Whilst Iceland has no trouble giving travellers 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 the best time to visit Iceland.
What is the best time to visit Iceland?
The best time to visit Iceland varies greatly depending on the activities and experiences you are seeking. For outdoor recreation, the months of June to September are ideal, offering mild weather and extended daylight hours, perfect for exploring Iceland's unique landscapes. For those eager to witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights, the darkest months of December to January are the most suitable. For snow sports enthusiasts, February to March is the prime time, with Iceland's winter landscapes providing perfect conditions for skiing and snowboarding. Lastly, if you prefer off-peak travel to avoid crowds and potentially lower costs, April to May is an excellent choice, offering a quieter yet equally beautiful experience of Iceland.
Best times to visit Iceland for good weather
The ideal time for favorable weather in Iceland is the summer season, extending from late June to September. Temperatures during this time range from 12°C-20°C, and the sunny setting in Reykjavik is a delight to experience. The vibrant purple lupines flourish over the meadows, making it an ideal time for hiking and exploring the natural beauty of Iceland.
Best times to visit Iceland with fewer crowds
Planning a trip to Iceland during the shoulder seasons of March, April, May, and September can help you avoid the tourist rush. During these transitional months between the peak and off-peak seasons, you can enjoy relatively good weather with fewer crowds. The sights and sounds of the glaciers, hot springs, and northern lights can be thoroughly enjoyed without the hordes of tourists.
Worst months to visit Iceland
The worst time to visit Iceland in terms of the weather and outdoor activities predominantly corresponds to the winter months, notably November, December, and January. During this period, the country faces extreme weather conditions featuring heavy snowfall and chilly temperatures. These elements, in conjunction with shorter daylight hours, make outdoor exploration quite challenging for all but the most adventure-loving visitors.
Aiming to beat the crowd? Then it's worth noting that June to August, despite being the best time for outdoor activities, are the months where the popular tourist spots like the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon see significant crowd inflow.
What are the travel seasons in Iceland
The best time visit Iceland doesn't always depend on the weather, but could be season related too. Let's dive deeper into Iceland seasons.
Iceland peak season
The peak travel season in Iceland spans from June to August. During these months, the country experiences the mildest weather, longest daylight hours, and offers the most activities. The radiant midnight sun is a spectacular sight in June and July. This period sees the highest tourist influx, making it the most vibrant but also the most crowded.
Considered the best time for outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking, it's also perfect for reveling in the rich wildlife of the country. It is particularly great for spotting whales and birds. However, the high footfall of tourists also means spiked prices and crowded destinations. It’s recommended to book accommodations, transportation and trips in advance if you plan to visit during the peak season.
Iceland shoulder season
Shoulder season in Iceland, consisting of May, September, and early October, offers a balanced mix of good weather, reasonable prices, and lesser crowds.
In May, the snow has begun to melt, the nights are filled with stunning sunset hues, and the low-season hotel rates can prove a steal. Attractions, however, are less crowded, and many museums and sites that close during the winter are now reopening. The weather can still be unpredictable, with a breeze and potential snow in the country's interior.
September and early October are glorious months for landscape photographers and aurora borealis chasers. It's an excellent time to witness the extended pink dawns and dusks that paint the Icelandic landscapes, and partake in daytime hiking with nighttime vigils for the Northern Lights. The weather is relatively pleasant for longer periods, making it an engaging time for stargazing.
Iceland low season
Iceland's low season stretches from mid-October to the end of April. The most prevailing challenge during this time is the extreme cold weather, with temperatures often plummeting to -30 degrees Celsius. Add to this the wind chill, and it can feel even colder. Daylight, too, becomes scarce, with December offering only about four hours of light each day.
But winter in Iceland also has its own charm and advantages. One major highlight during the low season is the breathtaking ice caves and glaciers that come into their prime, providing an arresting sight for nature lovers. Additionally, fewer tourists lead to less crowding at popular attractions and in towns.
On the downside, it's difficult to get off the beaten track due to road closures. Many outdoor activities and attractions close down during this period except for those catered to experienced winter adventurers. Despite these limitations, it's worth noting that low season is synonymous with lower travel costs and offers an entirely different perspective on Icelandic landscapes.
Best time to visit Iceland month by month
If you don't know what month will be best for you, read on about the best time to visit Iceland month by month.
