Christmas in Iceland: Blue Lagoon Bliss and Northern Lights Delight

By Aashima

Iceland is not only a wonderful place to travel during the Christmas season, but it may also be one of the best countries to visit. Here’s why:

There’s nothing quite like strolling through Reykjavik’s slowly falling snow, transforming the city into a wintry paradise with twinkling lights and distant carols.

Not to be overlooked are the breathtaking Northern Lights in Iceland, among the world’s most captivating sights.

With everything considered, Iceland is a winter wonderland. 

Nothing compares to Christmas in Reykjavik, Iceland, whether you’re traveling with your entire family or just planning a romantic getaway.

This article offers a list of things you can see and do when you visit Iceland this Christmas. 

We’ve got it all, from snowmobile tours across glaciers to spa experiences, Christmas markets, and unique cuisines, so read on to find out more.

What are Christmas Traditions in Iceland

To suggest that Iceland is among the top destinations to visit over the Christmas season is not hyperbole.

It provides all the things you might possibly want over the holiday season.

You can count on snow and reindeer, delicious meals, and warm fireside evenings during the Christmas season in Iceland.

Advent, the week of joyous preparation that begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day in Reykjavik, marks the beginning of the Christmas season. 

That means you’ll see Iceland aglow in beautiful holiday lights during December, complete with festivals and Christmas markets to keep you occupied.

The Christmas and New Year season is a great time of year for Icelanders, with many customs:

  • People make a wreath using fir tree branches, leaves, berries, pine cones, or anything they like; there are no rules.
  • Set the wreath with four candles within.
  • Light the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent. Light the first and second candles, and so forth, on the second Sunday. 

    You will have four candles of varying sizes at the end.
  • Cutting designs into “laufabraud,” or “leaf bread,” a thin, crunchy bread, is another Christmas custom in Iceland. 
  • The bread’s name comes from how its patterns mimic leaves rather than from its being made of leaves.
  • Instead of the traditional 12 days of Christmas, Icelandic Christmas lasts 13 days. And it is traditionally because of the Yule Lads.

The Yule Lads of Iceland: Who Are They?

The Yule Lads of Iceland
Image: Apnews.com

In contrast to most customs, Iceland doesn’t have a single Santa Claus. 

Instead, 13 Yule Lads (Jólasveinar in Icelandic) are a traditional part of Iceland’s Christmas celebrations. 

On December 11, these cheeky trolls arrive in town 13 days early to cause mischief and leave presents for the kids.

The official Christmas season officially begins when the Yule Lads arrive during Advent. 

After Christmas, the Yule Lads depart one by one, each leaving on a different day until January 6th, when the last Yule Lad bids farewell, marking the end of the festive season.

This makes for the ideal environment for a Reykjavik Christmas walking tour, which lets you take in the stunning decorations and discover the city’s history.

Things to Do in Reykjavik on Christmas Day

You can find everything you want in Iceland’s Reykjavik for Christmas.

Here are some of the best activities you can do:

Aurora Extravaganza: Chasing the Northern Lights

By nightfall, Reykjavík offers more than just festive decorations. 

During winter, Iceland’s long nights provide the perfect backdrop for one of nature’s most mesmerizing shows: the aurora borealis or northern lights

This breathtaking spectacle is caused by solar storms that send charged particles hurtling through space, colliding with Earth’s atmosphere. 

The result is a mesmerizing display of dancing green lights across the night sky.

While the aurora borealis can be spotted across Iceland, certain areas are favored by Northern Lights enthusiasts. 

Snæfellsnes, for instance, offers an excellent location close to Reykjavik to witness this celestial dance.

Northern lights tours occur throughout the winter, guided by experts passionate about finding the best conditions to view this natural phenomenon.

Golden Circle and South Coast: Nature’s Grand Showcase

Beyond Reykjavik, you can take the Golden Circle and scenic south coast tours to discover Iceland’s iconic natural wonders.

