January in Iceland

Esja in January

Quick facts about the weather and daylight in January 

Average temperature: -0.11°C / 31.8°F
Average hours of sunlight: 24.8
Average of lowest and highest recorded temperature in January: Low -10.55°C / 13.01°F – High 8.15°C / 46.67°F
Length of day on January 1st: 4 hours and 24 minutes.

If you are looking for Mai Thais by the pool and tropical weather, Iceland in January is probably not for you. If, however, winter is your jam then pack your bags and head on over.

If you look at averages from the Icelandic Met Office, January is probably the worst month in Iceland weather wise. It‘s the coldest, for one thing, and it‘s also one of the darkest months of the year. It‘s not all bad though and in between storms and precipitation of every kind imaginable we also get perfect sunny days where everything looks like it‘s coming straight from a storybook. Think Anna and Elsa and Olav swooshing and cute furry baby animals (if we had any) fumbling around in the snow.

The weather also depends a lot on where in Iceland you are headed as the winters tend to be tougher and colder in most places outside of the Reykjavík area and the difference can be considerable.

In many ways, January is a great month to experience a more authentic Iceland. As much as I love the summer, it only lasts for about three months and the rest of the year you need to practice weather related serenity and invest in various combinations of weatherproof outdoor clothing. There are also fewer people around and you might have a better chance of connecting with the locals in remoter areas.

Although January is certainly not the high-season it‘s difficult to call it low-season anymore as every month attracts quite a lot of visitors now. A few years ago you could get ridiculously cheap hotel rooms in January and hotels in Reykjavík fought for every guest. This year, on the other hand, there were weekends in January where almost every hotel in Reykjavík was booked out. Things are not quite as busy outside of the city, except for the south coast, and deals can still be made here and there.

One of the things I love about January in Iceland, apart from that whole new year – new opportunities attitude people tend to have, is the fact that despite it being one of the darkest months of the years we also gain about three hours of daylight. I never notice how dark it gets until it starts getting brighter again and around the middle of January I always find the hope within that winter will end at some point. By the end of the month, we‘ve gone from just over four hours of daylight to seven hours, which admittedly is still not a lot. The darkness is not all bad though because more darkness also means more chances of seeing the northern lights.

If you plan on renting a car for your Iceland adventure, it might be good to rent a 4WD, especially if you plan to go around the whole island or anywhere further than just the Golden Circle.TT

Annual events and festivals in January worth checking out.

Dark Music Days: Festival that showcases the best contemporary music Iceland has to offer

Þorri: The first month of the year according to the old Icelandic calendar. During this month we eat our traditional food and many will go to Þorrablót – a feast that is all about eating, drinking and being (very) merry. To go to a real Þorrablót you will have to get an invitation from a local but you can try most of the food on your own.

The Þorri starts on Friday around the 20th of January with Bóndadagur or husbands’ day and ends on a Sunday around the 20th of February with Konudagur or women’s day. These days are like the Icelandic version of Valentine’s day and they are all about doing something special for your better half.

Þrettándinn: Þrettándinn or the thirteenth day of Christmas is celebrated all around Iceland on January 6th. Many towns will have bonfires and firework shows and the yule lads might stop by on their way to the mountains again. In many homes it’s the last big family get-together of the Christmas season although it’s not quite as festive or ambitious as Christmas or the New Year.

Tours you might want to consider in January

Northern Lights Tours: January is a good time for the northern lights since we have a) plenty of darkness and b) it’s often cold and still which sometimes means clear skies. My favorite northern lights tours are the Glacier Walk and Northern Lights and the Super Jeep Northern Lights tour but if you are on a tighter budget the Northern Light Bus Tour and the Nothern Lights Minibus Tour are good options too.

Ice cave tours: January should be good for the ice cave tours since it tends to be quite cold. If you are going to drive around the south coast yourself, I recommend this ice cave tour that starts at Hali in Suðursveit. If you are not renting a car I think this 2-day south shore trip including an ice cave tour is a great option and good value for money. If you are a photographer and you think you need more time in the ice caves you should consider the Blue Ice Cave Adventure, a tour designed with photographers in mind.

This post is part of a series about the best time to visit Iceland where we go through things to consider before visiting Iceland for each month of the year. All the weather related statistics come from the Icelandic Met Office but the rest is based on our feelings and experience. 

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7 thoughts on “January in Iceland”

  1. Aileen says:

    It sounds lovely, actually. My favorite thing about January anywhere is the slow return of daylight. I also love how snow changes the quality of the light.

  2. Natasa says:

    So excited to be coming to Iceland in January. I booked the trip as a birthday gift for my husband and we cannot wait to visit! A little unsure of what to pack clothing wise, how bad does it really get?

  3. Michele K. says:

    When you say “Average hours of sunlight: 24.8,” do you mean as in when it’s not raining or overcast? So on average, you get 1.25 hours of sunshine per day?

    1. mm Auður says:

      I called the met office a while ago and asked what this means and they have some kind of meter on their roof that measures sunlight. So the hours of sunlight are the number of hours this meter measured sunlight.

      This is would be the average but for example for the last two weeks we have basically not seen the sun except for about 15 minutes a few days ago when it broke through the clouds. Then we might get two days where it’s sunny all day. There has been a lot of rain this fall and winter here in Reykjavík, which means lots of thick clouds, and we’ve hardly seen the sun. Kind of depressing when I think about it, actually 🙂

  4. Damon says:

    I’m about the head to Iceland for the the first time next week for 5 days with my girlfriend and your site has been so informative in helping me plan our visit. Iceland has been a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years and reading all the wonderful stories and watching all the vlogs has made me so excited. Thanks again for taking out your time to write this wonderful site ❤️

  5. Thomas says:

    We had a fantastic time in Iceland during January ’17, it was cold, around -9 degrees C at times, but when the sun was out it was really lovely. Made a little film of our time out there –

    , and can’t wait to go back and shoot something properly in your wonderful country!

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