“When is the best time to visit Iceland?” This question often goes around and around traveller’s minds before finally booking a trip to see this incredible country.
Fears of missing out on the Northern Lights during the light summer months play on minds. But then, isn’t it freezing in winter?
In this guide, myself and a few other travellers will tell you about our Iceland experiences and what each season has to offer.
Iceland in Spring
When most countries burst into bloom during the spring months, Iceland has slightly chillier average temperatures of about 3°C (37°F). This means you should still pack for cold weather, whilst expecting some glimpses of snow and ice. Personally, we think this adds to the charm of a country named after ‘ice’, but maybe that’s just us?
Average Temperature: 3°C (37°F)
Spring Festivals: Reykjavík Art Festival, I Never Went South (“Aldrei fór ég suður”), Food and Fun Festival, Design March
Recommended Spring Attractions: The Golden Circle, Gullfoss, Strokkur Geysir, Secret Lagoon, Thingvellir National Park, Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Jökulsárlón
Justine from Wanderers of the World says:
“Our first trip to Iceland was in March, just as the first day of spring arrived. But we didn’t see any spring flowers of course – instead, we saw ice and beautiful snowy landscapes. For me, this didn’t deter from the trip at all as I was in awe of all our surroundings.
We were staying in the middle of the Golden Circle for a few days inside a cabin that came complete with our own private hot tub. We did get to see the Northern Lights on our first night, but they were very faint. My next trip to Iceland will be in February next year, so I’m definitely hoping we can see them again, but more vibrantly.
Whilst in Iceland, we saw many highlights of the Golden Circle including Gullfoss, Strokkur Geysir, the Secret Lagoon spa, Seljalandsfoss, Sólheimasandur black sand beach and hiked in Thingvellir National Park.
If you’ll also be travelling to Iceland during the early spring months, remember to pack warm clothes as the weather does have a habit of turning very suddenly! But more importantly, make the most of your trip by getting out to see as much of this incredible country as you can!”
Eva from Electric Blue Food says:
“Ever since I started dreaming of visiting Iceland, I knew I wanted to go in April. I wanted to see Iceland with some snow, but I didn’t want winter darkness. April is the right time for that. You get a feel of what winter can be like, without it feeling overwhelming.
We mostly focused on the South Coast and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the highlight of our trip was Jökulsárlón. Right after the winter it is quite full of icebergs and the water of the lagoon is very clean, since it has not experienced major meltdowns like during the summer.
One thing I missed out on that I had hoped to experience was to bathe in the natural hot springs. The combination of freezing wind and snow that you can get in April is not ideal for hiking back to the car all wet after visiting Seljavallalaug. Well that’s just one more reason to go back!”
Iceland in Summer
Ahh, summer. This is when Iceland really starts to warm up with average temperatures of about 11°C (52°F). (Still a little chilly, but manageable). This is the perfect time to go puffin watching, be mesmerised by the ‘Midnight Sun’ and continue to be captivated by some of Iceland’s top attractions (excluding ice caving and the Northern Lights of course).
Average Temperature: 11°C (52°F)
Summer Festivals: Secret Solstice, Bræðslan, Reykjavík Pride, Culture Night (“Menningarnótt”), LungA Art Festival, Þjóðhátíð
Recommended Summer Attractions: Puffin Watching, Ring Road Road Trip, Reykjavik, The Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle
Becky from Becky The Traveller says:
“My visit to Iceland was at the beginning of summer in June. I had an amazing time driving around the Ring Road in my little campervan. One of the best reasons for going in summer was the everlasting daylight hours.
The sun didn’t set until 11.30pm, then rose again about 1.45am. This meant it never got dark so allowed for some unique photo moments in Iceland’s most popular spots but without all the tourists. Sometimes I slept for a few hours during the day and did my exploring at 2/3am! It sounds mad but it worked really well! You could capture some great waterfall photos at this time of day as the light was perfect. I’d love to go back again in winter. Mainly to see the frozen waterfalls but then again, I’m not sure I’d like the cold weather. June was the perfect temperature, not too cold!
However, I think my favourite reason for going in June was the opportunity to see the gorgeous puffins. I’m a total bird geek and I’d never seen puffins before so to see them up close was a wonderful experience. Read more about the best place for seeing puffins in Iceland.”
