best things to do in Iceland in winter

While traveling to Iceland in winter may not seem to be at the top of everyone’s travel bucket lists, you’d be mistaken for thinking that the island becomes freezing and barren during the colder season.

Sure, you may get a bit chilly, but there are myriad things to do in Iceland in winter. This is the ideal time for seeing the northern lights, as well as exploring ice caves. Strap on your crampons and go hiking on glaciers, or speed through the countryside on a dog sledding mission.

So many of the best things to do in Iceland can be done in winter — this is the time to experience the Land of Fire and Ice at its most primal and invigorating.

1. Cruise over ice caps on a snowmobile tour

snowmobile tours in Iceland
snowmobile tours in Iceland

When Iceland is covered in fluffy white snow, there’s no better way to enjoy it than on a snowmobile tour. One of the most unique experiences is the ability to go riding over glaciers, as they become dusted in the ice crystals.

Zooming over Langjökull glacier, the second largest ice cap in Iceland, you’ll discover caves and some of the most incredible views of the surrounding glaciers and mountains.

Snowmobile tours from Reykjavik cost from around US$250 per person, and many are also included as part of Golden Circle tours.

2. Hike along creaking glaciers

glacier hiking in Iceland
glacier hiking in Iceland

Get your crampons on and go hiking across one of Iceland’s glaciers. Glacier hiking is one of the most unparalleled experiences you can enjoy in the North Arctic, bringing you in direct contact with the enormous ice forms.

The most popular glacier hiking tours from Reykjavik will take you to Sólheimajökull on the South Coast, where you may even try your hand at ice climbing. Winter is the ideal time for these excursions as you’ll have better chance of exploring some phenomenal ice caves.

Glacier hiking tours from Reykjavik cost between US$80 and US$200 per person, and typically include crampons, a helmet, an ice axe and other relevant safety equipment.

3. Go dog sledding in the snow

dog sledding in Iceland
dog sledding in Iceland

There’s nothing quite like going mushing through the snow with a pack of adorable huskies. On a dog sledding tour, you can embark on this classic Arctic experience. Meet your friendly hounds before going sleighing through the countryside, accessing parts of Iceland you might not otherwise see.

You won’t have to worry about navigating yourself, as an expert guide/musher will keep control of the pack. As you journey through the South Coast, there’ll be plenty of photo opportunities, and time to spend with the dogs.

An excellent experience for the whole family, these exciting excursions cost from US$320 per adult and US$250 per child.

4. Discover the magic of the northern lights

Northern Lights in Iceland
Northern Lights in Iceland

The northern lights are the pinnacle of winter experiences in Iceland. As the nights grow longer and darker, this natural phenomenon is at its best. There are countless ways of encountering the northern lights, from boat tours to super jeep tours, giving you plenty of options to choose from.

Hot tip: Don’t miss our selection of the best Iceland Northern Lights tours.

Evening northern lights tours from Reykjavik will often include transport, taking you to the prime viewing spots according the forecast. Sip on hot chocolate to keep yourself warm while waiting for the show to begin. Once the aurora borealis announce their arrival, your guide will help you take top quality photos.

These excursions cost from US$100 per person, while boat tours cost from US$80 per person, and jeep tours cost from US$180 per person.

Read more: Best Places to See the Northern Lights around the Globe

5. Dip into some geothermal spas

hot springs in Iceland
hot springs in Iceland

One of the best ways to warm up in winter in Iceland, ironically, is to strip down. The island is replete with geothermal spas, both natural and man-made. From the famous Blue Lagoon to the hot spring water of Secret Lagoon, you can soak in temperatures ranging from 37 to 40 degrees Celsius.

While floating in the waters, you’ll be surrounded by the natural beauty of Iceland. Other popular locales include the Laugarvatn Fontana and Krauma Geothermal Baths.

The cost of visiting these pools on tour ranges between US$100 and US$200, depending on what other outings may be included on the excursion.

