Plan the Perfect Trip to Iceland with these 5 Steps for Finding the Best Time to Visit

2023-05-24 01:35:23 - Drany Macley Drany Macley, the senior editor of, brings extensive journalism background and over eight years of experience in travel writing and editing to the site, offering practical insights and first-hand knowledge through articles on innovative hotels, backed by a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College.

Looking to plan your trip to Iceland and want to make sure you choose the best time of year to go? Look no further than this comprehensive guide, complete with a five-step process to help you make that decision.

Iceland, often called the land of ice and fire, is a haven for travelers seeking unique and pristine scenery, rich Viking folklore, and, of course, the Northern Lights.

If you're considering a trip to Iceland, rest assured that it won't disappoint. Having recently returned from my fifth trip to this stunning country, I can attest to its incredible allure.

Iceland draws visitors year-round with its surreal landscapes. If you're considering booking a trip, don't hesitate! Trust me; you won't regret it.

Turf house in Iceland

But before you book your ticket, you may be wondering when the best time of year is to visit Iceland. This guide has all the information you need to plan your perfect trip.

The Best Time to Visit Iceland

The best time to visit Iceland is during the shoulder season in May and September.

Why May and September?

May and September offer lower prices and fewer crowds than peak season while still avoiding the harsh winter weather conditions.

Iceland off the Beaten Path

Iceland can be an expensive destination, but traveling during the shoulder season can help reduce the cost. Additionally, many museums and attractions closed during the winter months are open during May and September.

While the weather can still be chilly, it's unlikely to be harsh during these months. You may experience some breeziness and occasional snow in the country's interior, but access to mountains is not as limited as it would be during winter.

Even with these considerations, the benefits outweigh the downsides when you factor in lower visitor numbers and cheaper prices.

Choosing Between May and September

If you're deciding between May and September, there are a few distinct differences between them.

Longer Daylight Hours in May

If you're looking for longer daylight hours during your trip, May is your best bet, with 16-20 hours of daylight. You'll have plenty of time to explore key attractions like the Golden Circle, Reynisfjara, and Jokulsarlon Diamond Lagoon early in the morning or later in the evening without crowds.

Northern Lights in Iceland

If you're planning a road trip in Iceland, consider going in May. This is one of the best times to travel due to the longer daylight hours and clearer roads, making it easier to navigate the country.

To avoid crowds, try visiting popular tourist attractions early in the morning or during the evening/night when fewer people are around.

In September, the days are shorter with between 14-11 hours of daylight, and the daylight hours decrease significantly throughout the month.

If you're interested in seeing the Northern Lights, September is the best time to visit Iceland. May's longer daylight hours means that the sky never really gets dark enough to see the aurora borealis in action.

If you want to avoid the cold and tough conditions of visiting Iceland in the winter but still want to see the Northern Lights, September is an ideal time. It's not clear why, but the lights are often strongest during the spring and autumn equinoxes.

Arctic tern

For the best chance of seeing the phenomenon, consider staying in one of Iceland's Northern Lights hotels.

September is also a good month for whale watching, particularly to see orcas. In May, you can view a lot of birdlife, with opportunities to see Arctic Terns and Puffins.

If you're an equestrian enthusiast, you'll love Iceland's famous small horses. You can arrange multi-day horse treks in different parts of the country, with May and September being the best times to go.

If you're looking to get off the beaten track, September would be a good time to go. Crowds at the major attractions may be thinner, and you might have the opportunity to explore some of the more difficult-to-reach destinations.

If your travel plans involve exploring remote destinations, especially those nestled in the hills and mountains, it's recommended to schedule your visit for September.

Optimal Seasons and Activities for Traveling to Iceland

While May and September are the ideal months to visit Iceland overall, it's best to consult the following sections if you have specific activity or season preferences.

Icelandic Horse

Need more inspiration? Check out these ten tongue-in-cheek insights on Iceland travel.

