When looking at the temperature of Iceland month by month, January is definitely one of the colder times of the year. With an average high temperature of just 37 ºF (3 ºC) during the day, you’re definitely in for some chilly weather if your trip is in January. It’s even colder at night, with lows dipping to around 27 ºF (-3 ºC). You’ll likely be throwing on a lopapeysa wool sweater and plenty of layers to keep warm. But what about snowfall, winter storms, and other natural phenomena? Iceland’s January weather is something you need to be prepared for, regardless of how many days you’re thinking of staying. It will impact not only the activities you can participate in but also how to plan your journey. Ready to see some frozen waterfalls, warm up by taking a dip in hot springs, and experience the winter wonderland that is January in Iceland?
Average Temperatures in Iceland in January
As previously mentioned, the average high in Iceland in January is 37 ºF (3 ºC), and the average low is 27 ºF (-3 ºC). This is of course in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Because this city is on the southwest coast of the island, it’s going to be warmer than other places, such as Akureyri in the north. Given seasonal weather trends and location, the mercury reading on the thermometer can be higher or lower. Many people are surprised by Iceland’s winter temperatures. With the country’s icy name and northern latitude, most expect sub-zero temperatures with tundra-like conditions. It’s actually not much different than places like New York or Chicago. True, it’s certainly not bikini weather, but you won’t see Eskimos running around either. The warming waters of the Gulf Stream create a microclimate that makes the island not as cold as many would imagine.
January Snowfall in Iceland
January is the wettest month in Iceland, with 50 mm of rainfall on average. And because temperatures mostly hover around freezing, all of this precipitation translates into lots of snowfall. There are also plenty of other snowlike weather phenomena like hail and sleet. You’ll find lots of freshly fallen snow in Iceland if you come during the winter. It makes for picturesque landscapes and outdoor scenes blanketed in white. If you’re a skiing or snowboarding enthusiast, there’s lots of fresh powder in places like Dalvik, which is the ski capital of Iceland.
On a related note, you’ll want to practice extreme caution while driving in Iceland in winter. Slippery roads and black ice mean that overall you’ll be driving at lower speeds. Combined with low visibility, you’ll need to be extra careful. A good rule of thumb is to add an extra 15 minutes per hour of regular driving time when estimating how long it will take you to reach your destination. And of course, pay attention to storm warnings issued by the Icelandic Met Office. The last thing you want is to get caught in a snowstorm and be stranded.
Iceland’s Daylight Hours in January
While the number of hours of daylight in Iceland is not directly linked to the weather, I do want to mention it because it’s extremely important. Iceland’s far northern location may not affect its temperature very much, but it certainly affects daylight. In January, the small Nordic island receives only four and a half hours of light at the beginning of the month. By the end of January, this increases to almost seven hours. If you’re planning winter activities like glacier hikes or ice cave exploration, you’ll want to be sure you can fit it all in. Time your driving and your excursions around when the sun rises and sets, especially if you don’t like being behind the wheel at night or in the dark. And remember, the Northern Lights are visible in Iceland during this time, so you’ll have plenty of hours of darkness to enjoy them.
What to Pack and Wear for January Weather in Iceland
I can’t write an article about Iceland weather in January without mentioning how to protect yourself from the elements. I can’t stress the importance of packing the right clothing in your suitcase. Having the right types of layers using the right kinds of material can make or break your trip. Bone-chilling, damp cold is very real in Iceland, so stay warm and toasty by following the four-layer rule for winter dressing.
Create a base layer that traps body heat by starting off with merino wool or a similar fabric. Add another warming layer on top that; materials like fleece or another layer of wool clothing are perfect for this. Pants, hats, long-sleeved shirts, and even socks need to keep your body cosy amid sub-Arctic elements. Next, add an insulating layer to really turn up the heat. Lastly, a windproof, waterproof shell layer will keep rain, snow, and freezing gusts of wind out. Think of your clothing as armor in your winter weather arsenal. You may even want to consider a balaclava to protect your face. And even though it’s cold, remember to pack sunscreen. Sunny days and the reflection of light rays off the snow can give you a sunburn, no matter the temperature.
Iceland’s January Weather
Iceland’s winter weather is not for the faint of heart. You definitely want to be prepared for Iceland in January. You’ll have a great time as this is one of the best times of year to visit. There are fewer tourists, everything is cheaper, and there is a plethora of winter activities. Go to magical places like Gullfoss, where you can see the frozen waterfall in suspended animation. And with plenty of hours of darkness, take advantage of indoor activities like happy hour and café culture. Enjoy your wintertime vacation!
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