Iceland in November: Seven reasons you HAVE to go

One of the top Iceland points of interest is its black sand beaches.

Iceland is quickly growing into one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe. And it’s no wonder why. The island has volcanoes, glaciers, thermal baths, Viking history, black sand beaches, waterfalls, and more. And it’s small enough that you can see a lot in a short trip. Given its location in the North Atlantic, many travelers assume the best time to go to Iceland is in summer — but they’re mistaken. The truth is, this is a fantastic fall/winter vacation spot. In this post, I’ll cover why you should consider visiting Iceland in November.

 

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1. Iceland in November has epic sunrises and sunsets

 

Waterfalls -- some of the best places to visit in Iceland -- are gorgeous in mid-day November light.
Visiting Iceland in winter may mean fewer daylight hours, but the sunrises last forever.

 

One of the biggest worries you may have about going to Iceland in November is that daylight hours are so short. The sun comes up at nearly 10 am and sets before 5 pm!

 

But what at first sounds like a downside is actually a huge advantage. The fact that the sun never gets very high in the sky means you’ll encounter some of the most epic sunrises and sunsets you’ve ever seen — with gorgeous pink light sometimes lasting two hours or more. And you won’t even have to wake up absurdly early to see them.

 

This is especially great if you’re a photographer. You’ll never have to deal with harsh mid-day light when visiting Iceland in winter. Even at 1 pm, the sun is still so low in the sky that it’s basically just an all-day Golden Hour.

 

If you’re based in Reykjavik during your trip to Iceland in November, try to leave for day trips around 9 am to get out into the weird volcanic landscapes or to the best waterfalls in time for sunrise. Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle is the place to watch the sunset.

 

2. You can see the Northern Lights

 

The Northern Lights are one of the top things to do in Iceland, but they're only visible in winter.
If you want to see the Northern Lights, the best time of year to go to Iceland is definitely winter, when it’s dark enough.

 

Perhaps the biggest incentive to brave the cold, darkness and wind in Iceland in November is to see the Northern Lights. This incredible natural phenomenon only occurs in the far northern regions of the world when it’s very dark. In Iceland, you can see them from September-April. Locals will tell you the best time to go to Iceland if you have your heart set on seeing the Northern Lights is November-March.

 

You will need to get out of Reykjavik in order to see the Northern Lights in Iceland in November. The light pollution in the city makes it less likely you’ll see them, and Reykjavik is frequently overcast when areas just outside the city are clear. You can rent a car, but if you’re not comfortable driving in Iceland in November (in the dark), you can also take a tour on a bus, minibus or Superjeep. Drive out of the city, find a parking spot where the sky is clear, and wait. (Bundle up — you may need to stay outside for 3+ hours!)

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Remember, aurora sightings are never guaranteed. I tried to find the lights three times. They were never strong enough to see with the naked eye — only my camera was able to pick up on some activity. But people who went out the night before I arrived saw them clearly. In addition to darkness, partially clear skies and high levels of solar activity are necessary. Check the aurora forecast here before booking any tours or renting a car.

 

3. Some activities are only possible in winter in Iceland

 

You can do ice cave tours in Iceland in November.
Some of the best tours in Iceland, like glacier hiking or going to an ice cave, are only possible from October to March.

 

Have you ever wanted to hike on a glacier? Visit an ice cave? Ride a snowmobile over a picture-perfect volcanic landscape? These are just a few of the amazing things to do in Iceland that you can only do in winter.

 

These activities start to open up in October and run through March, making a visit to Iceland in November perfect. And with Iceland’s glaciers retreating at heartbreaking rates, you may have limited time to see them before they’re gone.

 

Travelers rave about this glacier walk tour in particular (full disclosure: I didn’t do it myself). The ice cave tours get more mixed reviews — because of varying weather conditions and snow melt, you won’t know which ice cave you’re visiting until the day of your tour, and some are much more spectacular than others. If you have your own wheels, you’re better off going near Vik than around the Golden Circle, where the ice caves aren’t as impressive.

 

If you want to try snowmobiling, note that most operators require an international driver’s license. This tour is good value for money and allows you to see much of the Golden Circle as well.

 

While visiting Iceland in November means you will miss out on a couple popular Iceland summer activities (like going inside a lava crater or seeing puffins), you can still do the classic summer day tours like the Golden Circle, glacier lagoon, and South Coast. You can even still snorkel (with a dry suit) in the Silfra Fissure, between the North American and European tectonic plates!

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4. Visiting Iceland in November means far fewer tourists

 

If I'd gone to Iceland in July, it would have been harder to get this photo with no other tourists in it.
Visiting Iceland in winter means fewer other tourists to compete for photo spots with.

 

Let’s get this out of the way now: Iceland is an extremely touristy country, no matter what time of year you visit. In 2017, visitor numbers surpassed two million. Considering only about 330,000 locals live on the island, it’s always going to feel like there are several tourists for every one Icelander you encounter.

