Best time to visit Iceland
So, you’ve seen the pictures that look like scenes from another planet and maybe a few films that look like CGI but turn out to have been filmed in Iceland. You probably know that Iceland is your next dream destination. So, the only question left is when is the best time to visit Iceland.
Don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of it with you, by highlighting the best (and a little bit of the worst) of every season, their characteristics, pros and cons, so you can choose the optimal time for you to travel to Iceland before booking your cheap flight to ReykjavikLink opens in a new tab.
When is the peak season in Iceland?
Summer is peak tourist season in Iceland. June-August will see a big rise in tourists which is of course most noticeable in Reykjavik and at the most popular destinations along the South Coast. For those that don’t feel like sharing their Instagram moments with too many people, this could be a problematic time, but it does come with its perks. Peak tourist season means there’s a great variety of services on offer and you’ll have no problem finding tours, restaurants and long opening hours to suit your personal schedule. If you’re still not sold on peak season, keep in mind that there are plenty of remote spots in Iceland where you can still be completely alone in glorious surroundings and far from the crowds. These include the Westfjords, the highlands, the northeast, and many, many more.
When is the best weather in Iceland?
That depends on what you consider to be good weather, but most would agree that the summer months, June – August, have the best weather conditions in Iceland. Keep in mind that despite its name, Iceland is probably not nearly as cold as you might think, and its Achille’s heel is frankly its unpredictability. That said, Iceland does get its fair share of storms, especially over the winter. The “best” weather in summer is a mild 16°-20°C and sunny and those excellent summer days are frankly just perfect. That said, there is great weather to be had in every season when the wind dies down and the landscapes change with the temperature. The “best” weather in winter is usually those still winter mornings with fresh snow that makes everything feel brand-new and gives the air that crispy feeling. It is simply the prettiest thing ever.
What is the best month to visit Iceland?
That’s a very difficult question because it all depends on what you’re going for. If northern lights are your game, we’d recommend October. It has plenty of darkness but less chances of extreme weather than the even darker months. If you’re more into the elves of the summer solstice and the midnight sun, June is your month. You’ll also find plenty of blissfully happy locals, enjoying the lightheartedness of fresh summer, green grass and warmer temperatures. If you’ve fantasized about soaking in a hot spring in the darkness, with fresh snow all around and the moon and stars and northern lights lighting your romantic scene, then December is your best bet. A bonus will be the Christmas lights and fireworks on New Year's Eve, both ambitiously tackled by Icelanders all over the country. If you want a tasting menu of everything, early April would be a good bet. You’ll still get a chance to see northern lights, the weather is unlikely to put a dent in your plans, there’s enough daylight for long drives and plenty of sightseeing and you might even luck out with the odd warm day to go horseback riding or even take a dip in the sea without massive gear.
Visit Iceland in winter
This is obviously our darkest hour, that time of year from November to February where the nights seem endless and the weather is somewhat unpredictable. This is also our most magical hour. Icelanders have a close relationship with their folklore and key magical holidaysLink opens in a new tab are the winter solstice, New Year’s Eve and Epiphany (January 6). Epiphany comes with huge bonfires, songs and fireworks and lots and lots of elves. Keep in mind that during this “dark mode,” Icelanders are champions at keeping it cozy so over the winter months, you’ll see just how far we’ll go when it comes to candlelit dinners and fairy string lights in trees. Speaking of lights, this is prime time for the northern lights. With an abundance of darkness, all you need is clear skies and some activity to marvel up at the natural wonder that is the northern lights. They are always unique, unforgettable and truly extraordinary.
Pros: Northern lights galore
Cons: Short windows of daylight for sightseeing
Visit Iceland in summer
This will undoubtedly be every Icelander’s favorite season. The days are literally endless over the summer, which means that you better have blackout curtains at your accommodation or you’re in for some sleepless nights. It also means you can basically go sightseeing in the middle of the night and party in daylight until the wee hours of the morning. This is of course high tourist season so most services, tours and accommodation will be open and available. And then there’s the adorable wildlifeLink opens in a new tab, the mild weather and the overall laid-back cheerful atmosphere of summer. Icelanders use these months to go hikingLink opens in a new tab, camping, drive the ring roadLink opens in a new tab, go to outdoor festivals held all over the country in little seaside towns and villages and generally just have a good time. The only drawback in our opinion would be that this is the one time of year that you won’t be seeing any northern lights in Iceland. That’s not because they’re not there, it’s because the sun won’t set for you to see them.
