Iceland is one of the most beautifully unique countries in the world. The landscape is unforgettable, there are natural phenomena like glaciers, volcanoes and active geysers everywhere, and the history of the island is filled with magical legends that are easy to believe once you’ve spent a few days here.
It’s hard to pick out the best time to visit Iceland, as each month brings something new to enjoy in the country. If you’re planning on visiting Iceland and have been wondering when the best time is to travel, this guide takes you through each season and highlights the weather, events and best things to do, to help you decide when to book a trip.
Iceland in Winter
When you first think of Iceland, many people picture snowy mountains, frozen waterfalls and long, cold nights. November to January is one of the best times of the year to go to Iceland if you’re hoping for this kind of wintery weather, as there is plenty of snow, freezing temperatures and limited daylight.
Winter is one of the least popular times of the year to visit Iceland, with some of the country’s top attractions becoming inaccessible because of the cold weather. However, prices are lower over the winter and everywhere will be less crowded, so if you’re after a romantic or tranquil break then it’s a great time to travel.
The weather in Iceland is cold in the winter, but probably not as cold as you would expect. The average temperature from December to February is around 0°C, dropping to -5°C at the coldest point of the year and rarely rising above 4°C.
There is very limited daylight in Iceland in the winter, especially in December where the country experiences its shortest day on the 21st and usually only sees 4 hours of sunlight. This will seem very odd to those who are used to spending most of their waking hours in the daylight, but everywhere you go will be well lit and prepared for the lack of natural light throughout the month.
Snowfall is common in the winter in Iceland, particularly in the more rural parts of the country and in the mountains. You can expect more to fall in the north of the country than the west and the south, but are unlikely to experience any major disruptions unless there is a heavy storm.
What to Do
The main reason that people visit Iceland in the winter is because they are hoping to see the Northern Lights. This magical, natural light display is best spotted in the evenings of the winter months in certain parts of the country, and hunting for the aurora borealis is a common activity for those visiting Iceland at this time of year.
Another popular thing to do in Iceland in winter is to make the most of the cold weather and visit one of the country’s impressive ice caves. Ice tunnels underneath glaciers are also at their most spectacular at this time of year, so book onto a guided tour and remember to wrap up warm!
If you want to avoid being out in the cold for too long, then another great way to spend your time in Iceland is to make the most of the country’s range of cultural attractions. Reykjavik in particular has lots of museums and galleries, so you can hop from one to the other without spending too much time outdoors.
Christmas in Iceland (Jól) is celebrated from the 11th of December to the 6th of January. Locals decorate their homes for the festive season, there are 13 Santa Clauses (or Jólasveinar) instead of just one, and plenty of traditional food is eaten through the festive period.
Thorrablot, or Þorrablót, is a traditional Icelandic midwinter festival that was originally held to honour the pagan gods of the Icelandic people and is held on the first Friday after the 19th of January. The event is celebrated with traditional Icelandic dishes such as rotten shark’s meat (hákarl) and boiled sheep’s head (svið) along with an alcoholic drink known as Brennivin.
The Winter Lights Festival takes place in Reykjavik at the end of winter and marks the return of light to the country after several months of extended darkness. There are light installations around the city and a range of events are organised, from live music to exhibitions and food stalls.
Iceland in Spring
Light and warmth arrive in Iceland in the spring, with the freezing temperatures and limited daylight of the start of the year beginning to ease up. Much of the snow and ice across the country start to melt, making travelling around the island much easier and allowing activities like hiking to start taking place again.
Spring is the shoulder season for tourism in Iceland, so whilst it won’t be as quiet as the winter months, it’s still a great time to visit if you want to avoid paying peak prices.
The weather in Iceland is known for being unpredictable all year round, but spring is a particularly wild time as the country transitions from winter to summer. Snow is still possible in March and April, with rain also forecast as the temperature rises. Sunshine is just as likely as the days get longer, so you’ll need to pack enough clothes to cover all weather conditions!
Average temperatures in Iceland in spring do sometimes still drop below freezing to around -1°C, but will hover around 5°C most of the time in March and April. By the end of May, expect things to have warmed up to highs of 12°C.
What to Do
A lot of the snow that fell over the winter starts to melt in Iceland in spring, which means it’s the best time of the year to see all of the country’s waterfalls in action. Skogafoss Waterfall is a classic spot to visit, but there are plenty of other impressive waterfalls that offer incredible views.
Spotting the northern lights is still possible in Iceland in the spring, particularly earlier in the season. There will still be chances to enjoy classic snowy activities around the country as well, such as glacier walks and visits to ice caves.
As the days get lighter and the air gets milder, it can be a great time to take a road trip around Iceland’s Golden Circle of attractions. Tourism levels will also still be low, so a visit to the Blue Lagoon is a great idea at this time of year.
Bun Day, or Bolludagur, is celebrated in Iceland seven weeks before Easter and is based on an old tradition where children would wake their parents shouting “bolla, bolla, bolla” until they were rewarded with a sweet pastry filled with cream and jam and topped with chocolate or sugar. You can buy these treats all over the country and may see people waving colourful sticks with paper on the end in a nod to the origins of the tradition.
Easter in Iceland has many of the same traditions as other Christian countries in Europe, such as giving chocolate eggs to friends and family and eating lamb on Easter Sunday. All bars and nightclubs are closed on Good Friday, so bear this in mind if you’re planning a night out over the Easter weekend.