Visiting Iceland in January
For those seeking tranquility and a magical winter wonderland, January is a fabulous time to visit Iceland. It is one of the quietest times, meaning key attractions are significantly less crowded. The days are short, with the sun rising around 11 am and setting around 4 pm. Even though these short dark days can mean reduced sightseeing time, they also increase your chances of witnessing the mesmerizing Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
The January landscape is covered in crisp white snow, providing a breathtakingly beautiful backdrop for winter activities such as snowmobiling, and ice cave exploration. Furthermore, thermal baths and hot springs offer a respite to the sub-zero temperatures, which can range between -10°C and 0 °C.
Visiting Iceland in February
Visiting Iceland in February allows you to experience the beauty of the country in its winter glory. Temperatures range between -10°C and 8 °C and the days provide more daylight hours than in January, though sunlight continues to hang low, giving Iceland a golden tinge, making for some fantastic photo opportunities.
One of the biggest attractions in February is the high probability of catching the Aurora Borealis, creating vivid displays in the Icelandic night sky. The sight is so captivating that it draws numerous tourists from around the world. Also, weather permitting, you can venture on iceberg, waterfall, or glacier tours outside the city.
Visiting Iceland in March
Visiting Iceland in March offers a unique blend of winter's beauty and the emerging signs of spring. This time of year is ideal for experiencing a mix of snow-covered landscapes and longer daylight hours, allowing for extended sightseeing. It's a fantastic period for winter activities like snowmobiling, glacier tours, and especially for viewing the Northern Lights, as the nights are still dark enough for their vivid display.
March in Iceland also marks the beginning of the whale watching season, providing an opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
Visiting Iceland in April
April is the harbinger of spring in Iceland and serves as an attractive time to visit. Days grow longer, with approximately 14 hours of sunlight, and the icy landscapes slowly start to thaw. The temperatures can range from 3-6°C, offering a relatively pleasant climate for outdoor activities.
While winter activities are winding down, there still might be some opportunities for snowmobiling or ice cave adventures, especially in the earlier part of the month. You can partake in brisk hiking excursions, taking in the crisp air and magnificent views as the country blossoms into spring. Southern Iceland regions around Skogafoss, Vik, and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon are particularly picturesque during these months.
Visiting Iceland in May
May is a fabulous time to visit Iceland, marking the transition from the shoulder season to the beginning of summer, with daily daylight hours surpassing fourteen. Temperatures range from 9°C to 12°C, providing an agreeable climate for various activities.
The onset of spring, coupled with lengthening days and the midnight sun, paints the country in vibrant colors. Landscapes become lush, and the blooming wildflowers add a special charm to the scenery.
Wildlife is another highlight of visiting Iceland in May. From whale watching tours to puffin-spotting excursions, wildlife enthusiasts are sure to enjoy their stay. The adorable puffin bird returns to the shores of Iceland starting in mid-April, so sightings are strongly probable in May.
Visiting Iceland in June
June marks the beginning of a spectacular summer season in Iceland when the country experiences the delightful phenomena of the midnight sun, with almost 24 hours of daylight and ample opportunities to explore the great outdoors.
Temperatures typically range from 9°C to 15°C, but the weather remains unpredictable, with bright sunny days often swiftly turning to heavy cloud cover or misty rain, so light layers and waterproof clothing come in handy.
The midnight sun is a sight to behold, it is when the sun is still visible even at midnight, creating a perpetual twilight. This phenomenon leads to some unforgettable memories and excellent photography opportunities.
Visiting Iceland in July
July embarks on the height of summer, marking it as one of the warmest and busiest months in Iceland. It punches in 24 hours of daylight, kicking off the enchanting 'Midnight Sun' period. Average temperatures rest between 10°C to 15°C, leading to pleasant, sunny days that make outdoor exploration inviting.
The month is noted for its long, lazy days that stretch till almost midnight, followed by the sun rising again around 4 am. Trails for hiking, including the famous Laugavegur trail and those of the usually inaccessible Highlands, pop open and the eerie late-night light is irresistible especially for photographers.
Whale watching tours are in full swing in Iceland in July, which teams beautifully with snow-free roads for drives and hikes around the country. The 'Midnight Sun' also simplifies long drives along the iconic Route 1 or 'Ring Road,' which wraps around the island with plenty of must-see locations along the way.
Visiting Iceland in Augustus
August is a veritable feast of summer in Iceland, making it a highly recommended time to visit. This month witnesses the country in full swing, with long daylight hours and temperatures generally ranging between 11°C and 15°C, slightly cooler than July but still warm relative to local standards.
Despite the summer rush, Iceland retains its freshness and appeal in August. The lush landscapes, blooming florals, and a voluminous burst of colors paint the most picturesque image of this Nordic land. Icelandic forests take on a remarkably green hue, lakes shimmer under the mild sun, and cascading waterfalls spring to life.