Sarah from Sarah Sees The World says:
“I visited Iceland in the middle of August this year. Being near the end of summer, the days were getting shorter so the number of daylight hours were basically normal to me giving us plenty of time to get out and explore.
I’d just sent several weeks in the summer heat of Portugal and Spain so the weather felt freezing in comparison at around 10 or 11 degrees each day. The weather was in fact similar to the Winter temperatures I’d left behind in my hometown of Wellington. It drizzled with rain in Iceland most days we were there.
Visiting with my best friend, we spent a day wandering around Reykjavik taking in the must-see sights. We visited the Blue Lagoon and enjoyed the beautifully warm, geothermal waters with hundreds of others there the same day.
We also spent a day checking out the highlights of The Golden Circle including visiting Geysers, impressive waterfalls, walking in Þingvellir National Park and learning about growing tomatoes indoors at Friðheimar Greenhouse Cultivation Centre.
Not visiting Iceland during winter meant I missed out on ice caving – an activity I often see on Pinterest and which looks absolutely epic, as well as seeing the Northern Lights. On the other hand, I’ve also missed out on doing similar activities to both of these at home in New Zealand due to poor weather conditions so you can’t win them all!”
Iceland in Autumn
Perhaps one of the less popular times to go travelling, and yet, we can never quite understand why. How else will you be able to see those stunning bright autumn colours we all love so much? Here’s what Iceland is like in autumn…
Average Temperature: 5°C (42°F)
Autumn Festivals: Reykjavik International Film Festival, Iceland Airwaves
Recommended Autumn Attractions: Jökulsárlón, Reykjavik, South Coast Waterfalls, Zodiac Boat Ride, Black Sand Beaches, The Dyrhólaey Arches, Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, The Golden Circle, Hunt for the Northern Lights and Snæfellsjökull National Park
Megan from Megan Starr says:
“I have been to Iceland a couple of times, but my favourite trip was an autumn excursion at the end of September into early October. I didn’t know what to expect this time of year and I heard the weather was a bit rough.
Fortunately, my first few days were incredible!
The blue skies and magically vibrant sunsets were something out of a fairytale. I believe the weather I experienced is somewhat an anomaly, but I’ll take it! None of the road trip landmarks were touristy (it may have changed a bit now) and I even had Jökulsárlón all to myself.
Luck was on my side for far too long, however, and the last day I stuck around Reykjavik as the incessant rain would not let up during the morning and afternoon. During this time, I got to explore the surprising vegan and vegetarian scene Reykjavik had to offer.
During Autumn, one can witness the sights with ease and may even be able to check out the northern lights.”
Michelle from Harbors and Havens says:
“About a month before our Iceland road trip, my husband freaked out: “All the streets we need will be closed. We won’t be able to see anything. It’s going to rain EVERY DAY!” He wanted to bump our early October trip to September, just a couple of weeks away.
In all of my research on Iceland, though, I had learned a couple of vital things – first, the weather changes every five minutes and second, early Fall is unpredictable. We could experience slick roads and snow, or sunshine and rainbows. We decided to risk it and, lucky for us, got the latter.
With the sun beaming for half of the week, we explored the Snaefellsnes peninsula, chased waterfalls on the South Coast, and took a Zodiac boat ride to see a glacier. A few overcast days were spotted with light rain, but not enough to disturb our adventures.
While we’d love to return in winter for the ice caves and summer for the Highlands, autumn offers a nice compromise with some benefits of both seasons in one. Plus, October feels more “normal” in terms of daylight, without the midnight sun of summer or the long, dark hours of winter, yet still offers a chance to see the Northern Lights dance – which we finally did on our last night.”
Photo Credit: Michelle from Harbors and Havens
Robin from Life Education Travel says:
“Iceland in November is perfect if you are flexible and ready for any kind of weather!
We were extremely fortunate, over 10-days and 2575 km, we didn’t experience any road closures or severe weather. After landing in Reykjavik, we jumped in our rental car and immediately headed south to a cabin near Hveragerði.
We spent the next two days exploring black sand beaches, the Dyrhólaey Arches, Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls, and the Golden Circle. It was then time to head north. We made an unforgettable last-minute detour to the stunning Snæfellsjökull National Park.
