The festive season crowds have left, but the magic of the island’s winter wonderland feeling stays. All the attractions and activities it brings with it still remain during January in Iceland as well. Whilst many shy away from a trip during the tail-end of the harshest winter months, it holds plenty of benefits.
This article is a comprehensive guide to January in Iceland. Hopefully, it will help you make the call on whether this month might just be the perfect time for a visit, depending on what you want to do and see on the island. So, without further ado, let’s jump in.
Weather in Iceland in January
As mentioned, January is one of the coldest and darkest months on the island. Ironically, that is also what creates the winter wonderland charm. The temperature in Iceland in January ranges between -10 and 5 degrees Celsius, but you’ll often find the needle hovering around the 0-degree mark.
For a long time, there has been a misconception that Reykjavík in January is somehow warmer than the rest of the island. But this is merely an illusion created by the buildings of the city offering some shelter from the harsh elements. If you broke down the buildings, the capital would feel the same as anywhere else on the island.
These harsh elements can include snow, rain, and those legendary Icelandic winds. Yep, those that can threaten to drive your vehicle on your behalf. Just keep in mind, that even though the Iceland weather can be quite extreme at times, there is still more than enough to keep you busy during the times that the outdoors are out of the question.
The Pros and Cons of Spending January in Iceland
As with most things in life, there will always be pros and cons, and traveling to Iceland in January is no different. To make life a little easier for future visitors to the island, we created this nifty overview. It will help you figure out if visiting Iceland in January is the best call for you:
Even though not quite as busy as the summer months, the colder winter months definitely have a special lure. But busy peak seasons often lead to overcrowding at some of the more popular tourist spots and activities. Even booking things in advance can be essential if you don’t want to start off your holiday with some serious disappointment. That’s why the best time to visit Iceland might be during January after New Year. Most tourists have left, and you are left to enjoy everything the festive season has to offer, but without having to wrestle open a spot in the crowds.
Usually, when the crowds of the busy season leave, so do the peak season prices. So, not only do you get to experience the island without the tourist masses, but you also get to experience it at a fraction of the cost.
Going to Iceland in January will make you believe that Santa Claus gave the wrong address to the world. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking! With its thick blanket of snow, glistening ice, magnificent views, and astounding natural wonders.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland in January is one of these natural wonders. A spectacular neon light display dancing across the dark, Icelandic skies. The fact that the island has so few daylight hours during the winter months basically guarantees that you will see this special phenomenon.
If you intended to do a proper road trip cross-country, January in Iceland might not be the time for you to visit the island. Many roads and routes are closed during the colder months.
Iceland offers many unique experiences, but most are seasonal. So, whilst the few daylight hours will enable you to see the Northern Lights in Iceland in January, you will not be able to experience a Midnight Sun. If that is on your Iceland bucket list, you will be very disappointed when going to Iceland in January.
It is the winter weather that can be credited for many of the wonderful attractions and activities that can be found in January in Iceland. But that does not take away from the fact that it’s one of the coldest and darkest months on the island. If you’re not someone that can deal with that kind of weather, you might want to give January in Iceland a skip.
Packing List When Traveling to Iceland in January
Because so much emphasis is often placed on the cold and the darkness during winter, some visitors can go a bit overboard when packing for their Iceland holiday in January.
So, let us locals give you the peace of mind that it’s definitely not the doom and gloom some make it out to be. January in Iceland can be a breeze if you come prepared. That’s why we created this handy packing list that you can use as a guide. Check it out before you end up packing your entire winter wardrobe along with a survival snowsuit:
Long, waterproof, winter coat
Waterproof winter jacket
Warm fleece/woolen sweaters (we truly recommend you just bring one and then purchase a few on the island, since authentic Icelandic woolen sweaters are really something out of this world)
Casual pants (for the days within the city borders)
Waterproof hiking boots (irrespective of whether you intend to go hiking or not)
Extra pair of shoes (for the days within the city borders and when returning to civilization with wet and muddy shoes)
Warm woolen socks
T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts
A warm hat (beanies are always a winner)
Warm, waterproof gloves
A warm scarf
A bathing suit (for visits to the hot springs)
A quick-drying towel (trust us, you do NOT want to be lugging around wet things in the middle of winter)
Flip flops (for at the hot springs and when using public changing rooms)
Sunglasses (the reflections bouncing off the ice can be quite rough on the eyes)
Toiletries and medication (just check flight restrictions, so you don’t end up having to leave behind your expensive shampoo or allergy meds)
A backpack (it’s always better to come prepared and have a backpack suitable for both hiking and day outings)
A water bottle (the quality of the water on the island is so great that you simply need to top up at the tap as you go)
Electronic devices: cables, chargers, an adaptor, a power bank, etc.