The Golden Circle is a famous route in south Iceland that offers stunning scenery and exciting activities all year round.

It includes three amazing places: Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Park, and Þingvellir National Park.

Gullfoss is a powerful waterfall that flows through a narrow canyon. In winter, it’s a magical sight against the snowy backdrop.

Geysir Geothermal Park is home to geysers that erupt hot water into the air. 

It’s an incredible spectacle that’s even more captivating when the ground is covered in snow.

Þingvellir National Park is a significant historical site and one of Iceland’s most beautiful landscapes. 

It’s where the world’s first parliament was established. Plus, you’ll walk in an active tectonic area where the Earth’s plates slowly pull apart.

Wintry Adventures in the Icelandic Countryside

For those seeking extra excitement, consider optional activities in the countryside. 

Feel the thrill as you snowmobile over a glacier and explore ancient lava tunnels, adding a layer of adventure to your Icelandic Christmas experience.

Ice Caving

Iceland is a great place to go ice-caving, as it has many glaciers. 

There are two main types of ice-caving tours in Iceland: man-made and natural. 

Humans create man-made ice caves, while natural ice caves are formed naturally.

One famous man-made ice cave is beneath Langjökull, one of Iceland’s largest glaciers. You can explore the tunnels and rooms of the ice cave.

Natural ice caves are also found around Jökulsárlón and the Vatnajökull glacier. These caves form in the autumn, when the ice melts and creates tunnels and rooms.

Ice caving is a great option if you’re looking for an adventurous way to experience Iceland’s winter wonderland.

Whale Watching

In addition to Ice Caving, you can enjoy watching whales in Iceland during Christmas. 

Whale watching is one of the most fun experiences for visitors to Iceland.

12 species of whales live in Iceland’s waters all year round. 

Although there is more whale activity during the summer, there are still many whales to see in December.

For example, a colony of orcas (killer whales) can often be seen off the coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, a short distance north of Reykjavik. 

In winter, you have a better chance of seeing beluga whales off the north coast of Iceland.

Dress warmly, as whale-watching tours can be quite cold. However, you can warm up by the fire after your whale-watching adventure.

Snorkeling and Diving

Although it may seem crazy, snorkeling and diving in Iceland in December can be an amazing and thrilling experience.

The most famous diving spot in Iceland is Silfra, in Lake Þingvallavatn in Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

You can dive between two continents in the crack between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. It is said to have the clearest water in the world.

There are many other diving opportunities as well. 

For example, you can explore the volcanic lake of Kleifarvatn on Reykjanes or the underwater garden known as Garður, south of Reykjavik.

Of course, it will be chilly, but with a dry suit on, it won’t be as bad as you might think. You will see a side of Iceland that is not to be missed.

Glacier Tours and Snowmobiling in Iceland

There’s nothing like hitting the snow to get into the Christmas spirit. 

On a snowmobile tour in Iceland, you can explore the country’s white winter landscapes while enjoying the thrill of these fast machines.

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, try a tour of Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, or Mýrdalsjökull. 

There’s no better way to see the land of ice and fire.

See the Fireworks

You will get a memorable chance for a New Year’s Eve celebration as you cruise along the waters of Reykjavik harbor. 

As midnight approaches, you can toast the New Year with a complimentary glass of champagne, capturing the magical moment in a beautiful ambiance.

You will pass by three panoramic decks: Old Harbour, Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, and Faxaflói. 

These decks offer unobstructed views of the mesmerizing fireworks, ensuring you won’t miss a sparkling moment. 

You can even see the Northern Lights on New Year’s Eve, adding an otherworldly touch to your celebrations.

This exclusive cruise offers a unique perspective of Reykjavik’s vibrant New Year’s Eve festivities, creating memories that will last a lifetime. 

By purchasing the tour, you can bid farewell to the year with a sparkle in your eyes and a heart full of anticipation for the new year ahead.

Unwinding in the Blue Lagoon’s Warm Embrace

Amidst these exhilarating excursions, find solace and relaxation on Christmas Eve. 

