Why You Should Travel to Iceland in January
January is the coldest month of the year in Iceland. It is also one of the months with the fewest daylight hours.
At this time of year, you’re likely to encounter blisteringly cold snowstorms and chilling arctic winds - a far cry from warm summer months of midnight sun.
Highs of -3°C and lows of -6°C are not altogether uncommon and the sun probably won’t properly rise until after 11.00am. With an average of 4.5 hours of sunshine per day, darkness will begin to descend around 4.30pm
Understandably, this is not everyone’s idea of a good time. This became especially apparent from the quizzical looks I received from those who had heard my January travel plans. Fortunately for me, it is exactly my idea of a good time.
Wrapped up from head to toe (quite literally) in more layers than I’d ever worn before, I raced into the gusty snowstorms and explored Iceland. It was fantastic.
Why Travelling to Iceland in January is a Good Idea
Snow Capped Everything
Iceland is known for its otherworldly and awe-inspiring beauty — vast lava fields, immense gushing waterfalls and steaming and spouting geysers. In January, you can see all of Iceland’s most iconic natural attractions blanketed in a thick coat of glistening snow. The effect is breathtaking. The view of Reykjavik is no less impressive and you’ll see it best from the top of the Hallgrimskirkja church. Peering below at a sea of adorably geometric buildings, you’ll spot flashes of colourful facades and rooftops coated in fresh white snow. Iceland transformed into an idyllic winter wonderland.
Soak in 40°C Waters While it’s -10°C Degrees Outside
Soaking in hot springs is a welcome addition to any holiday itinerary. But laying in a 40°C geothermal river and looking out at snowy peaks in one of Iceland’s pristine national parks is truly mesmerising (the smell of sulphur notwithstanding). If you feel yourself becoming too hot, all you really need to do is raise yourself out of the water for a brief and exhilarating moment before sliding back in. No cold plunge needed.
You Can Witness Sunrise Every. Single. Day
When the sun rises before you do, it can be hard to find the motivation to seek it out. But when the sun rises at 11am, there are very few excuses for missing its arrival. Spend your morning wandering around Reykjavik in the eery twilight and watch as the sun rises, bathing the town in glowing pinks and oranges. Better still, head to some of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions. Electric blue snow and dramatic shadows transform as the sun begins to rise. The best spot to watch the sunrise? UNESCO World Heritage site, Þingvellir National Park is truly is a sight to behold. Not only can you witness sunrise daily in January but you enjoy the other benefit of shorter days: guilt-free sleep-ins.
It’s (Slightly) Less Crowded
The population of Iceland is just over 334,000 and yet, in 2016, Iceland saw the arrival of over 1.8 million overnight visitors. In the past few years, Iceland has become a choice destination for travellers seeking out unique natural wonders. While summertime draws the greatest number of travellers, winter is surprisingly only a slightly less popular time to visit. However, January remains one of the quieter months in Iceland, with fewer than 78,000 visitors departing from Keflavik airport in January 2016 (compared to 241,000 exiting in August). That means you’ll find fewer cars on the roads and shorter queues at the bars.
The Northern Lights
You can see the Northern Lights outside of January, but you certainly cannot see them all year round. To view the Northern Lights you need a perfect marriage of viewing conditions: high levels of solar activity and dark, clear skies. While summer nights of endless sunshine make cross country road trips a breeze, they make spotting the elusive aurora borealis entirely impossible. Thankfully, with such short days, there are ample opportunities to get away from the city lights and seek out this natural marvel.
It’s Simply Beautiful
There might be fewer sunlight hours, but the ones you do see are magical. The sun never completely rises, instead remaining at a relatively low angle for most of the day before setting in the late afternoon. The effect is warm, soft light all day long. Add to that, sparkling lava fields, frozen waterfalls and steaming geysers surrounded by sheets of ice and snow; a visit to Iceland in winter is simply mesmerizing.
January Travel Tips
Pack thermals, gloves, scarves, beanies — the lot.
Before seeking out the Auroras, check the activity levels here.
Seeking out the Northern Lights is cold work. Take some hard liquor with you, but be sure to purchase it from duty free.