Iceland has four seasons, however most of the time it doesn’t feel this way. Weather in Iceland makes everyone confused, even the locals.
Many people think that Iceland is always frozen – which is partially true. 11% of Iceland is indeed frozen all year long, where our magnificent glaciers reside. However, an island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean has got a much milder weather than many think, mainly due to the Gulf Stream – a warm ocean current that flows towards the North Atlantic Ocean, bringing warmth from the Caribbean to Iceland. Although this spectacular natural phenomena warms up most parts of Iceland, the Gulf Stream mainly tends to warm up areas around Reykjavik and the southern parts of Iceland. This is because these parts of the island are hit first by the ocean sea. Due to this, other parts of Iceland are colder.
When does winter start in Iceland?
Although we are only 300 000 people in on this island, Iceland is actually pretty big – 103,000 km² . So winter comes at different times of the year.
- Reykjavik – October | with first snowfall in November/ December
- Akureyri – September | with first snowfall in September / October
- South Iceland – October | with first snowfall in November / December
- West Iceland – September | with first snowfall in October
- East Iceland – September | with first snowfall in October
What is the average temperature in Iceland during winter season?
Weather in Iceland frequently changes, and tends to get way colder than you think. Also, keep in mind that Iceland is a very humid and windy island, so everything feels at least twice colder.
Parts of the island that are coastal (as used in the image) tend to be warmer all year long, however the further away you go from the coast, the colder and rougher it gets. Scroll down to read more about weather in Iceland’s highlands.
What to wear in Iceland?
WARM CLOTHES! Avoid denim (jeans) and cotton. Also, make sure your shoes are well insulated with non slip rubber soles.
What to wear:
- Inner layer – Shirt / T-shirt (wool or synthetic)
- Insulating layer – Polyester Sweater / Fleece Sweater / Insulated Down Jacket
- Outer layer – Waterproof jacket and pants
- Fleece pants
- Socks (wool)
- Waterproof shoes, good for slippery surfaces
- Hat, gloves, sunglasses (to protect from snow)
Should I go to Iceland in winter?
Definitely, winters in Iceland are way milder than in Canada, Greenland, Russia or Scandinavia. But Iceland is in the Arctic, surrounded by oceans – therefore very strong winds and unpredictable weather is very common all around the island. It might get very cold and windy – so bring your warmest clothes with you – you will be thankful, especially while aurora hunting during cold, magical nights.
Should I drive in Iceland during winter?
You can, but be very careful, especially if you are not used to the arctic weather conditions.
- Driving in Reykjavik – very easy (Reykjavik uses geothermal water heating underneath the streets of Reykjavik (to melt snow and ice)).
- Driving along Golden Circle – easy (frequently used roads).
- Driving along the Ring Road – difficult at times, especially if there is a snow storm.
- Driving in the highlands – very difficult, sometimes impossible.
Always take a look at road.is before you start driving, to be aware of the current situation of the roads.
Weather in Iceland’s highlands
We would not recommend going into the highlands during winter season, especially if you are not used to the poor road conditions. Please note that there are no paved roads, the paths are very hard to drive on, and most of the time there is no cellular data (might be stressful in case of emergencies).
Storms are very common in the highlands, even during summer season. Hurricane winds, excessive snowfall, inaccessible roads are just a few examples. As the Gulf Stream only reaches the coastal parts of Iceland, the weather in the highlands ends up being much more harsh and cold. You can only enter highlands using a 4X4 car, however it is common to find an inaccessible road, with the only option of turning around and heading back.
Is there anything else I should know before coming to Iceland this winter?
Don’t get frightened by our weather warnings, they are not really that scary – just always be careful and have extra layers on you. Also, try to bring a thermos with you anywhere you go. You can get hot water for FREE almost anywhere around Iceland – cafeterias, gas stations, or even from locals.
Keep in mind that during winter season, some parts of Iceland experience polar nights – when the sun does not come up for a few months. Thankfully most of Iceland still gets the chance to see the a bit of sunshine, however days are pretty short, so enjoy the most exciting activities during the few hours of sunlight. Do not worry about having nothing to do in the darkness though! Snow makes everything bright even when it’s dark outside. Even skiing in the mountains is possible, once the moonlight hits the snow – making the surroundings feel like a magical wintery fairytale.
Iceland has got beautiful landscapes both in summer and winter, yet the glaciers and ice caves become way larger and blue during winter time, giving a crystal feeling anywhere you look. Also while you are in Iceland, watch out for elves – they come out once in a while to say hello!