Mountains covered with snow behind an Icelandic country church in Vík.

December in Iceland: What You Need to Know

Where to go, what to do and how to dress for the Icelandic weather in December.

Believe it or not, Iceland in December is a magical time for a visit. Enjoy holiday traditions, tasty delicacies and outdoor adventures.  Spend your days exploring Iceland’s beautiful landscape and your nights looking for the northern lights.

Mountains covered with snow behind an Icelandic country church in Vík.
Many Icelanders attend church on Christmas Eve. Photo by Paige Deasley.

Is December a good time to visit Iceland?

Yes, December is a great time to visit Iceland. The days are short, but the nights are long. This means that there are plenty of opportunities to see the northern lights. What’s more, there is still enough daylight for fun outdoor activities. If you visit December in Iceland, you will also get the chance to experience some Icelandic Christmas traditions.

Photo by Lárus Sigurðsson

Where is the best place to stay in Iceland in December?

Perhaps we are biased, but we think that Hotel Rangá is the best place to stay in Iceland in December. During this season, many Icelanders put up beautiful Christmas decorations including lots of lovely lights. Because Icelandic winters are so dark, bright lights on houses add a lot of cheer and warmth. We want our guests to get a taste of a traditional Icelandic Christmas. That is why we always decorate Hotel Rangá with cozy Christmas decorations.

The sky glows orange at Hotel Rangá luxury hotel during a winter sunset.
Hotel Rangá luxury hotel during a winter sunset. Photo by Paige Deasley.

What time is sunrise and sunset in December?

On December 1st, sunrise is at 10:45 and sunset is at 15:47. By December 31st, sunrise is at 11:20 and sunset is at 15:40. What’s more, the winter solstice occurs on December 21st or 22nd. This is our shortest day of the year with the least amount of daylight. On the winter solstice, sunrise occurs at 11:22 and sunset takes place at 15:29. This gives us only 4 hours of daylight.

A winter wedding in snowy south Iceland
A winter wedding in snowy south Iceland. Photo by Eygló Lilja

What is the weather like in December in Iceland?

The weather in December is a mixed bag; however, it is always quite chilly. Sometimes we experience beautiful sunny days with clear blue skies. At other times, winter storms will blow, bringing wind and ice. Icelanders are always hoping for a white Christmas filled with fluffy snow. We can’t ever predict the weather, but there is always a chance of snow in December.

Snowy mountains on the way to Landmannalaugar in the Icelandic highlands.
Snowy mountains on the way to Landmannalaugar. Photo by Paige Deasley.

What should I wear in Iceland in December?

Our recommendations for November also work for December. It is getting cold out there folks! Make sure you dress accordingly. Wear warm thermal layers and bring a good coat. Waterproof boots are a must. Remember, sometimes we get snow in Iceland in December. So if you find yourself in a snowball fight or want to build a snowman you should bring good gloves.

Green and purple northern lights visible over Hotel Rangá and the Rangá River.
Green and purple northern lights over Hotel Rangá. Photo by Hreinn Magnússon.

What are the road conditions in Iceland in December?

The road conditions in December really depend on the weather. Due to lower temperatures, it can be quite common to see some ice on the roads. Once any ice is spotted, trucks will put salt on main roads to make them safer. If conditions should ever become unsafe to drive, the road authority will close the roads. You should always check the road conditions at road.is.

Should I rent a car in Iceland in December?

We recommend renting a car or booking guided tours when you visit Iceland. Rental car gives you the opportunity to travel at your own pace. However, storms can occur in December in Iceland. Always check the weather forecast at vedur.is and the road conditions at road.is. If bad weather does occur, it is important to be cautious and not take any unnecessary risks. Drive slowly, be careful and you should have a great experience driving in Iceland.

A band of pink and green northern lights shimmer above a paved country road in south Iceland.
Northern lights shining bright above a country road. Photograph by Stefan Liebermann.

Can you see the northern lights in Iceland in December?

December in Iceland is often a good month to see the northern lights. In fact, December’s short days give us lots of darkness during which the northern lights might appear. What’s more, Hotel Rangá offers our guests a special northern lights wake-up call service. That’s right, we will call your room whenever the northern lights should appear – even in the middle of the night!

To see the northern lights we need clear, dark skies and solar activity. In order to have a better chance of seeing the aurora, we recommend that you stay at Hotel Rangá for several days. We even have a special Age of Aurora offer tailored to our guests who are hoping to see the northern lights.

Woman peers through a telescope in Hotel Rangá's Observatory underneath the green northern lights.
On clear nights, look through one of our high-tech telescopes to get a detailed view of distant planets and stars. Photo by Milan & Seila

Can I go stargazing in Iceland in December?

Yes – it is possible to go stargazing in Iceland in December. In order to see a magnificent view of the star-filled sky we need good weather with no clouds. On clear nights, we invite a local astronomer to lead guests on a tour of the sky. Our Hotel Rangá Observatory is outfitted with two high-tech telescopes and a roll-off roof. Learn more about the stories of the stars and peer through our telescopes to get a better view.

