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December in Iceland | ULTIMATE travel guide

If you are planning a December trip to Iceland, then get excited my friends because I have the most helpful planning guide for December that you’ve ever seen!!

Hello, team Iceland. Welcome back to my channel. My name is Jeannie. I am your Iceland virtual tour guide. Today I am super excited to talk to you about December in Iceland, but before we get too far in this video, it’s time for a little Instagram Love. This week comes from Mark Pattison and he writes, “Hi Jeannie. I just wanted to say thank you so much for your amazing travel guide and videos. The trip is my dad’s final gift before he passed and I really didn’t think I could do this and was overwhelmed about cramming too much in. Your guide is giving me the confidence to do Iceland as calmly as possible.” That’s amazing! 

Now you guys know that I absolutely love getting DMs like this, so if you would like to be featured in a future video, all you have to do is tag me @IcelandWithAView on Instagram. Send me a DM. All of your kind words are so greatly appreciated!

A whole year of Iceland!

Now, December in Iceland. Let’s get into it. I just realized that this is the last video in a series of videos. Welcome to the end of the series my friends! If you haven’t been with me since the beginning of the year, I have been doing these monthly videos, January until now. So it’s like we are at the end of an era. Amazing. I’m so proud and also proud of you for watching and learning so much.

Daylight Hours

Just like I begin every monthly planning video, the literal most important thing in planning any trip during any month is the number of daylight hours. December is literally the definition of how important this is. Why do you ask? Well, because the beginning of December starts with five whole hours of light in the sky. Let that sink in your brain. At the end of December, we’re down to four. Four lovely light hours. Thank you, Sun, for making your appearance in December.

So, as we get closer and closer and closer to the winter solstice, which is December 21st, the daylight hours are decreasing. So the longest day of the year is approaching us. More important to than ever to plan your itinerary well, because exploring time is so incredibly limited. You are not going to be able to pack as much into your itinerary as the people that came in September, June, or, you know, pretty much any other month.

There are a couple of benefits to this number of hours, so don’t be discouraged. The first benefit is golden hour for days!  For days!  Like literally, it’s like the most beautiful glowing light casted on the landscape that you ever seen. And it just happens pretty much for the whole day. So obviously when the sun rises at 11ish and sets at 3:00, 3:30ish, there’s just not a lot of time for this full brightness. So, as a result there is beautiful, beautiful golden light, cast on the sky for your viewing pleasure like a sunrise straight into a sunset. It’s amazing.

Northern Lights

Number two benefit of this darkness is the Northern lights! The Northern lights season technically starts in August. Peak is September and October. In December, yes, they can be out. But I will say that I have not had the best luck with Northern light siting in December.

In general, December is a pretty stormy month, whether it’s wind storms, snow storms, rainstorms, ALL of the storms…and that means that we’re getting quite cloudy weather for December. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is a thing. So even though it’s so dark, it’s not guaranteed just because it’s so dark. Okay, good?

Either way, if you’re interested in how you can see the Northern lights and get to go out and find them yourself, make sure to check out that video that I’ve already made.

Weather

Moving on to weather in December. Winter is in full swing, like full swing, during November, we’re in it. Temperatures can range from minus one degree to four degrees Celsius or 30 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Could very well be colder in the North and then also Golden Circle. Also, December is like, could be just a winter Wonderland. It could be covered with blankets of snow, a dreamy landscape that you would think of, or it could be brutal snow, like a snow storm, tons of high winds, crazy feels cold. Or it could be just a couple degrees above freezing and then the snow starts melting and you’re getting that sloppy snow and possible rain and maybe then the snow is going away. That’s not uncommon for December, so, you could have all kinds of things. Be prepared.

Packing essentials!

With that being said, it’s so important to have the proper attire in terms of warm, warm, warm layers and the best outdoor gear. And if you guys are wondering what does that exactly mean? I’ve already made a total video about that in my winter packing video, so make sure to check that out as well. Which brings me to my pro-tip, so cramp up. I guess I’m just going to sing through the videos. I don’t know.

