Iceland in January – An ‘All You Need to Know’ Guide

Chapters

One of the coldest and darkest months of the year, January, in Iceland brings out the best that winter season has to offer. The days get shorter and the land is covered in snow. January is the ideal time to visit Iceland if you are looking forward to having a snowy experience and enjoy the authentic cold weather of the north. January winters in Iceland have frosty roads and relatively fewer people on the street which means that the place is all yours to explore and experiment. January brings the leftover glitter from the Christmas holidays mixed with countless music festivals, parties marking the end of holidays, dancing Northern Lights, and extra cozy hot pots and hot baths.

winter and snow at Seljalandsfoss walk behind waterfall in south Iceland

Iceland weather in January

Iceland weather in January

While the average temperature falls between -1°C – +1°C, it can range anywhere between -10°C and +5°C. January is one of those months in which it snows the most and the days are the shortest. Since gulf streams are the migrating factors for the temperature in Iceland, the water brought to the island is warm. This makes the temperature relatively warmer than expected.

Daylight Hours in January

Winter season starts to recede in January and days start to see a few hours of sunlight ranging from 4 to 7 hours. Most of the day is pitch-black. The sun rises at 11:29 AM at the beginning of January and sets at 3:43 AM making it a total of 4 hours and 23 minutes of daylight time. The daylight hours increase significantly every day starting with 4 minutes per day at the beginning of the month goes up to 7 minutes by the end of the month. The 31st of January experiences up to 7 hours of daylight.

Precipitation

It can come in any form from snow, heavy rain, to a drizzle. January gets approximately 88 mm rainfall – the highest of the year. Reykjavik – the capital of Iceland experiences the highest amount of rainfall. The form of precipitation can depend on temperature. Persistently cloudy sky, windy days, and light rain can be expected every day on an average. Packing plenty of heavy layers is advised as the weather can get even more chilly with the rain.

winter and snow at Þingvellir National Park - Golden Circle

Pros of Visiting Iceland in January

Visit Iceland in January for gorgeous frosted landscapes, glimmering Northern Lights and crowd-free tourist destinations to enjoy the country all by yourself. January will deliver a view that you will never find anywhere else on the planet. If you are someone who enjoys the cold weather then there can be no better time to visit Iceland for you. Not only will you find the perfect lighting for your pictures in the countryside, but you will also get to experience the Christmas celebrations and traditions of Iceland. From national games to fireworks, diving, and dark music festivals, January in Iceland is nothing but magical.

Cons of Visiting Iceland in January

There are no such cons to visit Iceland in January except you will miss out on the Midnight Sun as the days see barely 4-7 hours of daylight. This also means that you will have less time to explore Iceland during the daylight. January can be a hard month for people who dislike the cold weather and heavy rainfall. It is a bit more difficult to drive on the snowclad roads so one cannot be a carefree tourist in January.

Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufell waterfall in Snæfellsnes during winter with snow

Things to Put on Your Checklist for January Visits

From frozen waterfalls to the snow-clad mountains, plains, and glaciers, Iceland in January is one of the most beautiful places to set your eyes upon. An array of activities awaits you which are nowhere to be found in any other part of the world. You will experience contrasting things in one single moment like a hot bath out in the open amidst the snow or beautiful glimmering skylights in the pitch-black sky. Here is a list of events and activities you should consider including in your trip plan to Iceland.

Northern Lights

northern lights in Iceland on the ultimate reykjavik night tour

Also known as aurora borealis, Northern Lights are fairly visible anytime between September and April. Since January rarely sees daylight, it is the ideal month for the tourists to catch the Northern Lights. The lights are visible from the capital city however, consider going to areas with lesser light pollution like Thingvellir National Park to experience aurora borealis in its exact natural form. Several bus tours are conducted dedicated specifically to the Northern Light viewing. However, if you would like to see the view from hard to reach places than super jeeps are a good choice to take into regard. If you want to drive yourself, renting a vehicle is always an available option. For a more luxurious experience, you can take Northern Lights cruises from Reykjavík or Akureyri, and admire the beauty of the dancing lights being reflected on the water. Check Aurora forecast and make sure it is above ‘KP3’ before you set out on the journey and pick areas with the clearest sky for a disruption-free view.

The Golden Circle Tour

A tourist route in Iceland, the Golden Circle comprises of three main tourist locations – Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall. Each of these destinations is within 2 hours ride away from the capital city of Reykjavik which gives you the chance of visiting all three locations in a single day. The Golden Circle tour is one of the most popular tours among all sight-seeing activities as it includes the top three naturally occurring phenomena of Iceland.

Ice Caves

Ice Cave in Iceland

Even though there are some new ice caves that are possible to visit all year, the natural ice caves are the best in the winter season in Iceland. Cave season starts somewhere in Mid-October and lasts till April. Since January falls right in the middle of the season, the viewing parties are on peak. One thing to note is that no two visits to the Ice caves will ever be the same in Iceland. These caves are formed by glaciers and change every year due to their movements. If you are lucky enough and have booked a multi-day tour of the caves, then you may get to see the Ice Caves in more than one location in a single visit.

Glacier Winter Tours

Solheimajokull glacier hike in south Iceland

It is no news that the glaciers are in their prime in the middle of the winter season and offer an otherworldly experience to the tourists. The fresh electric-blue colored snow is not a sight you would want to miss. Most glaciers are open throughout the year for hiking but the best and easiest to reach glacier is Sólheimajökull – a few hours away towards the south from the capital city. There are plenty of tour options available in other parts of the country including the popular glacier tours from the Skaftafell Nature Reserve in the south-east part and Vatnajökull glacier tour.