Visiting Iceland in September
September kicks off the autumn season in Iceland and serves up enchanting landscapes awash with oceans of red, brown, and gold—the best time to witness the country's fall foliage. The temperatures range between a comfortable 5°C (41°F) to 9°C (48°F). As the crowd thins out post the peak season rush, tranquil serenity sets in, and the country's beautiful destinations become less crowded.
One of the prime advantages of visiting Iceland in September is the opportunity to catch the Northern Lights. As daylight hours start to reduce, the equinox in mid-to-late September increases solar activity, making the conditions ideal for viewing this natural spectacle.
Visiting Iceland in October
October can be a magical time to visit Iceland, where the season shift from autumn to winter can be strongly felt. The weather becomes more unpredictable, with temperatures varying between 2°C (35°F) and 7°C (45°F), and the first snowflakes of the season might start to fall, dusting the already vibrant landscapes with a touch of winter's wonder.
While the days start to shrink significantly, the amazing spectacle of the Northern Lights becomes more prominent. This is one of the best times to chase the aurora borealis, with solar activity being high and less light pollution due to shorter days.
Natural wonders become a serene spectacle with pops of falling leaves colored in hues of red, orange, yellow, and brown. October is the last month when you can tour the highlands before the roads close for winter. Therefore, it's a great time to visit Landmannalaugar, Thórsmörk, or other highland attractions.
Visiting Iceland in November
Visiting Iceland in November means embracing winter's arrival as temperatures dip between -2°C to 3°C, becoming colder as the month progresses. The days also get significantly shorter, with roughly 6-8 hours of daylight, providing a whole different range of experiences to explore under darker skies.
Arguably the star attraction during this time is the mesmerizing Northern Lights, which make their appearance more reliably as nights get longer. A late-night sweep to chase these mystical lights can turn out to be a highlight of your trip.
Although the weather is chilly, the snowy landscapes and the waterfalls clad in winter dress present another level of beauty. November offers the opportunity for some unique winter activities like glacier hiking and exploring newly formed ice caves. Adventurers can also go snowmobiling on glaciers or try their hand at winter sports.
Visiting Iceland in December
Stepping into Iceland in December is like striding into a fairytale-like winter wonderland. With average temperatures ranging from -1°C to -5°C, this month delivers the country's most intense winter experiences, complete with snowfall, nearly round-the-clock darkness, and an enchanting Christmas atmosphere.
Look beyond the short daylight hours, and you'll find a capital city that's a slice of holiday magic. Reykjavík comes alive in December with Christmas lights illuminating the city, streets adorned with decorations, and 13 jovial Santa Clauses, the Yule Lads, bringing holiday cheer.
Furthermore, New Year's Eve in Iceland is a sight to behold. Locals and tourists alike gather to build bonfires and set off fireworks, making for a memorable experience and a spectacular welcome to the coming year.
For the most accurate live weather updates, you can check Accuweather.
Best time to see the Northern Light in Iceland
To witness the Northern Lights at their peak, aim for the winter months between September and April. This period, characterized by long, dark nights, contrasts sharply with the bright summer nights in Iceland, offering optimal conditions for observing this natural phenomenon.
Make sure to read our article about the best places to see the Northern Light in Iceland.
Between September and April
The ideal time to spot the mesmerizing Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights in Iceland ranges from September to April. The period perfectly coincides with Iceland's darker months, providing ample nighttime hours for this natural light spectacle to shine through.
As sunlight begins to recede in October, the duration of darkness gradually lengthens, bringing increased opportunities to see the Northern Lights. The display grows more pronounced from November to January, albeit with shorter daylight hours and extreme cold weather. However, clear skies during these months contribute to better visibility.
It's important to be aware that Northern Lights sightings are naturally unpredictable, relying on solar activity and sky clarity. Create a flexible itinerary to adapt to cloud cover or solar activity changes.
Tracking weather and solar activity through reliable online resources like the Icelandic Meteorological Office or websites providing Aurora Forecasts can help you gauge the most suitable nights for viewing the lights.
Best places to see the Northern Lights
The magical Northern Lights can be seen across Iceland during winter months, but there are some places that offer particularly stunning views due to minimal light pollution:
- Thingvellir National Park: Being a UNESCO World Heritage site and away from the city lights, this park offers a darker sky, providing an optimal setting for viewing the Northern Lights.
- Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: The floating icebergs on the lagoon add an otherworldly charm to the backdrop of the Northern Lights, resulting in visually stunning scenes.
