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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

When is the best time of year and season to visit Iceland?

Updated: Sep 4, 2023


Hjálparfoss waterfall in summer, winter, autumn, and spring
Hjálparfoss waterfall in summer, winter, autumn, and spring

Summer has always been the best season to visit Iceland and travel around this remarkable country. Years ago, before international tourism set foot in Iceland, we Icelanders only traveled during the summers—around the country and into the Highland for camping and hiking. Summer in Iceland stretches over three months, from the beginning of June to the end of August. And even though summer only lasts for three months, it is by far the best time to explore the country. It is the most favorable time for any road trip—be it a tour of the Westfjords, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and Reykjanes Peninsula or just a simple drive to the Ring Road, or even a day-long excursion to one or more of the many magnificent natural wonders it is host to. There are numerous reasons for this period being the most suitable time to visit Iceland.

There are many interesting options available to take advantage of the 24 hour sunlight in summer in Iceland
There are many interesting options available to take advantage of the 24 hour sunlight in summer in Iceland


 

Summer in Iceland


Summer at Gjáin oasis in Iceland
Summer at Gjáin oasis in Iceland

Since Iceland is situated in the planet’s northernmost part, hinging the arctic circle, this place is never warm, even during summers, unlike most countries worldwide. Additionally, the weather here always remains rather unpredictable. In the summer months, however, the temperature varies from around 6 °C to 18 °C (42 °F to 60 °F). The weather itself stays relatively calm and stable—the gusts of winds and rainy days are but an occasional occurrence (the precipitation is around 6 mm–10mm). More importantly, during summer, all the roads are open, well-maintained, and comfortable to drive on. Visibility on the roads is good, and it is by far the best time to drive around the Icelandic countryside. It would also do you some good to remember that Iceland is an extremely small island, and you can easily drive from one end of the country to another, all in a day’s time. The distance from Reykjavík to one of the easternmost towns Egillsstaðir is only about 650 kilometers (around 403 miles)! If you follow the weather forecast, you can easily change your travel plans without muddling up your itinerary.

Iceland is the perfect country to travel in a rent a car on your own
Iceland is the perfect country to travel in a rent a car on your own

The most beautiful season, and 24 hours of daylight

One advantage is to take long hikes to spectacular places
One advantage is to take long hikes to spectacular places

Since most travelers visit Iceland to feast their eyes on one or more of its natural wonders, summer is the most beautiful season for this indulgence. In summers, everything in Iceland is blooming and bursting with colors. It is also the most suitable time for camping and any other kind of outdoor activities. All restaurants, hotels, camping grounds stay open in every town and village along the coastline. It is during summers when the Icelandic wilderness, the Icelandic Highland, are also accessible by travelers. And, of course, last but not the least of its lures, this is also the time of the year when Iceland receives 24 hours of daylight and basks in the warmth of the midnight sun. For all these reasons and more, summer is truly the most wonderful time to visit Iceland. And, as for families, those travelling with young adventurous minds, the country offers the most unique vacation spot.


Tours and activities during summer

One option during summer is to visit the many interesting places in the Highland
One option during summer is to visit the many interesting places in the Highland

Everything that the country has to offer in terms of activities and adventure tours is available in the summer months. It is a great time to watch whales and puffins go for sea tours and tread on glaciers. It is an excellent time to hike, and is, at times, the only time to enjoy these exceptional activities. The greatest variety of short tours to exotic places, spectacular landscapes, or highland adventures can be relished at this time. This is also the most excellent time to enjoy Reykjavík—the one-of-its-kind small city with its colorful nightlife that unfolds on bright and sunny nights.


Accommodation in summer

The small village of Fáskrúðsfjörður is an example of a great place to accommodate when driving the Ring Road
The small village of Fáskrúðsfjörður is an example of a great place to accommodate when driving the Ring Road

With Iceland’s ever-growing tourist appeal, finding proper and affordable accommodation during summer can be very difficult. Often, most, if not all, hotels and guest houses are more or less fully booked for the summer in March and April. So, if you are planning to travel during the summer months, you must book early. Accommodation is expensive at this time, only getting pricier as summer approaches. One alternative, of course, is to camp at some of the spectacular sites around the country. It is definitely one of the advantages you can enjoy during summer. And for this, you should remember that almost every town and village in Iceland boasts a good camping site and great swimming pools with great showers.


