I’ve been to Iceland a few times. It’s one of my favorite countries to visit. In my opinion, nothing beats the contrast of fire and ice. Iceland is not only a destination, but an adventure. However, I would not visit Iceland in December and here’s why:
Limited Daylight to Explore
December is one of Iceland’s coldest months, and, considering the winter equinox, the darkest. There’s so much to see in Iceland you’ll be capped by the limited sunlight. Waking up in the morning at, let’s say 9AM local time, you’ll be surprised to see that the sun has yet to rise. In fact, if you’re planning a trip later in the month of December to take advantage of the many Christmas sights, the sun won’t be up until after 11AM. Now, add the fact that sunset is around 4PM, that will leave you with only five hours of sunlight. Five hours is plenty of time to explore the capital city of Reykjavik, but traveling around the island by car gets a bit tricky with that limited sunshine.
Increased Possibility of Snow and Inclement Weather
When my wife and I booked an excursion to see the northern light we were happy to hear that the company offering the trip offered a full refund in the event of snow or inclement weather. You see, this is VERY common during winter in Iceland. They say, if you don’t like the weather in Iceland just wait five minutes. That’s how fast the weather can change. And boy did it!
Fact: In the time we spent in Iceland in December it snowed roughly 12 inches.
We booked our northern lights excursion for the first night that we were in Iceland. This gave us the opportunity to re-book our trip for the following night in the event of bad weather. Unfortunately, we had to re-book every day that we were in Iceland. In fact, we never did get to go on that specific northern lights tour.
After speaking to a local in a bar, we were put on to a local spot where the northern lights could be seen. Hint: this secret spot is only a short drive from the city center and is FREE!
When the Weather Turns Bad, Driving Can Be a Nightmare
I’m happy to say that I am not a “resort” guy. Meaning that when I travel, I’m looking to get OUT of the hotel and explore the local culture, eat the local food, talk to the locals – basically, be anywhere BUT the hotel. Nothing says adventure like a Hilton and overpriced food and drink, right?
The first thing we did when landing in Reykjavik was rent a car. The car rental experience is fairly easy in Iceland, and since the airport is relatively small, getting from the airport to the car rental offices takes but a few minutes.
We noticed immediately that driving in Iceland was going to be an experience. I’ve driven in many countries around the world. From navigating the roundabouts while driving stick sitting on the right hand side of my rental car in Barbados, to navigating the alleys of Rome on a scooter with my wife on my back. However, driving through Iceland in December proved to be one of the most challenging. As I mentioned earlier, the weather can change with the snap of your fingers in Iceland and we experienced this first hand, MANY times. In fact, we actually spun-out on one of the highways when a storm rolled through. Thankfully, most of the motorist behind us stopped and there was no collision. We had to wait a bit for a local to come “rescue” us and lead us back to the highway. Otherwise, we could have easily continued off in the wrong direction, winding up in the ocean!
Here’s a video of us skidding out on the road! You can see a car appear out of the snow in the distance, then we spin. Weeeeeeeeeee!
For many, traveling to Iceland means exploring the entire island. At the very least you want to try and circumvent the Golden Circle. So, if you are not prepared for the drastic changes in weather or even a little nervous when you drive abroad, my suggestion would be to stick to guided tours.
Before Your Hit the Roads, Remember the Following:
- If you are a little uneasy with extreme weather and driving conditions, don’t rent a car.
- If you do, be sure to rent from a reputable agency. Some agencies may offer lower rates but skip on good winter tires (which are needed for winter driving).
- Always check the driving conditions. As I mentioned, the weather can go from bad to worse in less than a few minutes and depending on where you are, conditions can be deadly.
- Follow local travel advisories and road signs. When driving, we noticed that there was increasingly more and more road closures. This was to prevent a tragedy. Many road come dangerously close to water and steep slopes on the sides of mountains and one false move can be bad for business.
Why You Should Go to Iceland in December?!
Now, if you’re cool with planning excursions spur of the moment or driving in ever-changing weather, then Iceland in the winter might be a good fit for you. There are some really good positives to traveling to Iceland during winter, which is not their peak season.
The cold weather can make for some amazing views of the Northen Lights as long as the sky is clear. December actually ranks as one of the best months to see the Northern Lights.
Reykjavik looks amazing covered in snow and moreover, looks even better lit up during the Christmas season.
Like a good adrenaline rush? Try snowmobiling on top of glaciers! Langjökull glacier is an absolute MUST-DO during the winter season.
Bath in the amazing local swimming pools! Of course, the natural hot springs will still be at it’s place, warm and cozy. But most of us locals use our public swimming pools almost daily during the winter. They are spread all around Reykjavik, it’s super affordable and there is just something so nice about bathing in a warm hot tub when it’s cold outside!
If you are bold enough to be thinking about visiting Iceland – and doing that during the darkest and coldest month of the year. I say go for it! It’s a beautiful, but adventurous season unlike any other. And you probably won’t find any travel destination more epic than this. Snow, Blizzards, Northern Lights and the city will be more alive than ever. Enjoy your trip!