What is there to do and see in Iceland in July? What is the weather actually like in Iceland in high summer? If the midnight sun is out, does that mean I won't be able to see the Northern Lights? Continue reading for all you need to know about your summer vacation in Iceland.
At the peak of summer, Iceland is abuzz with energy because of the long July days and short nights—which lengthen toward the end of the month. Almost all roads and trails are open to being traversed, and the Highlands are home to respectful travellers in 4x4 vehicles.
Adolescent sheep graze in endless meadows. Horses play chase in idyllic fields. And all is good in the world. Iceland is serenely beautiful in the long summer days, illuminated by the midnight sun.
Iceland is the perfect vacation spot in July. Not because it's warmer—although it does sometimes reach a scorching 15 degrees—but because the roads are open, the weather is comparatively mild, and all manner of tour are open to visitors (except, of course, for Northern Lights tours, since the Northern Lights are not visible in July, although they're still above you, dancing).
July in Iceland means that you can travel around this small island in the North Atlantic without facing winter's hazardous driving conditions and brutal weather.
Outdoorsy types will be overjoyed to visit the Highlands, pitch a tent in an authorized camping zone, and take in the joy and calm of Iceland's quiet summer valleys.
You'll have the chance to hike Iceland's tallest mountains, repel into its calderas and caves. You'll walk in the tracks of Vikings, or follow the trails of the medieval Icelandic sagas. There's no shortage of activities in summer.
There are endless activities both in Reykjavík and in Iceland more broadly in July. You could spend weeks traversing Iceland, exploring its rich natural wonders. You can circle the entire country for a month and you still won't see everything that Iceland has to offer in high summer.
When making plans for a holiday during this month, therefore, it is important to prioritise; some to immerse themselves in nature, while others want higher-octane adventures. Or you might be here to learn about its history, literature, and culture, or to take part in one of this country's many and varied festivals. The options are endless, and the days are long enough to facilitate an action-packed itinerary.
Camping is an incredibly popular pastime in Iceland in July, and both locals and visitors enjoy a good nature bath. Campsites across the country are open to guests seeking some fresh air and a respite from the quotidian. Camping is an affordable travel option for those on a budget in Iceland.
Most Icelandic campsites are in stunning spots, and are situated in some of the most famous areas in Iceland--from Skaftafell to Landmannalaugar.
Photo by Philip Gunkel
But remember that, when camping in Iceland, there are still rules to follow; a great rule of thumb is that if it will damage nature in any way or violate property lines, you shouldn't do it. Camping on someone’s property or in a National Park is illegal and will result in hefty fines; camping one night on untilled land is allowed, but only if no waste is left behind. Open fires are absolutely banned.
If you rent a campervan or car with a rooftop tent, you are only permitted to stay in an authorized campsite.
You're, of course, absolutely welcome to bring your own camping equipment to Iceland; another equally viable option to save on luggage fees is to rent it for the length of your trip to the outskirts.
Another great option to live your Iceland dream is to go on a guided hiking tour. While, of course, a number of trails are year-round, the most spectacular ones are only open between June and September for safety reasons.
Avid hikers have a wealth of multi-day treks to choose from. The most renowned route is the famous Laugavegur and Fimmvörðháls trail, which takes you from the spectacular highland region of Landmannalaugar to the verdant ‘Valley of Thor’, Þórsmörk.
The hike usually takes between five and six days, but you can complete individual lengths of the hike in three or four days. You stay within cabins along the route. Hiking the country will give you unique views of glaciers, volcanoes, lava fields, forests, lakes, rivers, and more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
There are many single-day hikes for those eager to see some incredible natural areas, but don't wish to stay overnight. Landmannalaugar, Fimmvörðháls, Þórsmörk, Mývatn, Mount Snæfell and Reykjadalur, all offer trails that can be hiked in a single day, to name a few.
An opportunity that only exists in Iceland in June and July is sightseeing beneath the midnight sun. Summer's endless hours of light can be disruptive to your circadian rhythms, but they also mean that there's no natural time to begin or wrap up your outings, which allows you to make the most of your trip around the country.
