Our Guide to Christmas in Iceland

Our Guide to Christmas in Iceland

While Iceland is an amazing destination at any time of year, in December it’s exceptional. The skies may be dark, but the streets sparkle with Christmas lights, and landscapes are buried under a beautiful blanket of snow. Most attractions and tours are still available over the festive period, and some activities, like ice-caving and Northern Lights hunting are at their peak. Explore wintry landscapes, soothe cold limbs in hot springs, and try to spot the Yule Lads and Christmas cat that make this such a special place to spend the holidays. Whether you venture around the epic island or stick to exploring hip Reykjavik, you’ll find plenty to do every day of your stay. Here’s our guide to Christmas in Iceland.

  1. 26 Days of Celebrations
  2. Christmas in Reykjavik
  3. Winter Solstice
  4. Northern Lights Hunting
  5. New Year’s Eve
  6. Awesome Activities and Excursions


26 Days of Celebrations

Iceland is big on Christmas, literally. There are 26 days of Christmas rather than 12, and 13 Santa-like figures known as Yule Lads leave gifts in children’s shoes each day from December 11th. That means by the time Christmas Eve rolls around (when Icelanders open their presents), each child already has 13 gifts. Unless they’ve been naughty, in which case all they get is a rotten potato. The 13 days after Christmas are filled with events including spectacular fireworks on New Year’s Eve. The holiday is called 'Jol' – like the English word ‘yule’ – and ‘Gledileg Jol’ is Icelandic for ‘Merry Christmas’.


Christmas in Reykjavik

If you’re planning to spend Christmas in Iceland, there are many things to love about the world’s northernmost capital city at this time of year. Reykjavik’s colourful corrugated houses are decorated with fairy lights, independent restaurants serve special Christmas feasts, and the shops stay open until 10pm. There are Christmas markets to explore, an ice-skating rink downtown, and festive concerts throughout the city. You may even see some of the Yule Lads walking around town spreading cheek and cheer. Meanwhile, the city’s twinkly statue of Iceland’s Yule Cat (yes, really) provides a perfect photo op in between all the shopping and sightseeing.


Winter Solstice

Besides the festive season and New Year celebrations, many visitors choose to spend Christmas in Iceland to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Locals traditionally mark the shortest day of the year with bonfires, dances and by singing an Icelandic version of Auld Lang Syne. More recently, December 21st has become a time to celebrate Iceland’s status as a peaceful nation. The Imagine Peace Tower – a work of art representing world peace – is lit, and its shaft of white light can be seen for miles. Revellers can take a ferry over to Videy Island to watch the ceremony, which is sometimes attended by Yoko Ono, who conceived the idea in memory of her husband John Lennon. While it’s lit, guided tours are available called the Imagine Peace Tour.  


Northern Lights Hunting

With just four hours of sunlight a day around the winter equinox, you’ll have plenty of chances to hunt for the Northern Lights, one of Iceland’s biggest draws. Due to the prolonged darkness, December is the best time of year to chase the ethereal show and the most reliable way to do so is by taking a Northern Lights tour, led by experienced guides who know where to find them. The guides can answer all your aurora-related questions while helping with your camera settings so you can capture the display in all its out-of-this-world glory. A successful hunt will be the highlight of any trip.


New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is one of the most exciting nights of the year in Reykjavik, when thousands of people take to the streets to watch the largest fireworks display in Iceland. And be sure to go along to one of the community bonfires – or brennas – earlier in the evening. It’s a great Icelandic tradition and one of the top things to do in Iceland in December. Reykjavik also hosts a six-mile run on New Year's Eve, which is hugely popular, with many runners donning festive fancy dress. The race starts and finishes at Harpa Concert Hall and afterwards, there’s the famous Reykjavik nightlife to enjoy.


Awesome Activities and Excursions

Betwixtmas – between Christmas and New Year – is a time when many people lose track of the days, so why not lose yourself exploring rural Iceland instead? Many popular activities are still running, and some are even at their best.


  • Ice-caving is a phenomenal experience. Every December, water running underneath Iceland’s glaciers creates tunnels within them, and guided excursions invite visitors to explore the surreal world inside.
  • Lava cave tours are exceptional during winter, when the water dripping through the porous rocks freezes into dramatic stalactites and stalagmites.
  • Whale watching is a fun, if sometimes freezing, December activity. Two of Iceland’s best spots for seeing whales are Faxafloi in Reykjavik and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
  • Glacier hiking is another excellent option around Christmas. The Solheimajokull Glacier and Skaftafellsjokull Glacier are relatively easy to hike at this time of year.
  • When it comes to winter activities, it’s hard to beat blasting across fresh snow on a snowmobiling tour. Numerous trips leave from Reykjavik, and some include a whirl round the Golden Circle.
  • The famous Blue Lagoon is open in December, but it’s hugely popular. If you can’t get in, consider soothing your limbs at one of Iceland’s many other hot springs. On the outskirts on Reykjavik, you’ll find the incredible Sky Lagoon, with a beautiful infinity pool which overlooks the ocean, while in North Iceland, there’s Myvatn Nature Baths – a geothermal spa in an amazing natural setting.


Gledileg jol!