A “winter wonderland” are the words we would use to describe what December in Iceland looks like. And even though this isn’t Santa’s official home address, it kinda feels like it should be. Especially when considering how much Icelanders enjoy celebrations.
Many of those who intend to visit Iceland sometime in the future worry about the weather and what they can do in their December trip to Iceland. Well, most of these concerns seem to be unnecessary. The winter in Iceland actually offers opportunities that many summer tourists can only dream about. In this article, we give you the lowdown on what December in Iceland is like. Who knows, this might just be the perfect time for your trip!
The Pros and Cons of Spending December in Iceland
As with most things in life, there are always pros and cons. Even spending December in Iceland. We created this quick overview of pros and cons so you can see off the bat whether December is the right month for you to plan your trip:
- The Iceland landscape has truly turned into something out of the movies. A blanket of snow, glistening icicles, festive Christmas lights… we can go on forever.
- You won’t find the same number of tourists flocking to the island as during the summer months. So, there won’t be such overcrowding! You won’t constantly feel like you have to make your way through a crowd at a Beatle’s concert just to get a glimpse of Svartifoss waterfall.
- With summer tourists in the back-view mirror, so are the painful peak season prices.
- Those extreme summer daylight hours have properly given way to the winter darkness. That means stargazing at the Icelandic sky and seeing the spectacular Northern Lights in Iceland in December.
- The availability of winter exclusive activities. Think of skiing, snowboarding, ice cave exploring, etc.
- The fewer daylight hours mean that there is no way you’ll be experiencing an Icelandic midnight sun on your December Iceland trip. If that’s on your bucket list, December is not the month for you to visit.
- Many roads and routes (especially those in the Westfjords and the Highlands) are completely closed during winter. Others can close at the drop of a hat due to winter weather.
- Just like certain activities are only available during winter, you have others that are only available during summer. So, for example, if Iceland Puffin spotting is on your Icelandic to-do list, you might need to plan your trip for another time.
What You Can Expect From the Iceland Weather in December
December is indeed the coldest winter month in the country. The average temperature in Iceland in December ranges between -2 to 4 degrees Celsius. Ironically, it is the colder temperatures that make certain attractions and activities possible in the first place.
But it’s not really the Iceland temperature in December that is most challenging. It’s the rain, snow, and legendary Iceland winds that can make you believe that your house will lift off at any moment. The winter elements of the Iceland weather in December can be tricky to navigate for a number of reasons.
Firstly, rain, snow, and extreme winds are not really what one looks forward to when envisioning daily outings. Secondly, the Iceland weather conditions can make driving quite treacherous. But if you are in the know, the Iceland weather in December is not only manageable, but will be the reason for many memorable moments.
Packing List When Traveling to Iceland in December
In terms of the weather and the available activities, there are a few necessities and clothes for Iceland in December that needs to be packed. To ensure that you don’t leave any of the essentials behind, we have created this handy list when packing for Iceland in December:
- Warm gloves
- Warm scarf
- Warm hat
- Waterproof long winter coat
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof pants
- Waterproof hiking boots. It doesn’t matter whether you intend to go hiking or not. Just remember the wet Iceland weather conditions in December we spoke about?
- Thermal vests
- Thermal leggings
- T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts
- Wool sweaters. Our advice would be to take one or two and buy the rest on the island – you’ll struggle to find nicer and hotter sweaters than an authentic Iceland sweater.
- Bathing suit (nothing better than to take a dip in a hot spring during the winter month)
- Quick drying towel (you don’t want to be traveling around Iceland in December with wet stuff)
- Backpack (suitable for hiking as well as day outings)
- Water bottle (you will never buy water in Iceland, as the quality of the water is better than most of the prestigious brands you can buy around the world)
- Electronic devices: power bank, chargers, cables, adapter, etc.
Camping in December
Many prefer to go camping in Iceland to save on their accommodation budget. That’s also why the Iceland weather in December can be of great concern to many, and to be honest, it should. Iceland weather in December is cold and volatile. So, unless you are properly geared for winter camping, not even the locals will be setting up camp any time soon. That’s also why many of the campsites are actually closed during the winter months.
But here’s the good news: there’s no need to discard camping just yet. By opting to rent a campervan in Iceland, you’ll be able to sidestep all the discomfort and “Bear Grylls” antics and go camping in style. Plus, your house on wheels will still be eligible for the Iceland Camping Card. This is the ultimate money-saver option, especially when traveling to Iceland in December with your family.