Many visitors come to Iceland to enjoy its spas heated by geothermal energy. 

They are a peaceful and revitalizing experience that can be enjoyed all year round.

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous spas, known for its characteristic blue waters. 

The high mineral content of the water is believed to have healing properties.

Contrary to popular belief, you can also visit a spa in the winter. The lagoon’s water temperature can reach a comfortable 40°C (104°F).

To learn more, see our guide to the Blue Lagoon or book a tour of the Blue Lagoon today.

A Festive Feast: Christmas Eve Delights

If you are a foodie and love to taste the delicacies at different places, this culinary adventure through Reykjavik’s vibrant food scene is for you.

Join experts for a delightful walking food tour that will tantalize your taste buds and introduce you to the culinary gems of Reykjavik. 

From cozy restaurants to lively food trucks, you’ll sample various traditional Icelandic dishes and street food favorites. 

Enjoy Icelandic cheese, lamb tenderness, homemade ice cream, and the iconic Icelandic hot dog.

You’ll also be able to admire Reykjavik’s captivating landmarks, including the majestic Hallgrimskirkja church, the Harpa concert hall, and the historic Parliament House.

The small group tour, limited to 12 participants, guarantees a personalized experience that fully allows you to experience Reykjavik’s culinary delights.

Trade traditional scenes for Iceland’s extraordinary landscapes and festive magic this Christmas. 

Chase the Northern Lights, explore the Golden Circle and find tranquility in the Blue Lagoon’s warm waters. 

Book your Icelandic Christmas adventure and create memories that blend holiday cheer with the wonders of nature.

Iceland Winter Tours

  • 2-Day Ice Cave Tour of the South Coast: This tour is an excellent option if you’re short on time. You’ll visit the Ice Cave and other attractions, such as the Seljalandsfoss waterfall and the Skógafoss waterfall.

  • 3-Day Northern Lights Tour of the South Coast: This tour is a great way to see some of Iceland’s most popular attractions, including the Golden Circle, the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, and the black sand beaches of Vik. You’ll also have the opportunity to search for the Northern Lights.

  • 5-Day Winter Vacation Package: This includes visiting the Ice Cave and other popular attractions such as the Golden Circle and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. You’ll also have time to explore Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital city.

  • 8-Day Northern Lights and Ice-Caving Winter Vacation: This tour is the perfect way to experience the best that Iceland has to offer. You’ll visit the Ice Cave and other popular attractions such as the Golden Circle, the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. You’ll also have plenty of time to search for the Northern Lights.

Christmas Markets in Reykjavik, Iceland

In Reykjavik, Christmas isn’t just a day’s celebration. It’s a season of joy and merriment.

Throughout the Christmas period in Iceland, you can find an ever-popular fixture of the festive calendar: Christmas markets. 

But just like everything else that happens at Christmas in Iceland, these are exceptional.

You’ll find the best ones in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. 

For example, at Ingólfstorg, you can enjoy a delightful festive atmosphere, with wooden cabins selling traditional goods and an ice-skating rink. 

Alternatively, at the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve, 30 minutes by bus from downtown, get Christmassy at a vibrant market featuring a live concert, children’s activities, and more.

You’ll also notice many Christmas concerts take place throughout the period. 

One of the most famous is Jólagestir Björgvins at Reykjavik’s most iconic concert hall, Harpa. But you’ll find many festive events across town, too.

Famous Christmas Foods in Iceland 

What do you eat in Iceland at Christmas? Icelanders enjoy traditional Christmas meals, from delectable sweet snacks to more divisive local delicacies.