The bottom line for summer - the best time to visit Iceland

Summer is a great time to visit Gullfoss and the Golden Circle
Summer is a great time to visit Gullfoss and the Golden Circle

Anyone who is planning to have a great vacation in Iceland should visit the country in the summer months. It is the best time to witness its most fascinating natural wonders, bask in its exquisite weather, enjoy long hours of daylight, and make the most of hikes and camping in its remarkable courtside. It is also the perfect time to enjoy the tranquil places and personal sanctuaries, appreciate the beauty of the highland, and to explore the entire country overall. It is also the only time when every service and every tour operator is open for business along the coastline as well as the inlands.


 

Autumn in Iceland


Autumn in Iceland is especially interesting for photographers
Autumn in Iceland is especially interesting for photographers

Like summer, the fall or autumn is also an excellent season for visiting Iceland, but in a different way and for different reasons. Around this time, the weather starts getting colder, and the days shorter. But this is also the season that offers spectacular light and clear skies— the time when frost and snow is just approaching.

The changes in sunlight during autumn is often a great addition to the tour
The changes in sunlight during autumn is often a great addition to the tour

Weather and roads in autumn/fall

Autumn in Iceland is a great season for photograpers
Autumn in Iceland is a great season for photograpers

Autumn or fall begins in September and stays till the middle of November. The temperature remains at around 1 °C to 9 °C (34 °F to 48 °F). During this period, travelers can expect snowfall, since the temperature plummets considerably by this time, especially in late October and November (rainfall is around 9 mm– 16mm). As you can see, compared to summer temperatures, the autumn temperatures show a considerable decline. Most roads are open and fairly easy to traverse, apart from the possibility of slippery roads if the temperature falls below 0 °C (32 °F). This is particularly true for roads at higher altitudes, mountain passes, and the Highland roads. Driving is not as easy as it is in summer, requiring more preparation and caution. But, it is also important to understand that most of the highland roads close in late September or at least around the beginning of October.


Autumn/fall is the preferred season and time for photography lovers and people who don't like crowded locales.

Early snow in the Highland is often a great addition to the landscape
Early snow in the Highland is often a great addition to the landscape in autumn

Despite all the limitations, the season also offers some advantages! For starters, the sky is mostly much clearer during the cold season. For professional photographers, September and October are the most suitable months for photography in Iceland. The landscape still presents itself in all its colors, and the weather conditions and lighting enhances everything. It is probably the most excellent time for photography, as the golden hour in this part of the world is longer than that in many other countries, thus offering photographers some great opportunities. Moreover, often in the months of September and October, a film of snow covers the mountains, especially the peaks, awarding the landscape and some of the natural wonders with a magnificent backdrop. The country sees fewer travelers at this time, and some of the popular destinations are not as crowded as during the summer months. For those who can plan a trip in autumn, this is a splendid opportunity; and you can also pay homage to the Highland more or less throughout September and even in October.


The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) begin to appear in September.

September is the time when the Northern Lights start to kick in
September is the time when the Northern Lights start to kick in

This is also the season when you start to see the Northern Lights as the days become progressively shorter and darkness descends earlier in the evenings. In September and October, the twilight zone is between 9 am and 10 am. Some of the most spectacular Northern Lights sightings in Iceland are seen and photographed in late September and October. Waiting to see the spectacular lights is more comfortable in fall, as the temperature is much lower in October, compared to in January and February, when many visitors tend to look and wait for the Northern Lights.


Accommodation during autumn and fall


In autumn the selection and prices are often better than in summer
In autumn the selection and prices are often better than in summer

During this time of the year, most of the camping areas are closed, and camping is not a recommended pursuit. It is, of course, possible, if you are well prepared with tents and sleeping bags that can sustain freezing temperatures. That’s why most visitors prefer to find hotels or any cozier indoor accommodation. Iceland has never been considered a pleasant place for camping for the average person, unless one is visiting in the summer. Even in autumn, the weather is less predictable compared to summers, and anyone would like to be indoors as the weather grows colder.


