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Christmas in Iceland: What to See and Do

Christmas in Iceland is what everyone hopes the festive season to be. Reindeer make an appearance in their natural habitat, snow is guaranteed, and you don’t get just the one Santa Claus—but 13 Icelandic Christmas trolls.

December 13, 2023

Christmas in Iceland: What to See and Do

Christmas in Iceland is what everyone hopes the festive season to be. Reindeer make an appearance in their natural habitat, snow is guaranteed, and you don’t get just the one Santa Claus—but 13 Icelandic Christmas trolls.

December 13, 2023

Iceland's Christmas is a magical time, with the low-lying sun casting pastel hues across the landscape, and the Northern Lights painting the sky in vibrant colours. Discover stunning coastlines, breathtaking glaciers, sparkling ice caves, and majestic volcanic scenery. Experience exhilarating snowmobile tours, relaxing spa visits, charming Christmas markets, and unique Icelandic cuisine. Join us in this article to explore the wonders waiting for you in Iceland this festive season.

• Explore our range of tours and activities during Christmas in Iceland to start your adventure.

What is Christmas like in Iceland?

It’s no exaggeration to say that Iceland is one of the best places to visit at Christmas. In fact, it offers everything you would hope for from the festive season.

Picture snow and reindeer. Think sumptuous meals and cosy evenings around the fire. Imagine some of the wildest New Year parties, too. All of this is guaranteed in Iceland at Christmas, against the backdrop of perhaps the most beautiful scenery on earth. It’s truly a winter wonderland.

As it does across the world, the Christmas season kicks off with Advent, the period of festive preparation that traditionally starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. That means throughout the month of December you’ll explore an Iceland glowing with gorgeous festive lights, and with Christmas markets and festivals to keep you entertained.

Unlike most traditions, Iceland doesn’t have just one Santa Claus. Instead, Iceland’s Christmas traditionally features 13 Santas, so-called Yule Lads (or Jólasveinar, in Icelandic). These are mischievous trolls that come to town 13 days before Christmas (the night of 11 December), to cause trouble and leave gifts for children.

During Advent, the arrival of the Yule Lads marks the start of the proper Christmas season. A different Yule Lad arrives on consecutive days, and then they leave one by one on the days following Christmas. On the 6 December, the last Yule Lad leaves, signalling the end of the Christmas season.

• Find out more about the Yule Lads and other things that make Iceland’s Christmas unique: Icelandic Christmas Traditions: What You Need to Know

Christmas markets in the capital area in 2023

Throughout the Christmas period, you can find in Iceland an ever-popular fixture of the festive calendar: Christmas markets. But just like everything else that happens at Christmas in Iceland, these are a little unique.

Reykjavík's Main Christmas Market on Ingolfstorg Square

In the heart of central Reykjavík, at Ingólfstorg, the Christmas spirit is alive and enchanting. Wooden huts, shimmering lights, and the scent of warm drinks and roasted almonds create a festive mood. The highlight is the beutifully lit-up ice rink. For an entry fee of 1490 ISK, which includes skates and a helmet, visitors can enjoy ice skating, while children under six years old are welcomed free of charge.

Even if you don't skate, the atmosphere, filled with Christmas tunes and the aroma of almonds, is captivating. This ice rink, particularly loved by children, is open daily from the 1st to the 23rd of December, from 12 PM to 10 PM, and additional opening on the 26th of December: 12 PM to 8 PM, 31st of December: 12 PM to 4 PM.

Christmas market in Heiðmörk

Alternatively, at the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve, 15 minutes by car from downtown. Nestled amidst a picturesque woodland, blanketed in snow, this idyllic spot becomes a haven for the Christmas market each weekend throughout Advent.

The market is small but brims with festivity. You'll find an array of local crafts available for purchase, perfect for unique gifts. Additionally, this is the ideal place to select your Christmas tree. The Reykjavík Forest Service ensures that each tree sale is sustainable and environmentally friendly, adding to the charm of this festive experience. The market is open every Advent weekend from 12 PM to 5 PM.

Christmas Village in Hafnarfjordur

Hafnarfjörður, next to Reykjavik, known for its elfin and volcanic heritage, hosts a vibrant Christmas market in its 'Town of Christmas'. Celebrating over 20 years, this festive hub features wooden cabins selling crafts, treats, and decorations, surrounded by a splendid Christmas tree. Enjoy horse carriage rides, live music, and a unique festive atmosphere in this enchanting Icelandic town.

The festive scene has been enriched by the addition of an ice rink, conveniently located next to the library. For an entrance fee of 1500 ISK, it welcomes visitors from 4 PM to 9 PM on weekdays, 12 PM to 9 PM on Saturdays, and 12 PM to 6 PM on Sundays.

