Whilst Iceland has no trouble giving travelers a reason to visit all year round, the seasons vary hugely, due to how north the country sits. Iceland's geographical position not only affects the weather, but also the hours of daylight you can expect to have. These, alongside the best times to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are crucial factors in deciding when to go to Iceland.
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When is the best time to visit Iceland?
When it comes to visiting Iceland for the first time, the chances are that you've got one of two things on your mind: seeing the Northern Lights or experiencing the Midnight Sun. These two natural phenomena are a huge draw for visitors to the country. And both, unsurprisingly, are not possible to see at the same time of year.
Major natural phenomena aside, Iceland is covered in dramatic natural landscapes and makes the perfect adventure playground for hikers, horse riders, and those who love exploring the great outdoors. So if you’re trying to figure out when to visit Iceland, pick out what you really want to see and do, then read on to find out the ideal time to go:
Are hiking and outdoor activities the main items on the itinerary? Want to spot a whale? Then you'll benefit from the long days of summer. Best time to visit Iceland: June to August.
Keen to experience cosy Nordic interiors, snowy landscapes and catch a glimpse of the magical Northern Lights (no promises)? Best time of year to visit Iceland: September to mid-April.
It's worth bearing in mind that most museums and attractions are only open from late May to early September, and it’s at these times, too, that buses run their fullest schedules. Also, in winter daylight is limited to a few hours – in Reykjavík, sunrise isn’t until almost 11am in December and the sun is already sinking slowly back towards the horizon after 1pm.
Climate in Iceland
It just so happens that the weather in Iceland is notoriously unpredictable. In summer there’s a fair chance of bright and sunny days, and temperatures can reach 17°C, but good weather in Iceland is often interspersed with wet and misty spells when the temperature can plummet to a chilly 10°C. Winter weather in Iceland is a frosty and dark affair with temperatures fluctuating at 7–8°C either side of freezing point.
Average temperature and rainfall
We’ve put together an average temperature and rainfall chart to give you a rough idea of what to expect of the weather in Iceland in any given month. We’ve looked at the weather in Reykjavík, the capital, as it's where many people choose to base themselves and so provides a good basis to help you decide when’s the best time to visit Iceland.
Best month to visit Iceland
Broadly speaking, the summer months, June through August are the best months to visit Iceland for all-round outdoor activities. These include hiking, horse riding, whale- and puffin- spotting. The days are especially long in summer, peaking June – July during the Midnight Sun, when it’s never truly dark.
The Northern Lights
If the Northern Lights are on your must-see list, head to Iceland from September to April – with February to March, and then September to October, being the optimum months – although, of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to witness the amazing spectacle.
Daylight hours and the Midnight Sun
Although almost all of Iceland lies south of the Arctic Circle and therefore doesn’t experience a true Midnight Sun, nights are light from mid-May to early August across the country; in the north, the sun never fully sets during June.
When to visit Iceland in winter
Visiting Iceland in December — February
In winter – which as far as tourism is concerned lasts from October to May – many operators close completely, and those that remain open concentrate on the Northern Lights, four-wheel-driving, and glacier exploration along the fringes of the southern ice caps, as the Interior itself is definitely off-limits by then. While bigger agents in Reykjavík (and, increasingly, right along the south coast) offer trips almost daily in winter, don’t expect to be able to just turn up at a small town off-season and get onto a tour – most will require a few days’ advance warning in order to arrange everything.
December to February sees Iceland at its iciest and its coldest. You’ll need a 4WD for many of the mountain roads and you may find many of them closed during the iciest months.
During the winter months you can see killer whales just offshore from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the west coast, and from mid-December to March tours operate from Grundarfjördur to see the Orcas.
You can take a dip in a spa any time of year but a winter plunge is quite an experience (the contrast of the hot steaming water and freezing temperature of the air around, while the cold vapour can freeze your hair solid). The Blue Lagoon on the Reykjanes Peninsula is Iceland’s most famous hot spa but there are countless other geothermal pools, such as the Hveragerði’s Geothermal Park – also in southwestern Iceland.
When to visit Iceland in spring
Visiting Iceland in March – May
You will find that a lot of things are still closed or out of bounds at this time of year, but Iceland will start to be waking up. You might find a lot of snow melting (depending on where you are) and fewer tourists. Also, although it’s still rather cold, the days are bright.
However, the bus routes won’t be up-and-running at full capacity and a lot of guest houses will be closed, so if you go at this time of year, research your area well, take the right clothing, and plan how you will be travelling from place to place. Everything should be booked in advance so you aren’t left high and dry.
When to visit Iceland in summer
Visiting Iceland in June – August
This is the prime time to visit Iceland, so, unsurprisingly, it’s also the busiest time. You can make the most of the Midnight Sun, those long days when it never really gets dark, to see as much as you can of Iceland’s unique landscapes and enjoy activities in the great outdoors. Trekking opportunities are limitless. There’s isolated Hornstrandir, or Skaftafell National Park with its beautiful summer meadows, for example, and Landmannalauger, for hiking trails and bubbling hot springs. Closer to Reykjavík, you can make your way over desolate lava rubble on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Puffin-spotting trips operate during summer months, such as at Dyrhólaey in South Iceland, the Westman islands (Vestmannaeyjar), Látrabjarg in the Westfjords, Tjörnes or Grímsey in North Iceland, the Melrakkey islands just off the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and islands near Reykjavík.
The peak season for whale spotting is June to August, although you can go any time of year. You’ll get calmer winds in summer, fewer storms and a higher chance of the whales breaking the surface of the water. Book a whale tour well in advance – off the west coast and the northeast off Husavik, for example, where you might see sperm whales, fin whales, orcas, humpback and minke whales.
When to visit Iceland in autumn/fall
Visiting Iceland in September – November
Although temperatures really drop in September and the days get shorter, fewer visitor numbers can be a worthwhile tradeoff. Also, the fall brings delicate colours to the landscape.
But by October you’ll have fewer daylight hours for sightseeing and snow can render some roads impassable.
While a lot of other activities start shutting down at this time of year, Northern Lights tourism is thriving. And if seeing the Northern Lights is a priority, September to October are optimum months. At this time of year we advise planning ahead and working out transportation and accommodation before you go.