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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

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

An honest opinion from a local expert with decades of experience traveling in Iceland

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 around the country and into the Highland for camping and hiking during the summer. 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


Since Iceland is located in the planet’s northernmost region, near the Arctic Circle, it experiences consistently cool temperatures, even in the summer months, which sets it apart from many other countries around the world. The weather in Iceland is notoriously unpredictable, adding an element of excitement and challenge to any visit. During the summer, temperatures typically range from 6 °C to 18 °C (42 °F to 60 °F), creating a relatively mild and stable climate. While occasional gusts of wind and rainy days can occur, the average precipitation levels range from 6 mm to 10 mm, making it generally manageable for travelers.


Excellent road conditions in summer

One of the highlights of visiting Iceland in the summer is the excellent road conditions. All roads are open, well-maintained, and easy to drive, providing smooth and comfortable journeys through the picturesque Icelandic landscapes. The visibility on the roads is usually good, enhancing the driving experience and allowing travelers to explore the stunning countryside easily. Given Iceland's compact size as a small island, it is possible to traverse the entire country in a single day, with the distance from Reykjavík to the easternmost town of Egillsstaðir measuring only about 650 kilometers (approximately 403 miles).


For travelers planning a trip to Iceland, staying updated on the weather forecast is crucial, as it can swiftly alter travel plans without causing major disruptions to the itinerary. This flexibility ensures that visitors can make the most of their time in Iceland, taking advantage of the favorable driving conditions and the stunning natural beauty the country has to offer.


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 the summer, 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, and camping grounds stay open in every town and village along the coastline. It is during summers when the Icelandic wilderness, the Icelandic Highland, is 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 traveling 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 the country has to offer regarding 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 highland.


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 are shorter. But this is also the season that offers spectacular light and clear skies, the time when frost and snow are 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 lasts 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, autumn temperatures show a considerable decline compared to summer temperatures. 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. Even if you are driving Ring Road, these are matters to keep in mind, as Road number one has two mountain passes. 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 the various limitations of the autumn season, it also brings forth many overlooked advantages. One notable benefit is the clear skies that dominate the cold season. This clarity provides a perfect backdrop for photographers, especially in locations like Iceland, where September and October are ideal for capturing breathtaking shots. The landscape during this time is a vibrant display of colors, further accentuated by the unique weather conditions and lighting that enhance every detail. It is widely regarded as one of the prime periods for photography, with the golden hour extending longer than in many other regions, offering photographers an extended window of opportunity to capture stunning imagery.


Moreover, the months of September and October often see a delicate dusting of snow blanketing the mountains, particularly the majestic peaks, creating a mesmerizing backdrop that elevates the beauty of the natural wonders. This snow-capped scenery adds a touch of magic to the landscape, making it even more photogenic. Additionally, autumn witnesses a decrease in tourist numbers, providing a more serene and intimate experience at popular destinations that are usually bustling during summer. This quieter period allows visitors to immerse themselves fully in the charm and tranquility of the surroundings.


For those able to plan a trip during autumn, it presents a splendid opportunity to explore Iceland in its raw and unspoiled state. The Highlands, in particular, offer a unique experience during September and October, allowing travelers to connect with nature on a deeper level. The uncrowded trails and pristine landscapes beckon adventurers to embark on unforgettable journeys that showcase the true essence of this captivating season.


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, many camping areas are closed, and camping is not recommended. It is 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 are 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 an advantage of fall trips 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

If you are planning a vacation, visiting Iceland from mid-October to February is somewhat difficult. 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. Of course, there is a marked difference between winter and summer seasons in the northern hemisphere. Although complicated, visiting Iceland during winter also has some 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 winter, 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 offers some interesting winter options. Frozen waterfalls are a spectacular site, a 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. Camping is not possible in these months as very few camping sites stay open. Camping is only possible for those on camping sites with access to electricity. Even if you plan to rent a camper, you are most likely in for a cold experience, and some of them are very difficult to drive in the winter. Despite all of this, the winter months do have something to offer, and one of our most famous attractions during winter is the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, although visiting Iceland for the northern lights is much better in autumn. Iceland is a fairly good place to witness the the Northern Lights. 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

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 an 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 fireworks 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. In my opinion it is a time for a good 4x4 rental car and a hotel or a guest house as you are probably in a situation to get better hotel prices in winter. 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 a good time to see the Northern Lights, visit the Ice Caves, and experience harsh environments 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, the weather stays reasonably warm and stable in spring, 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 dull, and in many places, the snowdrifts have 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; 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. A few things stand out, such as the marvelous natural wonders in the summer, the 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.

I would advise those who really want to enjoy Iceland's best to avoid visiting at this time of year.

Understanding what you are looking for when planning a visit to Iceland

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

When planning a trip to Iceland, it is crucial to understand your expectations clearly. Iceland offers diverse attractions, from stunning natural wonders to unique cultural experiences. Researching and identifying what you want to see and do during your visit is essential to ensure a fulfilling and memorable trip.


For example, if you are interested in witnessing the Northern Lights, it is essential to note that the best time to see this natural phenomenon is during the winter months when the nights are long and dark. Visiting Iceland during the summer, although beautiful in its own right, may not allow you to experience the awe-inspiring display of the Aurora Borealis.


Similarly, if you are keen on exploring Iceland's Highland, knowing that certain areas may be inaccessible during the winter due to harsh weather conditions is crucial. Planning your visit according to the best season for your desired activities will help you make the most of your time in Iceland and avoid any disappointments.


Therefore, before organizing your trip, take the time to research and understand the specific attractions and experiences that align with your interests. By planning accordingly and considering the seasonal variations in Iceland, you can ensure a rewarding and enjoyable travel experience that caters to your preferences and expectations.



If you're planning to tour Iceland in a rental car, make sure to read this article about the three important things you need to know and the type of car that would be best for your trip!

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