As for the Christmas Market, it's open every Friday from 5 PM to 8 PM. Saturdays and Sundays see the market bustling from 1 PM to 6 PM during Advent. On the 23rd of December, the final day of the Christmas village, the market extends its hours from 1 PM to 9 PM, offering ample time to soak in the festive atmosphere.

Christmas at Arbaer Open Air Museum

Discover Iceland's historical Christmas celebrations at Árbær Open Air Museum's Traditional Christmas Market. This immersive museum experience, especially vibrant during the festive season, takes you back in time. Engage in activities like knitting, crafting decorations, and preparing traditional leaf bread. Sample classic Icelandic holiday dishes like Skate, typically enjoyed on December 23, and Hangikjöt, a smoked lamb dish served during Christmas.

You’ll also notice many Christmas concerts take place throughout the period. One of the most famous is Jólagestir Björgvins, at Reykjavik’s most iconic concert hall, Harpa. But you’ll find many festive events across town too.

The museum is open daily from 1 PM to 5 PM, but the Christmas program takes place on the first three Sundays in Advent, the 3rd, 10th, and 17th of December.

Hiking or snow boots? Down jacket or parka? What to pack for a trip to Iceland


askur ice cave south iceland

Planning your packing in advance can save you time and precious luggage space. Should you bring swimwear for the geothermal lagoons? Are waterproof trousers really necessary? Find out the essentials with our guide to what to pack for Iceland.

Eating in Iceland at Christmas

What do you eat in Iceland at Christmas? You might be surprised by the answer. Icelanders enjoy many traditional meals over the Christmas period, from delicious sweet snacks to more divisive local delicacies.

Hangikjöt is one classic Icelandic recipe and it sits at the centre of most dining tables on Christmas Eve. It’s smoked lamb, typically served cold with a bechamel-style sauce. Served alongside is another traditional Christmas classic, rjúpa or ptarmigan, a mountain bird often served fried.

Fish also makes an appearance. Skate, for example, is typically eaten on 23 December (known in Iceland as St Thorlac’s Mass). Watch out though, because it’s fermented—and it’s an acquired taste, to mildly. For those who aren’t quite brave enough, Icelanders excel at the northern European classic, pickled herring.

Throughout the Christmas season, people with a sweet tooth can enjoy Christmas cookies, which are usually homemade with ginger or jam. Everyone should try the beautiful laufabrauð, “leafbread”, that’s exquisitely decorated, fried, and covered in sugar.

You can find all these delicacies and more in restaurants and hotels in Reykjavik and in other towns around Iceland. But while we would encourage you to do so, you don’t have to eat Icelandic. The capital has an impressive food culture, boasting innovative restaurants inspired by cuisines from across the world.

Whatever you do, though, remember: if you want to eat out at Christmas, make sure you book ahead. You won’t be the only person with the same idea.

What is the weather like in Iceland at Christmas?

Christmas in Iceland is typically cold, dark, and wet or snowy. At this point in the calendar, we’re in the depths of winter. But that’s sort of the point: the beauty of Christmas is to celebrate the end of darkness and look forward to brighter months ahead.

December is the month when days are shortest—only just over 4 hours long. Meanwhile, you can expect lots of snow. 17.8 centimetres (7 inches) of snow typically fall in Reykjavik during December, so it really will be a white Christmas!

Christmas Eve in Iceland


christmas iceland

How do Icelanders celebrate Christmas Eve?

Like everywhere else in the world, it differs from family to family. However, Christmas Eve (Jól Eve, or Aðfangadagur) is typically the most important day in the festive calendar. It’s when Icelanders eat their big family meal, give each other books, and relax together into the evening.

Throughout the day, make all your final preparations. Buy any last-minute gifts or get the meal ready.

At 18:00, the celebrations kick off. This is when we’ll sit down together for a Christmas meal—typically hangikjöt, smoked lamb—then open our presents.

Jólabókaflód is one of the most famous Icelandic Christmas traditions. As part of this “Christmas book flood” everyone will give and receive books, which they'll often spend the rest of the night reading.

Some people attend mass late on Christmas Eve, to meet their neighbours and celebrate the religious festival.

Top activities in Iceland in December

What can you do when visiting Iceland at Christmas? Even though you’re in the middle of winter, there are so many incredible things to keep you entertained. Here are just some of your options.

Northern lights tours



northern lights iceland


During the winter, Iceland’s dark skies reveal one of the most spectacular natural displays on the planet: the northern lights, otherwise known as the aurora borealis.

