When is the best time to visit Iceland? We get this question a lot since our recent Ring Road trip. It’s a hard question to answer because there is no “BEST” time to visit Iceland. Just a time that suits you and what you want to get out of your trip to Iceland.
I’ve been to Iceland twice now, once in July and October. Both were fabulous times to go to Iceland and I’m happy I got to see the difference between seasons. In the summer you will no doubt get to see the Midnight Sun, while in the winter your chances are high of seeing the Northern Lights. I’m going to break down each month for you and what exactly you can expect for all four seasons in Iceland.
Iceland in the Winter
Iceland in January
January is one of the quietest months in Iceland. It is great for those looking to get away from crowds of tourists. Days are short and the cold can be brutal. Most landscapes will be covered in snow. If you are after an endless winter then Iceland in January is your calling. With almost 19 hours of darkness, winter is often the best time to visit Iceland to see the Northern Lights, that is if the cloud cover breaks. Prices for accommodation and tours will be lower as it is the offseason. I don’t think this is a bad time to go to Iceland, just make sure you are prepared and pack well for the cold!
Some of the best things to embrace an Icelandic winter is to go snowmobiling, venture into ice caves, relish in the natural hot springs, and after all that is done you can go warm up in a Reykjavik bar with the locals! Just make sure you have a warm down jacket for the cold weather.
Iceland in February
Iceland in February is similar to January, except your days will be filled with a bit more daylight. Expect unpredictable weather, plenty of snow, and a high probability of catching the Aurora Borealis. The temperatures can range anywhere between -10°C and 8 °C, a good packable down jacket is a smart idea. Reykjavik can be busy at this time of year as the capital city plays host to a number of festivals including the Stockfish Film Festival, Rainbow Reykjavik, the Winter Lights Festival, and the Reykjavik Bar Summit.
Iceland in the spring
Iceland in March
The winter fun is now winding down and snow begins to melt in Reykjavik. It’s not a Christmas wonderland and it’s not quite a summer bonanza this is one of Iceland‘s least visited months. Since the crowds are low and it’s still cold March is a good time to drive the Ring Road if you’re averse to crowds and on a budget.
Days are getting longer in March, but it still gets dark at night so your chance of seeing the Northern Lights is high! The chances of rain and snow are also still high, and you shouldn’t expect warm weather by any means. The average daily temperature of Iceland in March is between -3°C and 3°C. Pack warm clothes!
Iceland in April
Days grow longer and the Icelanders can almost smell the sweet summer air. Although the sun and warm weather are almost there, it still has a month to go. This means that some summer activities aren’t available, and a few winter activities may have stopped. It’s still possible to go on a brisk hike in April and take in some cool air of course. Another great thing to do is head to Southern Iceland around Skogafoss, Vik, and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Keep in mind that with daylight creeping in your chance of seeing the Nothern Lights start to drop, but it is still possible! April is the beginning of the whale season, so there are plenty of whale watching tours departing from Reykjavik. You stand a great chance to see the minke whale up close! I should mention April brings puffin season too. Yup, April marks your chance to see those cute/funny looking birds in Iceland!
Iceland in May
It’s May in Iceland meaning it’s just about to hit summer and peak season. Now is the time to come if you want a semi-reasonable deal on travel (sorry guys, nothing in Iceland is cheap). The weather is temperamental and there is more daylight than night and you can get beautifully long sunsets. The Icelanders will be coming out of a long winter so the atmosphere of Iceland is joyous. The weather can still be unpredictable though, and I would still recommend packing like you are going to Iceland in the winter just in case.
Although you won’t see the Northern Lights, May in Iceland is when wildlife comes alive! The beautiful puffin bird returns to shores of Iceland in April so it’s almost guaranteed you will be able to see them in May. Whale watching tours will also be more pleasant under the May sun and they run often. Last but not least, you can go horseback riding without freezing in May! (Do it – it’s totally worth it).
Iceland in the summer
Iceland in June
Long sunny days, less rain, heavy winds that turn into light breezes – It’s summer in Iceland! June is what many locals consider to be the best time of year to visit Iceland. June in Iceland has the longest daylight hours and on June 21st you will witness the longest day of the year. The Midnight Sun, or when the sun is still visible at midnight, will be a common occurrence now and can make for some stellar photos. This is a natural phenomenon that happens around the Arctic Circle so visiting Iceland in June is extra special and a reason in itself enough to go.
June in Iceland will yield 24 hours of daylight for a few weeks. If staying up all night and partying with the Icelanders is your cup of tea then summertime is when you will want to be in Iceland. Or if partying isn’t your thing the 24 hours of daylight will give you a huge advantage if you are driving around Iceland. More daylight means more time to see things and there is plenty to see in Iceland.