Visiting Iceland in Winter: Ideal Timing

I'll be straightforward- Iceland's winters can be bone-chillingly cold.

Nevertheless, visiting during this season can offer unique sights to capture through photography, with the gentle winter sun casting a soft glow and the extended hours of darkness improving the chances of witnessing the northern lights.

November and February are the best months to visit Iceland in the winter season. In December, the shortest day has only four hours of daylight compared to eight hours in November and ten in February.

TIP: Pack plenty of thermal winter clothing if you're traveling to Iceland in winter.

The extended night time can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your interests. For aurora enthusiasts, longer periods of nighttime provide more occasions to spot the northern lights from as early as 5pm.

Winter in Iceland

However, short daylight hours can pose difficulties for those who wish to explore Iceland's scenic outdoors or capture its spectacular landscapes on camera.

The panoramic view of the snow-covered terrain with the backdrop of volcanoes, glaciers, and hot springs though, is a sight to behold.

Be mindful of small road closures during winter, especially if you plan on visiting hard-to-reach destinations.

Optimal Time for Exploring Ice Caves and Glaciers

While some ice caves and glaciers can be visited throughout the year, others are accessible only during the colder months of winter.

Winter in Iceland

The best time to explore Iceland's ice caves is between November and March when nearly all of them remain open.

Some ice caves, like those located in Lanjokull, can be accessed until June, while others like the Katia ice cave can be visited year-round. However, for a guaranteed ice cave tour, book your visit between November and March.

Best Time for Skiing in Iceland

Iceland's skiing season starts in December and closes in April, but February and March are the months with longer daylight hours and better weather conditions.

Visiting Iceland in Summer

Summer is the peak tourist season in Iceland, so expect crowds and higher prices unless you venture off the beaten track.

Iceland experiences nearly 24 hours of daylight in June and July, thanks to its proximity to the Arctic circle. While Iceland's Northern tip falls within the Arctic Circle, what the country experiences is not technically the true midnight sun, yet it's still pretty impressive.

The ideal time to visit Iceland in the summer is early July before schools break for summer holidays. While the temperatures are at their warmest in July and August, the crowds are slightly lower outside of the holiday season. Locals often joke about Iceland's ever-changing weather, with one owner of the prestigious Hotel Ranga, Fridrik Palsson, aptly summarizing it by saying, "ask me about the weather in Iceland, and I'll say ask me in a minute." The weather in Iceland is notoriously unpredictable, so it's best to come prepared for rainy and blustery days, even in the summer.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach Iceland

Geothermal waters are a crucial part of Icelandic life, with public pools and hot baths forming an essential part of everyday life. The Blue Lagoon is the most famous geothermal spa near Reykjavik, but the recently opened and gorgeous Sky Lagoon is also worth a visit. While you can visit the Blue Lagoon and most of Iceland's accessible hot springs year-round, the best time to go to the Blue Lagoon is in May and September when the temperatures are still warm, and it's quieter. If you're looking to bathe like the locals do, visit community swimming pools that are generally outside and come with pools of different temperatures, perfect for a few hours of relaxation without the crowds.

Sky Lagoon Iceland

September to April is generally the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, with sightings starting as early as mid to late August, although this varies every year. The equinoxes in September and March are particularly good times to witness the aurora, with warmer temperatures than the winter months and longer daylight hours, meaning you can plan more activities and experiences. It's important to remember, however, that sightings of the Northern Lights are never guaranteed, so it's best not to plan your whole trip around them.

Northern Lights in Iceland

Whale watching is also a popular activity in Iceland, with 23 different whale species in and around Icelandic waters.

Whale watching expeditions are available year-round in Iceland, but the optimal time to embark on such a voyage depends on the region being visited as well as the desired sea life sighting. Humpback whales can best be spotted from May to September when the weather is most cooperative. Conversely, seeing fin whales during the winter months is ideal, but those same months constitute the period of most severe weather conditions, with gale-force winds and choppy waves being the norm. Even while the sun shines in some instances, visitors should still be well-prepared for driving rain, sleet, and snow.