This breathtaking phenomenon is caused by solar storms, which fire charged particles through space that collide with the earth’s atmosphere. The result is these greenish lights that dance across the night sky.

You can see the aurora all across Iceland. However, some destinations are often preferred by northern lights hunters. For example, Snæfellsnes is the perfect location close to Reykjavik to see this display.

At Reykjavik Excursions, we run northern lights tours throughout the winter led by experts who dedicate themselves to tracking the best conditions. Find out more in our guide to the northern lights.

Ice caving



ice cave in iceland


Why not add some adventure to your Christmas holiday by venturing beneath Iceland’s frozen landscape?

Due to its glaciers—which cover 11% of the country’s land surface—Iceland is one of the best places in Europe for ice caving. It’s a unique experience that takes you into the country’s frozen heart.

You have a couple of options for ice caving tours in Iceland. For example, beneath Langjökull, one of Iceland’s most spectacular glaciers, you can explore the tunnels and rooms of a remote man-made ice cave.

Alternatively, explore the natural ice caves around Jökulsárlón and the Vatnajökull glacier. Here, ice caves form in the autumn, allowing you to walk beneath the mass of the glacier itself.

Glacier tours and snowmobiling in Iceland



glacier snowmobiling iceland


There’s nothing like taking to the snow to get you in the Christmas spirit. On a snowmobile tour in Iceland, you can explore the country’s white winter landscapes while enjoying the thrill of these speedy machines.

If you want an adrenaline rush, try our tour of the Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, or the Mýrdalsjökull. There’s no better way to see the land of ice and fire.

Alternatively, take to the glaciers on foot with one of our glacier tours. Led by an expert guide, you’ll explore the wild spaces and impressive landscapes that characterise our country.

Geothermal Tours



sky lagoon


Iceland is a haven for lovers of geothermal waters, home to some of the planet's most breathtaking thermal escapes. Our wide range of tours is designed to bring you into the heart of these natural marvels.

Particularly sought-after during the colder months, it's easy to see why these warm excursions are a favorite. Dive into our impressive array of geothermal tours in Iceland and discover the warmth of these natural wonders for yourself.

Best places to visit in Iceland in December

Active adventures are not for everyone. If you want your Icelandic Christmas getaway to be a more tranquil affair, our beautiful country offers plenty of breathtaking places for you to admire.

Here’s a selection of the sights for you to explore:

Hvammsvík Hot Springs

Hvammsvík Natural Hot Springs offers an authentic Icelandic experience combining comfort and wilderness. Unlike remote hot springs, here you can book your spot and enjoy amenities like showers, changing facilities, and dining options.

Just 45 minutes from Reykjavik, this secluded fjord retreat boasts eight diverse hot springs and a steam cave, nestled among mountains, ocean, and wildlife. The springs uniquely interact with the tides, providing a dynamic experience as some pools fill during high tide. Experience the tranquility of these geothermal waters at the ocean's edge, a perfect natural recharge available all year round.

• Find out more in our blog or book a Hvammsvík tour today.

Sky Lagoon

A brand new alternative to the Blue Lagoon is the Sky Lagoon, a truly luxurious spa experience. While it doesn’t have the characteristic blue waters, the magnificent views over the north Atlantic more than make up for it.

Open only since 2021, the Sky Lagoon is just a short distance from Reykjavik—making it an easy trip in between your other festive adventures.

• Explore our tours of the Sky Lagoon

The Golden Circle

Deservedly one of the best-known itineraries in the south of Iceland, the Golden Circle is packed with sights to enjoy in any season.

The Golden Circle combines three of Iceland’s most impressive destinations. Firstly, there’s Gullfoss waterfall, a spectacular torrent of water that crashes through a tight canyon. Then, there’s the Geysir Geothermal Park, where you can witness volcanic pressure firing hot water high into the air. On a snow-covered landscape, it’s a particularly marvellous experience.

Finally, the classic itinerary takes you to Þingvellir National Park, one of the most important historical sites in Iceland (not to mention one of the most beautiful). It’s here that the Icelandic parliament—the first parliament in the world—was established. What’s more, you’ll be walking in a live tectonic landscape.

• Discover more about these incredible places in our guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle, or explore our Golden Circle tours to book your trip.

The South Coast

During the winter in Iceland, most visitors stick to the south coast. Elsewhere, such as in Iceland’s Highlands, roads are often closed due to the weather.

It’s lucky then that the south coast of Iceland is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Featuring black sand beaches, itineraries such as the Golden Circle, and most of Iceland’s largest and most spectacular glaciers, Iceland’s southern shore provides all of the wonder you could hope for in a Christmas trip.

