quite rough however, December is not the roughest month of the year. The average temperature usually is between -1° to 4°C (30-39°F). During this month, it is pretty common to have snow falls even though the weather gets rougher from January to April with storms. The roads and many sightseeing spots get icy so you should definitely consider investing in Ice cleats when visiting during this period of the year.
Apart from going out at night for Northern Lights hunt, there are plenty of activities you could do during the month even with a few hours of daylight. Here are some ideas for you!
Winter is the only period of the year you can visit an ice cave. It is only in winter you get the chance to discover those mind blowing hidden gems underneath massive glaciers. Those caves are created by the water flowing underneath the glaciers during the summer, creating tunnels on their way completely naturally. December might be for you the perfect occasion to go on an adventure to discover those precious frozen caves that are retrieving more and more due to global warming. You can explore ice caves in different locations such as in Vatnajokull, Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Myrdalsjokull.
Yes, you read correctly, you can go for a dip in one of the clearest waters in the world in the middle of winter in Iceland. Located in Thingvellir national park, Silfra fissure is a famous spot to dive in. There, you will have the opportunity to dive in a drysuit, you will not get wet at all, in the 2°C water, perfectly clear, filtered for many years through lava layers around the area and completely safely with expert divers. Snorkeling there is feasible all round, but who can say they dive in the clearest water in the world in Iceland in the middle of winter?
In December, snow usually is already here so why not get a bit adventurous and go for a snowmobile stroll. The amazing thing about snowmobiling in Iceland, is that you actually drive on top of glaciers. How crazy is that? There are different spots where you can do this activity. Usually, the best spot is in the Langjokull glacier, on the West part of the island, not so far from Reykjavik. You can usually combine this activity with the Golden Circle and/or lave tunnel and ice cave explorations. Otherwise, you can find this activity near the lake Myvatn, at Myrdalsjokull glacier and at Vatnajokull glacier.
All year round you can go on a whale watching tour to observe the biggest mammals on the planet, in their natural habitat, peacefully swimming, feeding or even sleeping around. Even though during the summer time the diversity of species is extended, during the winter time you can still observe incredible species such as orcas, belugas, pilot whales, humpback whales, white beaked dolphins, that stay in Iceland during the winter time. However, even though the boats are less crowded, the sea can move quite a lot and you can get seasick during the tour, so watch out for this. The companies usually offer medicine in case and provide bags if needed.
Of course, there are many other activities you could do while you are visiting during December! You could visit museums in Reykjavik such as Perlan, the National Museum, the Maritime Museum, Árbær Open Air Museum… You can even visit the main cathedrale and go to the top of it to have an incredible view over the city. You can go to the different cinemas present in the city or even assist to presentations in the Harpa opera, this magnificent glass building.
As you can guess, winter can be rough here in Iceland with snow storms, heavy rain, wind and so on. Hence, driving here can be challenging when you are not used to driving under those kinds of conditions. This is why it is recommended, if you drive around the country, to go for a 4 wheel drive vehicle even though the strongest snow storms usually come in January-March. In case you do not feel comfortable driving here, you can still book some day tours or multi-day tours so expert local drivers and guides will drive you around, making you discover the hidden gems of the island.
To conclude, December is a lovely month to visit Iceland if you want to experience the infinite night and the Christmas spirit in the air. Do not be worried about feeling down due to the lack of sun, the Christmas spirit, the people in the streets shopping and all the activities you could do here will surely cheer you up! You will get the chance to discover the Icelandic folklore with the Yule Lads hidden in the city, the snow everywhere, the smell of cinnamon in the air with bakeries full of Christmas sweets… However, be aware that this period can also be fully booked for hotels and activities, so a friendly advice would be for you to prepare your trip in advance!