The Best Time to Travel to Iceland: Discovering the Perfect Season for Your Adventure
Are you ready to embark on a breathtaking adventure to the land of fire and ice? Iceland, with its mesmerizing landscapes and awe-inspiring wonders, beckons you to explore its beauty all year round. But what is the best time to travel to Iceland? Whether you seek endless sunlight, thundering waterfalls, colorful foliage, or the magical dance of the northern lights, we've got you covered. Join us on a journey through the seasons of Iceland, and discover the best time to experience this enchanting country like never before. So grab your gear, pack your sense of wonder, and get ready for an unforgettable Icelandic escapade.
Visiting Iceland throughout the year
When it comes to deciding the best time to visit Iceland, it really depends on what you want to see and do during your trip.
Iceland's natural beauty is equally stunning whether you visit during the midnight sun or when everything is covered in a layer of snow. In fact, it's worth visiting Iceland twice to experience both! Regardless of the weather, our swimming pools, natural hot springs, and geothermal baths like the Blue Lagoon are always popular. Thanks to our geothermal activity, we have an abundance of hot water to soak in whenever we please, and it keeps our buildings warm during colder temperatures.
Reykjavík, Iceland's capital, is appealing all year round. It boasts first-class museums, restaurants, cafes, and bars for you to explore. Plus, there are festivals happening every month, from the exhilarating New Year's Eve fireworks to the November showcase of local music known as Iceland Airwaves. Whether you're starting or ending a road trip, going on short excursions, or enjoying a city break, Reykjavík is the perfect destination.
Resources to help you decide when to visit Iceland
If you need help deciding when to visit Iceland, here are some useful resources:
"Iceland 101: Planning Tips for Travelers" - Check out our blog post for some basic tips and information.
visiticeland.com - This is the best place to get fully inspired by Iceland.
safetravel.is - A project of the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, providing valuable safety information.
vedur.is - The website of the Icelandic Met Office with weather and aurora forecasts, as well as earthquake reports.
road.is - The best source for information on road conditions.
timeanddate.com - A handy website to check sunrise and sunset times, as well as the number of daylight hours you can enjoy.
"Festivals in Iceland" - Find out what events are happening when, so you can make some tough decisions!
What are the seasons in Iceland?
The high season in Iceland runs from June to August. June and July offer the midnight sun, while August still has long days. This is when Iceland is at its warmest, although the weather can still be quite unpredictable.
Best for: Outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking, long summer days, whale watching, and birdlife.
Worst for: Dealing with crowds; it can get quite crowded during the high season.
The shoulder season includes May, September, and the early part of October. It's considered the best time to visit Iceland for an all-round experience.
During this time, there are fewer tourists compared to the high season, and each month has its own attractions. For example, bird watching is popular in May, while September is a great time to spot the northern lights.
Best for: Lower prices, fewer tourists, and generally good access to attractions.
Worst for: Experiencing the midnight sun, as it's not as prevalent during the shoulder season.
The low season in Iceland runs from mid-October to the end of April. Days are shorter during this time, especially in December, when there are only about four hours of daylight. Temperatures can drop as low as -30 degrees Celsius, and wind chill can make it feel even colder.
Best for: Exploring ice caves, glaciers, and enjoying fewer crowds.
Worst for: Going off the beaten track due to road closures, outdoor activities (unless you're experienced), and many attractions being closed.
- If you want an all-round experience, visit in May or September.
- If you have specific activities in mind, such as whale watching, bird watching, hiking, or skiing, check the best months for these activities before booking.
- If you prefer to avoid crowds, avoid busier destinations during the summer months.
- If seeing the Northern Lights is a priority, plan your visit between September and April, although please note that the lights are not guaranteed.
- If you want to keep costs as low as possible, visit during the shoulder season or low season.
The best time for road trips and hiking is between June and August
During this time, Iceland experiences long, sunny days and the best weather of the year. Visitors flock to popular destinations like Reykjavík and the south, so pre-booking is essential. Although it can be more crowded and expensive, the rewards include endless daylight, numerous festivals, and plenty of outdoor activities. These months are also perfect for hiking, especially in the highland mountain areas, where roads open to 4WD vehicles from mid-June or later.