One of the best things about the south coast is that you can enjoy it by day while staying in Reykjavik. That means you can enjoy the city’s Christmas entertainment while exploring Iceland’s natural sites during the day.

• Read our ultimate guide to the south coast of Iceland to find out more—and discover our range of south coast tours in Iceland.

Reynisfjara Beach

One of the south coast’s most arresting sights is no doubt Reynisfjara. Imagine black sands, towering sea stacks, and the roar of winter sea waves. It’s likely one of the most photographed sights in Iceland, and on your visit you’ll discover why.

Reynisfjara Beach—or the Black Sand Beach, as it is often known—sits just outside the delightful fishing village of Vík. It’s only a couple of hours’ drive from Reykjavik, making it the perfect day trip.

• Read more in our guide to the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach



sky lagoon


Majestic glacial landscapes, captivating coastal scenes, and icebergs floating serenely across a lagoon. You’ll see all of this and more on a trip to Jökulsárlón.

Formed by the melting of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon has grown in recent decades as global temperatures have risen. Now, it is the deepest lake in Iceland, and it’s likely to only get larger. That makes the lagoon a poignant sight, revealing the beauties of the world that climate change puts at risk.

While you’re here, visit the nearby Diamond Beach, where icebergs melt on the black sands. It’s an incredible, otherworldly sight.

• Discover more about the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Christmas tours and activities in Reykjavik

Of course, alongside the sights that are here all year, Iceland puts on special events at Christmastime to put visitors in the festive spirit.

For example, join Reykjavik Excursions for a Christmas walk around the city. Your guide will show you some of the most beautiful festive spots in town, while introducing you to Iceland’s Christmas traditions and a different side to Reykjavik itself.

If you’d like, you can combine the Christmas walk with a trip to Golden Circle too, for an action-packed and varied festive experience.

Christmas Day in Iceland


christmas in iceland

What happens on Christmas Day in Iceland? Traditionally, it’s a day of relaxing with your family. Unlike Christmas Eve, when there’s a more rigorous schedule, Christmas Day or Jóladagur is much more flexible.

Typically, people will enjoy the gifts they have received, see family, and eat another big meal. Alternatively, you’ll finish the book you received on Christmas Eve!

What are some fun facts about Christmas in Iceland?

Finally, let’s end this article with five fun bits of Icelandic Christmas trivia. We told you Christmas in Iceland is unique!

1: The 13 Yule Lads, who bring gifts to children during the Christmas period, are the children of two horrible man-eating trolls who live in the mountains outside of town. It’s a very different Christmas tradition than Santa with his elves!

2: Look out for Jólakötturinn, the Christmas Cat, when you’re in Iceland. It lurks in the countryside at Christmastime, and eats anyone who has not been gifted a new piece of clothing by Christmas Eve.

3: The day before Christmas Eve, the 23 December, is known as St Thorlac’s Mass in Iceland. St Thorlac is Iceland’s patron saint. The celebration gives you another date in the calendar to look forward to.

4: Iceland technically has 13 days of Christmas (rather than just 12, as elsewhere). Why? Because it counts the number of days when the Yule Lads leave town one by one.

5: The last day of the Christmas period—6 January—is not just the day when families take their decorations down. It’s a day of strange occurrences and magic in Iceland too. For example, it’s when cows are said to talk, and when seals transform into humans.

Find out more about what we get up to at Christmas here: Icelandic Christmas Traditions: What You Need to Know

New Year’s Eve in Iceland


new year's eve in iceland

What happens at New Year in Iceland? For many, it’s an even more special date than Christmas itself. It’s said that Icelanders set alight more than 600 tonnes of fireworks every New Year’s Eve, to create a simply astonishing spectacle.

After their evening meal, Icelanders typically go out to a neighbourhood bonfire or fireworks display—which will go on long into the night. However, the pyrotechnics are interrupted for one of the most important New Year rituals: watching Áramótaskaupið, a comedy show where the events of the past year are remembered in a humorous light. Over 70% of Icelanders tune in.

Read our article about New Year's Eve in Iceland.

Enjoy an Icelandic Christmas with Reykjavik Excursions

Ready for your festive trip to Iceland? The northern lights, spa experiences, and glorious snowy landscapes await.

At Reykjavik Excursions, we’re committed to making your trip to Iceland at Christmas as easy and enjoyable as possible. Let us handle your transport to and from the main sights and then join us for festive walks around the capital.

__However you want to spend Christmas in Iceland, we can help you get there in comfort and style. Explore our Christmas activities in Iceland to book your adventure.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.

Litli-Hrútur Eruption 2023 - The New Eruption near Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula

Once again, the enthralling spectacle of Iceland's Reykjanes volcano is back in the limelight! After 11 months of peaceful dormancy, the volcano is now alive and kicking, treating locals and tourists to another captivating visual performance. If you've been yearning for an adventure that's truly out of this world, this might just be your calling!

