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Iceland

The in-depth guide to choosing the best time to visit Iceland

How to determine the best time to visit Iceland

Deciding on the best time to visit Iceland hinges on what you’re looking for in this mesmerizing land of contrasts. Each season reveals a different facet of its beauty, from the verdant summers illuminated by the Midnight Sun to the cosy winters under the Northern Lights. This guide aims to navigate the seasonal landscapes of Iceland, providing insights into what you can expect and how to prepare for your journey.
Guide summer Iceland

What is the best time to visit Iceland?

Wondering when’s the ideal time to explore Iceland? From our adventures and the tales we’ve gathered, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Iceland is enchanting year-round, but your perfect season depends on what experiences you’re chasing.

Summer brings those endless days we’ve all heard about, with the sun barely setting. It’s a dream for explorers; we have trekked through the Highlands bathed in 24-hour daylight, feeling like the day just doesn’t end. It’s prime time for hiking, wildlife watching and soaking in the vibrant life of Icelandic towns and countryside.

However, autumn and spring offer their own charm. We have witnessed Iceland draped in the golden hues of autumn and spring’s fresh bloom – both are breathtaking. These seasons boast fewer visitors, making it easier to enjoy Iceland’s stunning landscapes at a more relaxed pace. The temperate weather is perfect for those who prefer milder adventures.

Winter, on the other hand, transforms the island into a snowy paradise, ideal for those magical Northern Lights we have all dreamt of seeing. Though the days are short, they’re incredibly sweet, with snow-covered landscapes and cosy nights. We’ve marvelled at the Northern Lights – the aurora borealis – dancing across the sky, a truly unforgettable experience. Make this a must-experience on your bucket list.

So, when’s the best time to visit Iceland? It hinges on your preferences. Let’s explore the options be delving into what each season has to offer.

What can I expect from Iceland in spring?

When you think about visiting Iceland in spring, you’re essentially signing up for a front-row seat to nature’s grand reopening act. This period, stretching from April to June is a whole experience filled with burgeoning life and longer days, tempered by the lingering kiss of winter’s chill.

Weather and temperatures

The spring season introduces a milder climate, with our thermometers often reading between 0°C to 10°C (32°F to 50°F). Although the tail end of winter might surprise us with a snow shower in April, by the time June arrives, we’re greeted with longer, sunnier days. This unpredictable weather underscores the importance of packing layers, a tip we always share with fellow travellers.

Exploring the regions

Our ventures into the Golden Circle during spring reveal a quieter, yet equally majestic side of Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall. The reduced crowds afford us more space to fully immerse in the beauty and grandeur of these sites. The South Coast, too, becomes a beacon for us nature lovers, with accessible attractions like the striking black sand beaches of Vik and the serene Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where the sight of drifting icebergs is simply mesmerising.

In spring, we also find the trails beckoning us for more adventures. The paths in Þórsmörk, accessible a bit later in the season, offer breathtaking views that we can’t help but recommend to anyone seeking to connect with Iceland’s wild side. Additionally, the return of puffins to the cliffs is a spectacle we eagerly anticipate each year. These charming birds add a vibrant touch to the cliffs, making spring an ideal season for bird watching.

Seasonal highlights

The power of Iceland’s waterfalls in spring cannot be overstated. Fed by the melting snow, waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss swell, their roar and might a testament to nature’s force. Our journeys here are always humbling, reminding us of the raw beauty Iceland holds. For those of us keen on ornithology, spring’s the season when bird life flourishes, offering unique opportunities to observe Iceland’s avian residents up close.

What to do

Spring in Iceland not only invites exploration through its transitioning landscapes but also offers a variety of activities that make the most of the unique climate and natural beauty of this season. Beyond the hikes and wildlife watching, spring is the perfect time for road trips around the island, where the roads are less burdened by winter’s snow, allowing for smoother travel to distant attractions. It’s an opportunity to dive into the geothermal pools scattered across the country, which seem even more inviting against the cooler air.

Iceland spring pros and cons

Pros Cons
Days get longer, offering more daylight for exploration.
Weather can be unpredictable with possible snow season.
The landscape begins to bloom, offering beautiful scenery.
Some highland areas and roads may still be closed.
Fewer tourists than summer, allowing for a calmer trip.
Temperature can still be quite cold, especially early on.
Ideal for bird watching, including exotic puffins.
Limited whale watching opportunities compared to summer.

What can I expect from Iceland in summer?

Summer in Iceland, spanning from June to August, is a chapter of endless daylight and nature in full bloom, offering an unparalleled experience for those who venture to this island nation. Based on our adventures and the shared experiences within our community, here’s what summer in Iceland has in store.

