Traveling to Iceland in December, and wondering what to do in this chilly winter month? Here’s a guide to concerts, cinema, shopping, and so much more.
It’s the freezing month of December, and you find yourself in Iceland. Perhaps you’re here for a stopover, or you’re eager to time your vacation with Iceland’s renowned New Years celebrations – or hey, maybe you just really like the wintertime. Regardless, we’re happy you’re here, because there’s plenty to do to make this dark and dreary month exciting and unforgettable.
It’s the holiday season, after all. There are plenty of Christmas concerts happening throughout the month. This is a great opportunity for you to enjoy the famous music of Iceland, as well as visit such essential tourist stops as Harpa, the breathtaking geometry-infused building on the harbour.
For instance, Eivor is performing at Harpa evenings from 7-9 Dec. Tickets are 8.990 ISK. and can be purchased here.
Sigga Beinteins also has a Christmas concert from 7-8 Dec, at 20:00 each night, with tickets ranging from 5.490 – 10.900 ISK. which can be purchased here.
Another option is Sissel, whose Christmas concerts take place on 19 Dec, with performances at 17:30 and 20:00, ranging from 6.990 - 14.990 ISK with tickets available here.
And finally, another annual Christmas concert with pop musician Jón Jónsson will be held at Háskólabíó this year for 6.990 ISK on 21. Dec at 20:00.
Not into Christmas concerts? You also have the chance to see the renowned Ólafur Arnalds at Harpa on 18 Dec. at 20:00. Tickets range from 8.990-14.990 ISK.
Plus, as always, there is weekly live music at places in town such as Dillon and Húrra, free entry to jazz performances on Sunday nights at Bryggjan Brugghús, and weekly Monday comedy nights in English at Gaukurinn. There are plenty of clubs to dance at as well, so you have no shortage of options. While you’re here, you truly should take part in the vibrant nightlife here in Iceland. After all, a good drink and a night of dancing is a great way to stay warm in dismal weather!
Did you know that Icelanders love to go to the cinema? In fact, the cinema culture here is so vibrant that Reykjavík hosts RIFF, an annual international film festival, every Autumn. Don’t worry if you missed it – you can still take part in the scene here by simply attending a movie at one of Reykjavik’s great cinemas. Honestly, what better way to spend a cold evening than staying inside and catching a film?
Bíó Paradís is a great option – this cinema is centrally-located just steps from many hotels, shops, and restaurants downtown. If it’s really not nice outside and you’d rather not hop from bar to cinema, you can always grab a cocktail and a snack at Bíó Paradís itself – the prices are reasonable and there is plenty of comfortable seating inside while you wait for your film to start.
In particular, on 7 Dec at 20:00, Bíó Paradís is showing Die Hard for 1.600 ISK. For a family-friendly night out, on 21 Dec at 20:00, also at Bíó Paradís, How the Grinch Stole Christmas for 1.600 ISK.
Check out their schedule online – though, I do recommend following them and other cinemas and bars on Facebook during your stay. They tend to post events to advertise special showings that you may not have noticed, and they often highlight which airtimes will be subtitled in English on their social media. Staying connected on social media really is a great way to make sure you won’t miss out on any events, concerts, pub quizzes, and the like while you’re in the area!
As for cinemas, another option is Háskólabíó, a cinema located in 101 Reykjavík near Háskóli Íslands, the University of Iceland. SAMbíó is another very popular movie theatre, with several locations around the capital, including one at Kringlan, the country’s second largest shopping mall, if you need to get some holiday gift buying done!
A great souvenir or holiday gift to grab while in Iceland is definitely a book. You’ve perhaps heard of Jólabókaflóðið, which is the nation-wide publishing surge of new literary works. You’ve probably also heard of the tradition of giving books as holiday gifts here in Iceland. Why not do the same? Reykjavík has plenty of bookshops that also sell books in English and other languages. A truly unique souvenir – or, hey, the perfect holiday gift – is a piece of Icelandic literature translated into your mother tongue. Check out our guide for book lovers and this great list of four must-read Icelandic novels!
Honestly, wandering around Laugavegur and popping into Mál og Menning and Penninn Eymundsson Laugavegi, two popular bookshops conveniently surrounded by cafes and shops, sounds like a wonderful way to spend a brisk day in December. Did you know that Reykjavík is a city of literature? You can even book a literary walking tour to get a real feel for the history of the town. Check out this website for some more information about what it means to be a City of Literature.
Also, at the Nordic House at Sæmundargata 11, 101 Reykjavík, there is an exhibition called The Children’s Book Flood (Barnabókaflóðið) which is a great option for young kids, recommended for ages 6-10. See here for more information.
There is also a great celebration for New Years, including a massive fireworks show and bonfires as well as parties around town. It’s truly a great time to be in Reykjavík. You can see the display all around the city – though certain vantage points, such as at Perlan’s dome, are definitely covetable. You can buy tickets in advance at Perlan’s website to secure your spot for New Years – this beautiful glass building also includes a Wonders of Iceland exhibition of natural science, and a lovely café, so there’s plenty to do! Aside from the fireworks, the dome also gives you a 360 degree view of Reykjavík, the surrounding water, and the small forest leading up the hill. Yes – there are indeed trees in Reykjavík!
Also for New Years, the ÍR track and field club hosts a 10k and 3k on 31 Dec to celebrate the end of the year! See here for more information.
Truly, the city does not sleep for this holiday. Be prepared to ring in the New Year all night long!
Of course, December is a great time to see the Northern Lights. Keep an eye on the aurora forecast, provided by the Icelandic Met Office. In particular, watch out for a cold, crisp, clear night… the experience of seeing the lights dancing above you is seriously unforgettable. While you can certainly see the aurora while in the city, you can also book a tour to visit the countryside with an expert guide. See here for a convenient list of guided tours!
Only here for a quick stopover and don’t have time to visit the countryside? Don’t worry – here are some tips on seeing the Northern Lights in the capital city.
You can of course do all the classic tourist stops – for instance, you can see Golden Circle in wintertime, check out beautiful Reynisfjara Beach, and visit geysers and waterfalls and more. However, if you intend to be driving yourself around the countryside, please make sure you know how to navigate icy and snowy roads safely. Icelandic weather is notoriously abrupt and unpredictable – and there will be snow. And wind. And rain. So be careful!
If you’re here just for a stopover or simply want to soak up as much of the city as you can, I recommend just wandering around and enjoying Reykjavík’s coffee shop and food culture. There are also plenty of museums, galleries, and libraries to enjoy. Here’s a guide to the culture scene you can explore.
If you’re feeling active, there are gyms around town, as well as public pools – yes, Icelanders love to swim! The pools here are heated, so it’s a very soothing way to spend your day relaxing! Of course, if you really want to relax, head out to a geothermal spa such as the world famous Blue Lagoon or, my favorite, the Secret Lagoon. There’s nothing like soaking in warm water on a chilly day. Plus, it’s super easy to find tours that will bus you directly to these lagoons and spas from the city – making it especially easy if you are here for a short stopover and aren’t intending on renting a car.
As you can see, there’s plenty to do in Iceland in the wintertime. The countryside is spectacularly otherworldly in the snow, and the city shops and cafes are warm and cozy on a dreary day. In particular, December is a month of celebration, so if you want to party, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
Photos: Mae Kellert
The best travel recommendations come from locals. Check out these Wanderguides from Iceland by locals sharing their travel tips and hidden gems.