What Iceland is like in December

What is it like to visit Iceland in December? Freezing cold? Dark? Snowy? And what about the Northern Lights?

I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of what Iceland is like in December on a short business trip in 2018. Even though days are short and the weather rather harsh, Iceland is a service minded winter destination and you will not miss anything by going this time of year.

Freezing cold? Windy? Dark? Snowy? And what about the Northern Lights?

Vast, flat landscape on Iceland with some snow and mountain range in the background


There is something special about the winter light here north. The low sun gives a soothing, calm atmosphere which is perfect for photography. 

Daylight hours in December are scarce on Iceland, that is a fact and you just have to plan around it. Another fact is that you will have enough daylight to get around and see more or less everything you want, spend the rest of the time hunting for northern lights and discovering the illuminations in Reykjavik. Like walking past the Sun Voyager along the shore line with the city’s skyline in the background. 

The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik illuminated with the city lights in the back.

Reykjavik were decorated with lights everywhere I went. The highlight being Harpa, Reykjavik Concert Hall. Aurora Borealis couloured lights danced over the glass facade – just like the real thing dances across the sky. I stood outside for ages just looking at the changing colours. 

Reykjavik Concert Hall Harpa with pink and with light moving along the facade.

A Northern light safari is off course also a must, as long as the weather is not overcast like when I visited. You need a clear sky to see it, but if there is one thing you cannot predict – it is the weather. Instead of hunting for the lights, we ended up going on an off road arctic truck tour across the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Not something I would recommend spending money on, as it is as dark as dark can be and you will not see anything. You do however get to taste the fermented shark meat, hàkarl, and Iceland’s signature liquor, svartadaudir (black death). I do not want to describe the taste of any… 


Being there for business did not allow for much sightseeing, but you cannot go to Iceland without getting into a hot spring, can you? After half a day of meetings we headed out with a local guide. 

Blue Lagoon is the most famous and closest to Reykjavik, but our guide took us to the smaller and less known Secret Lagoon instead. Driving there, we passed the Mid Atlantic Ridge where the European and North American continental plates meets. While our guide boiled eggs for pre-lunch in the steaming water, we floated around the thermal water almost alone. 

People bathing in the Secret Lagoon with a small hill and sunset in the back.

Next stop was Gullfoss, a large waterfall with a total fall of 32 metres. Compared to the waterfalls I am used to, you here watch the water fall into a crevice below you, instead of looking up at it. I have to admit, this might have been a more spectacular experience if it was not too windy to stand straight and lot of the waterfall was frozen. 

Gullfoss in Iceland partly frozen

Next to Gullfoss was a visitor centre with restaurant and a large souvenir shop – open year round. We had a delicious lamp and beet stew for lunch, while admiring the vast landscape and daylight turning to dusk outside the large panoramic windows. Definitely a touristic place, but good food and stylish Scandinavian architecture made it worth a stop. I also got my self an Islender, a typical Icelandic jumper knitted of local sheep wool. That jumper may actually have been worth the whole trip, as I have been living in it since. 

People walking towards the visitor centre at Gullfoss

We also stopped to experience the geysir Stokkur on our way back to Reykjavik. By then it was pitch black outside and we could not see much else than smoke on the ground walking from the car until suddenly it was like the ground cracked open and water shot up in the air. Definititely a remarkable experience, and definitely one I wish I had seen in daylight.  


So, what else is there to do in December? Visit museums and see the well known Hallgrimskirkja church – the tallest church in Iceland which took 38 years to build. 

And well, eat and drink off course. Reykjavik got a vibrant culinary scene with plenty of great restaurants and bars. Try their delishious seafood, lamb and coctails. Maybe also try whale meate? 


It was cold, but not too cold to get out and about. Quite similar to western Norwegian winter temperatures. A bit windy, yes. Short days, yes. What else can you expect on an island in the midst of the Atlantic in December? What struck me, was that everything seemed to be open and working.

Mid Atlantic Ridge through a bus window with some snow

As the temperatures are quite low year-round, December may just have more in its sleeve than any other month.

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