Read Blog

Christmas in Iceland: What to See and Do

Christmas in Iceland is what everyone hopes the festive season to be. Reindeer make an appearance in their natural habitat, snow is guaranteed, and you don’t get just the one Santa Claus—but 13 Icelandic Christmas trolls.

December 13, 2023

Christmas in Iceland: What to See and Do

Christmas in Iceland is what everyone hopes the festive season to be. Reindeer make an appearance in their natural habitat, snow is guaranteed, and you don’t get just the one Santa Claus—but 13 Icelandic Christmas trolls.

December 13, 2023

Iceland's Christmas is a magical time, with the low-lying sun casting pastel hues across the landscape, and the Northern Lights painting the sky in vibrant colours. Discover stunning coastlines, breathtaking glaciers, sparkling ice caves, and majestic volcanic scenery. Experience exhilarating snowmobile tours, relaxing spa visits, charming Christmas markets, and unique Icelandic cuisine. Join us in this article to explore the wonders waiting for you in Iceland this festive season.

• Explore our range of tours and activities during Christmas in Iceland to start your adventure.

What is Christmas like in Iceland?

It’s no exaggeration to say that Iceland is one of the best places to visit at Christmas. In fact, it offers everything you would hope for from the festive season.

Picture snow and reindeer. Think sumptuous meals and cosy evenings around the fire. Imagine some of the wildest New Year parties, too. All of this is guaranteed in Iceland at Christmas, against the backdrop of perhaps the most beautiful scenery on earth. It’s truly a winter wonderland.

As it does across the world, the Christmas season kicks off with Advent, the period of festive preparation that traditionally starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. That means throughout the month of December you’ll explore an Iceland glowing with gorgeous festive lights, and with Christmas markets and festivals to keep you entertained.

Unlike most traditions, Iceland doesn’t have just one Santa Claus. Instead, Iceland’s Christmas traditionally features 13 Santas, so-called Yule Lads (or Jólasveinar, in Icelandic). These are mischievous trolls that come to town 13 days before Christmas (the night of 11 December), to cause trouble and leave gifts for children.

During Advent, the arrival of the Yule Lads marks the start of the proper Christmas season. A different Yule Lad arrives on consecutive days, and then they leave one by one on the days following Christmas. On the 6 December, the last Yule Lad leaves, signalling the end of the Christmas season.

• Find out more about the Yule Lads and other things that make Iceland’s Christmas unique: Icelandic Christmas Traditions: What You Need to Know

Christmas markets in the capital area in 2023

Throughout the Christmas period, you can find in Iceland an ever-popular fixture of the festive calendar: Christmas markets. But just like everything else that happens at Christmas in Iceland, these are a little unique.

Reykjavík's Main Christmas Market on Ingolfstorg Square

In the heart of central Reykjavík, at Ingólfstorg, the Christmas spirit is alive and enchanting. Wooden huts, shimmering lights, and the scent of warm drinks and roasted almonds create a festive mood. The highlight is the beutifully lit-up ice rink. For an entry fee of 1490 ISK, which includes skates and a helmet, visitors can enjoy ice skating, while children under six years old are welcomed free of charge.

Even if you don't skate, the atmosphere, filled with Christmas tunes and the aroma of almonds, is captivating. This ice rink, particularly loved by children, is open daily from the 1st to the 23rd of December, from 12 PM to 10 PM, and additional opening on the 26th of December: 12 PM to 8 PM, 31st of December: 12 PM to 4 PM.

Christmas market in Heiðmörk

Alternatively, at the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve, 15 minutes by car from downtown. Nestled amidst a picturesque woodland, blanketed in snow, this idyllic spot becomes a haven for the Christmas market each weekend throughout Advent.

The market is small but brims with festivity. You'll find an array of local crafts available for purchase, perfect for unique gifts. Additionally, this is the ideal place to select your Christmas tree. The Reykjavík Forest Service ensures that each tree sale is sustainable and environmentally friendly, adding to the charm of this festive experience. The market is open every Advent weekend from 12 PM to 5 PM.

Christmas Village in Hafnarfjordur

Hafnarfjörður, next to Reykjavik, known for its elfin and volcanic heritage, hosts a vibrant Christmas market in its 'Town of Christmas'. Celebrating over 20 years, this festive hub features wooden cabins selling crafts, treats, and decorations, surrounded by a splendid Christmas tree. Enjoy horse carriage rides, live music, and a unique festive atmosphere in this enchanting Icelandic town.

The festive scene has been enriched by the addition of an ice rink, conveniently located next to the library. For an entrance fee of 1500 ISK, it welcomes visitors from 4 PM to 9 PM on weekdays, 12 PM to 9 PM on Saturdays, and 12 PM to 6 PM on Sundays.

As for the Christmas Market, it's open every Friday from 5 PM to 8 PM. Saturdays and Sundays see the market bustling from 1 PM to 6 PM during Advent. On the 23rd of December, the final day of the Christmas village, the market extends its hours from 1 PM to 9 PM, offering ample time to soak in the festive atmosphere.

Christmas at Arbaer Open Air Museum

Discover Iceland's historical Christmas celebrations at Árbær Open Air Museum's Traditional Christmas Market. This immersive museum experience, especially vibrant during the festive season, takes you back in time. Engage in activities like knitting, crafting decorations, and preparing traditional leaf bread. Sample classic Icelandic holiday dishes like Skate, typically enjoyed on December 23, and Hangikjöt, a smoked lamb dish served during Christmas.

You’ll also notice many Christmas concerts take place throughout the period. One of the most famous is Jólagestir Björgvins, at Reykjavik’s most iconic concert hall, Harpa. But you’ll find many festive events across town too.

The museum is open daily from 1 PM to 5 PM, but the Christmas program takes place on the first three Sundays in Advent, the 3rd, 10th, and 17th of December.

Hiking or snow boots? Down jacket or parka? What to pack for a trip to Iceland


askur ice cave south iceland

Planning your packing in advance can save you time and precious luggage space. Should you bring swimwear for the geothermal lagoons? Are waterproof trousers really necessary? Find out the essentials with our guide to what to pack for Iceland.

Eating in Iceland at Christmas

What do you eat in Iceland at Christmas? You might be surprised by the answer. Icelanders enjoy many traditional meals over the Christmas period, from delicious sweet snacks to more divisive local delicacies.

Hangikjöt is one classic Icelandic recipe and it sits at the centre of most dining tables on Christmas Eve. It’s smoked lamb, typically served cold with a bechamel-style sauce. Served alongside is another traditional Christmas classic, rjúpa or ptarmigan, a mountain bird often served fried.

Fish also makes an appearance. Skate, for example, is typically eaten on 23 December (known in Iceland as St Thorlac’s Mass). Watch out though, because it’s fermented—and it’s an acquired taste, to mildly. For those who aren’t quite brave enough, Icelanders excel at the northern European classic, pickled herring.

Throughout the Christmas season, people with a sweet tooth can enjoy Christmas cookies, which are usually homemade with ginger or jam. Everyone should try the beautiful laufabrauð, “leafbread”, that’s exquisitely decorated, fried, and covered in sugar.

You can find all these delicacies and more in restaurants and hotels in Reykjavik and in other towns around Iceland. But while we would encourage you to do so, you don’t have to eat Icelandic. The capital has an impressive food culture, boasting innovative restaurants inspired by cuisines from across the world.

Whatever you do, though, remember: if you want to eat out at Christmas, make sure you book ahead. You won’t be the only person with the same idea.

What is the weather like in Iceland at Christmas?

Christmas in Iceland is typically cold, dark, and wet or snowy. At this point in the calendar, we’re in the depths of winter. But that’s sort of the point: the beauty of Christmas is to celebrate the end of darkness and look forward to brighter months ahead.

December is the month when days are shortest—only just over 4 hours long. Meanwhile, you can expect lots of snow. 17.8 centimetres (7 inches) of snow typically fall in Reykjavik during December, so it really will be a white Christmas!

Christmas Eve in Iceland


christmas iceland

How do Icelanders celebrate Christmas Eve?

Like everywhere else in the world, it differs from family to family. However, Christmas Eve (Jól Eve, or Aðfangadagur) is typically the most important day in the festive calendar. It’s when Icelanders eat their big family meal, give each other books, and relax together into the evening.

Throughout the day, make all your final preparations. Buy any last-minute gifts or get the meal ready.

At 18:00, the celebrations kick off. This is when we’ll sit down together for a Christmas meal—typically hangikjöt, smoked lamb—then open our presents.

Jólabókaflód is one of the most famous Icelandic Christmas traditions. As part of this “Christmas book flood” everyone will give and receive books, which they'll often spend the rest of the night reading.

Some people attend mass late on Christmas Eve, to meet their neighbours and celebrate the religious festival.

Top activities in Iceland in December

What can you do when visiting Iceland at Christmas? Even though you’re in the middle of winter, there are so many incredible things to keep you entertained. Here are just some of your options.

Northern lights tours



northern lights iceland


During the winter, Iceland’s dark skies reveal one of the most spectacular natural displays on the planet: the northern lights, otherwise known as the aurora borealis.

This breathtaking phenomenon is caused by solar storms, which fire charged particles through space that collide with the earth’s atmosphere. The result is these greenish lights that dance across the night sky.

You can see the aurora all across Iceland. However, some destinations are often preferred by northern lights hunters. For example, Snæfellsnes is the perfect location close to Reykjavik to see this display.

At Reykjavik Excursions, we run northern lights tours throughout the winter led by experts who dedicate themselves to tracking the best conditions. Find out more in our guide to the northern lights.

Ice caving



ice cave in iceland


Why not add some adventure to your Christmas holiday by venturing beneath Iceland’s frozen landscape?

Due to its glaciers—which cover 11% of the country’s land surface—Iceland is one of the best places in Europe for ice caving. It’s a unique experience that takes you into the country’s frozen heart.

You have a couple of options for ice caving tours in Iceland. For example, beneath Langjökull, one of Iceland’s most spectacular glaciers, you can explore the tunnels and rooms of a remote man-made ice cave.

Alternatively, explore the natural ice caves around Jökulsárlón and the Vatnajökull glacier. Here, ice caves form in the autumn, allowing you to walk beneath the mass of the glacier itself.

Glacier tours and snowmobiling in Iceland



glacier snowmobiling iceland


There’s nothing like taking to the snow to get you in the Christmas spirit. On a snowmobile tour in Iceland, you can explore the country’s white winter landscapes while enjoying the thrill of these speedy machines.

If you want an adrenaline rush, try our tour of the Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, or the Mýrdalsjökull. There’s no better way to see the land of ice and fire.

Alternatively, take to the glaciers on foot with one of our glacier tours. Led by an expert guide, you’ll explore the wild spaces and impressive landscapes that characterise our country.

Geothermal Tours



sky lagoon


Iceland is a haven for lovers of geothermal waters, home to some of the planet's most breathtaking thermal escapes. Our wide range of tours is designed to bring you into the heart of these natural marvels.

Particularly sought-after during the colder months, it's easy to see why these warm excursions are a favorite. Dive into our impressive array of geothermal tours in Iceland and discover the warmth of these natural wonders for yourself.

Best places to visit in Iceland in December

Active adventures are not for everyone. If you want your Icelandic Christmas getaway to be a more tranquil affair, our beautiful country offers plenty of breathtaking places for you to admire.

Here’s a selection of the sights for you to explore:

Hvammsvík Hot Springs

Hvammsvík Natural Hot Springs offers an authentic Icelandic experience combining comfort and wilderness. Unlike remote hot springs, here you can book your spot and enjoy amenities like showers, changing facilities, and dining options.

Just 45 minutes from Reykjavik, this secluded fjord retreat boasts eight diverse hot springs and a steam cave, nestled among mountains, ocean, and wildlife. The springs uniquely interact with the tides, providing a dynamic experience as some pools fill during high tide. Experience the tranquility of these geothermal waters at the ocean's edge, a perfect natural recharge available all year round.

• Find out more in our blog or book a Hvammsvík tour today.

Sky Lagoon

A brand new alternative to the Blue Lagoon is the Sky Lagoon, a truly luxurious spa experience. While it doesn’t have the characteristic blue waters, the magnificent views over the north Atlantic more than make up for it.

Open only since 2021, the Sky Lagoon is just a short distance from Reykjavik—making it an easy trip in between your other festive adventures.

• Explore our tours of the Sky Lagoon

The Golden Circle

Deservedly one of the best-known itineraries in the south of Iceland, the Golden Circle is packed with sights to enjoy in any season.

The Golden Circle combines three of Iceland’s most impressive destinations. Firstly, there’s Gullfoss waterfall, a spectacular torrent of water that crashes through a tight canyon. Then, there’s the Geysir Geothermal Park, where you can witness volcanic pressure firing hot water high into the air. On a snow-covered landscape, it’s a particularly marvellous experience.

Finally, the classic itinerary takes you to Þingvellir National Park, one of the most important historical sites in Iceland (not to mention one of the most beautiful). It’s here that the Icelandic parliament—the first parliament in the world—was established. What’s more, you’ll be walking in a live tectonic landscape.

• Discover more about these incredible places in our guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle, or explore our Golden Circle tours to book your trip.

The South Coast

During the winter in Iceland, most visitors stick to the south coast. Elsewhere, such as in Iceland’s Highlands, roads are often closed due to the weather.

It’s lucky then that the south coast of Iceland is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Featuring black sand beaches, itineraries such as the Golden Circle, and most of Iceland’s largest and most spectacular glaciers, Iceland’s southern shore provides all of the wonder you could hope for in a Christmas trip.