Weather and temperatures

The summer months welcome warmer temperatures, typically ranging from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F), occasionally reaching up to 20°C (68°F) or more on the warmest days. This season bathes the island in nearly 24 hours of daylight, especially around the summer solstice in June, creating the extraordinary phenomenon of the Midnight Sun. This extended daylight allows us, and indeed all visitors, to maximise our explorations and adventures across the island.

Exploring the regions

Summer is the prime time to delve into all corners of Iceland, with every region accessible to explore. We often recommend the Westfjords for those seeking untouched wilderness; here, the dramatic landscapes and bird cliffs, such as Látrabjarg, are in their most glorious state. The Highlands also become reachable, offering hiking trails through otherworldly landscapes that are inaccessible at other times of the year.

Our journeys have taken us along the Ring Road encircling the island, where each stop presents a new marvel, from cascading waterfalls and geothermal springs to picturesque villages. The long days mean you can wander through the lava fields of Landmannalaugar or the serene beauty of the Eastfjords well into the evening.

Seasonal highlights

One of the most magical aspects of summer in Iceland is the opportunity to experience its vibrant wildlife. Whale watching becomes particularly rewarding, with tours departing from Husavik or Reykjavik offering chances to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The puffins, too, are a sight to behold, particularly in the Westman Islands, where they nest in large colonies.

Festivals and cultural events pepper the summer calendar, from the Secret Solstice music festival in Reykjavik to traditional celebrations in small towns and villages. These events offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Icelandic culture, something we always encourage visitors to immerse themselves in.

What to do

The endless daylight of summer encourages all forms of outdoor activities. Whether it’s hiking, kayaking, glacier tours, or simply enjoying the natural hot springs scattered across the country, the opportunities are as endless as the daylight. For us, one of the greatest pleasures of summer in Iceland is the chance to connect with nature on such an intimate level, from the quiet of early morning walks to the stillness of nightless nights.

Read the full article on summers in Iceland.

Iceland summer pros and cons

Pros Cons
Warmest weather of the year, ideal for outdoor activities.
Peak tourist season, leading to crowded attractions.
Enjoy nearly 24 hours of daylight in the peak of summer.
Higher prices for accommodation and tours.
Peak season for whale watching and puffin spotting.
Can still experience sudden weather changes, including rain.
All roads and highland areas are usually accessible.
Midges and mosquitoes are more prevalent.

What can I expect from Iceland in autumn?

Autumn in Iceland, from September to November, is a season of transformation, where the landscape bursts into spectacular shades of red, orange and yellow. Our collective experiences have shown us that this period offers a quieter, yet equally captivating, alternative to the bustling summer months.

Weather and temperatures

As autumn progresses, the temperature starts to cool, ranging from about 5°C to 10°C (41°F to 50°F) in September and dropping to around 0°C to 5°C (32°F to 41°F) by November. This season sees a mix of crisp, clear days and the return of darker evenings, setting the stage for the Northern Lights’ return. We always remind travellers to dress in layers, as the weather can shift quickly, and to be prepared for both rain and the occasional snowfall as winter approaches.

Exploring the regions

Autumn is an excellent time for us to explore the less-trodden paths. The countryside, adorned in autumnal hues, offers breathtaking scenery, making it a perfect time for photographers and nature enthusiasts. The Ring Road remains a popular route, with fewer tourists and more opportunities to enjoy the sights at a leisurely pace.

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula, with its dramatic coastline and the iconic Snæfellsjökull glacier, becomes a place of stark beauty under the autumn sky. Meanwhile, the Eastfjords, less visited than other parts of the country, offer tranquillity alongside spectacular fjord landscapes.

Seasonal highlights

Autumn marks the beginning of the Northern Lights season, a phenomenon we eagerly anticipate each year. The darker nights provide a canvas for this celestial dance, with viewing opportunities increasing as the season deepens.

This season is also rich in cultural experiences, with various harvest festivals and events that allow us to delve deeper into Icelandic traditions. It’s a time when the country celebrates its bounty, and we often join in the festivities, from apple picking in the North to enjoying the new season’s first catch in coastal towns.

What to do

Hiking remains a popular activity in early autumn, with trails in the national parks offering stunning vistas of the changing foliage. It’s also an ideal time for hot spring visits; soaking in a geothermal pool surrounded by autumn’s palette is an experience unlike any other.

Whale watching continues into the early part of the season, and sea kayaking among the fjords offers a unique perspective on the country’s rugged coastline. For those of us drawn to the night sky, chasing the Northern Lights becomes a captivating pursuit, with various tours and spots around the country known for their optimal viewing conditions.