 

That being said, visiting outside of the peak summer season means the tourist numbers will be far lower. If you want any hope of not having to dodge fifteen other people for every photo you want to take, try going to Iceland in November, when the number of tourists is about half of those in Iceland in July.

 

The advantages of visiting in a less-crowded month are huge. You won’t constantly bump into people in the Blue Lagoon. You’ll avoid long lines at the top photo spots. You’ll never have trouble getting a seat in a popular cafe in Reykjavik. And you can wait until the very last minute to book tours and adventure experiences without worrying that they’ll sell out. (This is especially helpful for weather-dependent activities.) But even more importantly than all that…

 

5. It’s cheaper to visit Iceland in winter

 

Not sure when to visit Iceland on a budget? Winter is far cheaper than peak summer season.
If you want to save money, the best time to go to Iceland is definitely winter.

 

Fewer tourists in Iceland in November mean costs are far lower — for everything from tours to car rental to guesthouses.

 

I paid just $75 a night, including a very good breakfast, for a private room in this adorable little guesthouse in central Reykjavik in November. In July, that same room is $110. You can barely even find a hostel dorm in Iceland in July for under $50.

 

Meanwhile, my Golden Circle tour cost just $50 in November and was half-empty. In summer you’d be lucky to find the same tour for less than $85, and you’d be packed like sardines into the bus.

 

Even flights are outrageously cheap. I flew from Washington, DC to Reykjavik on IcelandAir for around $200 round-trip.

 

The one case in which summer might be cheaper is if you’re planning to self-drive and do a lot of camping. You can camp in Iceland in November (especially with a camper-van), but be prepared for some chilly, windy nights. Camping any time of year is a great way to keep your Iceland trip cost down.

 

6. The weather and the roads are still good

 

Traveling to Iceland in November is great weather-wise, and driving is still safe.
Driving in Iceland in November isn’t a problem on the main roads. Small roads may be impassable.

 

Believe it or not, Iceland in November isn’t actually much colder than Iceland in August. High temperatures in summer average about 59 degrees Fahrenheit. During my winter trip to Iceland, the highs were in the upper 40’s — only about 10 degrees cooler.

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The biggest factor making Iceland feel colder is the wind. But Iceland is windy year-round, so you’ll need a good windbreaker/weather-resistant jacket no matter what. And no matter when you visit, you’re likely to get random pop-up rain showers that go away after five minutes, followed by hours of beautiful cloudless skies.

 

So you might be wondering now, why not visit Iceland in January or February? The answer is that the roads can get a lot sketchier once true winter sets in and snow starts to fall. Even the main roads in south Iceland can be slippery at those times of year. If you’re self-driving, this can make things difficult or even dangerous. If you’re dependent on tours, you’ll need to be prepared for tour operators to cancel if buses can’t handle the road conditions.

 

Overall, you’ll find the perfect balance of cool-but-not-too-cold weather in late autumn, while driving in Iceland in November along the main roads like the Ring Road is safe.

 

7. Reykjavik in November is full of Christmas spirit

 

Visiting Iceland in winter means seeing Reykjavik at its most charming.
Reykjavik in November is already decked out for the holidays.

 

North Americans may roll their eyes at holiday jingles playing in stores, but Icelanders get into the Christmas spirit early. If you’ve ever wanted to experience European Christmas cheer, Iceland in November is the perfect place to do it.

 

There is nothing like walking down Reykjavik’s main shopping street first thing in the morning, when it’s still dark outside, and seeing the Christmas lights come on. Or ducking into the little shops selling ornaments and Christmas candy. Or seeing people’s homes lit up tastefully with Christmas trees and outdoor lights, a far cry from the blow-up Santa’s and other gaudy decorations you find in the U.S.

 

And when you get chilly wandering around outside, you can always stop at a cafe for some mulled wine or hot cocoa. Koffin is a great place to try both.

 

So are you convinced yet that November is the best time to visit Iceland? From the Northern lights to the colorful sunrises that you can see uninterrupted by hordes of tourists, this little island in the Arctic sure has a lot to offer in the winter months!

 

Have you been to Iceland? Which season is your favorite? Leave a comment!

 

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Visiting Iceland in winter is magical. You can see the Northern Lights, walk on glaciers, and enjoy two-hour-long sunrises. Plus if you're trying to travel Iceland on a budget, going to Iceland in November or later is a great way to save money. #iceland #travel

 

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My Ticklefeet
4 years ago

I am a photographer and you had me at the sunrise & sunsets! That’s very interesting to know that light is good pretty much all day.. thanks for that tip 🙂

Claire
4 years ago

I normallly hate winter but I’m pretty tempted to visit Iceland in winter after reading this post … especially for the northern lights and incredible looking sunrises and sunsets! Also handy to know that there’s less tourists in November.

Kanika Bakshi
3 years ago

Great article! Iceland is breathtaking and I would love to visit this place with my friends and family you have mentioned all the details regarding this place and most importantly which is the best time to visit this place. Thank you for sharing this blog.

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