Pros: 24-hour sightseeing options
Cons: Blackout curtains are a must
Visit Iceland in spring
A major characteristic of spring in Iceland is that you’ll likely be spared the extremes. This is a pro and a con of course since you’ll get moderate temperatures and moderate daylight. You might enjoy smaller crowds and fewer tourists as well as lots of available services. The biggest perk would be the fact that you can still see the northern lights and drive around the island without too many storms and road closures that you might have to keep a closer eye on in winter. Spring also comes with Easter, Easter holidays and a few very Icelandic holidaysLink opens in a new tab like “the first day of summer” (the first Thursday after April 18) which traditionally does not resemble summer in any way, but the parade is good fun nonetheless. More parades are available on Labor Day, May 1, a very serious public holiday in most Scandinavian countries and Iceland is no exception. This is all to say that spring in Iceland has a celebratory feel in more ways than surviving the dark winter. Bring your best parade-game and join the celebrations.
Pros: Smaller crowds and milder weather
Cons: You’ll miss out on those characteristic extremes of Iceland
Visit Iceland in fall
The same principles apply to both spring and fall in Iceland. You’ll be spared the extremes. But they are accompanied by a very different atmosphere. It may sound odd but there is a sigh of relief after the endless daylight in summer to be able to light those candles at night and get back to a more stable rhythm. A major perk to fall is that the weather is still reasonably mild, the changing colors of the landscapes are beautiful and it is finally dark enough to see northern lights if the skies are clear. We highly recommend a Golden Circle tourLink opens in a new tab in fall when Þingvellir will be at their most colorful and sublime and there are definitely less crowds than in summer.
Pros: Smaller crowds and beautiful landscapes
Cons: You’ll miss out on the characteristic extremes of Iceland
Best time to visit Iceland for the northern lights
The northern lights are “there” all year round, but in order to see them you’ll be dependent on three things:
1) The aurora forecast
The northern lights are a natural phenomenon, specifically, electrically charged particles from the sun that hit the Earth’s atmosphere with the most beautiful colorful results. Read more about the northern lights here. An aurora forecast, measuring the geomagnetic activity is available three days in advance here. https://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/
2) The weather
The northern lights have nothing to do with the weather but you and your eyes do. A great vibrant display of light won’t mean much if you’ve got grey skies blocking your view. Clear skies are best but a few clouds can also heighten the light show above. The aurora forecastLink opens in a new tab also displays the cloud coverage on the map.
3) Daylight / Darkness
While the northern lights are not really a seasonal phenomenon, they are not visible during June, July and most of August simply because it’s just too bright out. The sun only dips under the horizon for most of that time so it’s never really dark enough for you to see any northern lights in the blue sky. Late August until May provide enough darkness for them to be visible but it goes without saying that the darker, the better so traditionally September – April is considered proper northern lights season. You can read all about the aurora borealis in our special blogLink opens in a new tab about this unique star of the show.
When is the best time to visit Iceland?
It is a universal fact that Icelanders love their summers but if we’re completely honest, deep down we also adore our winters. The two seasons are extremely different and their characteristics are world’s apart. Both seasons are, however, all about the light. The midnight sun, the northern lights, the endless daylight and the cozy illumination in the dark. If you can’t fit two trips into your travel plan in the next few years, try to get a little bit of both worlds and visit Iceland in the spring or fall. You will probably miss out on the biggest extremes that make Iceland so special, but you’ll get a little peek at both worlds.
Iceland is known for its diverse landscapes, its somewhat unpredictable character and its extremes. As a result, no two trips will ever be the same. You can plan all you want and research all day but hopefully Iceland will still surprise you because those moments are part of the quintessential package and they’re often the best.
Whatever you do, we’re confident Iceland can charm you any time of the year.