Iceland autumn pros and cons

Pros Cons
Beautiful autumn colours transform the landscape.
Weather becomes cooler and more unpredictable.
The Northern Lights season begins, offering spectacular displays.
Daylight hours decrease significantly by late autumn.
Fewer tourists, resulting in a more tranquil travel experience.
Some services and tours begin to wind down for the winter.
Ideal time for photography due to the soft lighting.
Higher chance of rain and stormy conditions.

What can I expect from Iceland in winter?

Winter in Iceland, spanning from December to February, immerses the island in a magical stillness and offers a distinct kind of beauty that draws adventurers and dreamers alike. Through our travels, we’ve uncovered the serene allure and vibrant culture that define Icelandic winters.

Weather and temperatures

Winter brings colder days with temperatures often hovering between -5°C to 3°C (23°F to 37°F). While it’s the darkest season, with short days and long nights, this creates the perfect backdrop for one of Iceland’s most magnificent natural phenomena – the Northern Lights. Packing warm and waterproof clothing is essential, as the weather can be unpredictable, ranging from clear, crisp days to snowy conditions.

Exploring the regions

The allure of Iceland’s winter landscape is undeniable. Reykjavik becomes a cosy haven, its streets lined with twinkling lights, offering warmth and cheer. Outside the city, the snow-covered landscapes, frozen waterfalls and ice caves offer a surreal beauty that is uniquely accessible during these colder months.

The South Coast’s waterfalls, like Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, take on a mystical appearance, partially frozen and framed by snow. Venturing into the ice caves beneath Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, becomes a highlight, offering a glimpse into a mesmerizing world of blue ice.

Seasonal highlights

The Northern Lights are, without a doubt, one of the main draws of Icelandic winters. The extended hours of darkness provide ample opportunity to witness the auroras’ dance across the sky, a sight that continues to captivate us year after year.

Winter festivals and cultural events, such as Þorrablót, the mid-winter feast, allow us to engage with Icelandic traditions and cuisine, offering insight into the country’s heritage. New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik, known for its impressive fireworks display, is a celebration we always look forward to, embodying the community spirit and festivity of the Icelandic people.

What to do

Winter activities in Iceland are plentiful, from snowmobiling on glaciers to soaking in geothermal hot springs amidst the snow. Dog sledding and horseback riding through the winter landscape offer unique ways to explore the countryside, while skiing and snowboarding are available for those seeking a more adrenaline-fueled experience.

Iceland winter pros and cons

Pros Cons
Prime season for Northern Lights viewing.
Very short days, with only a few hours of daylight in winter.
Winter landscape offers unique photographic opportunities.
Cold weather requires thorough preparation and clothing.
Fewer tourists, providing a more intimate experience of Iceland.
Potential for difficult travel conditions due to snow ice.
Activities like ice caving and glacier hiking are at their best.
Some attractions and roads might be inaccessible.
Vök Baths Austurland Iceland hot springs thermal bath

When are the peak and off-peak tourist seasons, and how will they affect my travel experiences?

Navigating through Iceland’s tourist seasons is akin to choosing the perfect moment for an unforgettable adventure. We’ve seen how the island transforms with the ebb and flow of visitors, shaping not just the landscape but our experiences within it.

Peak season

Summer, stretching from June to August, is when Iceland truly comes alive. It’s when we’ve basked in the glory of the Midnight Sun, marvelling at how the landscapes unfold in endless daylight. This is the season of abundance, not just in natural wonders but in the buzz of fellow travellers sharing the trails, the warmth of the locals hosting numerous festivals, and the vibrancy of Icelandic culture in full swing. While we’ve revelled in the energy of crowded sites and the lively atmosphere, we’ve also navigated the challenges of higher prices and the need to book our adventures well in advance.

Off-Peak season

The charm of visiting Iceland in the shoulder seasons – spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) – lies in the more intimate experience of its majesty. We’ve found these months to bring a quieter beauty, with fewer tourists and more moments of serenity amidst the shifting landscapes. It’s a time when we connect more deeply with the locals and enjoy the natural beauty at a more leisurely pace, often benefiting from lower travel costs.

Winter, from November to March, holds a special place in our hearts. It’s a season that cloaks the island in a quieter, reflective mood, perfect for those of us chasing the ethereal Northern Lights or simply looking to immerse in Iceland’s winter wonderland. The shorter days and cooler nights bring their own kind of magic, one that we have embraced with warm layers and open hearts, finding joy in the festive lights and the snow-draped tranquillity.

Lunga Seyðisfjörður Iceland art festival

What are the best times for specific activities and festivities?