6. Explore the Perlan Museum

Perlan Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland

The Perlan Museum is one of the best things to do in Reykjavík. This innovative museum will bring up close to Iceland’s natural wonders, perfect when you’re too cold to go exploring outside.

With an ice cave, an interactive glaciers experience and a film of the northern lights, the Perlan Museum offers everything you can discover in Iceland in one place. One of the highlights of the museum is the observation deck surrounding its glass dome. If you’d prefer to stay inside, you can eat at the restaurant beneath the dome and still enjoy incredible views.

Tickets to Perlan Museum cost around US$40 for adults, and there is free parking available outside of the building.

7. Experience an Icelandic Lava Show

Icelandic Lava Show, Vik, Iceland

Want to see lava in action? Don’t miss the Icelandic Lava Show. This display recreates a volcanic eruption by reheating lava, and is the only live lava show in the world. Since it’s not always predictable or safe to experience a real lava eruption, this show gets you as close to the phenomenon as possible.

With shows in Reykjavik and Vik, this is a great family-friendly outing on a particularly cold day. Both thrilling and informative, the Icelandic Lava Show will expose you to the incredible force of nature in a safe environment.

Tickets to the Icelandic Lava Show cost around US$40 for adults and US$25 for children.

See also: 30 Fun & Unusual Things to Do in Vik, Iceland

8. Traverse icy terrain on a super jeep tour

jeep tour in Iceland

Save yourself the hassle of navigating Iceland in winter by joining a super jeep tour. With a professional guide in the driver’s seat, they’ll take you across the island and share its unique geology with you.

Many super jeep tours from Reykjavik chase the northern lights or follow the Golden Circle, traveling to Thingvellir National Park, Strokkur Geysir, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Depending on your preference, you can even opt for an excursion that includes a snowmobile tour.

Northern lights jeep tours start from US$180 per person, while Golden Circle tours start from US$200 per person.

9.Step inside glistening ice caves

ice caving in Iceland
ice caving in Iceland

Ice caves in Iceland offer an extraordinary adventure into the heart of glaciers, providing an opportunity to explore one of nature’s most stunning creations from the inside. These caves form when water runs through or under the glacier, carving out caverns and tunnels that vary in size, shape, and color.

In winter, the ice is more stable and safer to explore. Some of the most popular locations for ice caves include the Katla Ice Cave and Vatnajökull Glacier. Going with a guided tour is highly advisable, as you’ll be provided with safety equipment such as helmets and crampons.

The cost of tours to the Katla Ice Cave are around US$200 per person, while Vatnajökull ice cave tours cost from US$180 per person.

10. Enter the rocky Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel

Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel, Iceland

Rather than stepping inside a glacier, why not enter a lava tube instead? On a tour of Raufarhólshellir, the fourth largest lava tunnel in Iceland, you will follow the path of lava from the Leitahraun eruption over 5,000 years ago.

Raufarhólshellir is a rather spectacular sight in the winter months, when ice sculptures form inside the cave. You’ll find that the tunnel is quite spacious inside, with a width ranging between 10 and 30 meters and a height of 10 meters.

A tour of the tunnel itself costs around US$50 per person, while a day trip to the tunnel including the tour and transport costs around US$100 per person.

11. Sail along Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

Located on the South Coast, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon stands out as one of Iceland’s most iconic attractions. Formed in the 1930s due to the retreat of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, Jökulsárlón has since grown to be the deepest lake in Iceland, and is famed for its icebergs that drift through the waters.

Day trips to Jökulsárlón from Reykjavik explore the major attractions of the coast, including Vik, Diamond Beach and Seljalandsfoss. The highlight, however, are boat tours through Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where you can sail between the creaking and cracking icebergs.

These excursions cost an average of US$180 per person.

Read more: Best Day Trips from Reykjavik

12. Chase the frozen Godafoss

Godafoss waterfall, Iceland
Godafoss waterfall, Iceland

As winter descends, Iceland’s myriad waterfalls become frozen in time, creating a mystical scene. One of the most spectacular is Godafoss, known as the “Waterfall of the Gods”. Cascading down from a height of 12 meters and over a width of 30 meters, its raw power is palpable.