Score a Snowmobile

snowmobile on a glacier in Iceland

Since snow is always present on the glaciers in the country, snowmobiling remains a year-round event in Iceland. Although it is a whole different kind of euphoria to take such a trip in the winter season when the whole place is covered in a thick layer of snow and the winds have an additional dose of crispiness in them. Any driver can rent a snowmobile and take a solo drive while other tourists over a certain age can enjoy as co-passengers.

Beat the Cold with Snorkeling and Diving

two people on a Snorkel Silfra tour in Thingvellir National Park

It may sound uncommon, but snorkeling is one of the most exciting activities to try in Iceland in January. Modern-day dry suits keep you safe from the cold water while you can enjoy the unique underwater sites – exclusive to the winter season. Silfra is the most popular site for snorkeling and diving expeditions. Silfra spring is located between tectonic plates in a fissure that never freezes. The tectonic placement of the spring makes every dive ‘a dive between the continents.’ The lava rocks filter the spring water increasing the visible to 100 meters. Making it one of the clearest water in the world. Snow-lined ravine and the ice sculpture along the spring make the expedition a more dramatic experience for the tourists. Although it is very safe to dive in Silfra, it is recommended that you go on a guided tour. all the necessary safety measures and health parameters established by the tour guides should be followed for a healthy and secure experience.

New Year’s Eve Festival

new years eve fireworks in Rekjavik

If you get to Iceland on or before January 1st, then it is a sure thing that you will catch the incredible fireworks display to welcome the new year. The uncoordinated display is facilitated by the locals who buy fireworks and let them off throughout the night of December 31st and early hours of January 1st. In addition to the new year’s celebration, Christmas celebrations last till the 6th of January as per the Icelandic traditions. Iceland celebrates the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads on Christmas instead of the arrival of Santa Claus. The traditional celebrations are carried out on the 24th instead of the 25th of December. The last day of the celebrations includes huge bonfires, merrymaking, food, drinks, and banter in the whole country with the lighting of the leftover fireworks.

Dark Music Days

Taking place during the darkest days of the year, the Dark Music Festival celebrates new and contemporary music and takes place at the concert hall Harpa in downtown Reykjavík. The festival brings together both national and international talents from both sides of the Atlantic and takes place at the end of January. Any music lover out there visiting Iceland during January cannot afford to miss this festival as it features upcoming new artists from not only Iceland but all around the world.

The Reykjavík International Games

Ranging from fencing, power lifting, and martial arts to dancing, skiing, and figure skating, the Reykjavík International Games is another event that gathers immeasurable talents from all over the country and around the world in one place. The events are mostly held in the park Laugardalur in Reykjavík.

Don’t Forget the Food

Vegan Food in Iceland

Experiencing local cuisine should always be a part of your to-do list when you travel. Iceland has top-quality seafood cuisine and some very unconventional dishes. You can book a food tour with a tour company (such as the half-day 4-hour walking tour of Iceland with 13-dish sampling) if you want a detailed experience of the cuisine with an experienced travel guide. Or you can simply hit the top hot spots of the country and try the specialties.

Last but Not the Least – Hot Springs

Secret Lagoon hot spring in Iceland

One thing that will never cease to surprise you is the presence of soothing warm natural hot springs among the snowclad land of Iceland. The abundant geothermal energy of the country has created a large number of hot springs as the underground water is naturally boiling. One of the most popular destinations when it comes to the hot and heavy baths is the beautiful Blue Lagoon. The contrasting visual elements like the foggy atmosphere (due to the steam), black rocks, and the snow-white mountains create a sight to behold. Apart from that, you can consider visiting the Secret Lagoon, Reykjadalur hot spring river, the nature baths in Mývatn, Geo Sea in Húsavík and Seljavallalaug in south Iceland. Some of these hot spring destinations such as the Blue Lagoon require online registration due to the increased popularity. So, make sure that the necessary arrangements are made beforehand.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon northern lights

Down to Every Last Detail – Pack the Essentials

It is true indeed that the Icelandic winter season does not feel as cold as one may expect but it is still important that you pack all the necessary equipment to steer clear of any possible tricky situation. Weather can change in an instant in Iceland, the clear sky can get overshadowed with clouds and drizzle can turn into a heavy rainfall or snowfall. Here is a list of some of the most important things that you must carry while traveling to Iceland in January:

Outwear:

  • Waterproof and windproof winter jacket
  • Waterproof winter pants
  • Insulated jacket for extreme temperature drops
  • Headgear including caps, hats and woolen headwear
  • Scarf, buff to shield the neck from the wind
  • Windproof Gloves

Clothes to Layer Up:

  • Thermal Innerwear
  • Fleece and woolen sweaters
  • Full-sleeved cotton shirts/t-shirts to prevent fabric allergies
  • Leggings – to stay comfortable during long travels and hikes
  • Jeans/Pants
  • Swimsuits – for hot springs

Footwear:

  • Hiking Boots or waterproof winter boots
  • Walking Shoes and a pair of casual/comfortable shoes
  • Warm Socks
  • Ice cleats for comfortable walking in ice

Additional Important Picks

  • Moisturizer
  • Toiletries – like soap, shampoo, bath towels, quick-drying towels, etc.
  • Phones, chargers, power banks and travel adapters
  • Thermos and reusable water bottle
  • Flashlight and Ice scraper 
  • Rain cover for your backpack
  • Windshield for eyes
  • Camera gear and tripod stand for Northern Lights photography
  • Prescription medicines and Over the Counter Medicines for the trip
  • Water bottle
birds swimming on Tjornin pond in Reykjavik during winter
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