Diving into Iceland’s calendar year, we’ve discovered that each season brings its own set of activities and festivities. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a nature lover or a culture enthusiast, knowing when to catch these experiences at their peak can elevate your Icelandic adventure.

Spring

In the spring, we’ve eagerly joined the locals in welcoming the return of longer days at the First Day of Summer celebration in April, a tradition rooted deep in Old Norse culture, marking the beginning of the brighter half of the year. This period is also prime for whale watching as migratory paths bring these majestic creatures closer to Iceland’s shores, particularly around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the North.

Summer

Summer in Iceland is synonymous with festivals that celebrate the sun that never sets. We’ve danced under the sky at the Secret Solstice Festival, an unforgettable experience that aligns with the summer solstice. The National Day on June 17th, commemorating Iceland’s independence, fills the streets with parades, concerts and family activities, showcasing a proud nation in full festive spirit.

Autumn

As autumn paints the island in vibrant colours, we’ve found ourselves amidst the magic of the Reykjavík International Film Festival. It’s a time when the art scene flourishes, inviting cinephiles and creators into intimate venues for screenings of international and local films. The onset of the darker nights also marks the beginning of the Northern Lights season, turning the sky into a canvas of ethereal beauty best observed from late September onwards.

Winter

Winter brings its own charm with Christmas markets popping up in towns and cities, enveloping the cold air with the warmth of holiday spirit, twinkling lights and the scent of traditional treats. But it’s the New Year’s Eve celebrations that truly capture the essence of Icelandic winter. With community bonfires creating beacons of light and fellowship across the island and a fireworks display that rivals any around the world, it’s a welcoming of the new year that stays with you forever.

Guide summer Iceland

What are the recommendations if I seek to avoid crowds while still enjoying Iceland’s beauty?

Seeking the serene beauty of Iceland without the hustle of crowds is an art we’ve honed over our travels. Here are some recommendations that have allowed us to enjoy the tranquillity of this majestic land, away from the busier paths.

Exploring the less-travelled Westfjords offers a retreat into some of Iceland’s most remote and stunning landscapes. Here, the cliffs, waterfalls and fjords stand in quiet majesty, often with no other soul in sight. The roads are more challenging, but the rewards are unparalleled in peace and beauty.

Early morning or late evening excursions to popular sites like the Golden Circle can also bypass the peak visitor times, allowing for a more personal experience with these wonders. The soft light of these hours adds a magical touch to the already breathtaking scenery.

Visiting during the shoulder seasons of late spring and early autumn presents a sweet spot. The rush of summer tourists has either not yet arrived or has left and many of Iceland’s attractions retain their allure with the added bonus of quieter surroundings.

Seeking out hidden gems that are off the usual tourist radar can lead to some of the most rewarding experiences. Places like the Hvalfjörður fjord, the Berserkjahraun lava fields or the charming town of Seyðisfjörður offer beauty and solitude in equal measure.

Finally, engaging with local guides and tours that specialize in off-the-beaten-path adventures can uncover secret spots unknown to most visitors. These experiences not only support local businesses but also offer insights into Iceland’s culture and nature that can’t be found in guidebooks.

What are the best months for specific wildlife sightings?

For wildlife enthusiasts, Iceland presents an array of opportunities to observe unique species in their natural habitats, each peaking in visibility at different times of the year.

Whale watching

The summer months from May to September are prime for whale watching, especially in Husavik, often dubbed the whale watching capital of Iceland. During this period, the calmer waters and warmer weather enhance the likelihood of spotting various whale species, including the humpback, minke and even the massive blue whales. Whale sightings are more frequent in June, July and August, aligning with their migration patterns to feed in the nutrient-rich Icelandic waters.

Puffins

These charming birds are a must-see, with their breeding season spanning from April to August. Notable locations for puffin spotting include the Westman Islands, home to Europe’s largest puffin colony and Látrabjarg cliffs in West Iceland. These areas allow for relatively close observation of puffins in their natural setting, especially during June to August when they are most active on land.

Seals

The Vatnsnes Peninsula in North Iceland is notable for seal watching, with the best chances of seeing grey and harbour seals along the coast. Summer offers the most reliable opportunities for seal sightings, complemented by informative exhibits at the Icelandic Seal Center, which provides insights into their habits and the best spots for observation.

Reindeer

For those interested in observing Iceland’s only native land mammal, the reindeer, East Iceland is the place to be. These majestic creatures are more commonly sighted around Snæfell and the East Fjords, where they migrate seasonally. While they roam the highlands during summer, they move to the warmer lowlands in winter, making them a unique sight against Iceland’s diverse landscapes.

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