Iceland is a magical part of the world at all times of the year, but winter in particular sees this northern part of the world plunged into spectacularly cold weather that turns its landscape into a paradise of snow and ice. Once Christmas is out of the way, visiting Iceland in January offers the perfect opportunity to see the country at its most beautiful without crowds of other travellers on their holidays, and also means that your trip coincides with two of the countries most interesting winter festivals.
Reasons to visit Iceland in January
- January is part of the low season for tourism in Iceland, so prices for flights and accommodation will be cheaper than in the summer
- Numerous festivals and events that take place in Iceland in January, making it a really exciting time of year to visit the country
- January is a brilliant month to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Iceland, so keep your eyes peeled at night!
Weather in Iceland in January
Iceland’s winter weather is not quite as arctic as you might expect, but temperatures are still very cold and you will need to wrap up warm for the majority of your trip. What tends to catch travellers out are the icy winds that can make it feel far colder than it actually is, so bear that in mind if you have any plans for outdoor activities.
The average high temperature in Iceland in December is 3°C and the average low is -3°C, so you’ll find that most days it hovers just above or below freezing. Wind, rain and snow can all make these temperatures feel much cooler, so it is vital to pack outdoor clothing that can withstand wet and freezing weather conditions.
Iceland is an island, but you’ll have to be an incredibly hearty swimmer to want to brave the waters in January. The average water temperature in Iceland in January is 5°C, so we don’t recommend going for a dip unless you’re an experienced cold-water swimmer and you know you are in a safe spot.
Clouds and Rainfall
Whilst the daylight in Iceland in January is limited, you can expect clear, winter skies when it isn’t raining or snowing. There is an average of 19 days of rain, snow and sleet in Iceland in January, so be prepared to face a few winter storms during your stay!
Daylight hours increase in Iceland as January progresses, with only around 5 hours of daylight at the start of the month and over 7 hours by the time February arrives. Within this, there is usually only one hour of bright sunlight every day. Average sunrise and sunset times at the start of January are 11 am and 4 pm, and at the end of the month are 10 am and 5 pm.
Where to go in Iceland in January
Iceland’s Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a famous sightseeing route that connects some of the most impressive parts of southwest Iceland, which are at their most spectacular during the winter season. All locations are an easy drive from Reykjavik so can be visited as a single trip in the morning or afternoon, or combined in the full Golden Circle tour.
The first stop is the magical Thingvellir National Park, located between two tectonic plates, where you can admire stunning rugged scenery in the snow and learn more about the ancient history of the area. The Geysir Geothermal Area is your next stop, where you can watch geothermal water activity occur amongst the drifts of snow, or relax at the area’s luxury spa. The final stop on the Gold Circle tour is the spectacular Gullfoss Waterfall, which is partially frozen in January and makes the whole experience even more exciting.
Reykjavik tends to be the first choice for travellers visiting Iceland all year round, and it is certainly still a city that you should spend some time in on your trip. However, for an Icelandic city experience that is just as lovely and far more authentic, Akureyri in the north offers travellers just as much to see and do in January.
As the second-largest urban area in Iceland, Akureyri is full of shops, restaurants and bars along with multiple nearby natural attractions and stunning surrounding scenery. It is also home to one Hlíðarfjall, one of the country’s best sites for skiing, which is a popular activity for those visiting the country in the winter.
Things to do in Iceland in January
Visit an Ice Cave
January provides the best conditions of the year to visit Iceland’s ice caves, as the low temperatures ensure that these beautiful, natural structures are secure and fully intact – perfect for exploring. It’s recommended that you take part in an organised ice cave tour for safety instead of setting off by yourself, but this way you’ll make sure that you see the most beautiful spots in the country and have all your transport and equipment provided.
Spot the Northern Lights
January is one of the best times of the year to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, as the short days lead to more darkness in which to spot the magical lights. It is possible to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik, but for the best views you’ll want to be away from any light pollution. Whilst chances of seeing them are high, they’re still an unpredictable natural phenomenon so don’t be too disappointed if they never make an appearance during your stay.
Enjoy an Outdoor Bath
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is a famous geothermal outdoor swimming experience, and whilst this is top of many traveller’s bucket lists, it’s not the only option for taking a magical outdoor bath in January. Many of Iceland’s towns and cities have at least one swimming complex with outdoor pools or hot tubs, there are spas and hotels across the country that offer the experience, and many natural hot pools exist as well for everyone to enjoy. Freezing cold air + hot and steamy water = total bliss.
Crowds & costs
Winter is the low season for tourism in Iceland, as many travellers are not keen on the limited daylight, cold temperatures and hazardous weather conditions that January tends to bring to the country. Whilst there is a peak in tourism around December and the start of January, towards the end of the month things will die right down again and you’ll find Iceland to be much quieter.
Prices for flights and accommodation are much lower in Iceland in January than during the summer season, but you can expect to see them rise a fair bit if you’re visiting in the New Year.
January festivals & events
The Icelandic Christmas holidays end on the 6th of January with Prettándinn; a festival celebrated as the 13th day of Christmas. In Iceland, this is thought to be a day when the barrier between our world and the supernatural world is blurred and magical things can happen.
Prettándinn tends to be celebrated with large bonfires, parties and fireworks across Iceland, and the whole event is quite similar to New Year’s Eve. It’s the last event of Christmas and a time to finish using all the food and decorations from the festive period before everything gets packed away and life returns to normal.
Thorrablot was originally a pagan midwinter festival that was abolished when Iceland became a Christan country and then brought back in the 19th century as a more simple celebration of midwinter. Beginning on the first Friday after the 19th of January, locals come together to celebrate with big meals that feature traditional Icelandic dishes such as boiled sheep’s head and rotten shark meat.
After dinner, celebrations continue with songs, dancing, games and storytelling. The festival continues until around the middle of February, and now many restaurants hold special Thorrablot meals and some specialist food festivals take place around the country. The menu might seem unappealing at first, but it’s the best time to experience traditional Icelandic cuisine!
Reykjavik International Games
The Reykjavik International Games is a huge sporting event that usually begins at the end of January every year. Participants arrive from all over the world to compete in around 20 different sports such as darts, athletics and cross-fit, and it is a very exciting time to be staying in the country’s capital city.
Frequently asked questions about Iceland in January
How dark is it in Iceland in January?
In January in Iceland, it starts to get dark around 3 pm and will stay dark until 11 am the next morning. It’s important to get out and enjoy the limited daylight when you can, although the long arctic nights can be very magical.
Is the Blue Lagoon Open in January?
The Blue Lagoon is perhaps Iceland’s most famous tourist attraction, and is open throughout all of January. Booking in advance is essential if you want to visit however, so make sure that you secure a slot well ahead of your holiday.
There’s nothing like the frozen landscapes and magical darkness of Iceland in January, and more and more people are beginning to visit the country at this time of year to enjoy staying in the cities in the winter, adventure holidays in the snowy wilderness, or to make the most of Iceland’s unbeatable spas and hotels for a romantic break. Whatever you’re looking for on your trip, you’ll find an experience that will never be forgotten here. Just don’t forget to pack your coat!