The bottom line for autumn/fall

The Highland and places like Landmannalaugar are often great to visit during early autumn
The Highland and places like Landmannalaugar are often great to visit during early autumn

Although I have put autumn in second place, it is still a great time to visit Iceland. The advantages for photographers is obvious. Moreover, this period offers less congestion of roads, which is essential at a time when most of the natural wonders are still accessible. This time of the year is probably less expensive in terms of accommodation, but simultaneously, you cannot take advantage of the possibility of lowering your travel budget by camping. The added attraction of witnessing and photographing the Northern Lights is definitely an advantage fall trips have over summer ones. But, if you are not specifically interested in photography, summer is probably a better choice for you.


 

Winter in Iceland



Winter by Skógafoss waterfall (frozen) in Iceland
Winter by Skógafoss waterfall (frozen) in Iceland

The period from the middle of October till February is a somewhat difficult time visiting Iceland if you are planning a vacation. The main reason behind this is the weather, which is often quite harsh and unpredictable, with strong winds and snowstorms. You must consider these factors if you plan to visit Iceland during winter. There is, of course, a marked difference between winter and summer seasons in the northern hemisphere. Although complicated, visiting Iceland during winter also has some exciting advantages.


Weather and roads in winter

Driving in winter in Iceland can be difficult
Driving in winter in Iceland can be difficult

Even though the weather is sometimes quite harsh during winters, the temperature range remains surprisingly narrow. The temperature varies around –3°C to 7°C (26 °F to 42 °F). Often during winters, the temperature stays around 3 °C (32 °F) for days and even weeks. But, during this time, you can expect snowfall, since the temperature obviously falls considerably compared to summers (rainfall is around 12 mm–16 mm at this time). More importantly, the chilly winds exaggerates the temperature. Moreover, driving in winters is quite different from other seasons. It is simply difficult, as the roads are slippery, especially those beyond towns and villages. If you intend to see some of Iceland’s natural wonders, keep in mind that many of the interesting ones are not accessible at this time, and the roads leading to them that stay open and accessible are difficult to drive on. Opting for a guided tour with drivers who are familiar with the roads and trained to drive in winters would be a safer alternative.


Winter is a good time to enjoy the Northern Lights and frozen waterfalls

Winter is a great time to see the Norhern Lights in Iceland
Winter is a great time to see the Norhern Lights in Iceland

Iceland does offer some exciting options during winter. Frozen waterfalls are a spectacular site and an enticing motive for photography and an excellent background for selfies. Hot springs with frozen surroundings offer another such spot. However, your vacations at this time can be more challenging and require a bit more planning as many restaurants and services remain closed in some of the towns and villages around the country. Although, in the capital, Reykjavík, and the surrounding city area, everything stays open. In these months, camping is not possible as very few camping sites stay open. Camping is only possible for those in camping sites with access to electricity. Despite all of this, the winter months do have a lot to offer, and one of our most famous attractions during winter is the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Iceland is a great place to witness the spectacle of the Northern Lights, probably one of the best places on the planet, as we claim and discuss in our article. Experiencing the Northern lights in a country like Iceland where the Aurora Borealis is extremely distinct and prominent certainly allows an unforgettable experience.

Þórsmörk in winter
Þórsmörk in winter

And, although many natural wonders are not accessible during this season, some are. Visiting waterfalls, such as Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Goðafoss, and Gullfoss, or geothermal areas and geysers is a spectacular experience in winter. So, there are indeed some advantages this season offers, and although the weather can be harsh, it can also remain relatively calm and pleasant for days, and the sunlight during winter is often quite distinct in the short days, with its subdued pink glow. Although a more difficult time to visit and one that takes more careful planning, winter has many advantages. Visiting Reykjavík on New Year’s eve and witnessing the most spectacular firework show on the planet is also an attraction in favor of visiting Iceland in winter.


Accommodation in winter

Gullfoss waterfall in winter
Gullfoss waterfall in winter

Winter in Iceland is more or less considered a low season, although, it does, in fact, remain surprisingly frequented. It is better to get good hotel prices in winter, as there are more offers at this time. There is also better availability in Reykjavík and more so outside the capital city area. However, despite this, it is safer to book your hotel or guest house weeks in advance. It is usually not a good idea to come to Iceland without booking a hotel or accommodation before arriving.


