From viewing the Northern Lights to attending Reykjavik’s Winter Lights Festival, there are plenty of great reasons to visit Iceland in winter, and the arctic island is at its most magical over the holiday season. For a truly unique experience, liven up your itinerary with some of these activities you probably didn’t know you could do in Iceland in winter.
Along with its UNESCO City of Literature status and thriving music scene, Reykjavik’s penchant for the creative has given birth to a strong contemporary art scene, with a growing number of internationally acclaimed artists and some excellent museums and galleries.
With its serene backdrop of volcanic peaks, rugged gorges and crashing waterfalls, North Iceland is prime terrain for hikers, with endless options for hiking around Akureyri. For short hikes, you don’t have to head far from the city — walk along the banks of the Eyjafjorour fjord, explore the Glerárdalur valley or scale the 1,144-meter peak of Súlur mountain for a dazzling view over the surrounding fjords and valleys.
With its ghostly white tower looming over the capital from its hilltop perch, Reykjavik’s famous Hallgrímskirkja church is the city’s most memorable landmark and a striking example of modern Icelandic architecture. The fantastical church is named in honor of 17th-century Icelandic poet and influential clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson, responsible for writing many of Iceland’s most popular hymns, and was the creative vision of architect Gudjon Samuelsson.
With its craggy silhouette etched along the horizon and its crest of mineral rocks that famously changes hue with the light (or according to “her mood” if you listen to local folklore), the majestic peak of Mount Esja provides a mesmerizing backdrop to the Icelandic capital. Whether dusted with snow, hung with mist or hidden beneath a canopy of clouds, Reykjavik’s nearest mountain has long kept watch over the cit, and the omnipresent peak still holds a special place in the hearts of capital dwellers.
If you’re planning a specific trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, you might want to plan your trip in the middle of the season, rather than at the start or end, but it’s still a matter of luck. You could spend a week in Iceland in December and never see the Lights, or get lucky on your first night there in September or March. Once you arrive in Iceland, keep an eye on the Iceland Northern Lights forecast to see when you have the best chance of catching the show.