Kirkjufell during winter

November Ideas for Iceland: Events, Adventures and What to Pack

If you’re visiting Iceland in November, you’re probably curious to know what’s going on during this dark and chilly month. In this article, you’ll find information about things to do in Iceland in November as well as some advice on how to dress and what to pack.

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Nína Þorkelsdóttir

28. December 2018

It’s actually a tricky task to give advice on what to do in Iceland in November. Some of you may know that the weather in Iceland is far from being predictable, and that is especially true during the “shoulder” months, such as November and April.

This means that your travel plans can easily be interrupted by harsh weather conditions, and that definitely calls for flexibility. If you’re intending to going on a tour, a domestic flight or a road-trip, always have a backup plan.

However, visiting Iceland in November comes with certain perks. For instance, the Iceland Airwaves festival takes place in early- or mid-November and chances of seeing the Northern Lights are pretty high.

Northern Lights in Sólheimasandur, Iceland. Northern Lights dancing in the sky above Sólheimasandur, south Iceland. Unsplash/Thomas Tucker. 

Events and festivals

Iceland Airwaves

People dancing at a party. Photo: Húrra@Facebook

Iceland Airwaves has been held annually since 1998. It’s a four day festival that is dedicated mostly to indie, alternative, pop, rock and electronic music, representing both Icelandic and international artists.

Among the artists that have performed at Iceland Airwaves throughout the years are Hot Chip, Sufjan Stevens, Ratatat, Florence and the Machine, Fatboy Slim, Sigur Rós and Sinéad O'Connor.

You can either buy a festival pass, or settle for the free off-venue concerts that take place all around the city.

Read also:

The Day of the Icelandic Language

The Icelandic flag on a clear day.

The 16th of November is dedicated to the Icelandic language. On this day, various events take place all over the country, but most of them are (of course) in Icelandic.

An ideal way for foreigners to celebrate this day is simply to go ahead and try speaking some Icelandic. Check out these articles if you’re interested in learning some basic phrases in Icelandic:

The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra

The Iceland Symphony orchestra standing on stage at Eldborg, holding their instruments. Photo: Courtesy of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. 

The concert season starts in late August, and this means that during November there’s a performance by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra every Thursday.

Attending an ISO performance is truly a feast for all senses; the splendid architecture of the Harpa Concert Hall is no less exhilarating than the wonderful music played by the orchestra.

You can learn more about the programme here.

Museums

A white sculpture by Ásmundur Sveinsson depicting a woman holding a baby. Travelade/Pearl. 

There are usually various exhibitions going on in the museum’s of Iceland during autumn and winter. Drop by at the National Gallery of Iceland or the Reykjavik Art Museum and indulge yourself in interesting art.

Black Friday

Paper shopping bags. Yep, Black Friday is also a thing in Iceland. Photo: Pexels. 

Icelanders do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but they do in fact celebrate Black Friday. The rule of thumb is that all American festivities that include buying things are thoroughly marked on Icelandic calendars. The merchants are responsible for this, I believe.

So if you’re fed up about missing Black Friday in your home country, just join the frenzy in Iceland.

Tours

In November, winter tourism takes off and the Northern Lights have already started to light up the skies. However, the ground may still be free of snow and ice, which makes it easier to travel around.  

Whale watching

A humpback whale jumping from the ocean in Iceland. Photo: Unsplash/Thomas Kelley.

Summer is the high-season for whale watching, but most companies operate throughout the year. The whales migrate south in the fall to breed in warmer waters, but the chances of sightings are still good in November. Here are some whale watching tours to check out if you want to book now.

Glacier hiking/snowmobiling

A woman walking on a glacier in Iceland. Travelade/Dominika.

Although there might not be any snow in Reykjavik yet, there’s always plenty of it up in the mountains. Glacier-hiking is an activity that you can do all year round in Iceland. The shoulder season is good for this activity since it’s still bright and a bit warmer. It’s also easier to book a spot and less crowded.

It’s not recommended to go glacier hiking by yourself since there are a lot of crevasses in the glaciers. You have to be accompanied by an experienced guide. Click here to check out glacier hikes recommended by the Travelade team.

Snowmobiling is also an year-round activity and it can be done on several glaciers in the southern and western regions of the country. There are some tours that combine snowmobiling with other activities, such as sight-seeing. One of our writers went on a day tour that combined the Golden Circle route with snowmobiling, you can read about her experience here .

Snowmobiling is not suitable for kids and most tours require you to present a valid driver’s licence.

Northern Lights hunting

Snowy ground and aurora borealis up in the sky. You might spot Northern lights in November. Photo: Unsplash/Vincent Guth.

Northern lights start to appear when nighttime darkness returns in Iceland in late August and since November is a pretty dark month, which makes it ideal for Aurora-hunting. I recommend using the Northern Light Forecast if you intend to go Northern Lights hunting on your own. If you prefer a guided tour, you can book most of them from late August. Browse through our large selection of Northern Light tours here .

Weather in November

The summers in Iceland are short and by November, autumn has usually turned into winter. Autumn storms are common in Reykjavik and beyond, and they typically start hitting the country in mid-September and pay frequent visits until early May. 

I've already informed you that you can expect all kinds of weather conditions in November. It might be freezing, there might be snow, but the weather is sometimes mild and pretty harmless in November. Be prepared for every kind of weather. 

If you’re planning any kind of outdoor adventures in Iceland in November, you should dress well and bring proper equipment. Be prepared for cold weather, wind, rain or even snow and ice. Urban exploring requires different kind of clothing, you can read all about that here.

What to pack

This packing list should work for autumn and winter in Iceland:

  • Fleece/wool sweater
  • Thick scarf
  • Puffer jacket/fur coat/winter coat
  • A warm hat
  • Gloves/mittens
  • Warm socks, preferably wool
  • Trainers/sneakers
  • Winter boots
  • Thermal base layers, such as woolen long johns and a t-shirt
  • Swimwear
  • Sunglasses (especially if you will be driving)
  • A refillable water bottle (you should always drink tap water in Iceland)
  • Jeans/pants
  • Pyjamas
  • Adapter (if you're from the US or UK)

And in case you’re going hiking or doing other outdoorsy stuff:

  • Waterproof hiking pants
  • Waterproof/windproof jacket, suitable for freezing temperatures
  • A down jacket (not a must, but if you have one you should definitely bring it)
  • Hiking boots
  • A backpack
  • Crampons
  • Gaiters
  • Winter mittens

Search for Things to Do in Iceland

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