Iceland in July
Both July and August are great times to do warm(er) weather activities. Things like scuba diving in Þingvellir or hiking around the country are great this time of year. Of course, you can still do these activities in the colder months, but I think we can all agree it’s more enjoyable with some sunshine. It may be warmer and you’re guaranteed some beautiful green landscapes, summer in Iceland comes with a few issues.
It’s peak season in Iceland so expect prices to be through the roof. Also, like most places around the world summertime is when most people take their vacations, especially Americans. And Americans LOVE Iceland so you can expect to find a lot more people in the country. That being said I visited Iceland in July and had a fabulous time. I hiked during the day, biked around Reykjavik, partied until the sun “set” at 2 am, and joined my Icelandic friends at the public swimming pools. People are happy in the summertime and you just can’t beat that vibe in Iceland.
Iceland in August
August is the warmest time of the year to travel the Arctic circle. In Iceland, summer temperatures averaging around 15°C. The summer days are the kind you’re likely used to in August, with the sun rising between 5am-6am and setting between 9 and 10. So you still get long days with the ability to sleep in darkness!
August is just a great time to make the very most out of Iceland. The land will be green and lush, the sun will be shining, and some of the most popular tours are running. It’s also a great time if you want to go on a hiking and camping adventure as the climate is ideal. August is the last month you will for sure see puffins (although there are stragglers hanging about in September).
Iceland in the fall
Iceland in September
September is great everywhere in the world, and it’s no different for Iceland. It’s when the fall colors start to show off and the temperatures are comfortable. You may start to get a little rain, but nothing that should hold you back from visiting Iceland. Most tours run at least until the end of September and we found that every single big campsite was still open for campers and camper vans until the 30th. Days begin to grow shorter in September so you stand a chance to see the Northern Lights.
Snow is around the corner, but most roads should remain open. This leaves open the possibility for many visitors the to still see some amazing places like the West Fjords, Landmanalauger, the Golden Circle, or Mount Hekla. If you’re a film geek you will want to head to Reykjavik for the annual Reykjavik International Film Festival as well.
Iceland in October
In my opinion, this is the best time to visit Iceland. I mean it’s October, and who doesn’t love that time of year when the leaves turn bright yellow, orange, and red! (Don’t worry – there is even a Dunkin Donuts in Reykjavik for a pumpkin spice latte). Fall is exactly what we found when we did a camping trip around the Ring Road. The weather was pleasant with only a few days of rain and a bit of sunshine each day. We were even able to go hiking with just a flannel and a hiking backpack!
It’s not only the weather that made this wonderful but because it was considered off-season in Iceland there were far fewer tourists than in the summer (although still a lot). This season is known for an influx of Chinese tourists. We were getting low season prices for things like our Happy Campers van, hotel stays, and even could stay at campsites for free as they were closed for the season. Most importantly, we saw the Northern Lights – twice! This time of year is simply amazing in Iceland, check out what it was like for us!
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Iceland in November
November is officially when you can say…”Winter is coming”. Expect cold weather, shorter days, and rain. Many roads will be shut down, with the ring road is still accessible. Just make sure that you are vigilant about the weather! The fall colors have mostly subsided, but snow is starting to fall which makes the waterfalls, mountains, and volcanoes even more beautiful.
Some of the most popular things to do in Iceland is November is a glacier hike, ice caving, and the Nothern Lights. Like many places in Europe, tourism is dwindling, so you will have the black sand beaches, geothermal areas, and hot springs to yourself!
Iceland in December
Do you love that snowy, Christmas filled, cheerful time of the year? Well, then the best time to visit Iceland for you is in December. This really falls under “Iceland in winter,” but I didn’t want to start this whole post with December and confuse everyone! Christmas is huge in Iceland so you will definitely not miss out on the holiday cheer if you choose to vacation in Iceland in December.
The whole city of Reykjavik will be lit with Christmas lights, Santa Clauses are scattered throughout the city and the snow will be in full force. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about December 31st when the city comes alive for the New Year celebrations. European Christmas season is fabulous, this is a great time to go to Iceland!
December is also the darkest time of the year. Days only last a couple of hours so you will really have to make the most of your sunlight. However, with long nights this is the best time to visit Iceland for Northern Lights. Average temperatures range from -1°C and -5°C so make sure to bring a jacket, gloves, scarf, boots, and a hat. I wouldn’t recommend waiting till you get to Iceland to buy them, as it will be double what you are used to paying.
In the end, you decide the best time to visit Iceland and what you would like as a traveler. Is it your honeymoon in Iceland or are you looking to take a break from the desk job? Would you like to see the leaves changing in the fall or does hanging out in a t-shirt in Downtown Reykjavik park suit your fashion?
In my opinion, the best months to holiday in Iceland are July, October, or December.
If you want to travel with a Happy Campers van like we did (and you should!) We are able to provide our readers a 5% discount off their Happy Camper rentals. In order to do this, you must book through this link and retrieve your one-time discount code here using the key “TWP”
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