February may be one of the coldest months of the year, though only marginally so. Contrary to what many people think, Iceland has a cold temperate (maritime) climate thanks in part to the warm Irminger Current, an offshoot of the Gulf Stream that warms its southern and western coast.
As a result, expect a range between 26-34 degrees Fahrenheit with the north of the country a little colder, darker, and icier. High winds and unpredictable weather, including one or all in a single day: snow, sleet, rain, and sunshine, however, are to be expected, so be prepared for it all and pack wind and waterproof clothing alongside thermals.
Due to Iceland’s northern latitude, the days are short and the nights are long where each day gains about six minutes of sun as the month progresses. If you visit Iceland at the beginning of February there are about 7 hours of daylight, whereas toward the end you can get upwards of 10 hours.
Crowds & Costs
Winter has fewer visitors than the other three seasons, but winter tourism has increased even stronger than the other seasons in recent years. December, January, and February see approximately one-third the number of visitors than the peak months in summer.
While you will have less time to squeeze in all you want to do, you should take advantage of the season where everything seems more calm, quiet, and when the tourist crowds are at their smallest. Plus, winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights.
Where to Go
Iceland is a country that knows how to make the best of its winter season, and every region has something to offer for those who are willing to bundle up and go with the flow. Most travelers head to Reykjavík—a great jumping off point to popular attractions in the Reykjanes Peninsula, like the Golden Circle and South Shore routes.
Join a tour or rent a car (if you’re comfortable driving in winter conditions) and visit three of Iceland’s best-known sights in the Golden Circle: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and the impressive Gullfoss waterfall. Follow the South Shore along the Eyjafjoll Mountains with views of Eyjafjallajokull Glacier to Vík and the black-sand beach of Reynisfjara. For more ideas on where to go from Reykjavík, read this article.
A short flight (or 5-hour drive) takes you to the colorful, though small, Akureyri in Northern Iceland, a gateway to spectacular nature and skiing possibilities. Explore the Mývatn region (volcanoes, geothermal hot springs, caves, and lava fields), Dettifoss waterfall, Goðafoss waterfall, and Ásbyrgi canyon. And head to Siglufjörður at the northern tip for a host of winter sports like skating, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
Keep in mind some minor highland roads may be impassable due to snow conditions. Traveling around the country this time of year, therefore, takes extra caution and planning and will likely involve short flights, 4x4 rentals, or Super Jeep transfers.
What to Do
Where to begin? Ski season is well underway, locals heading north to the number of ski resorts in and around Akureyri, like Hlíðarfjall (open 6-months out of the year). With little light pollution and close proximity to the Arctic Circle, Northern Iceland affords plenty of opportunities to spot the Aurora Borealis.
If you’re in the capital, head indoors when the weather is especially unfavorable into one of the many trendy boutiques, funky cafés, and informative museums along Reykjavík's cool Laugavegur Street. And if you’re here for the Northern Lights, be sure to stop in at the Northern Lights Center to learn how to adjust your camera to the optimal settings.
Take advantage of the season and climb into the Crystal Ice Cave in Vatnajökull Glacier, open for tours mid-November through March. Here you can explore the ice sculptures and formations in the pretty blue light. For a different experience, strap on your crampons and trek over part of the Langjökull glacier before switching gears and checking out its man-made ice cave, recreated each year because the slowly-moving glacier causes the straight tunnel to move.
Events in February
Winter Lights Festival. Taking place the beginning of the month in Reykjavík, this festival celebrates the winter and the days getting longer.
Öskudagur (Ash Wednesday). Much like Halloween in many parts of the world, during the Ash Wednesday Festival, Icelandic children dress up in traditional Icelandic costumes and run around towns and villages singing. In return, residents give them local cream puffs (bollur).
List í ljósi (Art in the Light). This free outdoor art event lights up Seyðisfjörður in celebration of the arrival of the sun. The town transforms into a buzz of activity with curated artwork from installations, projections and performances to large-scale immersive experiences for three days in the middle of February.
Stockfish Film Festival. This small not-for-profit film festival screens up-and-coming art house films at the end of the month in Reykjavík and offers Q&A sessions with international filmmakers and more.
Traveling to Iceland in February? Check out these great itineraries.
3 Days in Iceland: Blue Lagoon, South Coast, Reykjavik. If you are short on time, or perhaps you are looking for an extended layover on your way from Europe to North America or vice versa, your options in Iceland are limited to closer to Reykjavik. Here is a 3-day itinerary that will still let you experience some of the spectacular beauty of Iceland.
5-Day Tour of the North: Akureyri, Lake Myvatn, Waterfalls, and Geothermal Hotspots. For a unique Iceland experience, avoid the crowds of the south completely. This trip has it all: volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, nature baths, whale watching, fjords and more. Below are 2 great ways to experience the north: all the highlights with only a fraction of the people. You can maximize your time by taking a domestic flight over the beautiful highlands of the interior to Akureyri, or you can drive one way and fly from Akureyri back to Reykjavik.