Pro-Tip!

Crampons are your best friend in December. Absolutely essential. You need to bring crampons of some sort with you on your trip. What are crampons, Jeannie? Crampons come in a couple different varieties. Number one is the YakTrax type, which is the coil that stretches over your boot. The second option and more heavy duty is like a hiking spike. So this is also something that you can easily attach to your boot, but it has more spikes on it so that it would be able to dig into the ice a lot easier, providing a lot more safety and stability for you.

The ice is brutal in Iceland in the winter. Ice. Iceland.  Get it? It’s not only brutal out there, but it’s brutal on the sidewalks and on the streets and the ice is not maintained like you might be used to in your city or country, so please, please, please bring crampons.

I use these personally a lot during winter. Number one, I talk about it all the time. This spray from the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss, Godafoss, Gullfoss, all of the fosses. It throws off this spray and ice can form like super, super thick. It’s crazy. They’re not out there de-icing and salting this ice. It’s just going to be there. So that means that you’re either not going to be able to enjoy what you want to do or you’re going to almost slip and break some bones. I’ve linked my favorite pair of YakTrax and Crampon.

Sightseeing

Now sightseeing in December can be a bit tricky, so make sure to pay close attention to what’s available and not. Obviously very easily accessible is Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the Southern part of the Ring Road. You are going to have more difficulty as you’re getting into the East and the North part of Iceland. This is just a colder snowier and icier part of the country, so you’ll just have to be prepared in terms of driving carefully and planning and preparing so that your driving times aren’t as fast paced. Just being aware of that really, really helps.

But during December it is not possible to travel into the Highlands or the Westfjords.  December is not during peak travel season, but I would say that it’s also quite busy during this time just because people will be coming here for holidays like Christmas and New Years. So it is important to take this into account when you’re thinking about making hotel reservations, booking tours and excursions and things like that because it could be busier than you might expect.

Winter Tours!

Another cool thing about traveling in December is the availability of unique tours that only happen during the winter. So some ideas for that might be the natural ice caves, dog sledding, snowmobiling, all of those fun things that will be available that aren’t available during the summer.

READ MORE:   Everything You Need to Know About Renting a Car in Iceland

Lastly, the nature attractions are generally open year round 24/7. However, just note that because we’re getting into the holiday season with Christmas and New Years, anything that would require you entrance into something like a restaurant or certain tours or just things like that, keep that in mind because if you’re traveling during this time, it’s possible that some of these places could have some reduced hours so that people can spend time with their families.

Driving conditions…

So I’m too driving in December. It’s not easy. In contrast to some of the other months, we’re back to the difficult driving conditions. I have to warn you that if you are not used to driving in snowy, slippery, windy conditions, you might want to consider that when you’re planning your trip. I can’t recommend that someone that’s never driven in snow to rent a car and drive the Ring Road for example. That seems a bit risky. However, if you have plenty of winter driving experience, then make sure you have the right vehicle and be really safe.

The roads in Iceland are not what you might be used to back in your home country, so you have to be so, so super careful when you’re driving during December. Driving in Iceland is no joke, especially during December. You could have an extra snowy road. You could have a big snow storm that just came in and the plow trucks just haven’t gotten around to plowing to where you are yet. It could be super icy. It could be super windy, which causes snowdrifts to come across the road, which obviously you’ll have to be very, very careful of. Or it can be all of these things in combination.

So in summary, the roads, they’re just not for the faint of heart and they might not be what you’re used to back home. So just take this into account.

I also want to say on the other hand, don’t let this discourage you from renting a vehicle and driving around in December just because the roads could be crazy. You can still do it. You just have to be safer about it, right? So I highly, 100% recommend renting a four wheel drive vehicle for your December trip in Iceland. And remember you guys, Blue Car Rental offers a special discount just for my readers so you could save money on that vehicle rental by using the code that I’ve put here:  #LWV (yes it has to be capitalized AND have the hashtag to get the savings!).