By partaking in a sightseeing tour after normal hours, you are likely to miss out on many of the crowds at the popular sites; considering how busy July can get, it's good to take advantage of the summer sun. While places like Geysir and Gullfoss are aswarm with crowds around noon, there's hardly anyone around at midnight, when this Golden Circle tour takes place.
Those with a passion for photography might be interested in this 10-day photography workshop through the country’s incredible landscapes by night—and never run out of new light to play with.
Of course, if you don't want to take a tour, you can also rent a car and travel around Iceland at night on your own. Adventuring in solitude in Iceland is a deeply fulfilling, meditative activity—a perfect time for introspection and careful consideration of the world around you.
Photo from Sólheimajökull Ice Climb and Glacier Hike
Although you can tour Iceland’s incredible glaciers year-round, the warmer July temperatures and bright sunlight awaken the majesty of these treasures. Calm weather makes summer glacial visits much more pleasant than blustery winter tours.
There are glacier hikes to almost all of Iceland’s glaciers during July. Classic tours (like Sólheimajökull, Vatnajökull and Skaftafellsjökull) are still on offer, but a limited number of special tours are only available in the summer months.
You can also enjoy Iceland's glaciers in July by snowmobile. These tours most commonly take place on Langjökull glacier, and leave either from Gullfoss Waterfall or Reykjavík, the latter often in combination with a Golden Circle tour. In summer, this snowmobiling tour of Vatnajökull is also available.
For all glacier tours, however, you should still bring warm clothes and sturdy hiking boots—because it is a glacier, and that means that it's cold, potentially windy, and slippery. You might also consider throwing on a pair of sunglasses since the sun reflecting off of the snow and ice can be blinding.
Photo from Whale Watching and Snorkelling Excursion
Like the glacier tours listed above, snorkelling and diving excursions take place year-round. The biggest advantage of diving in July, however, is that putting on and taking off your gear will be a lot more comfortable. Second to that, of course, is, that the algae decorate—the fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates—is in full bloom, offering a doubly colourful adventure. The sunlight, in addition to encouraging algae to thrive, also increases visibility.
However, in order to take a snorkelling or diving tour, you'll need to meet a few basic requirements (see table). But note immediately that pregnant women cannot take these tours. Those over 45 who smoke a pipe or drink heavily may need a health certificate. Individuals with circulatory, respiratory or neurological conditions may not be permitted to dive without a health certificate or waiver.
Further, you're able to snorkel in either a wetsuit or a drysuit, but because of the frigid temperatures, you can only dive in a drysuit. The water averages 2° celsius, and the water below the surface can be even colder, making it hazardous to dive without adequate insulation—in this case, a drysuit.
Photo from Diving Silfra Day Tour
Most snorkelling and diving in July is conducted in Silfra fissure, a beautiful gorge in Þingvellir National Park with crystal clear water and visibility beyond 100 metres.
Horse riding tours are popular all year, but are obviously much easier in calmer months like July, when Iceland's unpredictable weather is less likely to rain on your parade.
Icelandic horses are treated humanely, and, if you haven't heard, they have a special gait, called tölt; when the horse is tölt-ing, it will always have one foot on the ground. This gait is very smooth since there's no suspension between strides, and rumour has it that you can drink water from a glass without spilling while in this gait.
Horseriding tours can be taken all over the country; many leave from Reykjavík while others leave from Northern destinations like Húsavík. In the East Fjords, there's a horse-riding tour that's conducted exclusively in July, and will introduce you to many beautiful sites around the area.
You can also mix it up by combining horseback riding with other excursions, like glacier hiking, in a combination day tour leaving from Reykjavík.
Caving is an excellent activity to enjoy in July in Iceland. The snow that blocked the entrances of many caves in winter and the ice on the ground that made them hazardous to traverse will have melted.
