Iceland in December: Christmas and New Years Eve

Iceland in December: Christmas and New Years Eve

James Taylor James Taylor
6. Dec 2023 ∼ 7 min. read

Are you considering visiting Iceland in December? Wondering if it's the right time to explore this captivating country? Look no further! December in Iceland is one of the most unique times to visit Iceland. Winter has descended, but there’s a distinct festive spirit and plenty of fun winter activities to keep campers busy. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the wonders of December in Iceland, providing you with all the information you need to plan your unforgettable winter adventure.

How Much Daylight is there in Iceland in December

The first question on everyone’s minds who are thinking about visiting Iceland in December. Exactly how much daylight is there for exploring? 

December marks the darkest time of the year in Iceland, with only 4-5 hours of daylight each day. The Winter Solstice, occurring on December 21st, brings the shortest day and longest night of the year. 

While some may find the darkness daunting, it adds a touch of mystery and enchantment to the Icelandic landscapes. Plus, Icelanders love to light up their homes and towns with Christmas lights that illuminate the streets, creating a magical atmosphere throughout the country.

The Festive Spirit: Christmas in Iceland

Speaking of Christmas, in Iceland, it’s big news. Icelanders embrace the holiday season with great enthusiasm and spend any time in Reykjavik and you’ll see a city come to life with holiday cheer. 

We strongly recommend spending some time in Reykjavik during December so you can stroll downtown and take in the atmosphere. You’ll see the Christmas Cat, as well as projections of the Icelandic Yule Lads on buildings around town. There are also plenty of Christmas lights that light up the streets, and the cafés, restaurants, and bars are somehow even more inviting than usual. 

The Icelandic Yule Lads

The Yule Lads, descendants of trolls, play a prominent role in Icelandic Christmas traditions. Unlike the traditional image of Santa Claus, Iceland has not one, but thirteen Yule Lads. These mischievous characters visit towns one by one, starting from December 11th, and leave small presents or potatoes in the shoes of well-behaved children. 

Each Yule Lad has a unique personality and name, such as "Door Slammer" or "Skyr-Gobbler," reflecting their cheeky nature.

The Christmas Book Flood

One of the big Christmas traditions in Iceland has become more well-known in previous years: Jólabókaflóð (The Christmas Book Flood). This beloved tradition involves gifting books on Christmas Eve and spending the evening reading and enjoying said books. 

Icelandic literature is a big business, and most prominent authors will release a new book in the lead up to Christmas. Exploring some of the bookstores in downtown Reykjavik is a great way to see what’s on offer; you’ll also find many books in English as well.

Icelandic Christmas Beers

Finally, we come to the most important thing about Christmas in Iceland: the release of the yearly Christmas beers. Every year, the Icelandic breweries will release limited edition Christmas brews, which are usually darker beers to match the cold and wintery weather. 

Events in Reykjavik in December

Here are some things going on in December that you might like to plan your trip around. 

The Imagine Peace Tower: 21st of December

On December 21st, the Imagine Peace Tower, created by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon, is relit on Viðey Island. This towering beacon of light shines as a symbol of peace, reminding Icelanders that the long winter days are over and brighter days are ahead. You can take a short ferry ride from Reykjavik's harbor to witness the ceremony. 

Þorláksmessa: 23rd of December

Saint Þorlákur is the patron saint of Iceland, and the 23rd of December is his big day. In the evening, almost all of Reykjavik heads downtown to stroll through the city center, with restaurants serving up the distinctive fermented skate (a type of fish) as tradition dictates. Stroll through downtown on the 23rd and you’ll smell the fish – a pungent, rich smell of ammonia – and if you like, have a chance to try some. Although it’s not for the faint of heart. 

New Year's Eve in Reykjavik

If you're lucky enough to spend New Year's Eve in Reykjavik, get ready for an unforgettable celebration. Icelanders ring in the new year with family dinners, bonfires, and fireworks display that lights up the sky for hours. 

As fireworks are available for purchase by the public, you'll witness a dazzling show from various locations throughout the city. For the best view, head to Hallgrímskirkja church, the harbor area, or Perlan. Alternatively, venture slightly outside the city lights to enjoy a more serene and intimate experience.

Campervan Travel in December

A camper road trip in Iceland during December is a fun thing to do. The roads are quiet, as are all the major attractions in the country. But whether the entire country is accessible is another story, with frequent storms blowing in and disrupting travel plans. 

Our best advice for planning a campervan trip in December is to be flexible. Have a plan, and then a backup plan as well. Sometimes the ring road might close, stopping you from making the entire loop, so it’s a good idea to know where else you can travel to. 

West and South Iceland are particularly accessible during winter, offering breathtaking winter landscapes without the challenges of more remote areas. A road trip to Vik and back, or even the Glacier Lagoon and back if the weather permits, is a good option. Likewise, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in winter is also stunning. 

For more information on planning a winter road trip in Iceland, check out this article

The Northern Lights in December

You might have already guessed, but with an average of 4 hours of daylight per day, December is a fantastic time to see the northern lights in Iceland. 

If you’re out and about in the countryside, keep tabs on the northern lights forecast, and 

Ice Caves in December

By far one of the best winter activities, you can do on a campervan trip in December is to join a tour to one of the ice caves. These are spectacular natural caves that form underneath the Icelandic glaciers, and you can enter them with a guided tour. 

For many travelers, this is a highlight of their trip to Iceland.  For some more inspiration of what you can do in December, check out this article on winter activities in Iceland

Practical Tips for Visiting Iceland in December

Weather and Road Conditions

It's essential to be prepared for the weather and road conditions when visiting Iceland in December. The climate is cold, with temperatures ranging from -2°C to 4°C (28°F to 39°F). Snow and ice are common, so ensure you have appropriate winter clothing and footwear. Keep a close eye on weather forecasts and road conditions provided by the Icelandic Met Office and the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration

Which Campsites are open in December?

It’s also important to note that a lot of campsites will be closed during December. Many campsites only open for the busy season, usually closing around September or October. 

For an overview of which campsites are open currently, check out our map of winter campsites in Iceland

Safety and Emergency Services

Iceland is known for its stunning natural beauty, but it's crucial to prioritize safety during your visit. Carry a fully charged mobile phone and save the emergency number, 112, in case of any emergencies. 

Be cautious when exploring icy or snowy areas and follow any safety guidelines provided at the attractions. 

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