What it’s Like Visiting Iceland in November + Top Tips for Your Trip

Updated August 8, 2018

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Iceland in November

Iceland in November isn’t the coldest month to visit by any means, but it’s definitely well on the way to winter in the land of fire, liquorice, and ice! My second visit to Iceland was in November, and although I had previously visited several years earlier in October, I wasn’t expecting the dramatic change in the landscape and atmosphere, thanks to plenty more snow EVERYWHERE!

The first time I visited Iceland I didn’t know anyone who had been there, but now it seems like almost everyone I know has or it’s on their bucket list! It’s no surprise, given the initial local push in tourism, Game of Thrones filming locations, and the amazing scenery that is way better in person than what you’ll actually see in photos.

I was lucky enough to meet two amazing girls from Iceland while I was backpacking in Thailand several years ago, and since flights from Edinburgh to Iceland are reasonably priced and only 2 hours long, I knew I really wanted to visit them while I was living in Scotland. I didn’t expect to fall in love with Iceland as much as I did, and find myself planning a return trip with my husband several years later in November!

But what’s it like to visit Iceland in November and what is there to do?

In short, it’s magical, but it’s also not the easiest trip you’ll ever take! The reason for that is you need to consider the weather and the diminishing daylight hours. They can make it more difficult to see many of the things you would in the warmer months. But on the other hand, seeing all the best things in Iceland in the snow is an amazing experience.

So I want to share all I know about travelling to Iceland in November to help you make your trip as stress-free as possible, or at least less stressful than mine! Don’t get me wrong, we LOVED Iceland in winter, but it made us work for it for sure.

Iceland in November

Reasons to visit Iceland in November

  • It’s cheaper than the summer months for things like accommodation or renting a car, and there are some great flight deals.
  • It’s less crowded than in the summer, although still expect to run into plenty of other tourists at the top locations along the southern part of the Ring Road and the Golden Circle.
  • There are fewer daylight hours but you’re rewarded with awesome light for photos. Some places I’ve visited I just LOVE how my photos turned out and Iceland is one of them. The sun doesn’t rise a lot higher than the horizon so the light is golden and not harsh for much of the day and it can have a beautiful purple tint in the morning or evening.

Iceland in November

Things to do in Iceland in November

Iceland isn’t one of those destinations where everything closes up shop in the winter. It may be more difficult to get around but you can still do many of the things in winter that you would do if you visited in summer. You can drive yourself to most of the popular locations, or there are lots of tours in Iceland in winter offering to show you the amazing sites and take you on adventures.

Northern Lights (not guaranteed)

One of the major reasons people choose to visit Iceland in the colder months is to have a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Technically, light storms happen all year round but it’s only when it’s dark enough that we can actually see them. Northern Lights season in Iceland runs from September to mid-April.

The only thing is, you’re not guaranteed to see the Northern Lights even if you go during this time. I’ve heard of many people travelling to Iceland in an attempt to tick this off their bucket list or with a determination that they WILL see them, but unfortunately it’s truly out of your control. My first visit to Iceland we tried really hard to see them, and although I saw them extremely faintly (it looked more like a cloud to me) it wasn’t until my second visit that I was lucky enough to be treated to an amazing display, and even then we were only able to manage it on one night of our trip.

Think of the Northern Lights as a bonus to your Iceland trip in November, rather than a given.

Iceland in November - The Northern Lights

Ice Caves

Ice Caves and tunnel locations can change every year, and you need a guide to take you safely into them. You should never walk or climb over glaciers on your own unless you’ve been properly trained, and even then it’s best to go with a local company who know what they’re doing. Tours are more of a recent phenomenon, and as such there are limited operators and places can book out in advance so make sure you plan ahead.

Diving/Snorkelling in Silfra

Yes, I am talking about diving or snorkelling in Iceland and winter all at the same time. The Silfra Fissure is located between two tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park and it’s about the same temperature all year round. This means you can have this awesome experience at any time of year! See what it involves here.

You can read more about my experience of snorkelling in Iceland here.