Camping in Iceland in January
The winter months might not be something you associate with camping. And when it comes to camping in Iceland in January, we also don’t recommend taking on a holiday in a tent. Unless you’re shooting a survival series for the Discovery Channel, of course. But camping in Iceland in January can be a budget-friendly alternative that can be done in much more comfort than you ever thought.
By renting a campervan in Reykjavík during the winter season, you can camp out in style, saving a heap on accommodation costs. If you’re really clever, you’ll get yourself the Camping Card. It will only leave you €159 out of pocket and grant a family of 2 adults and up to 4 children access to various campsites around the country for up to 28 nights.
To put these savings into perspective, you only need to do the maths of how much the average camping costs of $10-$20 per person per night will end up costing you and your party.
It is important to remember though that there are certain roads and regions that are closed during the winter months. That means that some of the campsite options will not be available to you. But this shouldn’t be too much of a problem as there are plenty of Iceland campsites open all year round. Some of the campsites you can contact are:
Driving in Iceland in January
As we have already touched on, there are many roads and routes that are closed during winter. So, if you had your heart set on discovering the Highlands and all of the Westfjords, January in Iceland is not the time to plan your trip. But there are still many who make the most out of the road trip routes that are still open, and one can adapt to some of the others.
We do, however, urge you to have a chat with your rental agency regarding which vehicle will be most suitable for your proposed routes. Bear in mind that certain areas are only accessible via 4x4 campers or cars(on a good day!). They will also need to advise you on any extra vehicle accessories that you might need or might not be very familiar with, such as Iceland snow tires.
But even after confirming the best routes to take with your rental agency, there’s a good reason why the local saying states, “you can experience all four seasons in a day in Iceland”. Iceland weather can change at the drop of a hat. So, it’s important to keep an eye on the Iceland weather forecasts and the Iceland road conditions to avoid getting stuck in a nasty blizzard or ending up at a dead end due to a sudden road closure. Some of the most popular routes to drive on the island are:
Other Things to Do When Spending January in Iceland
Despite the cold weather, things are always fiery hot when it comes to all the things to do and see on the island. These are some of the things that you might want to add to your January in Iceland trip itinerary:
Hike across a glacier (just keep in mind that this can only be done with an experienced guide).
Soak in one of the Iceland hot springs. (One of the best times to visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland is believed to be January, since there won’t be so many people in your personal space).
Learn to ski or snowboard.
Visit one of Iceland’s waterfalls.
Explore the Iceland ice caves.
Dive or snorkel between two continents in the Silfra Fissure.
Go shopping on Laugavegur Street (the big shopping street of the capital city).
Go horseback riding on the legendary Icelandic horses.
Walk on one of Iceland’s black sand beaches.
Visit some of the museums such as the Saga Museum.
Turn yourself into a Viking at Mink Studio.
Helpful Tips When Spending January in Iceland
If this is your first time visiting Iceland in January, the following tips will help make your trip easier:
The fickle Icelandic weather and the difference in temperature one can experience can be quite surprising to someone who’s not used to it. That's especially true when it comes to the outdoors vs. the indoors. That’s why it’s always recommended that you dress in layers. This way you’ll always be able to put something on when cold and take something off when hot.
Keep the waterproof gear close.
Your waterproof items will not only save you from a change in weather. Have you ever felt what normal sneakers feel like after trudging through the snow of a city street? Ever felt what it feels like to get drenched in the mist and the spray of Europe’s most powerful waterfall? Trust us – keep your waterproof gear close. Always.
Adhere to hot spring etiquette.
It can be tempting to get into the hot water as soon as possible, but you will be met by quite a few faces of disgust. It is considered very disrespectful not to take a quick shower before taking a dip in a hot spring. This is not because of some strange cultural belief, but basic hygiene. No one wants to sit and soak in the healing waters of Hrunalaug and Peter’s sweat.
January in Iceland; the Most Underestimated Time for a Trip?
If one takes a look at all that January in Iceland offers visitors, then it’s hard to believe that not more people are booking trips to the island during this time. But now we have revealed all in this comprehensive guide and the secret is officially out. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing you road-tripping in your Reykjavík campervan, snowboarding across a glacier, or dancing underneath the Northern Lights sometime next January.