Located a 30-minute drive out of Akureyri, Godafoss is easily accessible on a day trip. It’s typically part of many Diamond Circle tours, which include Lake Myvatn, Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfall.

Day tours to Godafoss from Akureyri typically cost around US$150 to US$200 per person, and include other stops in the itinerary.

See also: 38 Fun Things to Do in Akureyri, Iceland

13. Ride Icelandic horses like a true Viking

horse riding in Iceland
horse riding in Iceland

Iceland’s purebred horses date back to the age of the Vikings, and are well-adapted to the island’s chilly winters. This means you can still explore the countryside in the ice and snow, making for a truly immersive experience.

On the back of Icelandic horses, which are revered symbols of the country’s heritage, traverse frozen grounds and encounter a true winter wonderland. While the horses may have thick coats, you should make sure to pack a few extra layers.

Horse riding tours from Reykjavik cost from US$70 per person for a 1-hour tour and up to US$140 per person for a 2-hour tour.

14. Encounter mini-Iceland in Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Known as “Iceland in Miniature”, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula reflects all the wonders of Iceland in one region. Located in West Iceland, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula has everything from waterfalls and glaciers to lava fields and jagged coastlines.

Snaefellsnes has a particular magic in winter, when the snow falls and the northern lights come out to play. Even better, it can be easily visited on a day tour from Reykjavik.

These excursions last around 10 to 12 hours, and cost from about US$120 per person. They’ll take you to Arnarstapi village, the Lóndrangar cliffs, and the iconic Kirkjufell hill, claimed to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland.

15. Embrace the power of nature at Strokkur Geysir

Strokkur Geysir, Iceland
Strokkur Geysir, Iceland

Strokkur Geysir is one of the most reliable and active in Iceland, erupting every 6-10 minutes. Located in Haukadalur Valley, Strokkur certainly puts on a show when it shoots water up to 20 meters into the air.

Strokkur is just a 2-hour drive away from Reykjavik, and is a highlight of many Golden Circle tours that also visit attractions such as Gullfloss and Thingvellir National Park.

These excursions typically cost from US$70 per person, while more expensive tours may include access to one of the lagoons.

16. Get a taste of Reykjavik on a food tour

food tour in Reykjavik
food tour in Reykjavik

For a taste of Icelandic culture, you can’t go wrong with a food tour in Reykjavik. Lamb soup, fermented shark, arctic char, Icelandic hot dogs — all this and more is on the table. Sampling traditional foods will give you greater insight into Iceland’s heritage, as well as its thriving contemporary scene.

As you hop between different locales or stop at attractions as part of a walking tour, food excursions in Reykjavik expose you to more than just local ingredients. Pass by Hallgrimskirkja on your way to the next food truck, or admire the harbor as you walk between restaurants. Keep your camera on hand for all these sights, and the Instagrammable dishes.

Reykjavik food tours cost around US$120 per person, and include a number of tastings as well as a local guide.

17. Walk along the shimmering Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach, Iceland
Diamond Beach, Iceland

With blue ice chunks glittering atop black sands, it’s no wonder how Diamond Beach got its name. Located in the South Coast near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, its an incredible place to witness nature’s process.

The icebergs that adorn the beach come in various shapes, sizes, and shades of white and blue, each piece sculpted by the elements. They journey from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, through Jökulsárlón lagoon, and finally to the Atlantic Ocean, formed by wind and water along the way.

Tours to Diamond Beach are usually included as part of South Coast day trips, which start from approximately US$170 per person.

18. Gain a bird’s-eye view of Iceland on a helicopter tour

helicopter tour in Iceland

One of the best ways to appreciate Iceland’s varied landscapes is from above. On a helicopter tour, you can gain a bird’s-eye-view of the island and see how it changes in the winter.