Here are some of the most popular Icelandic dishes to eat on Christmas and New Year:

  • Hangikjöt: Smoked lamb is often served cold with a béchamel sauce and potatoes.
  • Rjúpa: Ptarmigan, a type of grouse that is boiled and then fried.
  • Skate: Fermented skate, a traditional dish eaten at St. Thorlac’s Mass (December 23).
  • Marinated herring: A popular dish across northern Europe, marinated or pickled herring is an Icelandic Christmas favorite.
  • Laufabrauð: A thin bread cut into pretty patterns, then fried and covered in sugar.
  • Christmas cookies: Many families get together to bake cookies throughout the Christmas period, often with ginger or jam.
  • Brennivín: The most famous Icelandic liquor, made from fermented grain or potato and flavored with caraway seeds.
  • Jólaöl: Christmas ale, which is made with malt and oranges.
    In addition to these traditional dishes, Icelanders also enjoy many other festive foods during the Christmas season, such as:
  • Rice pudding: a sweet dish with rice, milk, and sugar
  • Smoked salmon: a popular appetizer, often served with rye bread and cream cheese
  • Roasted lamb: a traditional Christmas meal with roasted potatoes and vegetables
  • Hákarl: a fermented shark dish that has an acquired taste

What is the Christmas Cat in Iceland

Along with causing mischief to Icelanders during Christmas, the Yule Lads share their cave home with Grýla and Leppalúði’s cat. 

The so-called Christmas Cat—Jólakötturinn—lurks in the Icelandic countryside throughout the holiday season. 

It is known to eat anyone without a new piece of clothing by Christmas Eve.

Though a pair of socks alone will protect you from the Christmas cat threat, you must receive a gift before Christmas Eve!

FAQs

How do you say Merry Christmas in Iceland?

The way to say “Merry Christmas” in Icelandic is “Gleðileg jól”. This is pronounced as “gleth-ee-leg yool”. 

The word “jól” is derived from the Old Norse word “jól,” which referred to the midwinter feast that the Norse people celebrated. The word “gleðileg” means “merry” or “joyful.”

How is Christmas celebrated in Iceland?

Christmas Day, or Jóladagur, is a time for relaxation and togetherness in Iceland. 

Christmas Day is a more laid-back affair, unlike Christmas Eve when there are many traditions to follow. 

Families typically gather to enjoy a large meal, exchange gifts, and spend quality time together. 

Some people may also choose to read a book, watch a movie, or play games.

What is Christmas called in Iceland?

Christmas is called Jól in Iceland. This is a derivative of the Old Norse word Jól, which refers to the midwinter feast celebrated by the Norse people. 

The word gleðileg means “merry” or “joyful,” so Gleðileg jól is the traditional way to say “Merry Christmas” in Iceland.

Do they celebrate Christmas in Iceland?

The festivities begin in early December with the arrival of the 13 Yule Lads, mischievous gnomes who bring gifts and tricks to children. 

Each Yule Lad has a distinct personality and characteristic gift, adding a magical element to the holiday season.

Why are there 13 days of Christmas in Iceland?

The Yule Lads, numbering 13 in total, are believed to be the sons of two trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði. 

Each of them has a distinct personality and a specific role to play during Christmas. 

How long does Christmas in Iceland last?

Christmas in Iceland, also known as Jól, is a 26-day celebration that begins on the 12th of December with the arrival of the first Yule Lad and ends on the 6th of January with their departure.

When does the Christmas market start in Reykjavik?

The Hafnarfjörður Christmas Market is a great place to experience the festive atmosphere of Christmas in Iceland.

It is open from November 17th to December 23rd and is located in the town center of Hafnarfjörður, just a short bus ride from Reykjavík.

Is there a Christmas market in Reykjavik?

Ingólfstorg Square Christmas Market is Reykjavik’s largest and most popular Christmas market. 

It is located in the heart of the city, steps away from Hallgrímskirkja church

Is Reykjavik good for Christmas?

Yes, Reykjavik is a great place to spend Christmas.

The city is beautifully decorated for the holiday season, and several festive events and activities are taking place.

Featured Image: Facebook.com

Aashima (1)
About the author

Aashima is an avid traveler who seeks out thrills and lives a simple, peaceful life. Bright clear skies are her calling.