Raufarhólshellir and Viðgelmir are two exemplars of caves that you can stand up and comfortably walk through; more-seasoned cavers may head to Leiðarendi, a cave that requires a degree of climbing and crawling, instead.
To make a full day out of a lava-caving tour, you can combine it with this exploration of the South Coast of Iceland, which includes a glacier hike and an option to take a fat bike ride. This tour, meanwhile, will show you both the inside of a lava tube and all of the Reykjanes Peninsula's major sites.
There are few things more spectacular than whale watching in Iceland in July, when incredible creatures like minke whales, humpback whales, and even sperm, fin, and blue whales have returned from their summer breeding grounds to feed off the coast of Iceland. That means that July presents a unique opportunity to see them.
The same is true of Iceland’s puffins. They return to the island in June and stay until August, making July the optimal time to spot them.
A ton of whale watching tours leave from Reykjavík during the summer, and they generally range from one to three hours. In July's fair weather, it's more pleasant on the ship's deck, and whale signings are very common. Few ships will return to drydock without spotting some seals, dolphins, or porpoises.
If you take a whale-watching tour and don't see a whale, you can keep your ticket and reuse it with that particular tour company until you do.
The best whale-watching tours depart from Húsavík in the north of Iceland. The amount of fish in Skjálfandi bay, where the tours are conducted, means you're likely to see multiple humpbacks feeding.
Photo from Husavik Traditional Whale Watching
You can also take whale-watching tours from Akureyri, Iceland's second-largest city.
If you prefer to stay on land, it's not entirely unlikely that you'll see a whale. Whales are regularly spotted from the coast in the Westfjords, East Fjords, and the Snæfellnes Peninsula, especially on the northern side, which overlooks Breiðafjorður's herring grounds.
Puffins are, of course, another story, since thousands of them congregate around the country every year, particularly in places like Látrabjarg in the Westfjords, Dyrhólaey in the south, and the Tjörnes Peninsula in the north.
Photo from Nightlife in Reykjavík
Throughout the summer months in Iceland, the entire country comes to life with festivals, and July is no exception.
In the Westfjords during the first weekend in July, you'll find the Rauðasandur Festival, which takes place on the beautiful red-sand beach under the midnight sun. All proceeds are used for the preservation of the area.
Intermittently from July 8 to August 6, the town of Skalholt offers annual summer concerts, which attract around 4,000 people each year. The festival focuses on modern renditions of seventeenth and eighteenth-century compositions.
The Eistnaflug festival, in contrast, is a heavy metal festival that takes place July 11-July 14. It's held at Neskaupstaður in eastern Iceland. Bræðslan also takes place in the east, in Borgafjörður Eystri, and takes place during the last weekend of July. It's held in a renovated fish factory.
A number of festivals take place in eastern Iceland during July, with a particular concentration in Seydisfjörður. The Bláa Kirkjan Concert Series takes place in the town church, and its events take place throughout July and August. The Lung-A festival, additionally, is a weeklong workshop-based international art festival for youngsters.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, photo by CGP Grey
In the last weekend of July, you can head to the western town of Reykholt for their Chamber Music Festival. One of its four concerts is carried out in collaboration with the Snorrastofa Centre, a centre dedicated to the medieval writer, historian, and chieftain Snorri Sturluson.
And finally, in Reykjavík, you could visit the Kexport Festival, a city-wide block party on third Saturday in July, where you'll hear all manner of music.
Even though you can still wander around the Golden Circle and other popular sites, summer in Iceland is the optimal time to visit destinations that are usually more difficult to access.
The roads in the east, for example, aren't open reliably in autumn, winter, and spring because of snow, flooding, and potential avalanches. But in July, you'll be able to wander the winding roads of the East Fjords and to traverse mountain paths on your way to visit villages like Borgafjörður Eystri and Bakkafjörður.
Opportunities in the north also increase dramatically during the summer. For example, though Lake Mývatn can be explored year-round, places like the Víti crater (yes, víti means hell in Icelandic) and the dramatic Krafla lava fields are fully accessible in July. The lake's surrounding shores are also teeming with wildlife—over 15 species of duck—making it an ideal destination for birdwatchers.