Fly over craters and geysers, and maybe even an erupting volcano if you’re lucky. Some helicopter tours will land on Mount Esja, a summit near Reykjavik where you can grab stunning photos. All through the flight, your pilot will inform you of the various geological formations and city attractions you’re witnessing.

Helicopter tours from Reykjavik cost from US$300 per person and up to US$2,000 for a private group of 4 people.

19. Admire the aurora borealis from a boat cruise

boat tour in Iceland
boat tour in Iceland

One of the most unique ways to experience the northern lights is from the water. On a boat tour from Reykjavik, you can enter the darkened seas and become enveloped in a glowing dance above you.

Your expert guides will track conditions to ensure possible sightings. During the cruise, you’ll learn more about the aurora borealis and be able to keep warm in a heated lounge with hot drinks. Then, when the lights appear, make your way to the deck for a phenomenal sighting.

Some cruises may even combine a northern lights tour with a whale watching expedition, as some of the animals may still be swimming in the waters this time of year.

Northern lights cruises in Iceland cost from US$80 per person. While sightings can’t always be guaranteed, you will be given the option of completing the tour again or offered a full refund.

20. Visit the Whales of Iceland Museum

Whales of Iceland Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland
Whales of Iceland Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland

Come winter, the whales that usually frequent the shores of Iceland can no longer be seen as easily. That doesn’t mean you can’t encounter them at all. At the Whales of Iceland Museum in Reykjavik, you can come up close to 23 life-sized models of different species, and learn more about the giants through interactive exhibits.

Each model is in fact based on a real, wild whale, with all its unique markings. Better yet, you can touch them! This is an ideal outing on a cold day when you can’t experience Iceland’s wildlife in real time. A free audio guide and guided tours are also available at the museum, providing for an insightful day out.

The museum is open year round except for Dec. 25, and tickets cost around US$30 for adults.

21. Witness the wintry Skogafoss

Skogafoss waterfall, Iceland

Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s largest and most iconic waterfalls, presents a breathtaking spectacle in winter. Situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland, this powerful cascade stands at an impressive height of about 60 meters.

During winter, Skógafoss can become a snowy and icy paradise, with the surrounding landscape blanketed in white. The waterfall itself freezes partially, with icicles and frost forming along the edges and on the rocks, creating a visual contrast against the dark columns that flank the falls.

Skogafoss is an essential stop on South Coast tours from Reykjavik, and you can join these excursions from US$80 per person.

22. Snorkel in Silfra Fissure

snorkeling in Silfra, Iceland

You might balk at the idea of snorkeling in Iceland in winter, and no one would blame you. However, the waters of Silfra Fissure retain a temperature of 2 degrees Celsius year-round — meaning you can swim here any time of year.

Of course, you’ll still have to wear a suit. But it will be well worth it for the experience of snorkeling, or scuba diving, between two tectonic plates. Silfra Fissure, located in Thingvellir National Park, is the only place in the world where you can do this, making it a must-do anytime you’re in Iceland.

Snorkeling tours cost from US$120 per person, while excursions from Reykjavik with transport cost from US$200 per person. Scuba diving tours cost between US$250 and US$300 depending on whether they include transport from Reykjavik.

23. Find natural and cultural history at Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir National Park turns into a winter wonderland when the snow falls. This national park is renowned not only for its geological value, but for its important cultural significance in Iceland.

Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and home to the Silfra Fissure, Thingvellir is where two tectonic plates meet, making for an unparalleled experience. Over the centuries, Thingvellir also served as a meeting point for the Alþing, today one of the oldest parliaments in the world.

It’s free to visit the national park, although you will have to pay for parking. It’s also a major feature of Golden Circle tours. On these excursions, you can see some of the highlights of Iceland, for a cost of about US$70 per person.

24. Traverse Lake Myvatn’s varied landscape

Lake Myvatn, Iceland

Lake Myvatn, known for its diverse landscapes and geological formations, takes on a magical quality during the colder months, with the lake itself often partially freezing over and the surrounding lava fields, volcanic craters, and hot springs blanketed in snow.