Explore the beautiful rocky shores and basalt sea stacks at Reynisfjara beach © Sasha64f / Shutterstock
Summer is the best time to visit Iceland for endless sunlight and whale sightings
The summer months in Iceland are June, July, and August. While Icelandic winters are famous for the aurora borealis, summers offer something equally incredible: non-stop sunshine. Thanks to the midnight sun phenomenon, Icelandic summers enjoy 24 hours of daylight.
During this time, you can immerse yourself in the sun-drenched outdoors alongside the locals. Keep in mind that you may need a sleep mask as it's still bright outside even during nighttime.
Summer is also the warmest time of year, which means better road accessibility and the chance to see more wildlife, such as whales and puffins.
Make the most of your summer visit to Iceland by exploring glaciers, waterfalls, and other natural wonders.
Summer events in Iceland:
- Check out the Weather in Iceland in June, July, and August:
Average temperatures range from 45°F to 56°F.
What our staffers say about summer in Iceland:
"The endless summer sun was, hands down, the best part of my trip to Iceland—especially when we headed to the South Coast," said staffer Erin. "There's nothing like trampling around the lush terrain above Skógafoss at 1 am in broad daylight. It's like stepping into another world where time has no meaning." Want to experience the midnight sun for yourself? Explore our Iceland: The Golden Circle & Ring Road tour →
Spring is the best time to visit Iceland for thundering waterfalls
The months of March, April, and May offer a unique charm in Iceland. As daylight starts lasting longer, you can witness the birth of lambs and the emergence of new blooms as the snow melts. These are just a few things that make our Iceland: Reykjavik & the Golden Circle tour unforgettable.
One of the highlights of spring in Iceland is the reinvigorated waterfalls. As the icy landscapes thaw, the water cascades down with even more power. Don't miss the thundering waterfalls along the South Coast, such as Skógafoss and Gullfoss. Taking photos of Icelandic waterfalls during the spring requires keeping your camera dry due to the mist around them—this can lead to technical difficulties if not careful.
Spring events in Iceland:
- Celebrate Sumardagurinn Fyrsti (the first day of summer) on the first Thursday after April 18. It's a festival marked by sports matches, parades, and the collective excitement of Icelanders welcoming the arrival of summer. While April may not technically be the first day of summer, the tradition comes from ancient times when Icelanders used the Old Icelandic Calendar, which only had two seasons.
Weather in Iceland in March, April, and May:
Average temperatures range from 30°F to 47°F.
What our travelers say about spring in Iceland:
"I am absolutely speechless," said traveler Stephanie after her visit to Iceland in May 2022. "I had no idea what to expect when I booked my tour, but Iceland has been on my bucket list for a long time. The tour seemed relaxed, so I decided to give it a try, and I'm so glad I did. You will miss out on breathtaking sights if you don't book this tour. The entire island is filled with people who have a profound love for their country and pride in their history. The landscape is unlike anything I have seen before; it's wild and untouched. The people are respectful and responsible for the land. Every tour was worth going on, and I was captivated by what I saw and learned. If you're deciding between tours, pick this one, especially during the spring or summer. You won't regret it!"
Fall is the best time to visit Iceland to see colorful foliage
September and October are the months to experience fall in Iceland. Picture the stunning landscapes of Iceland, from sprawling fields to black-sand beaches and cascading waterfalls. Now, imagine these landscapes adorned with the vibrant colors of autumn, with oranges, yellows, and reds everywhere you look. This short and sweet shoulder season bridges the gap between summer and winter, and it's perfect for experiencing Iceland's beauty.
During the fall, you have a chance to see the northern lights as the nights grow darker. It's a magical time to visit Iceland and witness glaciers floating in lagoons and explore ice caves. Furthermore, you'll have the opportunity to see more wildlife, such as whales and puffins.
Fall events in Iceland:
- In September, experience Réttir, the annual sheep roundup when herders bring their sheep back from the mountains to their farms. Considering Iceland has over 800,000 sheep, it's a fitting event to celebrate while visiting the country.
Weather in Iceland in September and October:
Average temperatures range from 38°F to 50°F.
