Iceland is a land of stark contrasts and great extremes. It’s known as the Land of Fire and Ice due to the rich diversity of its landscapes. Thanks to its northern latitude, there is also a broad spectrum regarding the number of daylight hours. The seemingly neverending daylight of summer’s Midnight Sun is quite a change from the short, dark days of the winter equinox. As you can imagine, this will significantly impact the scope and number of activities you can pack in during the day. So just how dark does it get in Iceland in winter? Well, it depends. What we consider winter in Iceland actually stretches over a period of several months. For practicality’s sake, I like to imagine it as being the months between October and March. This is when temperatures drop, and you’ll experience what most consider typical “winter” weather.
First, let’s orient ourselves with some hard data like sunrise and sunset times. Then let’s get into the more detailed nuances of much daylight there actually is. Lastly, let’s figure out how this impacts your plans for taking part in favorite activities for tourists and visits to popular attractions.
How Dark Does it Get in Iceland?
The winter solstice takes place sometime in the days leading up to Christmas, usually around the 21st or 22nd of December. During the shortest day of the year, the sun rises at 11:22 am and sets at 15:29. This gives us just over four hours of full daylight. This is the darkest day of the year, however, and even during December itself, you’ll find longer days at the beginning of the month.
How Many Hours of Daylight Does Iceland Get in the Winter?
To give you a general idea of how daylight hours change throughout the fall and winter, let’s look at sunrise and sunset times along with daylight hours.
October 1st: 11 hours 20 minutes of daylight (Sunrise at 7:36 am and sunset at 6:56 pm)
November 1st: 8 hours of daylight (Sunrise at 9:10 am and sunset at 5:10 pm)
December 1st: 5 hours of daylight (Sunrise at 10:45 am and sunset at 3:47 pm)
January 1st: 4 hours and 23 minutes of daylight (Sunrise at 11:19 am and sunset at 3:43 pm)
February 1st: 7 hours and 5 minutes of daylight (Sunrise at 10:09 and sunset at 5:14 pm)
March 1st: 10 hours and 8 minutes of daylight (Sunrise at 8:36 am and sunset at 6:45 pm)
Will the Amount of Daylight in Iceland in Winter Affect Outdoor Activities or Tour Bookings?
In a short answer, yes. As you can imagine, having four hours of daylight means less time for daytime activities than an eight-hour or twelve-hour day. That being said, with some careful planning, you’ll still be able to do a lot. Unless you’re one of those people who wakes up at the crack of dawn and rushes around to see everything, you’ll be fine. And you are one of those people, think about slowing things down a little. You are on vacation after all. Many times you’ll have plenty of time to drive to your desired destination before the sun officially rises. Time things right and you’ll arrive just in time to get maximum outdoor time.
Something that I want to stress is that you don’t have limited daylight all winter long. What I mean is that you’re not getting four hours of light from October to March. That would be terrible. As we move toward winter solstice during the months of October, November, and December, we lose about six minutes per day of daylight. This translates into having relatively long eleven-hour days at the beginning of October to the more average eight-hour days at the beginning of November. It really isn’t until we hit the middle of December that those super short, four-hour days leading up to the winter equinox. The good news is that once that happens, we start gaining six minutes of daylight once more. By late January, you’re back to nearly seven hours per day of daylight.
Tips For Doing Activities and Tours in the Winter
I want to mention something very important to keep in mind when planning your Iceland trip. There’s a period of time before and after sunset where you still have some light. That is to say, it won’t be completely dark outside. During these periods of dawn and dusk, you can take advantage of having this “semi-light” to travel in your car or another rental vehicle. Depending on what activity you have planned, whether it’s a glacier hike in Vatnajökull National Park or a tour around the Golden Circle route, use this extra time to your advantage. You’ll most likely need to spend one to three hours driving in order to reach your destination (and possibly return) so time your drive accordingly.
This extra time is known as civil twilight, and you can view civil twilight times in Iceland here. You’ll notice that at the end of November, civil twilight starts around 9:30 am even though the official sunrise time is close to 10:45 am. The same thing goes for the sunset. The sun officially goes down on that same day at around 3:45 pm but civil twilight is listed as 5 pm. So what I’m saying is that you have more daylight than you thought you did. Don’t just pay attention to sunrise and sunset times. Besides layers, civil twilight is your new BFF in Iceland. Use it to your advantage while squeezing every drop of sunlight out of your day. Start driving in the morning, long before sunset, and you’ll still have visibility (if you were concerned about driving at night).
There’s another thing to be aware of. The tour companies that operate here are well aware of the restrictions imposed by the limited daylight in the winter. They will always schedule your tours and activities in a way that maximizes the time you get to spend at each location.
How Dark is Iceland in the Winter?
As you can see, daylight hours are reduced in Iceland during the winter. But it’s not as bad as you may have thought. If you’re thinking of visiting Iceland in winter, perhaps it’s better to come in October, November, February, or March. Visiting during Christmastime, December, and early January will provide the least amount of pure daylight. They may not be the best options for you. Whenever you do decide to come, you are sure to have a great time. Have a wonderful trip.