Thursday, January 9, 2020
Ah, the new year is here, filled with hopes and dreams, resolutions and self improvements. And if you decided to celebrate by coming to Iceland, I’m here to tell you how Iceland in January like.
First of all, we’ve just said goodbye to the old year and that can be extremely emotional for some. Many have their new year’s resolutions all mapped out and can’t wait to get started on the road to a better self. Others are still hung over from the massive new year’s eve party. But let’s not forget that Christmas is still going on in Iceland in January.
Main Photo: Boiled sheep’s head (Svið) with swede and mashed potatoes. Photo Credit: Schneelocke
Yep, that’s right! Our Christmas doesn’t end until a day called Þrettándinn, which literally means the thirteenth day of Christmas. But wait, it’s actually not celebrated on the thirteenth of January, but on January 6th. I know, it’s wildly confusing. The day signifies the point when the last of our thirteen yule lads goes back to the mountains to his home, eagerly awaiting for three hundred and something days until Christmas returns. Þrettándinn is celebrated all across the country with bonfires and fireworks, however not as ambitious as the lights displays on New Year’s Eve.
We can’t talk about Iceland in January without getting into the weather. January is the coldest month of the year with the average temperature being -0.11°C, or 31.8°F. The temperate can however easily fluctuate between +5 and -10°C and it can snow quite heavily. But we can also expect rain, sleet, storms and blizzards so be prepared for anything and everything. I feel like a broken record when I say this but it’s true! The weather in Iceland can change dramatically in an instant so bring warm layers, hats, mittens, woolen socks, rainproof gear and sunglasses. No, that’s not a typo – our winter sun is a bitch. But you know what? If we are lucky enough to get mild, albeit cold, weather and lots of snow, Iceland is like a winter wonderland in January. Like something out of a fairytale. And that, my friend, is priceless!
Driving in Iceland in January
Our days are getting longer, with daylight being apparent for almost four and a half hours in the beginning of the month, going up to a whopping seven hours in the end of January. If you’re driving yourself, I suggest doing some driving before the clock strikes 10 to 11 AM and heading back around 4 or 5 PM to get the most out of your excursions.
You should be careful driving in Iceland in January if you’re not accustomed to driving in snow and on slippery roads. Please check road conditions before you set out on your adventure and check the weather forecast regularly. I also recommend getting a 4×4 vehicle to be on the safe side.
Don’t go to the gym
For those of you who love shopping, the sales are in full swing in Iceland in January. I wouldn’t go so far as saying you will snatch a bargain, since you’re in Iceland after all, but you can at least get some nice pieces half off to bring back home.
And don’t think about going to the gym. Because of the aforementioned new year’s resolutions, everyone and their grandma (yep, that’s an Icelandic saying) is at the gym, trying to get fit, run faster, lift more, jump higher, lose weight and feel good about themselves. By February, most of these gym memberships will mainly collect dust in the bottom of someone’s sweaty gym bag.
Like something out of a Disney movie
Even if we have limited daylight and can expect all sorts of weather, there are still an array of tours you can book to maximize your Icelandic experience.
It’s the middle of ice cave season, which starts in November and ends in March, and I highly recommend you check out an ice cave tour. It’s an experience you won’t forget.
You can also go horseback riding in the snow. That’s so magical. You almost feel like royalty out of a Disney movie.
Then there are the northern lights that sometimes grace us with their presence. If you don’t have a car you can check out a tour to chase them. If you do have a car, read our guide to how best to spot the aurora borealis.
Pickled whale blubber – yummy!
We Icelanders sort of maxed out events wise in December, and therefore our calendars aren’t flooded with RSVPs in January. We are of course also so tired from all the workouts, resolution keeping and shopping that we just stay at home, writing our goals down in our brand new self help book that we got for Christmas.
One of the highlights in Iceland in January, that hardly any Icelander passes by, is Þorri – something I have a feeling you foreigners are going to love. It starts on Bóndadagur, or husband’s day, which is now on Friday the 19th of January, and ends on the 18th of February with Konudagur, or women’s day. Þorri is the first month of the year according to the old Icelandic calendar. We celebrate it by eating our traditional, Icelandic food. All the things I find the most disgusting in the world, food wise, like fermented shark, cured ram testicles, liver sausage and pickled whale blubber. Yummy! Don’t worry though, if you’re anything like me you can get away with just eating flat cakes, rye bread, dried fish and hung lamb meat. Look for a Þorrablót, which is a party where our disgusting delicacies are offered, or just buy a Þorra feast in the nearest grocery store. Bon appetite!