The roads around the Vatnsnes Peninsula, a popular destination for seal-watching, open up in summer, allowing safe passage to this idyllic area in July.
The Westfjords are well-nigh impossible to reach in winter. Residents of the smallest villages often have to reach the outside world by boat. In summer, however, the vast majority of its sites—notably, the iconic Dynjandi waterfall and the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve—are easily reachable by road.
The Látrabjarg bird cliffs are they easy to get to in summer when they've come to life with thousands of birds from dozens of species. You can get within arms reach of many of the birds, but remember to remain respectful of their nests.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a lot easier to drive throughout the summer, too. When the mountain passes clear, you can reach destinations like Mount Kírkjufell and Ýtri Tungam, a beach on the south side of the peninsula.
The Highlands are only accessible in four-wheel-drive vehicles, but routes like the Kjölur Highland Road and Sprengisandur are open, allowing you to see the little-travelled interior of this beautiful country. The rough mountain tracks tend to vary in quality and sometimes it's necessary to ford the rive in your vehicle, so it's important that you choose optimal transportation. Be mindful when driving that you cannot go off-roading in the Highlands.
Within the Highlands, the renowned Landmannalaugar and the lesser-known area of Hveravellir are open to travellers. At both of these sites, you can hike to find the most spectacular viewpoints--and, of course--to bathe in gorgeous hot-springs.
But if rather than going it alone, you prefer to take a tour (or a series of tours!), we've got a lot of suggestions for planning your trip. From self-drive itineraries to combo tours, Guide to Iceland offers something for everybody.
Let’s begin by looking into self-drive tours. You can, of course, rent a car, choose what activities you want to do, plot your route, and book your accommodation yourself, but it's often much easier to book a pre-planned Guide to Iceland self-drive package. These packages give you the freedom to travel to all of the sites you want, without all the worry about organisation.
The minimum amount of time recommended travelling the ring-road over summer is between six or seven days, our shortest self-drive tours on offer. They include all four corners of the country and will take you to a range of stunning locations. You can add extra activities to your day, too; our most popular additions include glacier hiking, whale watching, and a boat tour on Jökulsárlón.
Those with a little longer to spend in Iceland, however, will find that they can reach more sites. This ten-day tour, for example, will also introduce travellers to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, while these thirteen- and fourteen-day trips will allow you to see both the peninsula and the Westfjords.
But we also offer shorter customer-tailored self-drive tours. For example, if you want to travel the Ring Road, but don't have time to hit all the sites, we offer a five-day package that will allow you to enjoy the s Golden Circle and South Coast in-depth, including time at Skaftafell Nature Reserve and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. We also offer a five-day package that covers sites in western Iceland, like Snæfellsnes.
Those on a tighter budget--or just love the great outdoors--could also build camping into their tour instead of hotels and guesthouses. These packages generally range from eight to fourteen days, depending on what you want to see.
Guided packages, on the other hand, equip you with a guide in a bus, and somewhat more structured days on the open road.
For example, this twelve-day package will take you in a circle around the country, and includes the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, whereas this tour is packed with activities and covers the Ring Road in half the time.
A particularly notable opportunity this July is our Iceland-Greenland package, wherein you have the option to book a package to Iceland and spend a full day in Greenland, in which flights are included. These packages can last five, six, seven, or eight days.
If you want to spend your days in Reykjavík, however, you can make your own itinerary based on your interests. Here's one possible agenda for you to consider:
On day one, you arrive at Keflavík Airport and take the Flybus to the Blue Lagoon. After bathing in the restorative waters, you take the bus to Reykjavík and settle into your hotel.
On your second day, you take the essential Golden Circle tour, but you combine it with a lava caving adventure! On day three, your adventure continues when you take a tour of the South Coast with a glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier.
You spend your fourth day recharging in Reykjavík, getting to know its restaurants, boutiques, museums, galleries, and bars. If you still have the energy, you can hop a bus (it actually takes two--one quick transfer along the way) to Mount Esja for a pleasant hike to the top.
