Most travelers think that summertime is the best time to visit Iceland, but don't make that assumption so quickly. Of course, the Midnight Sun is a sight that can only truly be appreciated in person and the warmer temperatures bring (slightly) better weather. To visit Iceland during the winter is to place yourself directly in a seasonal snow globe. Blizzards and white-out conditions are common and will often keep you contained to the city limits. That being said, there are a lot of tour operators offering experiences and activities outside of the city, complete with Reykjavik pick-up services, meaning you don't have to rent a car or worry about driving through the weather.
Ahead, you'll find 10 things that can either only be done during the wintertime or are best experienced between the months of December and February.
Spend a Cozy Weekend in Reykjavik
Sometimes the best thing to do during the winter in Iceland is to stay put. Reykjavik is coziest during the colder months: restaurants are lit by candlelight, bars are packed with locals heading out for a nightcap, and the iconic Nordic architecture is most beautiful under a layer of snow. If you find yourself in the country for the holidays, make sure and bundle up for a walk around town. The city goes all out with their decorations.
Experience a Reykjavik New Year's Eve
Speaking of holidays, New Year's Eve in Reykjavik is a true experience. After dinner, everyone will head to the streets surrounding Hallgrimskirkja dressed in their finest to welcome the new year. Fireworks are a common sight, as are communal shots of Brennivín, Iceland's traditional schanpps.
Within three hours of Reykjavik, you can find two large ice caves: the Katla Ice Cave inside of the Myrdalsjökull Glacier and the ice caves of Langjökull. Visiting an ice cave is something that needs to be planned ahead. Since the melting patterns of these caves has accelerated, it requires close monitoring to know whether or not they're safe to enter. Luckily, tour operators like Extreme Iceland and Arctic Adventures offer trips into these incredibly unique places.
Tag Along on a Dogsled
There are plenty of places to meet snow dogs in Iceland. Hey Husky is a great site for finding the right tour for you, but also look to Dog Sledding Iceland, Extreme Iceland, and Iceland Unlimited for other options. You won't regret spending an afternoon gliding along the countryside with these energetic pups. Some tour operators even offer multi-day trips, bringing you from hut to hut in the Arctic wilderness.
Hike a Glacier
If you plan on visiting some of the ice caves, factor in some extra time to scale a glacier. The same tour operators that offer ice cave experiences also offer hiking options. You can also hike Iceland's glaciers—Sólheimajökull near Reykjavik, Svinafellsjokull in Skaftafell National Park, or Vatnajökull in Vatnajökull National Park, to name a few—during the summertime, but they're best seen with a dusting of snow.
Hot springs can be enjoyed year-round, but there's something to be said about enjoying the steamy waters while the cold air is swirling around you. Here are a few of our favorites: Secret Lagoon (also known as Gamla Laugin) in Flúðir, Landbrotalaug in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, GeoSea in Husavik, and Grettislaug in Skagafjordur. Blue Lagoon is also a great option for the wintertime, as crowds will be smaller, but you should also hitting up a more remote hot spring for a true Icelandic experience. Just north of Reykjavik, you'll also find the Reykjadalur hot spring river, which requires a hike through a mountain valley to reach.
The Northern Lights can only be seen for a few months out of the year in Iceland. You can't see them during the summertime since the sun is shining for nearly 22 hours a day during some weeks. To see them, your best bet is to visit between the months of September and March. Seeing them on your own is easy, if you've rented a car. Drive toward Thingvellir National Park, where the city lights of Reykjavik will be left behind. If you don't want to worry about driving, book a tour with one of the city's many tour operators.
Snorkel Silfra Fissure
Silfra Fissure is an area where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. The two masses of land are constantly on the move, pushing away from each other a few centimeters every year. The results is a small channel of water with some of the clearest and most pure water on Earth, and you can snorkel in it.
Snorkeling Silfra Fissure is one of those things you can do year-round, but going during the wintertime buys you that bragging right of snorkeling Arctic waters in a month when no one has a real reason to be swimming around in the outdoors. You'll be outfitted in a dry suit that will keep you dry, warm, and incredibly buoyant. We recommend going with Iceland Adventure Tours, as you can't snorkel the fissure without going with a tour (entry into the area is monitored for safety).
Snowmobile on a Volcano
Guide to Iceland offers a snowmobile tour of Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, where you'll also find the caldera of the famous Katla Volcano. After taking a snow truck up to the snowmobile base and whizzing up the glacier, you'll step off at a point where the caldera rests 2,500 feet below your feet. A short lesson on driving the snowmobile is also offered at the beginning of the tour, so all skill levels are welcome.
Go Skiing or Snowboarding
Hitting the slopes is a must-do if you're a winter sports enthusiast visiting Iceland during the winter. There are a few areas that are particularly known for skiing and snowboarding: Tungudalur, Eyjafjörður, Tröllaskagi Peninsula, and Dalvik. The best time to ski in Iceland is actually late winter, starting in March right through June. For more information read our complete guide to skiing in Iceland.