Icelandic horses rub their heads together on a snowy field in south Iceland.
Icelandic horses grow a shaggy coat in the wintertime which keeps them warm.

What are the best outdoor adventures in Iceland in December?

Despite the short days and chilly temperatures, there are still many fun outdoor adventures you can enjoy in Iceland in December. We always recommend that our guests go on a horseback ride. Experience views of the wintry Icelandic landscape from a different perspective. In fact, Icelandic horses actually grow a shaggy coat in the wintertime which keeps them warm.

Super jeep tours are another fun way to experience the majestic Icelandic landscape. These mighty vehicles can traverse the most rugged roads in most kinds of weather. Explore the Icelandic highlands or drive down the south coast. Your guide will make stops so that you can explore outdoors and then hop back inside the warm super jeep.

Another fun winter activity is snowmobiling. Drive across the icy Eyjafjallajökull volcano-glacier and see wonderful views of the south coast. Before your drive, you will suit up in a warm snowsuit, helmet and gloves. After your adventure, come back to Hotel Rangá for a hot coffee or a spiked hot chocolate.

Hotelier Friðrik Pálsson stands in the Rangá Restaurant decorated for Christmas celebrations at Hotel Rangá.
Hotelier Friðrik Pálsson. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

What are the best indoor activities in Iceland in December?

Something about December in Iceland is especially cozy. The dark days and chilly temperatures are perfect for curling up indoors with a good book. We always decorate Hotel Rangá for Christmas, and the lights, garlands and decorations make our property feel even more cheerful and warm. Play a round of pool or work on a fun puzzle in our game room. Don’t forget to order a hot drink at the Rangá Bar to enjoy while you play.

Hotel Rangá's game room includes a pool table, a polar bear skin on the wall, an antler chandelier, a chess board and more local art.
Play a round of pool in the Hotel Rangá game room. Photo by Andrew Klotz.

What are some Christmas traditions in Iceland?

Since we are now in the holiday season, it might be helpful to know that Icelanders tend to dress up a bit more than many neighboring nations. In fact, Icelandic legend says that the Christmas cat will eat children without new clothes on Christmas Eve. If you are headed to a Christmas party, a cocktail dress or a nice shirt is the custom. However, don’t fret if you aren’t comfortable with dressing up. As long as you dress a step above pajamas or athletic attire, Icelanders won’t mind your outfit.

Lit up Yule Cat in Reykjavík.
Wear a new Christmas outfit or else the Yule Cat will come for you!

Did you know that there are 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses? The Yule Lads are a mischievous group who are known for playing tricks and causing chaos. However, sometimes the Yule Lads can be quite kind indeed. From December 11th to the 24th, Icelandic children leave a shoe on the windowsill. If they have been well-behaved, it is said that the Yule Lads will put a small gift in their shoe.

Illustration of Iceland's 13 Yule Lads.
The mischievous Yule Lads.

At Hotel Rangá, we encourage our guests big and small to leave their shoes outside their door from December 11th to the 24th. Who knows, maybe you will find a special surprise from one of the Yule Lads. If you want to know more about these playful fellows, check out our special blog post about the Icelandic Yule Lads.

What are good Christmas gifts you can buy in Iceland?

If you are looking for Christmas gifts, a great stocking stuffer is a pair of Icelandic wool socks. They will keep your feet warm and toasty while watching the northern lights. You can always buy your loved ones a beautiful lopapeysa sweater. These traditional sweaters are handmade by locals in various patterns and colors. There are several unique local shops selling a variety of other delightful souvenirs. We highly recommend souvenirs like woolen wear, local artwork and Icelandic salt.

Plate filled with seasonal Christmas fare in Hotel Rangá's restaurant.
Christmas at Hotel Rangá. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir

What foods do Icelanders eat in December?

Iceland in December is filled with delicious food. In fact, Hotel Rangá’s special Christmas Menu is available Fridays and Saturdays first three weekends in December. We start off with mulled wine and from there you can feast on Icelandic Christmas delicacies such as the smoked leg of lamb, leaf bread (a traditional deep-fried patterned wafer) or Christmas herring. If you are interested in knowing more about our Christmas Menu we recommend this blog post.

Plate of turkey, lamb and roast pork at Hotel Rangá.
Hotel Rangá’s Christmas Menu features delectable dishes made with local ingredients. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

How do Icelanders celebrate on New Year’s Eve?

If you are joining us over the new year, talk to reception about events on New Year’s Eve. Icelanders love their fireworks and will set off gobs of beautiful displays all around the country. You could also attend the bonfire at neighboring village Hvolsvöllur, where children run around with sparklers and people sing as they bid the old year farewell and greet 2024 with a cheer.

Rangá Recommends in December

More recommendations for your winter travels

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