Are you traveling to Iceland in January? We’ve got you covered with six things you should know before beginning your adventures. I love Iceland any time of year and have been in all seasons. Let me take you through what to expect!
This list will include some of the best Iceland tips for January including how to see the Northern Lights, where to find the best natural hot springs, and how to experience the lingering Christmas and New Year festivities! You’re in for a truly amazing trip.
Planning your trip to Iceland last minute?
Make sure to book your hotels and tours in Iceland in advance to ensure availability! The longer you wait, the more difficult it gets. Here are my top picks for your trip:
Top Experiences And Tours In Iceland:
- Golden Circle Full Day Tour From Reykjavik (Likely to sell out!)
- Silfra Snorkeling Tour (Includes photos + only small group)
- South Of Iceland Full Day Trip (Our pick!)
- Whale Watching In Reykjavik (On a luxury yacht)
- Northern Lights Bus Tour (Great to go with a local)
- Ice Cave Tour And Glacier Hike (Likely to sell out)
Tickets You MUST book in advance:
- Keflavik > Reykjavik Bus Airport Transfer (Skip the line!)
- Sky Lagoon Entrance Ticket (Includes 7-step spa ritual)
- Blue Lagoon Entry Ticket With Drink (Likely to sell out!)
Top picks for places to stay in Iceland:
Though the sunlight hours are short, there’s still plenty to do, and so many of Iceland’s spectacular natural wonders to see in all their winter glory. January temperatures in Iceland range from -5°C to 1°C (23°F to 34°F) which is no colder than any other Northern city during this time of year!
Though January in Iceland still attracts many tourists, the numbers are lower than the popular summer months. So take advantage of the smaller crowds, grab your cold-weather gear, and get ready for a remarkable experience.
6 Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland In January
#1. The Dark Music Days Festival Is A Source Of Light In Iceland In January
Despite its foreboding title, the Dark Music Days Festival (Myrkir Músíkdagar in Icelandic) is actually meant to be a source of light, entertainment, and pure enjoyment in the dark, long days of winter.
The actual music being performed is a collection of all different sorts that you can expect to be contemporary and often experimental It was started in 1980 in an attempt to both showcase Icelandic compositions and performers as well as bring international performances and audiences to Reykjavik.
The main venue for this annual festival is the Harpa Concert Hall IN downtown Reykjavik. Some of the performances however occur at smaller venues in the area.
If you’re visiting Iceland in January towards the end of the month, and you are interested in escaping the dark, cold outdoors by listening to new music in a beautiful venue, check out the Dark Music Days Festival website for a festival program and tickets.
Add this to your list of things to do in Reykjavik in January.
#2. A Thorrablot Party Will Have You Eating And Drinking Like A Viking
Thorrablot refers to the celebrations during the month of Thorri. They occur from mid-January to mid-February and begin on a Friday in the thirteenth week of winter.
This was based off the old Norse calendar. When visiting Iceland in January, you’ll want to try to score an invite to a Thorrablot celebration…that is if you can stomach the food and drink.
Attending a Thorrablot celebration takes a strong stomach. The food menu is meant to replicate what the Vikings might have been forced to eat midwinter and includes rotten shark meat, boiled sheep’s head, and congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach.
For those less adventurous souls, the food options usually also include mashed or boiled potatoes, smoked lamb, boiled-salted meat, peas, and rye bread. All of this food is washed down with strong Icelandic liquor called Brennivín, which is commonly referred to as the “Black Death.”
The evenings are also filled with speeches and poems in remembrance of the old times. And as the liquor continues to flow, Icelanders party like Vikings into the early morning hours.
Though Thorrablot is often a feast among families or coworkers, if you ask around, there’s often a town-wide Thorrablot festival that you might be able to join in. Or perhaps you’ll become good enough friends with a local to get an invite to their family affair.
So if you find yourself out in the countryside, expand your palate with a whole host of bizarre foods and maybe burn your clothes to leave the smell behind before you return home. This is by far one of the more unique things to do in Iceland in January
#3. Threttandinn Is The End Of Christmas Party You Won’t Want To Miss
If you are visiting Iceland in January, Threttandinn is a party you won’t want to miss. Threttandinn translates to “the thirteenth” and marks the final day of Christmas and the end of Christmas celebrations. Icelanders take their Christmas and New Year’s celebrations very seriously.
Christmas is full of delicious food, family, and folklore, and New Year’s is an explosion of fireworks and bonfires. Threttandinn combines all of these holiday traditions and celebrations into one big “go out with a bang” party to wrap up the holiday season.
