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Iceland in January

I have a rare week off after the holidays (Dec 31-Jan 7). My boyfriend and I want to take advantage of this and take a trip to Iceland. It is looking like we would have 4 nights there. Arriving early on the 1st and leaving early on the 5th.

I am nervous because I heard there is about 4 hours of daylight during this time of year. Is this trip worth it? I want to see the northern lights (bucket list) and we love the snow! We heard that Iceland in the winter is a different type of magic.

Are the snowmobiling tours, ice caving tours, etc still going to be happening with that small of a window of daylight?
Is it worth it to base out of Reykjavik?
Should we do planned tours vs driving ourselves?

All suggestions, opinions, etc welcome!

Posted by Mardee
Cincinnati, OH, USA
286 posts

I would think it possible - Iceland is popular all year long - but obviously you will have to limit your activities based on the weather. I would probably NOT drive yourself, though - it would be very risky and dangerous, IMO. There should be tours available. Here are a couple of sites I found when I was researching this for myself that might be helpful:

https://iheartreykjavik.net/2016/11/january-in-iceland
https://guidetoiceland.is/nature-info/iceland-in-january

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4562 posts

I wouldn't count on seeing the Northern Lights - they require lots of luck and patience and it's really "hit or miss". You're only there a week so putting all your eggs into a one day sighting will probably be a disappointment. Also, despite its name, it doesn't snow in all of Iceland so you may not see it at all. Reykjavik is a real happening place and there's plenty of nightlife and things to do. Locals have to deal with the short hours too. I wouldn't rent a car unless you're very comfortable driving in all kinds of conditions; just take some day trips (there are lots of outfitters that can help you make the most efficient use of your time).

Reykjavik and Iceland have excellent websites (just Google them) and you can hit the tourist info center once on the ground. They'll give you all the info you'll need, including good maps. Reykjavik is very easy to navigate and very tourist-friendly.

Posted by S Jackson
Vancouver, Canada
521 posts

Hi:
I was there last December for 4 nights, and absolutely recommend going in winter!
It was dark till about 10:00, then the light faded again about 3:45 pm.
Breakfast was by candlelight in my hotel!; and so was coffee one afternoon in a café in town.
The trick is to book your N. Lights Tour for your first night there.
Then if the conditions are not good, they will let you know in time, and rebook you on a subsequent night , no extra charge.
They keep rebooking it for you, till you see them.
My first night was cancelled, but I saw them on the second try.
It's not too, too cold there; but it is very windy at times.
It only snowed the morning I left, and only a few flakes.
There was ice on the streets from a previous bout of bad weather, so I was happy to have warm boots with very grippy soles.
I took clothes all made of merino wool, including my long underwear, and was very glad of them.
I stayed in Reykjavik for my 4 nights; and took a walking tour, went to 2 or 3 good museums, ate great food, went to lots of good coffee shops, saw the N. Lights, went up the tower of the Hallgrimska church,went on a Golden Circle whole day tour, and generally found plenty to do.
There is also plenty of music, and concerts too.
Winter travel is the best!
It was still busy there, but not what I would imagine summer to be.

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
2779 posts

Plenty of people go there that time of year despite the short "daylight" hours and weather.
Icelandic winter is really no worse than many places that get cold weather with icy conditions but not huge amounts of snow. You can drive most places just fine most of the time. There are not a lot of road closures in Iceland even in the middle of winter. There are some fantastic road condition apps that tell you exactly what the conditions are and you can link to live webcams to see for yourself. It really has more to do with your own comfort level with roads that may have icy spots and windy conditions.
Plenty of tours available and the various sights are much less crowded than in warmer seasons.
I wouldn't hesitate to go that time of year!

Posted by jyadeo
1 posts

Go in January, it's amazing ! We went a few years ago for the last 10 days of January. I've been many places in the world in 15 years of travel and this was the best holiday ever! We did a 2 night 3 day trip which included a few stops at water falls and vik on the way there (we also came across wild moose or reindeer on the drive) , a visit to explore ice caves, a glacier hike, a visit to the glacier lagoon where we saw seals and then accommodation in a remote cabin where we could check for the Northern lights and could organise a wakeup call if they appeared. We saw a great display of the lights out there but also the night after when we got back to Reykjavik. Obviously the aroura comes down to luck but even if we hadn't seen them the adventures were wonderful. It was one of the more expensive 3 day tours I have done but worth every penny. Unless you are an experienced ice driver I'd stick to tours, the wind plus the ice even kept locals off some roads while we were there. We also did a one day fire and ice trip that included clambering through lava tubes followed by a snorkel in the Silfra fissure. Highly recommended if you have time and aren't scared of really really cold water.