What's the best time to visit Iceland? Any time! No matter the weather conditions, Iceland is a remarkable destination. Whether you visit in July or November, you're guaranteed to be amazed. Start planning your Iceland tour today!
Jamie's love for travel began during a homestay in Germany and solidified during her studies in Florence. When she's not sharing her passion for travel through writing, Jamie enjoys discovering new memoirs, trying out recipes at home, and visiting her family on Cape Cod.
*Tour prices are per person, before flights, and based on two travelers per hotel room on select departure dates. All prices are only valid for the duration of this browsing session.
Winter is the best time to visit Iceland to see the northern lights & ice caves
The winter months in Iceland are November, December, January, and February, although winter weather can start as early as October and last until March. If you think winter trips aren't for you, prepare to change your mind when you see the surreal snowy landscapes of Iceland.
One of the major highlights of visiting Iceland in winter is the increased chance of witnessing the mesmerizing aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. Our experts can guide you to the best spots to see this natural phenomenon on our guided tours. Unlike the summer months with their extra hours of sunlight, it's during winter that you have the opportunity to see the northern lights.
In addition, winter in Iceland offers the chance to see glaciers floating in lagoons, explore ice caves, and witness waterfalls cascading from frozen landscapes.
Winter events in Iceland:
- If you visit Iceland in February on our Iceland: Reykjavik & the Northern Lights tour, you can experience the Winter Lights Festival in Reykjavik. This festival celebrates the start of longer, sunnier days by showcasing art and light installations.
- From mid-January to mid-February, you can also partake in the cultural festival of Thorrablot, which honors Iceland's pagan roots. During this festival, Icelanders consume traditional foods like hákarl (fermented shark meat) and svið (boiled sheep's head) along with strong Brennivin schnapps. It's an adventurous culinary experience.
Weather in Iceland in November, December, January, and February:
Average temperatures range from 28°F to 38°F.
What our staffers say about winter in Iceland:
"I visited Iceland in January and witnessed the most beautiful display of northern lights dancing across the sky," said staffer Bridget. "It truly looks like they're dancing! Our tour guide said it was the best display he had seen in the last five years. It was absolutely worth enduring the colder weather."
The Best Time to See the Northern Lights: October to April
During the winter months, certain mountain roads and minor roads may be closed due to weather conditions. However, there are various winter activities to enjoy, such as skiing, snowshoeing, and visiting ice caves. While there are only brief periods of daylight, the long nights offer incredible opportunities to witness the breathtaking natural light displays of the northern lights. To enhance your chances of seeing the northern lights, it is advisable to keep an eye on the weather forecast. It is important to note that some hotels in Reykjavík may be closed between Christmas and New Year's Eve.
In February, you can warm up in Iceland's Blue Lagoon. © rayints/Shutterstock
After the festive cheer of December, the first few weeks of January can feel a bit anticlimactic. The long dark nights and inclement weather contribute to this atmosphere. Notable events during this month include Þorrablót.
February is typically the coldest month in many parts of Iceland. However, everyday life in the capital city of Reykjavík remains relatively unaffected. The countryside may be covered in scenic snow, but daylight hours are limited to only seven to eight hours per day. Key events in February include the Winter Lights Festival and Food & Fun.
While winter officially ends in March for many parts of the world, Iceland is just starting to wake up from its slumber during this month. Winter activities like skiing become popular as the daylight hours gradually increase. Notable events in March include Beer Day, the Iceland Winter Games, and DesignMarch.
In April, Easter is celebrated in traditional Icelandic fashion with Easter egg hunts and roast lamb. Spring is in the air as the days start to lengthen and the temperature rises. This is also the time when thousands of migrating birds arrive in Iceland. Key events in April include Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, the Reykjavík International Literary Festival, and Puffins on Parade.
Experience the beauty of Vestmannaeyjar town on Westman Islands in spring. © silky/Shutterstock
May is considered a shoulder season and a good time to visit Iceland before the peak tourist season begins. Prices are still reasonable, and the days continue to lengthen. It's a great time for birdwatching and enjoying the beauty of spring wildflowers. Key events in May include Whale Watching.
