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.

4. október 2022

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.

4. október 2022

All this makes an Icelandic Christmas a very special experience indeed. Add stunning coastlines, sublime glacial scenes, and fearsome volcanic landscapes into the mix, and it’s obvious why Iceland is the perfect holiday destination.

In this article, find out what you can see and do when you visit Iceland this Christmas. From snowmobile tours across glaciers to spa experiences, Christmas markets to unique cuisines, read on to discover what’s waiting for you in Iceland.

• 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.

We mentioned above that, unlike most traditions, Iceland doesn’t have just one Santa Claus. Instead, Iceland’s Christmas traditionally features 13 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 Reykjavik

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.

You’ll find the best ones in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. For example, at Ingólfstorg, immerse yourself in a delightful festive atmosphere, with wooden cabins selling traditional goods, as well as an ice-skating rink. Alternatively, at the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve, 30 minutes by bus from downtown, get Christmassy at a vibrant market featuring a live concert, children’s activities, and more.

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.

Eating in Iceland at Christmas

Jola 19

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?

Jola

Christmas in Iceland is typically cold, dark, and 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


Jola 2

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.

Here’s a little of what you can expect:

• 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 in Iceland in winter

Jola 5

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

Jola 6

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.

Whale watching

Jola 7

Reindeer aren’t the only festive wildlife that you can enjoy this Christmas. One of the most magical experiences for visitors to Iceland—at any time of year—is to glimpse the most majestic of sea creatures, whales.

There are as many as 12 species of whale that make Iceland’s waters their home throughout the year. And while there tends to be more activity during the summer months, there’s still plenty to see during December.

For example, a colony of orca—the famous killer whales—are often seen off the coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula, a short distance north of Reykjavik. And, during the winter, you have a better chance of seeing beluga whales off the north coast of Iceland too.

Wrap up warm—because it can be quite cold on a whale watching tour. But after your sealife adventure, you can snuggle up by the fire.

• Find out more about our sea life in our guide to whale watching in Iceland—and browse our selection of whale-watching tours.

Snorkelling and diving in Iceland in December

Jola 8

Snorkelling in December in Iceland? You may think we’re out of our minds. But bear with us, because taking a dip into Iceland’s lakes and seas can be a fantastic, unforgettable experience. Yes, even in winter.

By far the most famous diving experience in Iceland is at Silfra, in Lake Þingvallavatn in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir National Park. Here you’ll swim between two continents, in the trench between the Eurasian and the American tectonic plates. It’s said that it has the clearest water in the world.

But there are many other diving opportunities too. For example, there’s the volcanic lake of Kleifarvatn on Reykjanes to explore, or the ocean garden known as Garður, to the south of Reykjavik.

Of course, it will be a little chilly! But with a dry suit on, it won’t be nearly as shocking as you expect. Rather, you’ll see a side of Iceland that is simply unmissable.

• Check out our guide to snorkelling and diving in Iceland to find out more (and don’t forget to book your snorkelling and diving tour in advance!)

Glacier tours and snowmobiling in Iceland

Jola 9

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.

Christmas Day in Iceland


Jola 3

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!

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.

Blue Lagoon

Jola 13

Many visitors come to Iceland for the spas—and for good reason. Powered by thermal energy from the earth, they’re a tranquil and rejuvenating experience, at any time of year.

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous spas in Iceland, thanks to its characteristic blue waters. It’s known for its healing qualities, attributable to the high mineral content of the water.

Think it’s too cold to visit a spa in winter? Think again. The waters of the lagoon reach a balmy 40°C (104°F).

• Find out more in our guide to the Blue Lagoon—or book a Blue Lagoon tour today.

Sky Lagoon

Jola 11

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

Jola 12

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

Jola 14

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

Jola 15

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

Jola 16

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

Jola 18 credit: eeems/Flickr

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.

New Year’s Eve in Iceland


Jola 4

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.

Later on, New Year’s Eve is the night when Icelanders party. Join in the fun! Or you can join the best of Iceland’s New Year on our bonfire tour of Reykjavik or a tour of New Year traditions.

What are some fun facts about Christmas in Iceland?

Jola 10

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

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.

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Fáðu innblástur! Upplýsingar og góð ráð, áhugaverðir áfangastaðir, skemmtilegar staðreyndar og margt fleira. Bloggið okkar er á ensku en það er stórskemmtilegt engu að síður!

Northern Lights in Iceland: Your Guide

In this post, you can discover everything you need to know about seeing the aurora borealis in the land of fire and ice.

Lesa blogg

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.

4. október 2022

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.

4. október 2022

All this makes an Icelandic Christmas a very special experience indeed. Add stunning coastlines, sublime glacial scenes, and fearsome volcanic landscapes into the mix, and it’s obvious why Iceland is the perfect holiday destination.

In this article, find out what you can see and do when you visit Iceland this Christmas. From snowmobile tours across glaciers to spa experiences, Christmas markets to unique cuisines, read on to discover what’s waiting for you in Iceland.

• 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.

We mentioned above that, unlike most traditions, Iceland doesn’t have just one Santa Claus. Instead, Iceland’s Christmas traditionally features 13 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 Reykjavik

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.

You’ll find the best ones in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. For example, at Ingólfstorg, immerse yourself in a delightful festive atmosphere, with wooden cabins selling traditional goods, as well as an ice-skating rink. Alternatively, at the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve, 30 minutes by bus from downtown, get Christmassy at a vibrant market featuring a live concert, children’s activities, and more.

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.

Eating in Iceland at Christmas

Jola 19

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?

Jola

Christmas in Iceland is typically cold, dark, and 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


Jola 2

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.

Here’s a little of what you can expect:

• 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 in Iceland in winter

Jola 5

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

Jola 6

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.

Whale watching

Jola 7

Reindeer aren’t the only festive wildlife that you can enjoy this Christmas. One of the most magical experiences for visitors to Iceland—at any time of year—is to glimpse the most majestic of sea creatures, whales.

There are as many as 12 species of whale that make Iceland’s waters their home throughout the year. And while there tends to be more activity during the summer months, there’s still plenty to see during December.

For example, a colony of orca—the famous killer whales—are often seen off the coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula, a short distance north of Reykjavik. And, during the winter, you have a better chance of seeing beluga whales off the north coast of Iceland too.

Wrap up warm—because it can be quite cold on a whale watching tour. But after your sealife adventure, you can snuggle up by the fire.

• Find out more about our sea life in our guide to whale watching in Iceland—and browse our selection of whale-watching tours.

Snorkelling and diving in Iceland in December

Jola 8

Snorkelling in December in Iceland? You may think we’re out of our minds. But bear with us, because taking a dip into Iceland’s lakes and seas can be a fantastic, unforgettable experience. Yes, even in winter.

By far the most famous diving experience in Iceland is at Silfra, in Lake Þingvallavatn in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir National Park. Here you’ll swim between two continents, in the trench between the Eurasian and the American tectonic plates. It’s said that it has the clearest water in the world.

But there are many other diving opportunities too. For example, there’s the volcanic lake of Kleifarvatn on Reykjanes to explore, or the ocean garden known as Garður, to the south of Reykjavik.

Of course, it will be a little chilly! But with a dry suit on, it won’t be nearly as shocking as you expect. Rather, you’ll see a side of Iceland that is simply unmissable.

• Check out our guide to snorkelling and diving in Iceland to find out more (and don’t forget to book your snorkelling and diving tour in advance!)

Glacier tours and snowmobiling in Iceland

Jola 9

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.

Christmas Day in Iceland


Jola 3

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!

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.

Blue Lagoon

Jola 13

Many visitors come to Iceland for the spas—and for good reason. Powered by thermal energy from the earth, they’re a tranquil and rejuvenating experience, at any time of year.

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous spas in Iceland, thanks to its characteristic blue waters. It’s known for its healing qualities, attributable to the high mineral content of the water.

Think it’s too cold to visit a spa in winter? Think again. The waters of the lagoon reach a balmy 40°C (104°F).

• Find out more in our guide to the Blue Lagoon—or book a Blue Lagoon tour today.

Sky Lagoon

Jola 11

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

Jola 12

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

New Year’s Eve in Iceland


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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.

Later on, New Year’s Eve is the night when Icelanders party. Join in the fun! Or you can join the best of Iceland’s New Year on our bonfire tour of Reykjavik or a tour of New Year traditions.

What are some fun facts about Christmas in Iceland?

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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

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.

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