- Vik: Located south of Reykjavik, the town of Vik, with its black sand beaches, offers a serene and somewhat surreal location to view the Northern Lights, with the dancing lights reflecting off the ocean waves.
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula: Enhanced by its remote location, the peninsula offers an excellent platform for Northern Lights viewing, with the added feature of the famous Kirkjufell mountain as a gorgeous backdrop.
- Grotta Lighthouse, Reykjavik: If you're based in Reykjavik and don't want to venture too far, the area around the Grotta Lighthouse offers one of the best viewpoints in the city. It's still crucial to have a clear and dark night for the best viewing experience.
Remember that viewing the Northern Lights is heavily dependent on the right weather conditions and solar activity. Therefore, keep a close eye on the forecast and be prepared to change your plans accordingly. It's always recommended to join a Northern Lights tour, wherein expert guides can take you to the best locations based on real-time forecasts and conditions.
Planning for your Iceland road trip
Embarking on an Iceland road trip? Our guide helps you navigate this breathtaking landscape, ensuring a memorable journey through Iceland's natural wonders, from volcanic terrains to icy vistas. Let's get your adventure on the road!
Iceland's Ring Road – when you have time
Iceland's Ring Road, also known as Route 1, encircles the entire country, providing the chance to see the best of Iceland's breathtaking landscapes. Spanning 1,322 kilometers or 821 miles, it's an exceptional drive that can be completed year-round, but the best months for travel are between April and October when the weather is generally calmer.
The least duration advised to drive the scenic stretch is one week, but 10-14 days are recommended to immerse fully in the Icelandic landscapes and diverse attractions. This extended travel period provides enough leeway to explore major attractions such as Geysir, Thingvellir National Park, Vatnajökull National Park, Skaftafell National Park, the black sand beaches of Vik, the charming town of Akureyri, Myvatn, and much more.
You can drive in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, with accommodation options varying from hotels to guesthouses and camping sites along the way.
Pack plenty of food, water, and supplies for your journey, check road and weather conditions regularly, and ensure to fuel up wherever possible, as gas stations can be at a considerable distance apart.
Make sure to check Safetravel.is for the most recent updates.
Short road trips in Iceland
If time-constrained or preferring shorter trips, you'll be glad to know that Iceland boasts several shorter yet utterly mesmerizing road trips. Here a few recommendations:
- The Golden Circle: One of the most popular routes, the Golden Circle, is an easy day trip from Reykjavik. This 300 km loop covers notable sights like Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.
- The Blue Diamond Road: This route circles the Reykjanes Peninsula, located near Reykjavik and Keflavík International Airport, making it an easy day trip. This region is home to the famous Blue Lagoon as well as an array of lava fields, geothermal areas, bird cliffs, and beautiful coastline.
- South Coast Drive: A drive along the South Coast up to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach offers hulking glaciers, pristine beaches, beautiful waterfalls, and other natural wonders, all within 370 km from Reykjavik.
- The Arctic Coast Way and the Diamond Circle: Both situated in North Iceland, each route presents awe-inspiring landscapes, with the Arctic Coast Way encompassing 900 km of northern coastline, and the Diamond Circle featuring notable attractions like Dettifoss Waterfall and Myvatn Nature Baths in just 260 km.
Best time to visit Iceland: events and festivals
Iceland's holiday calendar blends Christian and secular traditions, with some festivals dating back to pagan times. Familiar celebrations like Christmas, Easter Monday, and New Year are observed similarly to other Western nations.
The midwinter celebration Þorrablót, rooted in the Viking era, honors the weather god Þorri. Held throughout February, it features parties centered around traditional Icelandic foods like svið and hákarl.
Sjomannadagur (Seamen’s Day) on June 4 is a significant holiday, marked by community events such as mock sea-rescue demonstrations and swimming races. Independence Day on June 17 commemorates Iceland's separation from Denmark in 1944.
Jónsmessa, on June 24, while not an official holiday, is steeped in folklore, believed to be a time when elves and magical creatures are active. Celebrations often include bonfires and, according to tradition, running around naked for good health.
Verslunnarmannahelgi, akin to a Labour Day Weekend, occurs on the first weekend of August. Icelanders traditionally camp in the countryside, engaging in extensive celebrations. Concurrently, Heimaey in the Westman Islands hosts Þjódhátið, featuring live music and bonfires, marking Iceland’s partial political autonomy achieved in 1874.
An event of note is the annual stock round-up, or rettir, in September. During this time, horses and sheep are herded from summer pastures by riders on horseback, with some farms allowing guests to observe or participate in the sorting process.