June marks the beginning of the short and intense three-month tourist season in Iceland. The weather is at its best, with nearly endless daylight hours and a wide range of tours and excursions available. However, this also means bigger crowds and higher prices. Key events in June include Seafarers' Day, the Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival, National Day, the Opening of Mountain Roads, Midnight Sun, Midsummer, Lobster Festival, and the Reykjavík Arts Festival.
July is a busy month in Iceland, with an increasing number of festivals and a rise in tourist numbers. Roads and attractions can be crowded, and it's essential to book accommodation and activities in advance. Notable events in July include the Landsmót Hestamanna, Folk Music Festival, Skálholt Summer Concerts, Eistnaflug, Bræðslan, and the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon.
August continues the busy tourist season, with Southern Europeans flocking to Iceland for their holidays. The puffins start to depart, and the nights gradually lengthen. Key events in August include Verslunarmannahelgi, Þjóðhátíð, the Herring Festival, Reykjavík Culture Night, the Reykjavík Marathon, Reykjavík Pride, and Jökulsárlón Fireworks.
September brings a significant decrease in tourist arrivals, resulting in lower prices and fewer crowds. The weather remains agreeable, although some hotels, attractions, and services that are only open during the summer season may be closed. Highland roads are closed by the end of September. Notable events in September include Réttir and the Reykjavík International Film Festival.
October marks the official arrival of winter in Iceland, with cooler temperatures, longer nights, and the chance to witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights.
November signifies the transition from fall to winter in Iceland. The nights lengthen, and the weather gets cooler. However, Reykjavík hosts its flagship music festival, Iceland Airwaves, attracting big crowds.
December is a festive month in Iceland, bringing cheer to the darkest time of the year. Christmas markets, concerts, and parties create a lively atmosphere, followed by grand New Year's Eve celebrations. It's important to note that some hotels may be closed between Christmas and New Year's.
This article was first published in February 2021 and updated in February 2023.
The Best Time to Visit Iceland: May vs September
Both May and September are excellent times to visit Iceland if you want to avoid crowds. These months offer breezier weather, occasional snow in the highlands, and more budget-friendly options. Here are some key differences to consider when choosing between May and September:
May provides longer daylight hours, with approximately 16-20 hours of daylight. This allows for ample time to explore popular attractions like the Golden Circle, Reynisfjara, and Jokulsarlon Diamond Lagoon without encountering large crowds. May is also ideal for road trips, as the combination of extended daylight and clearer roads creates optimal driving conditions.
In September, daylight hours decrease to approximately 14-11 hours, signaling the approaching autumn season. However, September is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland without enduring the extreme cold of winter. The lights are often strongest during the spring and autumn equinoxes. Additionally, September is a good month for whale watching and offers a chance to see orcas.
Birdlife and Puffins
May is a prime time for birdwatching in Iceland, with many migratory birds arriving throughout the month. It is also the best time to see puffins, which are present from mid-May to mid-August. September is less ideal for birdwatching, as many birds have already migrated away from Iceland.
Horse Riding and Off-the-Beaten-Track Exploration
Both May and September offer favorable weather conditions for horse riding adventures in Iceland. The cool temperatures make longer rides comfortable. However, if you plan to explore remote destinations and off-the-beaten-track areas, September may be a better option, as some locations may not yet be accessible in May.
Ultimately, the choice between May and September depends on your preferences for daylight hours, Northern Lights viewing, birdwatching, horse riding, and off-the-beaten-track exploration. Choose the month that aligns with your desired activities and experiences. Let Elsewhere help plan your next trip to Iceland.
The Best Time to Travel to Iceland: By Activity and Season
For overall travel to Iceland, May and September are the best times to go. However, if you have a specific season or activity in mind, refer to the following sections.
Need more ideas? Check out this humorous article on 10 things people don't tell you about visiting Iceland.
Best Time to Visit Iceland in Winter
Winter in Iceland can be incredibly cold, but it can also be a magical time to visit. The low sun casts a beautiful soft light, perfect for photography, and the long nights increase the chances of seeing the northern lights.
The best time to visit Iceland in winter is either in November or February. In December, the shortest day only offers four hours of daylight, while the beginning of November has eight hours and the end of February has ten.
Tip: If you're visiting Iceland in winter, make sure to pack plenty of thermal winter clothing.
