When to Visit Iceland
When to Visit Iceland
Our Guide on When to Visit Iceland
Iceland has become one of the world’s “hottest” destinations and one of the most Instagrammable. Its name might make you think that it’s a frozen wasteland, yet it’s anything but. In fact, Iceland enjoys a temperate climate all year long with winters typically bringing temperatures that hover right around freezing, similar or even warmer than many places in America’s northeast and certainly Midwest states like Minnesota and South Dakota.
In order to figure out when to book that flight, you’ll want to think about everything you’d like to see and do as the time of year, in some cases, will determine what’s available. For example, famous attractions like the hot springs and waterfalls can be enjoyed year-round, but the northern lights, midnight sun, and ice cave tours can only be experienced during certain months.
That said, regardless of the time of year, you’ll want to have wind and water-resistant layers on hand even in the summer as rain and winds can occur anytime despite it being the mildest (and the busiest) time of year in Iceland. Here there really is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes choices, but we’ll break it down further to help you choose when to plan your visit to Iceland.
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April and May
Spring can be an ideal time to visit Iceland. April is quiet in terms of tourists and if skies are clear, you might even be able to catch some aurora activity. Temperatures will still be rather chilly averaging in the mid-30s to low 40s Fahrenheit (2 to 5°C) with rain or snow possible.
Visiting in May, you’re more likely to get sunshine with average temperatures ranging from the low to upper 40s Fahrenheit (5 to 9°C) depending on the specific location. The crowds of summer won’t have arrived yet while activities are now opening up again and the Ring Road is more likely to be fully accessible. Puffins will be returning, nesting in large numbers along the coast, and toward the latter half of the month, lupines will be blooming, and lambs will be frolicking across the countryside.
Good to Know: As late as May, snow and other extreme weather can disrupt plans, especially in higher elevation areas.
June – August
Summer is the high season Iceland, the time that most visitors come so you’ll want to book your reservations well in advance and except to pay peak prices. The midnight sun brings nearly endless daylight, and the country also experiences the best weather of the year with temperatures hovering around the mid-50s (12 to 13°C).
Around the summer solstice the sun barely dips below the horizon, ideal for hiking without the crowds at hours well into the night and to take advantage of fantastic lighting for photos. That said, during the day the major attractions like the waterfalls on the south coast and the Golden Circle attract hordes of tourists, so you’ll want to plan accordingly to avoid them. It’s a great time for whale watching and there will be many festivals taking place across the island, celebrating culture, food, and the arts.
Good to Know: In Reykjavik, you can party all night at the Secret Solstice music festival.
Visitor numbers diminish now, but attractions and activities are still available. There’s a greater chance for rain and it will be slightly cooler, with occasional snow possible in the highlands, but you might be able to witness the colorful northern lights on clear nights.
Temperatures dip to an average of 45° to 50°F (7° to 10°C) in September and in some areas, you’ll be able to enjoy the colors of autumn too. October is the rainiest month of the year, but there are even fewer visitors now and you might find some discounted accommodation rates. With the increased chance for adverse weather, there’s a higher risk of road closures so your travel options will be more limited, generally to the south coast, the west and north.
Good to Know: October is a transition month between summer and winter. Many summer tours run until snow blocks the road, while winter tours requiring little darkness are operating too.
November marks the arrival of the Icelandic winter, bringing a higher likelihood of catching the aurora borealis and the opportunity to enjoy activities like ice cave tours. Temperatures are now averaging in the 30s Fahrenheit (0 to 3°C) with the coldest experienced in December and January. This is when the days are much shorter and the nights are long which means you’ll need to carefully plan tours to make the most of the daylight available, although this may be the best time to see the northern lights. February often means clear days with brilliant sunshine creating a sparkle against endless snowy landscapes. This isn’t the time to explore the highlands or drive the Ring Road, but it is possible to go winter whale watching in the waters off the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Good to Know: New Year’s Eve brings the biggest party of the year to Icelandic streets, with bonfires lit, firework displays, plenty of song and drink.
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