The Camping Card costs only €159 for a 28-night stay for 2 adults and up to 4 children. It will provide access to various camping sites. Many of these campsites are still open during the winter season. When taking into account that the average camping site charges $10 per person per night, the savings can be astronomical. And without having to endure any of the typical winter camping discomforts in a campervan whilst taking advantage of an already budget-friendly accommodation option, the Camping Card ensures leveling up in your savings game.
Driving in December
We strongly believe that there is no better way for you to discover the island than by making a road trip out of it. And even though many roads and routes are closed during the winter season, you can still have a pretty epic road trip. Just steer clear of the Highlands and keep a close eye on the Iceland weather and the Iceland road conditions.
Also, keep in mind that there are certain routes and roads that are only accessible via 4x4. Although these roads might be closed in winter, we still recommend that you discuss your itinerary and road trip route with your travel agent. This way, they can advise you on which rental vehicle will be best.
The Ring Road should still be a fairly easy drive as well as the Golden Circle, but as we said; keep an eye out on weather and road conditions. If you intend to do a road trip when visiting Iceland in December, we also recommend renting a campervan in Iceland. A camper will provide enough flexibility without having to be somewhere due to a pre-booking. It also comes with the option to take advantage of the budget-friendly camping sites mentioned before.
Things to Do When Spending December in Iceland
As we touched on earlier, the winter months bring with them attractions and activities that can’t be found the rest of the year. Add on some other favorite island sights and things to do, and you’ll have a jam-packed itinerary for your December in Iceland. Here are some things to consider when traveling to Iceland in December:
- Experience the most “Christmassy” Christmas ever, with tons of events and festivals across the island.
- Cozy up and experience the Icelandic Christmas tradition of Jolabokaflod
- Go skiing and snowboarding
- Hike a glacier
- Explore an ice cave in Iceland. Note that this is a very unique Iceland winter experience, as this activity cannot be done in the summer months due to safety concerns. Due to the melting process, you will never be able to experience the same ice cave in the exact same way you’ve done in the past: it’s ever-changing.
- Visit glistening, frozen waterfalls
- Take a dip in an Iceland hot spring (sitting in a steamy hot spring staring out over a landscape wrapped in snow is a truly unforgettable experience)
- Shop in the capital city of Reykjavík
- Go horseback riding on an authentic Icelandic horse
- Visit museums such as the Icelandic Phallological Museum or the National Museum of Iceland
- Get your Viking portrait taken
Helpful Tips When Spending December in Iceland
If after reading this far, you’re already getting super excited and can’t wait to plan a December trip to Iceland, we’ve got a few helpful tips that will make your stay even better:
In Iceland, you should always dress in layers because of the rapidly changing weather, and that includes winter. Not so much because it’ll get hotter outside, but because it definitely will be hotter inside. You do not want to sit inside the restaurant with your winter bests on and not be able to take off a layer or two. You will be the most uncomfortably warm person in the room.
Get out of the city
When you have the Northern Lights on your Icelandic to-do list when visiting Iceland in December, there are two things to remember:
- This spectacular light display only shows up under certain conditions. Being able to spot these conditions and knowing exactly where to go can be quite challenging for visitors. That’s why we often recommend simply taking a Northern Lights tour, since the locals know exactly when and where to go to be guaranteed a sighting. This will save you a lot of time (unsuccessfully) hunting the Northern Lights.
- Too many visitors sit in the city thinking that they will definitely spot the Northern Lights in Iceland during December. And whilst it’s possible that you could see a glimmer of the phenomenon in the city, the basics of science still remain: you need darkness to see lights. That means that you need to get out of the bright lights of the city if you want to get a proper view of the Northern Lights.
Stay away from crowds and added expenses
Just like anywhere else in the world, the days leading up to Christmas and New Year can be incredibly busy. Shops will be packed, restaurants will be full, etc. So, if you do not make bookings, you might be left thoroughly disappointed.
The same goes for prices. Don’t think that just because you’re in Iceland, the same consumer rules don’t apply. Festive prices are never very festive anywhere. So, just like you would do at home, ensure that the majority of your Christmas and grocery shopping has been done well ahead of time. With this, the festive mood doesn’t get broken along with the bank.
December in Iceland – A Unique Experience
As you can see, December in Iceland can be a magical time, offering up its own unique sights and experiences. By scouting the Iceland weather and considering all the opportunities offered to visitors who are spending December in Iceland, you can decide whether December is the right month for you to visit the island.
Have you always dreamt about a winter wonderland? Would love to go skiing and exploring Ice caves whilst admiring the dancing Northern Lights against the Icelandic sky? Well, then it’s time to make it a reality. Book that flight, rent a vehicle and start your adventure of a lifetime!