The bottom line in winter

New Year's Eve in Reykjavík Iceland
New Year's Eve in Reykjavík Iceland

Winter is an adventurous time to visit Iceland. It is the perfect time to see the Northern Lights, the time to visit the Ice Caves, and a time for harsh environment and unpredictable weather. But, even though it may be a little tougher, if you have the proper gear, clothing, and conveyance, it will be quite different from anything you can experience. If you know what to expect and make adequate preparations, you can end up having an incredible vacation.

 

Spring in Iceland


Gullfoss waterfall in spring
Gullfoss waterfall in spring

The months of March till May are the least interesting, and in the opinion of the natives, the least favorable time to visit Iceland. Most of the landscape is gray and colorless at this time. The island is emerging from the clutches of winter during these months, and all the places stay a little wet and muddy, as the winter snow melts. The grass is lifeless, and most of the vegetation does not gain vitality and color. Some tracks to important natural wonders remain slippery and muddy and some even stay closed.

Weather and roads in Spring

Driving in spring in Iceland, roads and conditions
Driving in spring in Iceland, roads and conditions

The temperature at this time of year is around –3°C in March up to 12°C in May (26 °F to 53 °F). However, during spring, the weather stays reasonably warm and stable, and rainfall is around 9 mm–12 mm. More importantly, although many roads remain open, all of the highland roads are closed, and many mountain passes and mountain roads remain closed or difficult to navigate. Serious maintenance of most of the roads after winter is resumed in May, so most of the gravel roads are difficult to drive on. This only means that there are all kinds of road and driving-related limitations in Spring.

A time to stay near the shore and on asphalt roads

Veggitation is a bit brown and yellow in the spring
Veggitation is a bit brown and yellow in the spring

Although at this time, the natural wonders can be enjoyed. Everything is, of course, relatively a bit dull, and in many places, the snowdrifts are yet to melt by this time. Consequently, some of those places are either hidden or half-covered in snow. The overall landscape is a bit muddy and dirty, and for photographers, this is not a good time to visit Iceland. It is an excellent time for visiting the Blue Lagoon though, to visit museums, drive around the Golden Circle, stay in Reykjavík, and drive around the Reykjanes Peninsula, as many of the exciting tourist attractions are situated by the shore and respond faster to the change in season than places at higher altitude. So, there is a possibility that some of the natural wonders such as waterfalls and basalt column sites will be in the process of acquiring interesting shapes at this time. But, Iceland is still not as exciting or beautiful as it is during summer.

Accommodation in spring

Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue is stunning in every season
Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue is stunning in every season

During this time of the year, it is relatively easy to catch a good deal for accommodation. You can find some excellent places outside Reykjavík if you are traveling the south shore or Snæfellsnes Peninsula, compared to summers. So there are, of course, some advantages spring offers.


The bottom line for spring

The shoreline is interesting during spring in every region in Iceland
The shoreline is interesting during spring in every region in Iceland

On the whole, it is a relatively uninspiring time to visit Iceland. There are a few things that stand out, such as the marvelous natural wonders in summers, Northern Lights in autumn, and the frozen waterfalls and ice caves in winter. But, still, the days are agreeably long, and if you stick to places by the shore and places you can reach by asphalt roads, you will find lesser crowds and more affordable accommodation during this season.

As for those who really want to enjoy the best Iceland has to offer, I would advise them to avoid visiting at this time of the year.

Understanding what you are looking for when planing a visit to Icealnd

Bjarnarfoss waterfall at Snæfellsnes Peninsula in spring time
Bjarnarfoss waterfall at Snæfellsnes Peninsula in spring time

So, when you plan to visit Iceland, you need to consider and understand exactly what you desire. Travelling to see a natural wonder or some exciting place, only to find it is not accessible and will not be so for months upon approaching is not a pleasant prospect. Just as you cannot drive in the Highland during winters, you do not visit Iceland during summers to see the Northern Lights. Find out what you are looking for and what you want to see before you organize a tour that suits your interest, specifically keeping in mind the best season to visit Iceland.



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