Lastly, and very importantly, you guys always be checking road.IS every single morning before you head out for your day. The road conditions are changing all of the time and road.IS does a really good job of keeping all of that information updated. So, if a road is particularly slippery, icy, snowy, or even closed off, you’re going to know just by checking that website.

What’s happening?

Finally onto the festivals and special events that are happening in December and there are a lot of them. So get a pen and get ready to take note. The obvious one is Christmas preparations. So I’m not going to go too in detail with this part of it because I’ve literally made a whole Christmas video separately. Make sure to check that out because it details all of the things that are going on in the city, including Christmas market, ice skating, shop, all of that kind of stuff. So I won’t bore you with that here.

I will say that December is full on Christmas preparations in Iceland and especially in Reykjavik. You’re going to see Christmas decorations everywhere. You’re going to see a skating rink, you’re going to see Christmas markets, there’s going to be shoppers everywhere. It’s just a really, really fun festive season. And remember December 11 through the 24th is when the Icelandic Santa Clauses are happening and yes, that’s plural. If you don’t know what I mean, Iceland has 13 Santa Clauses. Again, I’ve already made a video about it. Check it out. I go through each one of the Santa Clauses and what they do and it’s just a really, really fun cultural tradition.

As I hinted at before, December 21st is the winter solstice, so this is the darkest day of the year or the time where we get the least amount of daylight hours. Other than it being so dark, obviously it’s kind of a fun celebration time because we know that every day after that is getting lighter as we get towards summer, eventually in all of those really nice daylight things.

Christmas in Iceland

December 23rd, 24th and 25th are really important for you to keep in mind. So the 23rd is called Þorláksmessa. This is when the fermented skate is made around Reykjavik, which smells very pungent. You will know because you’ll smell it. It is also a time when people are out and about getting their last-minute Christmas gifts and then it ends with the Peace Walk down Laugaveger.

December 24th is Christmas proper in Iceland. That’s right. Not the 25th, the 24th. I would say this is very, very Scandinavian to have it on the 24th, and how it goes in Iceland is that the family will be getting together on this day and they’ll sit down and have a big meal at home. And then after that the open all their gifts and this is just Christmas, this is the Christmas day. The following day, the 25th is when they might go and see some of their extended family or travel outside of the city into the countryside and things like that.

Obviously you want to be aware of these three days because it’s possible that restaurants, tours, things like that could have limited hours or be closed completely. So if you’re traveling during Christmas, as with a lot of places in the world, right? You have to be mindful that families want to spend this time together, so make sure that you’re prepared, you have reservations with restaurants that are open or you have food and you’ve already went to the grocery store or prepared for yourself.

December 30th is the most important day of the year. And that is because that was the day that I was born. Oh, this is the day that I think is the most important. Okay. No, but in all seriousness, that is my birthday, so don’t forget it. Okay?  I’ve always been just kind of one of those people that’s weird about their birthdays. It’s pretty important to me. Really goes back to the fact that my birthday falls between Christmas and New Years and as a kid that’s literally the worst time to have a birthday. I’m not mad about it if you’re wondering.

And the last day of the year, December 31st is New Year’s Eve. Though again, I have already made an entire video about this day. I’m not going to go into detail about it now, but I will say, if you’re coming to Iceland for New Year’s Eve, get ready because it’s going to be amazing! This is a huge, huge, huge celebration in Reykjavik. Wow! It’s just so much fun to be a part of. So please check out that video that I’ve already made. It details when the bonfires happen and when the fireworks start and all of the things that happened around there. So, I hope you love it.

We made it to the end of the December video. I knew this one was going to get long, but it’s okay because there are so much helpful information that I needed to tell you guys about this amazing month.

Filled with gratitude!

So thank you so much for hanging out with me today, you guys. I hope you love this video. Thumbs up if you found it helpful and I will see you next week for another Iceland video. Happy planning, friends.

BLOOPERS! (have to watch the video for the funny stuff!)

Happy planning,

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