The lack of daylight can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your preferences. For aurora hunters, the long nights mean early sightings of the northern lights, as early as 5pm. However, for outdoor enthusiasts and landscape photographers, it can be challenging to plan activities around the limited daylight.
Additionally, road closures on smaller roads can be a problem if you plan on visiting remote destinations.
Best Time to Visit Ice Caves and Glaciers in Iceland
While some ice caves and glaciers can be visited all year round, the best time to maximize your chances of taking an ice cave tour is between November and March. During this period, almost all of the ice caves are open.
Some ice caves, such as those at Lanjokull, can be accessed as late as June, and others, like the Katia ice cave, are accessible year-round.
Best Time to Visit Iceland for Skiing
Iceland's ski season runs from December to April, with the best conditions usually found in February and March, when the daylight hours are longer and the weather is generally better.
Best Time to Visit Iceland in Summer
Summer is the peak season in Iceland. Expect crowds and higher prices, unless you venture off-the-beaten-track.
Due to its proximity to the Arctic Circle, Iceland experiences almost 24 hours of daylight in June and July. Although not true midnight sun, it is still quite impressive.
Early July, before school holidays, is the best time to visit Iceland in the summer. While July and August have the warmest temperatures, visiting outside of holiday periods can result in slightly fewer crowds.
The weather in Iceland is famously unpredictable, even during the summer months. Be prepared for rainy and blustery days, as warm weather is not guaranteed.
Best Time to Visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland (and the other Hot Springs in Iceland)
Geothermal waters, including the famous Blue Lagoon, are must-visit attractions in Iceland. While you can visit the Blue Lagoon and most hot springs year-round, the best time to go is during May and September when temperatures are still warm and crowds are slightly smaller.
If you want to experience hot springs like the locals do, consider visiting community swimming pools, which offer a variety of temperatures and a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the more popular tourist spots.
Best Time to See the Northern Lights in Iceland
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is between September and April, with sightings starting as early as mid to late August (varies each year). The equinoxes in September and March are particularly good times to witness the aurora. These months also offer more daylight, allowing for more activities and exploration.
Keep in mind that sightings of the Northern Lights are never guaranteed, so it's best not to plan your entire trip solely around seeing them.
Best Time to Visit Iceland for Whale Watching
Whale watching tours operate year-round in Iceland, but the best time to visit depends on where you are going and what you want to see.
To see humpback whales, the best time is between May and September. However, be aware that winter months can pose challenges due to inclement weather conditions. While it's the best time to see fin whales, it's also characterized by gale-force winds and rough seas. Weather conditions can vary greatly, so come prepared for all possibilities.
As a general rule, the further north you go, the wider the window for spotting whales and other marine life.
Here are some pointers for planning your visit:
- Orcas can be seen off Iceland's west coast in February and March.
- June is the best time to spot blue whales.
- The summer months have the highest proportion of whale sightings overall.
Best Time to Hike in Iceland
The best time to hike in Iceland is between May and September, when there is ample daylight and less chance of rain or snow. June, July, and August are the warmest months, and all the trails and mountain roads are open, making it easier to plan your hiking trip.
Glaciers are best seen in winter when they are covered in deep snow, but extreme cold and slippery surfaces can make it hazardous during this time of year.
Note: While this photo doesn't show hiking, it captures the spirit of adventure. For more information on the best hikes in Europe, including Iceland's spectacular Laugavegurinn Trail, check out the linked article.
Is there a Worst Time to Visit Iceland?
The worst time to visit Iceland for crowds is June to August when major attractions are heavily crowded.
For outdoor activities, the worst time is understandably the winter months, when the cold and darkness make it challenging for most people.
Overall, Iceland proves to be a captivating destination no matter the time of year. With its stunning natural wonders and unique experiences, there is something for every traveler. Whether you find yourself captivated by the endless sunlight and breathtaking whale sightings of summer, the thundering waterfalls of spring, or the colorful foliage of fall, Iceland offers a spectacle year-round. And let's not forget about the magical winter months, where the northern lights dance across the sky and ice caves create an otherworldly experience. So, whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or simply to escape the crowds, Iceland has it all. There truly is no wrong time to visit this extraordinary country.
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