After a long day of driving, we stayed the night on a working farm in Borgarnes, ate a spectacular locally sourced meal, and soaked in a hot tub next to a small waterfall. The following morning, we took a jaunt to Hólmavík in the Westfjords to visit the Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft Museum. Our cabin for the next few nights nestled on the banks of the Eyjafjörður fjord! Here the Aurora Borealis danced for us!
It was hard to say goodbye to north Iceland; however, it was time to wind up our journey. We spent the final days visiting museums and savoring the tastes of Reykjavik. Icelanders frequently told us the weather during our visit was quite unusual – we only saw a dusting of snow and a few days of rain. Being from Seattle, we didn’t hesitate to explore on rainy days. It was worth it; the attractions weren’t overcrowded. November in Iceland also meant access to amazing cabins with private geothermal hot tubs at a fraction of the cost.
The trip was a dream come true and we wouldn’t have changed a thing!”
Iceland in Winter
A winter in the land of ice and fire – even just writing that feels magical. During the winter, you will glimpse frozen waterfalls, lakes and rivers, as well as increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Here’s what a winter in Iceland is like…
Average Temperature: 0°C (32°F)
Winter Festivals: Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival, Sónar Reykjavík
Recommended Winter Attractions: Northern Lights Tour, Diamond Beach, Glacier Walks, Skaftafell National Park, Icelandic Horse Riding, Golden Circle Tour, Fontana Spa, Blue Lagoon, Ice Climbing, Silfra Snorkelling, Ice Caves, New Year’s Celebrations in Reykjavik
Jurga from Full Suitcase says:
“I have been to Iceland several times, but a winter trip to Iceland was my favourite by far. We were extremely lucky with the weather and had sunny and/or dry weather with just a few minutes of rain pretty much the whole week. It also started to freeze that week and in a few days we saw Iceland turn into a true winter wonderland with frozen waterfalls and other magical ice creations.
We visited the highlights of the South Coast, walked on a glacier, hiked in Skaftafell National Park, and were lucky to see the Northern Lights several times. I never had a feeling that I was missing something, but of course there are many things that you can do in Iceland in summer that are simply not possible in winter. Yet, I find that visiting Iceland in winter is a much more unique experience. I haven’t met one single person who didn’t love Iceland in any season, but you have to know what to pack and what to wear in Iceland in winter in order to truly enjoy your trip. Iceland is cold and wet and also very windy, but it’s also simply magical in winter.”
Hélène from Flight to Somewhere says:
“I visited Iceland in winter at the end of January. It was a long weekend filled to the brim with tours – Northern lights watching, Icelandic horse riding, Golden Circle tour with Fontana Spa and of course, the Blue Lagoon (more details here).
For me, visiting Iceland in winter had its pros and one big con.
- It’s great for Northern Lights hunting as the period of darkness is long.
- I find that visiting hot springs during the winter makes it that extra bit special – it’s a lot more enjoyable to lounge around in hot water when the outside temperature is cold and you can watch the backdrop of snowy landscapes.
- The weather can be a real barrier to enjoying the tours – it was snowy and extremely cold during the nights, so waiting outside for the Northern Lights to show was challenging. Our horse riding tour had to be cut short because of the wind spooking the horses and we walked or rather slid back to the farm on ice almost ankle-deep in water. The same super-slippery conditions plus rain made us spend most of the visit to Gullfoss waterfall in the souvenir shop/cafe…
So if you are heading to Iceland in winter, my biggest advice would be to pack warm and waterproof clothing and boots!”
“I visited Iceland in December. winter in Iceland is truly magical, and we did a two week road trip in Iceland driving Ring Road. Although many people don’t want to drive the Ring Road outside of summer, it’s much less crowded in winter – and it’s great to experience the white snowy landscapes covered in ice.
We hiked, went ice climbing, snorkeled in Silfra, visited museums, visited the ice caves, soaked in the hot springs, and celebrated New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik. We tried to see the Northern Lights. However, you need to get lucky to see them. I’d love to revisit in summer to do more hiking or even go back in winter to see the Northern Lights next time.”
Are you ready for your trip to this amazing country? We think this guide is pretty great for finding more fun things to do throughout the year in Iceland (including other recommended festivals)! And we’d love to know when you think the best time to visit Iceland is, so drop us a line in the comments section below…
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