The Icelandic Yule Lads are a big part of the Christmas traditions and in a sense replace the jolly, plump, bearded fellow that Americans know and love. Yule Lads are mischievous characters that come down from the mountains one by one in the days leading up to Christmas, and they slam doors, lick pots, and steal meat among other things.
Icelanders celebrate 13 days of Christmas beginning December 24th, and during these 13 days, the Yule Lads return to the mountains one by one. On Threttandinn, the final Yule Lad to leave is the Candle Beggar, “Kertasníkir.”
In between storytelling and saying goodbye to the Candle Beggar, Icelanders light bonfires, and the last of the New Year’s fireworks are also lit, as it’s the last day that it’s legal to set them off.
#4. If Conditions Are Favorable, You Might Catch The Elusive Northern Lights
Your chances of seeing the Northern lights in Iceland during January are greatly increased! The brilliant natural light show is strictly a winter phenomenon and is one that people from all over the world flock to Iceland to see. We have an extensive guide on How To See The Northern Lights with tons of tips and tricks!
The long, dark days in January are extremely conducive to spotting the elusive lights. Though they can potentially be seen from September to April, the mid-winter months of December and January are prime viewing times. You can venture out early in the evening without having to wait until the middle of the night for darkness to fall.
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights in person, you know that they are remarkable. Unfortunately, Iceland’s weather is often rainy or snowy, and these conditions do not bode well for Northern Lights viewing.
Patience is key, and perhaps if you wait long enough, you’ll be rewarded with a brilliantly colorful night sky.
Maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, by taking a guided Northern Lights tour. This is a popular option because the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and chase the lights for a living.
They know the go-to places to wait and watch. Despite their extensive knowledge and their desire to give you the best possible shot of seeing the lights, they do not control the lights. We have a list of the Best Northern Lights Tours in Iceland!
Most tour companies do allow you to rebook a second trip at no extra charge if the lights were not visible during your tour.
You can also take your own rental car and drive away from the city to search for the lights yourself. The farther you are from the city light pollution, the darker the skies and the better chance you have of seeing anything.
We suggest you track the aurora strength and visibility and continue checking it throughout the night. The forecasts change frequently, sometimes by the hour or minute. Though Northern Lights viewing takes some preparation and a whole lot of luck, it’s a remarkable sight and one worth taking a chance on!
Quick Tips for Seeing the Northern Lights In January
- Ideal Conditions: January is one of the best months to see the Northern Lights in Iceland due to the long, dark nights.
- Check the Forecast: Look up the Aurora forecast to find out the likelihood of Northern Lights activity and cloud cover. The Icelandic Meteorological Office website is a reliable source.
- Escape Light Pollution: Travel away from city lights for the best viewing. Places with clear, dark skies are ideal.
- Guided Tours: Consider a guided Northern Lights tour. Guides are experienced in finding the best spots and times for viewing.
#5. Take Advantage Of Hot Pots and Hot Tubs
Iceland temperature in January drops significantly…but you should still bring your swimsuit! We cannot stress this enough. There is nothing quite like sitting in a steaming hot tub or hot pot in the middle of winter, surrounded by snow while reflecting on the adventures of your day.
It does seem counterintuitive to bring a swimsuit to a country called Iceland during the coldest time of the year, and yet there are so many opportunities to wear it. There are so many Hot Springs in Iceland to visit!
Every town in Iceland has at least one swimming pool complex (Reykjavik has many). These complexes often included a heated lap swimming pool, a heated kiddie pool, and multiple hot tubs of differing temperatures. Laugardalslaug, the main pool in Reykjavik, even has a salt-water hot tub.
If bathing in the middle of nature while gazing at glaciers, snow-capped mountains, or waterfalls is more your style, Iceland has a remarkable number of hot pots throughout the country for your enjoyment.
Though some of the more popular hot pots like Selljavallalaug, Hrunalaug, or the Reykjadalur Hot Springs have the potential to be congested with visitors, you’ll often find the hot pots offer more peace and solitude than the swimming pool complexes.
If you’ve begun planning a trip to Iceland in January, you’ve no doubt heard of the extremely popular Blue Lagoon, or its northern counterpart, the Myvatn Nature Baths. Both of these are great alternatives to hot tubs and hot pots but are much more expensive.
They are both impressive and relaxing, however, the increase in tourism has made them overcrowded. Even in an “off-season” month like January, the Blue Lagoon requires advanced booking and it’s encouraged to arrive at the Myvatn Nature Baths right when they open. Despite their crowds and hefty prices, both experiences are worth a visit at least once.
The Blue Lagoon is in a great area and is actually on our list of Best Places To Stay In Iceland. In this post, we offer suggestions for where to stay around the Ring Road!
#6. Checking Road Conditions Is Critical When Driving In Iceland In January
Iceland’s weather in January can be harsh. You’re likely to experience all that comes with midwinter in a cold country, and that includes snow on the roads. If you’re staying around Reykjavik you won’t need to worry, because the roads around the capital region are very well maintained.
Many of the main tourist attractions are also almost always still accessible. No matter where you drive though it’s important to keep an eye on the road conditions as they’re constantly changing. Use common sense when deciding whether it’s safe to be out driving, and if you don’t have experience with driving in harsh winter conditions, be extra careful and err on the side of caution.
Iceland has search and rescue teams that will come to your aid if you find yourself in a bind. Please use them only as a last resort, and don’t enter into a risky situation purely because you think you have the search and rescue team as a crutch to fall back on.
It’s usually tourists they have to rescue who get themselves into dangerous situations as a result of overconfidence and/or a lack of preparation.
If you choose to rent a car in Iceland in January, your car will come equipped with winter tires that are designed to be safer when driving on ice.
Though they are certainly helpful, they are not fool-proof, so exercise caution and don’t speed. Salt and snowplows are used on the main roads, but the farther you venture from the capital region, the less the roads are maintained.
You should always be careful when driving the highland roads (F roads). Though they will usually be closed in January, if you happen to find yourself driving on one, you should exercise a healthy dose of caution.
F roads are gravel roads and usually result in a rough driving experience. They are not designed for fast driving or winter driving. It’s harder to tell what kind of ice is lying on these unpaved roads, and water puddles may be deeper than you initially think.
Iceland in January Weather Tips
Traveling to Iceland in January can be a magical experience, offering unique winter landscapes, stunning Northern Lights sightings, and festive activities.
However, winter weather in Iceland is unpredictable and can be challenging, requiring visitors to be well-prepared. I have visited multiple times in January! Here are my tips!
General Iceland Weather in January :
- Temperature: Temperatures in Iceland in January typically range from about -5°C to 1°C (23°F to 34°F). However, temperatures can be lower, especially in northern and inland areas.
- Northern Lights: January is a great month for Northern Lights viewing. Check forecasts and consider guided tours for the best experience.
- Average Snowfall: January is one of the wetter months. Average precipitation ranges from 30mm to 50mm, mostly in the form of snow, especially in northern and inland areas.
- What to wear in Iceland in January: If you’re visiting Iceland during January, wear thermal layers, a windproof and waterproof outer layer, a warm hat, gloves, and insulated, waterproof boots.
Reykjavík Weather in January:
- Temperature: Reykjavik weather in January is milder than the rest of Iceland but still cold, with temperatures around -1°C to 3°C (30°F to 37°F). Snow and rain are common.
- City Walking: The city’s sidewalks are usually well-maintained, but waterproof and slip-resistant footwear is still recommended.
- Average Snowfall: The city experiences a mix of rain and snow in January. Average snowfall in Reykjavik can vary, but expect several snowy days, with snow often accumulating and then melting in variable cycles.
- Indoor Activities: Take advantage of Reykjavik’s museums, galleries, and geothermal pools, which are perfect for cold days.
- Prepare for Wind: January weather in Iceland can be extremely windy, which makes the cold feel more intense. A windproof jacket is essential.
- Swimwear for Hot Springs: Don’t forget to add your swimsuit to your Iceland packing list for January dips in hot springs or geothermal pools, a must-do in Iceland.
- Check Road Conditions: January driving in Iceland can be challenging. Regularly check the Iceland Road Administration website or app for up-to-date information on road closures and conditions.
- Cold and Dark: January is one of the coldest months in Iceland, with temperatures often below freezing. Daylight is limited, averaging only 4-5 hours.
- Stay Informed: Keep an eye on the weather forecast and listen to local advice, especially regarding aurora borealis sightings, storms, or severe weather warnings.
If you’ve been considering traveling to Iceland in January, go ahead and book your trip! It has the potential to be a beautiful time of year with snow and Northern Lights, and Iceland has proved itself to be a country worth exploring any time of year.
Be careful and pay attention to the winter weather conditions, but have fun, listen to inspiring music, and party like a Viking! If you have any questions about how to maximize your trip, please let us know in the comments.