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I am trying to think of a good destination for a week-long bread over Christmas or New Year's day. I am quite keen to see the aurora, hence I was thinking about the northern countries and Iceland in particular. A few questions:

  1. How likely is it to see the aurora in Iceland in late December? Does it involve getting some organized tour, or just stepping out of the house?
  2. Do we need a 4x4 car in the winter?
  3. What other attractions are accessible and worth visiting during the winter?
  4. Is Iceland a popular destination over Christmas? I.e. is accommodation and car rental going to be hard to find and/or expensive?
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up vote 11 down vote accepted
  1. This depends heavily on the weather and where in Iceland you are. If you are staying in Reykjavík, you'll need to drive some distance out of town to truly get a good view of the northern lights. In more remote destinations it may simply be a matter of stepping outside. Of course, it could be cloudy the entire week. There are no guarantees.

    Indeed, even with clear skies, the northern lights are fickle themselves and vary depending on how much solar activity there is. Your odds of seeing them improve as you go farther north.

  2. Depends. If you intend to stick to the main highways and take care to monitor weather reports, a typical sedan will get you most places. We're pretty good about keeping the main roads open. If you want to go 'off the beaten track' you'll need a 4x4 and should travel with people who are familiar with the territory.

  3. New Year's Eve, in Iceland, is typically one massive, uncoordinated fireworks display. You can even buy your own and join in.

    All the usual attractions are also available, Blue Lagoon, national parks etc. There are also highland trips sold during winter (not right over Christmas) but weather may affect availability.

  4. You will have no trouble finding accommodation. Summer is still the tourist high season and there should be plenty of rooms available. Update: Since writing this Christmas in Iceland has become much more popular with tourists. I would now recommend you book early for this part of year.

Do note that Christmas in Iceland is a proper holiday. That means that almost every store and restaurant closes down in the afternoon of Christmas Eve (by 18:00 most everything is closed) and does not open up again until the morning of the 26th. Update: As tourism has grown during this season, more restaurants are now open during this time. You should still plan ahead though.

This does not apply to New Year's. Stores and Restaurants will be open throughout New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

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Thanks for a detailed answer! Coming back to point (1), did I understand correctly that if the weather is favourable then you are guaranteed to see the northern lights? What time of night does it usually happen (e.g. hour)? – Grzenio Sep 12 '12 at 10:51
@Grzenio Sorry, no. I'll edit to clarify that. The northern lights are frequently visible during winter, but they do depend on solar activity. You have a better chance of seeing them the farther north you go. – Kris Sep 12 '12 at 10:52

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