As steam rises from the Hverir geothermal field, you can get a true sense of Iceland’s fascinating contrasts. If you’re feeling chilly, you can visit the Myvatn Nature Baths for a dip in the thermal waters.

Situated an hour’s drive from Akureyri, Lake Myvatn can be easily visited on a day trip. These excursions cost from US$150 per person. Alternatively, you can embark on a Diamond Circle tour including Lake Myvatn, Godafoss Waterfall and Dettifoss waterfall from US$180 per person.

25. Snap epic photos at the DC-3 plane wreck

abandoned DC plane on Sólheimasandur, Iceland
abandoned DC plane on Sólheimasandur, Iceland

The DC-3 plane wreck is one of the more unusual features of Iceland’s landscape. Since it crash landed in the 1970s, the plane has become a major tourist attraction and unique photo opportunity.

Stranded on the black beaches of South Iceland, the wreck isn’t easily accessible. You can either park on the side of the highway and walk about 1 hour to reach it, or take a much quick paid shuttle bus ride that will take you close to the wreck. Otherwise, you can experience it as part of a South Coast tour, which cost from US$140 per person.

It’s free to visit the wreck, and a particular sight to behold in winter, when the northern lights glimmer behind it and emphasize its eerie silhouette.

26. Set foot in the largest man-made ice tunnel

Langjokull glacier tunnel, Iceland

Step inside the Langjokull glacier tunnel, a man-made tunnel that takes you inside the second-largest glacier in Iceland. Running 600 meters in length, the Langjokull glacier tunnel is considered the largest man-made ice cave in the world, and offers an experience like no other.

To access the tunnel, you’ll first have to be driven over the glacier in a 8×8 truck. As you are led through the tunnel by a knowledgeable guide, you’ll learn more about Iceland’s geology, as well as the threats these glaciers face as a result of climate change. Admire how attached lights illuminate the ice, and bring you closer to its beauty.

Tours of Langjokull glacier tunnel cost from US$180 per person and include crampons. For trips from Reykjavik to the tunnel, you can expect to pay from US$250 each.

27. Embark on a winter adventure in Skaftafell

Skaftafell, Iceland
Skaftafell, Iceland

Skaftafell is the ultimate destination for a winter adventure in Iceland. Nestled within the larger Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland, you can do everything here from glacier hikes to ice climbs.

As you explore sections of glacier, you’ll encounter crevasses and natural sculptures. Led by a qualified guide, you can learn more about the formation of glaciers, and can even give ice climbing a go. No previous experience is required, and you’ll be provided with the necessary safety equipment.

Skaftafell tours cost from US$100 per person, and typically include crampons, mountaineering boots, ice axes and helmets.

28. Celebrate the Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival

Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival
Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival

While Reykjavik may experience few hours of sunlight in winter, it’s by no means a darker place. In fact, the city is illuminated during the Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival, which lasts over 3 days in the month of February.

During the festival, myriad light installations bring the city to life and there are plenty of exciting events. On Museum Night, museums welcome visitors to experience one-of-a-kind programs. On Pool Night, swimming pools open up for people to splash around and even enjoy live music. Don’t forget to walk along the Lights Trail to discover the creative works by local artists.

The best part about the Reykjavik Winter Festival? It’s all free!

Final thoughts

As you can see, there are plentiful things to do in Iceland in winter. Whether you want to dive into the icy landscape on a glacier hike or warm yourself up in the thermal spas, you won’t be left wanting.

If you can’t get enough of the Land of Fire and Ice, check out TourScanner’s guide to Fun Things to Do in Iceland in Summer.

Amy Pieterse is a South African writer and editor with a background in journalism. She grew up going on safaris in the Kruger National Park, which imbued in her a love of nature, and led her to traverse South Africa's landscapes on numerous hiking expeditions. Travels to cities like New York City, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Florence have given her a deeper understanding of global cultures and a taste for new experiences. On the weekends, you'll find her exploring her backyard, Cape Town.