A general tip to keep in mind is that as one travels further north, the chances of catching sight of aquatic wildlife grows.

Here are some additional dates to pencil in:

    February and March are highlighted by orcas frolicking off the western coast of Iceland, while June is a prime time to visit in order to witness the incredible blue whales. The summer months present a greater opportunity for oceanic life sightings overall.

    Whale Watching in Iceland

    When to Traverse Iceland's Trails

    Undoubtedly, the best time to hike in Iceland is between May and September. Daylight is plentiful, and the chance of encountering inclement weather is diminished. Of those months, the warmest are June, July, and August. At that time, trail access is at its highest, presenting a prime opportunity to plan excursions. For those looking forward to glacier exploration, the winter months are best as they are typically covered in deep snow; however, the cold and slippery surfaces create hazards for the average adventurer.

    While I know I'm technically not hiking when I have my boots on, it still counts.

    Hiking boots in Iceland moss background

    Is There a Time to Avoid Iceland Altogether?

    For those who prefer to avoid an influx of tourists, it's best to steer clear from June to August, when the country tends to be overrun. Conversely, the winter months are not recommended for the less daring as the darkness and harsh temperatures pose limitations on outdoor activities.

    What are the Different Seasons in Iceland?

    High Season

    High season in Iceland stretches from June to August. The summer months greet travelers with the midnight sun, and it stays light out the longest in August. It's also when the temperature peaks. With that said, unpredictable weather patterns still linger.

    Best for: Outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking, lengthy summer days, whale watching, and birdlife.

    Worst for: Crowds. Lots of them.

    Shoulder Season

    The shoulder season in Iceland consists of May, September, and the initial part of October. During this time, the crowds are lessened, and there's more flexibility for experiencing Iceland's diverse offerings. For instance, May is well-suited for bird watching, while September is optimal for seeing the northern lights.

    Best for: Affordability, fewer people present, and relatively easy access to points of interest.

    Worst for: Midnight sun.

    Low Season

    Low season travels from mid-October to the conclusion of April. In December, daylight is scarce, with only approximately four hours of sun. Temperatures typically plunge to -30 degrees Celsius during this time period, and appreciating Iceland's landmarks requires true grit and bravery.

    Best for: Ice caves, glaciers, and relatively empty spaces.

    Worst for: Extricating oneself from the crowds, seeing much of the outdoors due to closures, and accessing tourist attractions.

    Looking to have a well-rounded Icelandic experience? May or September are recommended. If you have specific activities in mind such as whale watching, bird watching, hiking, or skiing, make sure to check the best months for those activities before booking. If you prefer to avoid crowds, steer clear of busier destinations during the summer. Sightseeing the Northern Lights is a must-do, with the best time to go between September and April, but be aware that they are not guaranteed. To save on costs, consider visiting during the shoulder or low season.

    The Optimal Time to Visit Iceland: Crucial Information

    Where to Stay in Iceland

    When in South Iceland, Hotel Ranga is where you want to stay. It is the only four-star hotel in the area providing top-tier amenities and dining, along with typical Icelandic hospitality and comfortable rooms. Perfect for year-round Icelandic trips, it offers an in-house observatory, which during winter months, provides an exceptional stargazing experience, with an in-house astronomer to aid you in viewing the constellations. Additionally, you can rely on the in-depth local knowledge and expertise from the hotel's staff to plan your dream trip to Iceland, making Hotel Ranga the perfect spot to truly experience Iceland.

    Check Hotel Ranga's prices and availability now.

    How to Get to Iceland

    Several budget airlines offer great prices on flights to Iceland.

    Check flights on Skyscanner for deals.

    How Long to Stay in Iceland?

    Length of stay depends on you, of course! For shorter visits, 3-7 days are recommended and two weeks for a longer trip like the Ring Road. But if you have limited time, this two-day Iceland itinerary manages to cover a lot.

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