Iceland in November: Snorkelling at Silfra

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling tours are popular in the winter as usually they also involve visiting a glacier or vast fields of ice and snow. I never did this myself but heard about it and it sounded awesome!

Christmas shopping

Visiting Iceland in November means you can take advantage of doing some early Christmas shopping! Why not give some unique gifts this year?

Waterfalls

Iceland must have thousands of amazing waterfalls, and in the winter they are just as impressive surrounded by the snow and ice. The waterfalls by the coast won’t freeze but sometimes you can see partially frozen ones inland. It can get very slippery from the spray around the waterfalls so make sure you have shoes with grip like hiking boots or clip-on crampons if you need them!

Iceland in November - Waterfalls

Surfing

You wouldn’t think it but Iceland is actually a very popular surfing destination, even in November! Yes, the sea is arctic cold, literally, but if you can get the weather and conditions right then the surfing is supposed to be amazing. If it’s something you’re interested I’d recommend getting in touch with locals who will know the best spots and conditions!

The Golden Circle

Although there are some higher altitude points when you drive the Golden Circle from Reykjavik we found the road mostly clearer and easier in November than the ring road across the south, so it’s worth considering even in the winter. If you’re not up for the drive then there are plenty of tour options!

The major attractions on the Golden Circle are Gulfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and Geysir where you can see, well, geysers. However, there are plenty of other stops along the way, like Kerid Crater Lake. If you go to Iceland in November and only have time for one trip out of Reykjavik then the Golden Circle should be it!

Iceland in November - The Golden Circle

Food tour

One activity that doesn’t require (too much) time outdoors is taking a Food Tour in Reykjavik! You can warm up with some Icelandic comfort food and learn more about Icelandic culture.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

When you see pictures of icebergs in Iceland it’s highly likely they’ll be of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Visiting in November is a great option because you can take advantage of the low light for awesome photos, and there should be plenty of icebergs closer to shore.

However, it is a bit of a mission from Reykjavik. We drove over and stayed the night at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon which we LOVED (check it out here) and this meant we could get up early (but not too early, since sunrise was like 10 am…) and head to the lagoon before any tour buses arrived. I would definitely recommend staying over because it’s a long drive in what can be tough conditions and short daylight hours. You can also take tours along the south coast ring road that stay overnight or leave early and return very late.

Iceland in November - Glacier Lagoon

Hot springs

What better way to warm up in chilly November than by taking a dip in a hot spring? There are plenty of these around Iceland, although make sure you research which ones you want to visit because not all are warm enough in the winter months!

There is, of course, the Blue Lagoon, although since it has become much more popular and prices have risen I can’t really say what it’s like now. I visited last minute on my first trip to Iceland and it was fantastic, but by the second time we went, it was over twice the price and fully booked out for the whole time we were there. There are other options but the colour of it is fairly unique and it is nice to have facilities there, so it’s a personal decision on if you want to visit!

Blue Lagoon in November

Ice Climbing

If you want to actually get out on the glaciers rather than in them, you can take an ice climbing tour! Not for the faint of heart but an amazing experience.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Located northwest of Reykjavik, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is another option if you have the time while you’re in Iceland in November. There’s plenty of scenic stops, including at Kirkjufell which has become ever more popular since featuring in Game of Thrones. However, the roads around the peninsula are heavy with snow and ice in November, so you definitely need to be confident and have the right vehicle, otherwise, a tour of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula would be best. We were lucky enough to have our own personal tour with friends!

Snæfellsnes Peninsula in November

Iceland Airwaves Music Festival

First started in 1999 and runs for 3 days and nights. It’s a mix of local and international talent and a great reason to visit Iceland in November. Why not enjoy the festival then see what the rest of the country has to offer?

Weather in Iceland in November

Winter is well and truly on the way in Iceland in November, or if you’re from anywhere further south, then it’s already arrived! However, Iceland in the winter is not actually as cold as you might imagine. The Gulf Stream helps the temperatures in winter stay milder than the latitude of Iceland would indicate, so it’s actually comparable to places like London or not even as harsh as New York. However, the level of snow does mean you need to be prepared with proper clothing and footwear.