One of the best things about the south coast is that you can enjoy it by day while staying in Reykjavik. That means you can enjoy the city’s Christmas entertainment while exploring Iceland’s natural sites during the day.

• Read our ultimate guide to the south coast of Iceland to find out more—and discover our range of south coast tours in Iceland.

Reynisfjara Beach

One of the south coast’s most arresting sights is no doubt Reynisfjara. Imagine black sands, towering sea stacks, and the roar of winter sea waves. It’s likely one of the most photographed sights in Iceland, and on your visit you’ll discover why.

Reynisfjara Beach—or the Black Sand Beach, as it is often known—sits just outside the delightful fishing village of Vík. It’s only a couple of hours’ drive from Reykjavik, making it the perfect day trip.

• Read more in our guide to the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach



sky lagoon


Majestic glacial landscapes, captivating coastal scenes, and icebergs floating serenely across a lagoon. You’ll see all of this and more on a trip to Jökulsárlón.

Formed by the melting of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon has grown in recent decades as global temperatures have risen. Now, it is the deepest lake in Iceland, and it’s likely to only get larger. That makes the lagoon a poignant sight, revealing the beauties of the world that climate change puts at risk.

While you’re here, visit the nearby Diamond Beach, where icebergs melt on the black sands. It’s an incredible, otherworldly sight.

• Discover more about the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Christmas tours and activities in Reykjavik

Of course, alongside the sights that are here all year, Iceland puts on special events at Christmastime to put visitors in the festive spirit.

For example, join Reykjavik Excursions for a Christmas walk around the city. Your guide will show you some of the most beautiful festive spots in town, while introducing you to Iceland’s Christmas traditions and a different side to Reykjavik itself.

If you’d like, you can combine the Christmas walk with a trip to Golden Circle too, for an action-packed and varied festive experience.

Christmas Day in Iceland


christmas in iceland

What happens on Christmas Day in Iceland? Traditionally, it’s a day of relaxing with your family. Unlike Christmas Eve, when there’s a more rigorous schedule, Christmas Day or Jóladagur is much more flexible.

Typically, people will enjoy the gifts they have received, see family, and eat another big meal. Alternatively, you’ll finish the book you received on Christmas Eve!

What are some fun facts about Christmas in Iceland?

Finally, let’s end this article with five fun bits of Icelandic Christmas trivia. We told you Christmas in Iceland is unique!

1: The 13 Yule Lads, who bring gifts to children during the Christmas period, are the children of two horrible man-eating trolls who live in the mountains outside of town. It’s a very different Christmas tradition than Santa with his elves!

2: Look out for Jólakötturinn, the Christmas Cat, when you’re in Iceland. It lurks in the countryside at Christmastime, and eats anyone who has not been gifted a new piece of clothing by Christmas Eve.

3: The day before Christmas Eve, the 23 December, is known as St Thorlac’s Mass in Iceland. St Thorlac is Iceland’s patron saint. The celebration gives you another date in the calendar to look forward to.

4: Iceland technically has 13 days of Christmas (rather than just 12, as elsewhere). Why? Because it counts the number of days when the Yule Lads leave town one by one.

5: The last day of the Christmas period—6 January—is not just the day when families take their decorations down. It’s a day of strange occurrences and magic in Iceland too. For example, it’s when cows are said to talk, and when seals transform into humans.

Find out more about what we get up to at Christmas here: Icelandic Christmas Traditions: What You Need to Know

New Year’s Eve in Iceland


new year's eve in iceland

What happens at New Year in Iceland? For many, it’s an even more special date than Christmas itself. It’s said that Icelanders set alight more than 600 tonnes of fireworks every New Year’s Eve, to create a simply astonishing spectacle.

After their evening meal, Icelanders typically go out to a neighbourhood bonfire or fireworks display—which will go on long into the night. However, the pyrotechnics are interrupted for one of the most important New Year rituals: watching Áramótaskaupið, a comedy show where the events of the past year are remembered in a humorous light. Over 70% of Icelanders tune in.

Read our article about New Year's Eve in Iceland.

Enjoy an Icelandic Christmas with Reykjavik Excursions

Ready for your festive trip to Iceland? The northern lights, spa experiences, and glorious snowy landscapes await.

At Reykjavik Excursions, we’re committed to making your trip to Iceland at Christmas as easy and enjoyable as possible. Let us handle your transport to and from the main sights and then join us for festive walks around the capital.

__However you want to spend Christmas in Iceland, we can help you get there in comfort and style. Explore our Christmas activities in Iceland to book your adventure.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.