Iceland in Summer
The summer months are generally considered the best time of year to go to Iceland, which is why this is the peak season for tourism in the country. Days are long, temperatures are relatively high, and there is a huge array of different events and festivals taking place from June through to August.
A key feature of Iceland in the summer is the country’s Midnight Sun, where darkness never really falls at nighttime because of the country’s position. This can be hard to adjust to, but means that you have plenty of daylight to get out and enjoy a range of activities!
You won’t see tropical or scorching weather in Iceland in the summer, so this is not a destination to visit if you’re the kind of traveller who loves working on their tan when they’re away. However, average high temperatures can range between 20-25°C which will feel very warm, with most days averaging at least a comfortable 15°C.
There’s a fair amount of bright sunshine in Iceland over the summer, so be sure to pack sunglasses and suncream despite the cooler temperatures. Rain is still fairly likely at points over the summer months, but these showers don’t tend to last too long.
What to Do
The best thing to do when visiting Iceland in summer is to get out and about and explore the country’s magnificent landscapes. Whether you’re hiking in the mountains, exploring the fjords or touring geysers and geothermal pools, it’s a great time to go and enjoy the range of scenery that Iceland is famous for.
Speaking of geothermal pools, the country is dotted with hot springs and natural bathing spots. Whether you visit an official spa for a truly luxurious experience, or scope out one of the natural pools in the wild and plan a trip, there’s truly no other experience quite like it.
Summer is the best time for whale watching in Iceland, with plenty of tour companies offering trips to some of the best spots on the coast to see these impressive creatures.
Iceland doesn’t have a great public transport system, so most visitors choose to hire a car when they visit in order to see as much of the country as possible. Hiring a vehicle from a place like Fara Car Rental gives you the freedom to plan your own itineraries and make the most of the good weather in the summer months, as well as giving you access to some of the world’s most scenic driving routes.
Fishermans Day, or Sjómannadagurinn, is held on the first Sunday in June in Iceland to honour all the people who work on the sea to support the country and its economy. In Reykjavik, a whole festival takes place over the weekend at the old harbour, but most towns will hold local celebrations.
A famous summer event in Iceland is the Viking Festival, held in the town of Hafnarfjörður on the second weekend in June. It’s a tribute to the country’s Viking heritage and involves plenty of stalls and displays from those of Viking heritage and actors who come to show what the life of the Vikings was once like.
Iceland celebrates the Summer Solstice between the 20th and 22nd of June each year, marking the longest day in the calendar and the start of the transition into winter. With almost 20 hours of sunlight and nights illuminated by the midnight sun, there are events held across the country to mark this event.
The extended daylight hours mean that there are plenty of events held across Iceland in the summer, and one of the biggest is Culture Night in Reykjavik. The city’s cultural venues launch their season’s events and activities, there are live music performances and food stalls, and almost everything is free of charge and open for all to enjoy.
Iceland in Autumn
Autumn is one of the quietest times of the year in terms of tourism in Iceland, as a lot of travellers choose to visit in the spring or summer when there is more daylight and the weather is milder. However, some of Iceland’s key cultural events take place in the autumn months, and it’s also still a great time of year to enjoy the country’s scenery.
When we think of Iceland we think of snow and ice, but the landscapes are just as beautiful when decked out in the colours of autumn. As the days get shorter, chances of seeing the northern lights also increase, which is another benefit of visiting at this time of year.
The weather is still mild in Iceland in Autumn, although temperatures start to fall as October progresses and the likelihood of rain and snow starts to grow. However, there will still be days filled with sunshine, particularly if you travel to Iceland in September.
Average temperatures at the start of Autumn are 10-12°C, falling to around 7°C as winter approaches. Storms are possible, but you should get a couple of days of warmer, dry weather during your stay.
What to Do
Popular Icelandic attractions will be less busy in the autumn, so it’s a great time of year to tour the Golden Circle to see some of the country’s most impressive natural features. A trip to the Blue Lagoon will also be quieter, which is ideal if you want to make the most of the relaxing experience.
On days when the weather is mild and dry, hiking and walking expeditions will give you a chance to enjoy the beautiful colours of autumn and explore Iceland’s topography up close and personal. On colder days, why not take part in a tour of one of the country’s volcanoes such as a trip into the Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel?
Autumn is harvest time in Iceland, so it’s a great part of the year to enjoy some of the country’s traditional dishes and signature ingredients. There are some things on the menu that might seem a little strange, but plenty of other options that make the most of all the fresh fruit and vegetables harvested at the end of the summer.
The Reykjavík International Film Festival is a key cultural event in Iceland that is held in September/October every year and lasts around 11 days. Directors and producers come from across the world to showcase their work, and there are plenty of talks and panels organised in venues around the city.
Iceland Airwaves Festival is one of the country’s most famous music events, taking place across four days in October or November. It showcases bands and musicians from Iceland and further afield, with an emphasis on giving a platform to emerging talent.
There’s really no bad time to visit Iceland. Whatever month you travel in, there will be exciting events, stunning scenery and weather that can’t stay the same for more than a day, letting you experience all kinds of conditions whilst you see the country.
Hiring a car is one of the best ways to explore Iceland, giving you the freedom to choose where you visit and how you spend your time. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland and want to find out more about outstanding vehicle rental options, get in touch and speak to one of the team at Fara Car Rental for more information.