The temperature in Reykjavik is around 1-8 degrees Celcius (33-46F) and is lower in many higher places outside of the capital.

Days are getting shorter and windier, with sunrise being about 10 am and sunset at 4 pm, although there it can be a bit lighter earlier and later than that. We would usually plan to be on the road by the time it was daylight to make the most of the day!

Rain, hail, sleet, and snow can all be present in November, but the weather changes quickly so you might have blue skies too. You just need to be prepared!

Iceland in November

What to wear in Iceland in November

A lot of people panic about packing for Iceland in winter. My first visit I was so chilled out about it I only took my usual clothes I would wear in Scotland and needed to borrow from my friends! The second time around I was determined to be more prepared. There were two things that really made a difference for me when visiting Iceland in November.

Having a long waterproof coat with a warm lining and a hood meant that I just needed to layer up underneath. I did take thermal layers with me and on days I knew we’d be outside for longer (i.e. taking photos at the Glacier Lagoon) I wore that, plus a second top and a warm jumper. There were definitely days I was fine without the thermal layer, but it depends on what your coat is like!

Hiking boots meant I had better grip in the snow and my feet were kept warm and dry. I made a huge mistake with footwear my first time in Iceland and took my usual leather boots from Scotland, but I really needed something thicker and warmer, and really warm socks too!

Other items you need are

  • Woollen hat, scarf, and gloves
  • Handwarmers for your pockets if you get really cold hands or will be taking photos and want to warm them up
  • Strap on cleats/crampons (not necessary but can be useful if you’re doing a lot of walking in the snow/ice)
  • Warm thermal tights
  • Waterproof or quick dry trousers (not strictly necessary, I wore jeans most of the time but my coat was long and we were lucky to not have much snowfall, which can make you VERY wet)

What to wear in Iceland in November

Driving in Iceland in November

I was so shocked by the difference on the roads from mid-October to mid-November on my Iceland trips. In October we had snow on the sides of the roads but the roads were fairly clear. In November we saw a lot more ice and snow on the roads, especially the ring road along the south coast. If an Iceland road trip is your dream but you’re wary about driving, then it may be worth considering a different time of year!

F roads are all closed to traffic, due to the danger of avalanches, so don’t expect to be able to see anything off the ring road.

Hiring a car is a personal choice, but I would advise you to be very confident about driving in the snow, ice, and wind if you do so. I would consider hiring a bigger car like a 4WD to help you if you feel that you’re confident enough to drive it. Check road conditions every day on (website) to see what it’s like where you’re planning to go and be prepared to change your plans.

It’s not just the ice and snow on the road you need to contend with, the wind can be brutal, and we were warned by our hire car company to be careful opening doors since they have been known to be wrenched off or severely damaged in the wind!

Driving in Iceland in November

Travelling around Iceland without a car in winter

If you want to get around Iceland in the winter without a car then you can still do so. Either base yourself in Reykjavik and take day tours or consider a multi-day tour to see more of the country.

So should you visit Iceland in November?

Yes! If the timing of flights and the price is right, then don’t be put off by the winter weather, just consider how you want to structure your itinerary and be prepared.

Sonja x

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Iceland in November

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2 Comments

  • Reply Zara November 10, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks for this post! Really helpful. I’m visiting Iceland in January so will be very wintery! Am a little unsure what to expect but your post has made me excited!!! Are crampons definitely unnecessary? I’ve heard conflicting stories, some say they felt really unsafe without them but some say it’s not needed…what do you think?

    • Reply Migrating Miss November 13, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      Exciting! I love Iceland so much I just want to go back again! I didn’t find them necessary but I also wore hiking boots with good grip. There were people in normal sports shoes (I wouldn’t recommend because your feet will be freezing!) that definitely needed them. Also depends what you want to do. Many people ignored the signs at Seljalandsfoss saying not to walk behind the waterfall because it is too icy in winter. There was no way I was attempting that without crampons. Not that I would have anyway because of the signs, but I just mean if you plan to go off-piste you may want to consider it.

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