Visiting Iceland in the winter is a uniquely awesome proposition. January is one of the best months to visit Iceland, not only because of lower prices and fewer crowds, but also the large number of amazingly cool winter activities that await you. If you decide to plan a vacation to Iceland in January, there are several things to keep in mind. Temperatures will be low, and there will be lots of snow. Knowing what to expect and how to dress are imperative to enjoying your trip. Being so close to the winter solstice also affects the amount of daylight you’ll experience during your stay. You’ll want to have time to enjoy your excursions to the fullest when you’re viewing the Northern Lights, hiking Skaftafell glacier, or trekking close to the edge of the frozen Gullfoss waterfall. Here’s some necessary info about Iceland’s weather in January so you can plan your trip well.
Average Temperatures in Iceland in January
To start with, let’s get something out of the way. Even though the name Iceland connotes some frozen tundra that is covered in ice and blanketed in pristine snow all year long, that’s simply not the case. It’s true that the island is located at a far northern latitude, which is associated with colder temperatures. But thanks to the effects of the Gulf Stream, the waters surrounding Iceland are relatively warm. As a result, the climate produces winters that are not that bad. They’re definitely cold, mind you, but aren’t unbearable. Around Reykjavik, the country’s capital, average January highs hover around 37 ºF (3 ºC). But this past January, the temperature reached 46 ºF (7.7 ºC) on some days. The average low in January is 27 ºF (-3 ºC), but earlier this year, parts of the country dipped down to a teeth-chattering 14 ºF (-10 ºC).
Iceland’s January Snowfall and Precipitation
January is statistically the wettest month of the year in Iceland. During January’s 31 days, approximately 50 mm of rain falls. The freezing temperatures all around the island mean that most of this precipitation takes the form of sleet, hail, and snow. You’ll find yourself surrounded by white landscapes as far as the eye can see. It’s enough to make you feel as though you’ve landed inside of a snow globe as you travel around the country on your winter vacation. One of the cooler things you’ll see are waterfalls like Gullfoss and Dettifoss either completely or partially frozen.
Driving in Iceland’s Snowy Winter Conditions
Many things about Iceland are different, and that includes driving conditions. With all of the hazards that come from winter driving, from black ice to low visibility to snowstorms, it’s important to remember that safety always comes first. Checking the meteorological forecast for any inclement weather events, making sure your vehicle has snow tires, and giving yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination are all basic measures that you can take to ensure safe passage. The weather in Iceland in January can be quite extreme, so you need to take every precaution to make sure you have a safe trip, whether traveling by car or campervan.
Daylight Hours in Iceland in January
Another important factor to take into account with Iceland’s January weather is the fact that there won’t be extremely long days. Reduced sunlight means lower temperatures during the hours of darkness. At the beginning of January, the sun rises at nearly 11:20 am and sets close to 3:45 pm. That’s not much time to fit in a day’s worth of sightseeing activities! Something called civil twilight can help you extend some of the light you have. You see, it’s not pitch black during the times before sunrise and after sunset. During this time of year, you actually have some light starting around 10 am and it doesn’t fully go away until 5 pm. That’s much more manageable. By the end of the month, civil twilight starts at 9:15 am and extends past 6 pm. The sun officially rises at 10:12 am and sets at 17:11.
Sunrise and Sunset Time in Iceland in January
January 1st: Sunrise is at 11:19 am and sunset is at 3:43 pm
January 15th: Sunrise is at 10:55 am and sunset is at 16:19 pm
January 30th: Sunrise is at 10:12 am and sunset is at 17:11 pm
Please keep these in mind when taking day trips like the Golden Circle or driving between places like Vik and Reykjavik.
What to Wear
We can’t talk about Iceland’s January weather without talking about how to dress for it. What you pack and wear on your trip can have as much of an effect on how much you enjoy yourself as the weather itself! If you come ill-equipped with the wrong types of clothes, you’ll definitely be suffering. I always like to recommend the four-layer rule for winter dressing. Putting on the right types of layers and fabric in the right order will go miles in keeping you warm and dry. This is a must for Iceland, whether headed out for a Northern Lights excursion, tackling a Vatnajökull glacier hike or simply taking a boat excursion around Jökulsárlón.
Base layer of thermals. Use merino wool or another material that wicks sweat from the skin and traps body heat.
Another layer of warming material. We’re still trying to use breathable clothing that will retain warmth. Synthetic fibers like fleece work here. Throwing on a second layer of wool will also get the job done.
Your insulating layer is crucial. This one should be nice and thick. Think parkas, puffy coats, vests, etc. and materials and fillers like down or synthetics. I would caution against down, though. If it gets wet, it not only deflates, but it takes forever to dry out.
The last layer is your shell layer. While the previous three layers are designed to hold heat and warmth in, the shell layer is made to keep water and moisture out. This layer will be a waterproof (and ideally, windproof) rain jacket. Iceland is very wet and very windy, so having a GORE-TEX jacket or another similar garment is essential.
Iceland’s Weather in January: Temperatures, Snow, and More
Iceland is a cold place in winter, that’s for sure. But know what to expect with the weather and knowing what to pack will go a long way in making sure you enjoy your vacation. Prepare for the snow, get ready to be amazed, and most of all, have a great time!