On day five, you decide to take a tour of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and spend a full day exploring its many sites. On your penultimate day in Iceland, you will elect to see more of the glaciers and take a tour of snowmobiling on Langjökull. Or maybe you just decide to put your feet up and relax in downtown.
On day seven, it's time to leave Iceland, but not before a morning tour to Hveragerði, where you'll hike through Reykjadalur valley to bathe in some natural hot-springs before heading to Keflavík to catch your flight.
Before coming to Iceland in July, it's very important to know what to expect in terms of the climate and weather. In general, it's light out all day and bright most of the night, the weather is reasonably calm--hovering between 10 and 15 degrees--but there are a few things to watch out for.
An "Icelandic summer" seems like an oxymoron, but this mythical beast does exist. June, July, and August are, in point of fact, Iceland's warmest--and driest--months.
But Iceland is hardly ever 'warm' or 'dry' by traditional definitions. Iceland is generally classified as having an oceanic climate, or a cool temperature maritime climate, meaning that temperatures linger below 22° Celsius in summer and are generally above 0° Celsius in winter. The cooler climate is a result of the island's position between the Arctic and temperate seas--between the cold airstreams of the Arctic and the warm air masses to the south. Iceland is at a crossroads where the improbable summer hailstorm becomes suddenly likely. Slightly ahead of summer, in May 2018, the south of Iceland experienced sporadic hailstorms, for example, even on miraculously sunny days.
During summer, the average temperature in the south and southwest of Iceland exceeds 10° Celsius (50°Fahrenheit). In Reykjavik, the average temperature is just under 12° Celsius (54° Fahrenheit) in the same period, but the south has seen temperatures skyrocket to 25.7° Celsius (78° Fahrenheit), with the highest temperature on record reaching around 30°C. To plan efficiently, however, count on temperatures hovering around 10° Celsius. However, temperatures in Iceland in the summer have been as low as 3.5° Celsius (38° Fahrenheit), reaching 1° Celsius in the East Fjords in 2015.
Summers in Iceland are generally fairly mild, but low-pressure systems still pass through the island in summer, bringing heavy rains and storms. Weather in the Highlands is particularly unstable and unpredictable, and travellers should come prepared with sunglasses, rain gear, warm clothing, and windbreakers.
Every few years, Icelandic news outlets and meteorologists joke that summer in Iceland is cancelled because of its tendency to be overcast and rainy, even in the milder months. Average rainfall in July, though light relative to Iceland's unofficial rainy season in the autumn, is still around 50mm (2 inches) with 10 days of rainfall.
Despite its rainy tendencies, though, Iceland in July is noted for its crystal-blue skies an bright days, which exude a sort of optimism, making everything seem more possible. One imagines that Iceland's beautiful summers might have awaked the Norse imagination of the future on this volcanic island in the North Atlantic.
The Icelandic Meteorology Office's Website is a great resource for keeping up to date on weather conditions across the country at any given time, and it's essential to check the weather before venturing out, especially if you're driving yourself.
Furthermore, though Iceland's roads are open in summer, unseasonable snow or flooding--or most recently, a landslide--may still lead to closures. The Road and Coastal Administration's website provides around the clock information on road conditions in Iceland.
Firstly, the sun does not shine all night in July, although the 3 AM twilight might qualify as sunlight. The summer equinox is on June 21; at that point, the sun begins to go down 1-3 minutes a day earlier, so by the end of the month, the sun will set for a few hours in the early morning. From July 1, the sun isn't visible from 23:56 to 03:06 (although the sky will still be very light), while on the 31st, it will set at 22:33 and rise at 04:31. Even at that point, however, it won't be dark enough to see the Northern Lights without specialised equipment.
If you are travelling to the Highlands to hike or to camp (or to hike and camp), you should register your travel plans regardless of your level of experience and expertise. That way, if you are out of contact or away longer than you said you would be, search and rescue can take measures to locate you.