When is the best time to visit Iceland?

  • The summer is the best time to visit Iceland
  • Kleifarvatn lake near Reykjavík
  • Some of our natural wonders are quite stunning during winter
  • Jökulsárlón is a place you can visit at any season
  • A visit to Seljalandsfoss is most rewarding during summer
Dec 28 2016

When is the best time to visit Iceland and take a tour to see the many natural wonders and the amazing landscape Iceland offers? Is there any noticeable difference between the seasons?  The short answer is yes; there is a considerable difference between seasons and if you are organizing a visit, a family vacation or a trip to Iceland you should think about when to visit?. Each season has its character and advantage but keep in mind that in some of the seasons it is simply impossible to visit some of the natural wonders. Iceland is an island in the northern Atlantic ocean and a country that often has harsh winters with difficult snowstorms. But even though some of the seasons are are more difficult for travelling than others each season offers unique advantages. You need to be aware of those conditions to understand what fits your plan and what you are looking for when planning a trip to Iceland.  You should also consider the Iceland weather as it can be a very unpredictable factor. In winter you might want to stay int Reykjavík or Akureyri and take day tours or possibly short tours with overnighting one or two nights.  In summer you might, on the other hand, want to take the full Ring Road tour and enjoy the endless natural wonders.  The core when visiting Iceland is to understand the considerable difference between seasons. 

Langisjor lake in Icelandic highland is open during summer

The highland in Iceland is open in summer

Number one season: The summer is the best time to visit Iceland

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 the 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 trips—be it the Golden Circle, 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.

Þórsmörk oasis is a stunning place to visit in the highland in Iceland

In summer everything is blooming and colourful

Weather and roads in summer

Since Iceland is situated in the planet’s northern most part, hinging the arctic circle, this place is never warm, even during summers, unlike most countries across the world. 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 about 650 kilometers (around 403 miles) only! If you follow the weather forecast, you can easily change your travel plans without muddling up your itinerary.

Driving in Iceland during summer

Driving in Iceland during summer

The most beautiful season, and 24 hours of daylight

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 Highlands, 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. 

Most camping sites are fantastic in Iceland and all open during summer

Iceland has many fantastic camping sites, all open during summer

Tours and activities during summer

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.

Seljalandsfoss is a magical place - a waterfall you can walk behind

Seljalandsfoss waterfall late evening in June

Accommodation in summer

With Iceland’s ever-growing tourist appeal, finding proper and affordable accommodation during summers 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 need to book ahead and early. Accommodation at this time is rather expensive, 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 summers. And for this, you should keep in mind that almost every town and village in Iceland boasts a good camping site and great warm swimming pools with great showers.

Geysir hot spring is often crowded during summer viewing the Strokkur hot spring erupt

Geysir hot spring is often crowded during summer viewing the Strokkur hot spring erupt  

The bottom line for summer

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 highlands, 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.

The summer is the best time to visit Iceland

The summer is the best time to visit Iceland

Number two season:  The autumn is the number two season to visit Iceland

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.

Weather and roads in autumn/fall

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 in Iceland at Þingvellir

Þingvellir National Park is a great place to visit during autumn

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

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. Not to mention the beautiful autumn colors. 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 Highlands more or less throughout September and even in October.

Horses in Ólafsdalur in summer at Westfjords in Iceland

Autumn is a perfect time to take a scenic drive in Iceland

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

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.

Autumn is also a great time to view the Northern Lights

Autumn is also a great time to view the Northern Lights

Accommodation during autumn and fall

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. 

There are many small towns and villages in Iceland perfect for accommodation

There are many small towns and villages in Iceland perfect for accommodation

The bottom line for autumn/fall

Although I have put autumn in the 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, 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 at the same time, 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 the summer ones. But, if you are not specifically interested in photography, summer is probably a better choice for you.    

 

This is the time between September 1st and the middle of November at Hjálparfoss waterfall

This is the time between September 1st and the middle of November. 

Number three season: The winter is the number three season to visit in Iceland

The period beginning from October till February is a somewhat difficult time to visit Iceland if you are planning a vacation. The main reason behind this is the weather, as it is often quite harsh and unpredictable, with strong winds and snowstorms. You must consider these factors if you are planning 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 winters also has some exciting advantages. 

Iceland is a great place to view the Nothern Llights in winter

Iceland is a great place to view the Nothern Llights in winter

Weather and roads in winter

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. 

Driving is often very difficult during winter in Iceland

Driving is often very difficlut in winter in Iceland

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

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.  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.

Frozen waterfalls like Gullfoss is a fascinating sight during winter

Frozen waterfalls like Gullfoss is a fascinating sight during winter

Accommodation 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.

Reykjavik is a great place to visit in winter

Reykjavik is a great place to visit in winter

The bottom line during winter

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.

Photographing waterfalls in winter is different

The winter has a lot to offer like waterfalls when frozen - Goðafoss waterfall in the Northern Region in Icealnd

Number four season: The spring is the number four season to visit Iceland

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.

Driving in Iceland on gravel roads in spring

Driving in Iceland on gravel roads in spring

Weather and roads in Spring

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 stay 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.

Spring is a good time though to visit some of the hot springs like Seltún near Reykjavík

Spring is a good time though to visit some of the hot springs like Seltún near Reykjavík

A time to stay near the shore and on asphalt roads

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. It is an excellent time for visiting the Blue Lagoon though, to visit museums, take a drive to Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón glacier and iceberg lagoons, 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. 

Jökulsárlón is an interesting place all year round

Jökulsárlón is an interesting place all year round

Accommodation

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.

Húsavík is one of the most interesting towns in Iceland and offers good accommodation all year round

Húsavík is one of the most interesting towns in Iceland and offers good accommodation all year round

The bottom line for spring

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.

 

In the spring when everything is coming to life, the landscape sometimes lacks color

In the spring when everything is coming to life, the landscape sometimes lacks color
 

So, when you make a plan to visit Iceland, you need to consider and understand what it is exactly that 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 Highlands 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.

 

Interesting and important articles related to the best and worst time or season to visit Iceland that you should read when planning a vacation in Iceland

  1. A good start for the best season in Iceland

  2. The Iceland Weather

  3. Crowded or even overcrowded places and attractions in Iceland and how to enjoy or find alternative places

  4. Driving and renting a car in Iceland during winter

  5. Advantages in visiting Iceland during winter

  6. Sveinstindur Mountain the best place for a good view of the Highland in Iceland

  7. Kjölur or Kjalvegur Highland drive is the easiest and most interesting highland road trip in Iceland

  8. Ring Road Drive in Iceland is the Best Road Trip Option for Your Travel Plans

  9. Snæfellsnes Peninsula road trip when you plan a trip to Iceland

  10. Best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland