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Visiting Iceland in May

Iceland in May | Things to See & Do

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May is a month of growing daylight, dying winds and warmer temperatures. Spring is on the way!

Find out what to do in Iceland in May here. What is the weather like in Iceland in May? What are the most popular things to see and do? Can you see the northern lights in Iceland in May? Are there any public holidays or festivals? What to wear in Iceland in May? And what are the best things to do in Reykjavik in May? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Iceland in May.

Visiting Iceland in May

What is Iceland like in May? Winter in Iceland is over, and the days are longer. The sky is blue and filled with sunshine.

Icelanders take full advantage of this, and you can find them relaxing in the city parks, enjoying the geothermal beach or short hikes, sipping Gull in an outdoor beer garden, and hosting BBQs. You might even see an Icelander wearing shorts!

Is May a Good Time to Visit Iceland?

In a land of constant change, every month in Iceland is unique, and May is one of the best months to travel here.

An aerial perspective over the sublime Central Highlands of Iceland.

Not only are flights, accommodation, and car rentals all cheaper throughout May—before the busy summer season—but the May weather in Iceland is heading into summer, transforming the country into a green paradise.

Perhaps the most important thing is that almost all the tours are available. Whale watching, snorkeling, scuba diving, ATVs, horseback riding, lava caving, hot spring hunting, glacier and mountain hiking, mountain biking, sightseeing, the list is endless. And the longer daylight hours can turn Iceland in May into a non-stop adventure.

There are also several festivals and public holidays in May. Music lovers can go to the RAFLOST, the Icelandic Festival of Electronic Arts. And you can join in the celebration of Iceland’s most beloved animal on the International Day of the Icelandic Horse.

Northern Lights in Iceland in May

When you visit Iceland in May, the one thing you can’t do is see the northern lights.

The aurora borealis is a solar phenomenon that can only be seen with clear skies at night when there is solar activity. Since the sun is almost at its peak, it’s impossible to see the northern lights in May in Iceland.

But there are still plenty of other things to do in Iceland in May!

The Best Things to Do in Iceland in May

Visiting Iceland in May means that you'll have the opportunity to participate in many activities, ranging from relaxing to adrenaline-fuelled.

Though some regions of the country are still inaccessible—such as the Central Highlands—many experiences are still available as the summer months roll in.

Read on to check out what to see in Iceland in May!

Hot Springs and Swimming Pools in May in Iceland

Relaxing in one of Iceland's naturally heated geothermal pools is one of the more relaxing pastimes to choose from here.Photo from Excellent 9 Hour Horse Riding & Hot Springs Tour of Reykjadalur Valley with Transfer from Reykjavik

Hot springs are Iceland's more popular summer attractions. Despite the difference in surroundings and temperature, Iceland's many geothermal pools are not only good for a soak but also beautiful to visit. 

As opposed to hot spring hunting in the winter—which involves hopping around at sub-zero temperatures trying to recover your clothes from the wind— the May weather in Iceland is relatively mild and has calm winds.

But you should find out where the pools are before you set out because some are on private land and require permission from the landowner to enter. Asking locals for recommendations or joining hot spring tours are great ways to find the best spots and ensure you don’t get lost.

With Spring on the way, Icelanders begin to use the outdoor swimming pools more regularly.Photo by Harshil Gudka

If you don’t want to rough it in the countryside, you can visit the country’s many swimming pools. Reykjavik alone has over 17!

With the sunshine out, you’ll be surprised to find that Iceland’s swimming pools are more like spas, with hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms. After all, why not get rid of the jet lag and start your holiday in the most relaxed way possible? 

One of the most popular and accessible pools for visitors is Laugardalslaug in Reykjavik. Aside from geothermal hot tubs, the pool offers water slides, a steam room and sauna, a gymnasium next door, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and an area for kids to play. There’s also a shallow, heated pool perfect for stretching out and chilling. The water slide also has no upper age limits (you're never too old!).

Be aware of the rules regarding public pools in Iceland. It's culturally expected and required to shower naked before entering the water. This helps stop the spread of bacteria. 

Diving and Snorkeling in May in Iceland

Snorkellers floating over 'The Cathedral' in Silfra Fissure.Photo from Meet on Location 30 Minute Snorkeling Tour in the Crystal Waters of Silfra

The UNESCO World Heritage site, Thingvellir National Park, is 29.5 miles (47.5 kilometers) east of the capital, is home to one of the top 10 diving and snorkeling sites worldwide: the glacial gorge, Silfra fissure.

Crystal clear water runs from the Langjokull glacier to the fissure through the Mid-Atlantic Ridge's underground ne2rks, which take up to 50 years. Because of this, the current in the Silfra fissure is weak, which means it’s not hard to snorkel or dive there.

Snorkeling and scuba diving at Silfra do have some requirements to ensure the safety of those participating and to protect those guiding you in the water:

  • You must be over 16
  • The minimum height is 5 feet (150 centimeters)
  • The minimum weight is 100 pounds (45 kilograms)
  • You must be physically fit, able to swim, and not pregnant

For all those over 60, a written note from the doctor is also required.

Scuba diving in Silfra fissure has more requirements: 

  • Participants must be certified PADI open water divers with proof of dry suit experience within the last 2 years.
  • The minimum age is 17, though all those under 18 years old require a written consent slip from their legal guardian.
  • Participants will also have to sign both a liability and a medical form before entering the water.

The Silfra fissure is located in the Thingvellir National Park. It’s an important location for Icelanders for several reasons. 

First, it’s where one of the first democratically elected parliaments in the world, the Althingi, is founded. However, the parliament is now in Reykjavik. Guests today can walk right up to where these historical gatherings were once held.

A scuba diver about to descend into the depths of David's Crack.From: Diving Day Tour | Davidsgja - David's Fissure

The second reason is its geology. Thingvellir National Park is one of the only places on the planet where you can see both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at the same time. The moss-covered volcanic fields between the tectonic plates could be described, continentally, as "no man's land." 

Some scuba diving operators also travel to other dive sites, such as the nearby Davidsgja (David’s Crack), the darker and deeper cousin of Silfra fissure, in Thingvallavatn. Other dive sites include Strytan, the WWII “El Grillo” Cricket shipwreck, the river Litlaa and the ocean site, Gardur.

However, each place has different requirements, and snorkeling and diving may only be available at certain times of the year. It’s recommended that you contact the dive operator directly.

Hiking in May in Iceland

Hiking is very popular around the country.

Iceland’s May weather is milder, even if still a bit unpredictable, and hiking is one of the best ways to experience the Icelandic countryside. You can get a closer glimpse at the meadows, valleys, and trickling streams that make this island what it is.

The most accessible hiking trails to the capital can be found at the neighboring Mt. Esja, overlooking the city. At the height of 0.57 miles (914 meters), the 2 most popular leisure trails are the summits Thverfellshorn 0.48 miles (780 meters) and Kerholakambur 0.53 miles (851 meters).

The hike is divided into 4 sections, getting more difficult the higher the trails lead. Those who reach the top have an incredible panorama of Reykjavik and the surrounding Reykjanes Peninsula

Note that the Central Highlands and its hiking trails are still closed during May. The roads leading up there are still unstable, and it is illegal to attempt to gain access. For those looking to trek the Central Highlands and Landmannalaugar trail, the best time to visit is in July.

There are still plenty of other great hikes, and you can join guided hiking tours to skip all the hassle of researching and planning the hike.

Glacier Hiking in May in Iceland

Glacier Hiking in Iceland is an adventure set in a winter wonderland.Photo from Exhilarating 2 Hour Blue Ice Glacier Hike on Vatnajokull with Transfer from Skaftafell

Another form of hiking to try in Iceland is glacier hiking. Ice caps cover 11% of the country’s landmass are some of its most remarkable natural attractions in their icy white and blue glory.

A glacier hike or an ice climbing tour can get you close to these beautiful structures. It’s an adventure guarantee to be the highlight of your trip, but note that hiking the glaciers without a guide is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. You don’t know the paths, techniques, or risks as your glacier guide does, a highly experienced professional with years of training in climbing, hiking, and first aid.

Your guide will know the safest and most spectacular routes and provide all the equipment necessary to hike the ice cap, such as helmets, snowshoes, trekking poles, and crampons.

Another essential thing to do before hiking glaciers is to dress up in warm layers and don't forget the camera.

Fishing in May in Iceland

Eager fisherman angling off the side of a whale watching boat.Photo from Classic 3 Hour Sea Fishing Trip on an Oak Boat with Transfer from Reykjavik

May is one of the better months to fish in Iceland for anglers, hitting the season just as it begins.

Iceland has some excellent river fishing, but there are also opportunities to fish in the ocean and to "try what you catch!" 

However, all fishing in Iceland is private. Fishing times are decided by the landowners. Many of them like to see the fish spend the year in peace. This guarantees the sustainability of the fish population but also that the land is not trampled or crowded with anglers.

To get the best results on your fishing trip, we recommend booking a guided fishing tour in advance. Angling guides know the best spots, the best techniques, and, most importantly, all rules and regulations. 

The type of fishing you're interested in will influence the time of year you choose to arrive.

According to Icelandic law, migratory brown trout can be fished between April and October. This is when you can expect rivers to be opened to the public.

Atlantic salmon can also be fished during this period, though arctic char can only be caught from June (their numbers are decreasing with each passing year.)

Sea trout and sea brown run trout can only be fished from October onward.

Before fishing in Iceland, you must know that the country has strict fishing laws. For instance, no equipment used abroad may be brought into the country unless it has a certificate of disinfection to prevent water pollution or contamination. All organic live bait is also strictly prohibited.

You should read more about fishing in Iceland before organizing your trip. 

Horseback Riding in May in Iceland

Icelandic Horses come in a variety of colours and sizes.

Horse riding is available year-round, but the warmer temperature in May makes it a more pleasant experience. And you get the opportunity to meet the famous Icelandic horse.

Icelandic horses are the country’s pride and joy. Though smaller than other breeds, they are well-known for their friendly nature, reliability, strength, and intelligence. Icelandic horses are also very experienced with visitors, meaning that new riders will find themselves "on good hooves."

After an informational video or a personal briefing on the basics of being on a saddle, you'll mount your trusty steed and take off into the beauty of the Icelandic wilderness.

It’s a historic way to travel across Iceland and see its farmland, gentle rivers, and peaceful countryside.

For the literature and history buffs out there, Icelandic horses play a major role in Iceland’s culture and Norse mythology. One notable example is Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of Odin, who was said to have created the dramatic Asbyrgi Canyon in North Iceland when his giant hoof stomped the ground.

Looking at the horse community in Iceland today and the growing popularity of horse riding as a pastime, it seems that Icelanders’ love for their horses has only strengthened through time.

Lava Caving in May in Iceland

Lava Caving presents an opportunity to explore Iceland from below the earth's surface.Photo from The Golden Circle & Caving on the Reykjanes Peninsula

Lava caving tours are open throughout May and make for a thrilling trip into Iceland’s volcanic, subterranean universe.

Aside from fantastic displays of red, orange, and purple rock, lava caving presents guests with the chance to gain more in-depth insight into Iceland's geology.

After all, where else can you touch the fossilized remains of ancient lava flows and learn about the process that created Iceland? 

Most lava caves in Iceland are easily accessible and can be traversed with an average level of physical fitness.

However, some caves have very narrow sections, so you might have to duck, crawl, and climb. So it might not be suitable if you aren’t comfortable with dark or confined spaces.

Your friendly caving guide will give you all the equipment you'll need—helmets, headlamps, etc.—and will readily answer any question about the history and formation of lava caves. Wear a good pair of hiking boots because the terrain is uneven and often wet with dripping water.

Whale Watching in May in Iceland

A Minke Whale passes below the hull of a whale watching boat.From: Husavik Original Whale Watching Adventure

May is an optimum time for whale watching in Iceland. As opposed to a windy, 3-hour trip in the winter, guests can enjoy a pleasant and relaxing boat trip under the sunshine as they look for signs of these majestic animals. 

Iceland has many sea mammals species local to its shores: killer whales, harbor porpoises, short-beaked dolphins, minke whales, sperm and humpback whales, and even passing blue whales.

It is almost guaranteed that you will see at least one cetacean species throughout your trip. Breaching minke whales, a relatively small species, are the most common sighting, as are pods of dolphins.

Whale-watching boats in Iceland are fitted with the latest radar technology and are in constant communication with one another, meaning your chance to see some of these creatures is the best that it can be.

Bird enthusiasts will also enjoy the seabirds nest on the nearby cliff sides or sweep across the waves searching for fish. Bird species include gullsfulmars, auksducks, and gannets.

In certain areas, guests may even be able to spot another of Iceland's iconic residents: the puffin. This adorable creature graces Iceland's shores from early April until September each year.

The best whale watching is available from Reykjavik in Faxafloi Bay, from the whale watching capital Husavik, and the capital of the north, Akureyri. Though the species do not change, each port offers a new landscape.

Puffin Tours in May in Iceland

A sweet little puffin building its nest on the Icelandic coast.

Iceland boasts of the largest Atlantic puffin population in Europe, flocking to the coastline to nest in the summer months. They arrive in April, so May is the perfect time to spot the adorable 'clown of the sea.'

The best place to do that is at the Dyrholaey peninsula, which is part of some summer self-drive tour of the South Coast or the Ring Road.

Another great place to find them is the rugged Westfjords, which are mostly inaccessible in winter. Visit the westernmost part of Iceland (and Europe!) and to the cliffside called Latrabjarg, and you'll find our rotund friend, the puffin.

Latrabjarg is rich in birdlife, and you'll be able to see a range of species. Just be mindful that you are on a cliff.

Many tours offer to take you to see the puffins and whale watching, but there are also tours all over the country that will bring you closer to these curious critters. This express puffin watching tour from Reykjavik is a perfect activity for animal lovers and families alike.

What’s Going on in May in Iceland?

For those traveling to Iceland in May, there are also several festivals that are the highlights of Icelandic and international music and art. May also see religious celebrations, historical festivals, and even a commemoration day for the Icelandic horse. 

Ascension Day (Public Holiday)

Hallgrímskirkja, one of Reykjavik's most iconic cultural landmarks.

Ascension Day is one of the oldest Christian holidays, celebrated 40 days after Easter to commemorate Jesus' ascension to heaven.

Ascension Day is a public holiday in Iceland. Children are given the day off at school, and most workplaces close down. Icelanders tend to spend the day at home with their family and dine on traditional cuisine. 

Visitors interested in religion—or architecture—can maximize this day by visiting some of Iceland’s most iconic churches.

The most famous churches in Reykjavik are the modernist Lutheran Hallgrimskirkja church, as well as the 1899 green-roofed Chapel, Frikirkjan i Reykjavik by the city pond, Tjornin. Landakotskirkja (Landakot’s Church) is formally referred to as Basilika Krists Konungs (The Basilica of Christ the King), the designated cathedral for the Catholic Church of Iceland.

There are many churches in Iceland.

There are, of course, many other beautiful church buildings across Iceland that are worth visiting. Akureyrarkirkja church is the Lutheran Church of Akureyri, instantly recognizable by its cuboid steeples, its clock face centerpiece, and the staircases leading up to its entrance. The Catholic church, Katholska Kirkjan, can also be found nearby.

RAFLOST: Icelandic Festival of Electronic Arts

Since 2007, RAFLOST has been the pioneering festival for electronic artists—computers, dance, music, games, poetry. Over the last decade, the festival has become a force of nature, attracting artists from across the world to experiment and participate in this rare, collective experience.

Held in Reykjavik in May of each year, RAFLOST collaborates with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, and the Icelandic Academy of Arts to bring together all those impassioned by the artistic potential of electronic art. 

Festival organizers hope that the event annually will help to stimulate grassroots electronic music in Iceland.

In the past, electronica giants like Morton Subotnick, Todor Todoroff, and Mikael Fernstrom have all wowed audiences with their festival performances at RAFLOST. 

The festival has become a celebration of music and technology with quirky and out-of-the-box attractions. In previous years, there were robotic sumo wrestling, improvised electro-acoustic performances, internet video parties, DIY hacking workshops, and even computer-generated poems.

It’s one of the best things to do in Reykjavik in May for music lovers and families. Aside from the futuristically strange and enchanting technology, RAFLOST also holds conferences and exhibitions from guest speakers and artists. 

International Day of the Icelandic Horse

Icelandic horses have their own day!Credit: Horses of Iceland Facebook.

The International Day of the Icelandic Horse started as a collaboration between the Icelandic Equestrian Association and the Horses of Iceland marketing initiative.

It’s a celebration of every aspect of this unique and domestic breed on May 1. Its horse parade is a must-see in Reykjavik in May.

The annual horse parade begins at the city center, a uniformed spectacle of proud steeds and loyal riders. At 1 p.m., the Mayor of Reykjavik gives a speech to mark the celebration. Then the parade kicks off, a steady and unified trot down Skolavordustig, Bankastraeti, Austurstraeti, Posthusstraeti and finally, Vonarstraeti.

The parade ends at Parliamentary Square, Austurvollur Square, where spectators get their chance to meet and ride the horses.

The second part of the festival is a joint effort between stable owners and enthusiastic members of the Icelandic horse community. Open days are held at participating stables across the country for friends and families to meet the Icelandic horse breed up close. 

The festival aims to showcase the Icelandic horses’ many excellent qualities to an international audience and stimulate and enlarge the community and tour operators here in Iceland.

In support, the government has promised an investment of 25 million Icelandic kronor over 4 years to help strengthen industry growth. 

May Day

May Day is a public holiday in Iceland and is an unofficial day of protest.

Falling on the same day as the International Day of the Icelandic Horse, May 1 is a public holiday. Many know it as 'Labor Day,’ but in Iceland, it’s called ‘May Day.’

May Day in Iceland has become an unofficial day of protest in Iceland. Many carry banners and signs out to the streets, making their demands and concerns clear.

Although there isn't a unified subject, many Icelanders argue for wage equality, shorter work days and workweeks, and flexible in-and-out office hours.

In previous years, protesters have gathered together at Hlemmur Bus Station before marching down the main street in downtown Reykjavik, Laugavegur. Finally, the procession ends at Ingolfstorg Square, where some speeches are held, and cakes and coffees are supplied by representatives of Iceland's trade unions.

Weather in Iceland in May

Exploring Iceland in May will open up almost all attractions and sites to you; waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, mountain roads, etc.

Iceland’s weather in May is certainly on the upturn. As the dying days of winter take their last breath, the sunshine begins to make a more regular appearance, and the winds slow to a gentle breeze.

On average, May has more sunshine hours than any other month and the least rainfall. However, be sure to pack yourself some sturdy winter clothing for your trip to Iceland in May. The weather is unpredictable, and you may end up in a hailstorm in May.

It's best to pack a variety of clothing for a May trip to Iceland. The weather, after all, is still rather unpredictable.

As for daylight hours, May sees a significant increase from April. At the beginning of the month, the sun rises at 5 a.m. and sets at 10 p.m.

The end of the month sees the sunrise at 3:30 a.m. and sets at 11:30 p.m., meaning there are only 4 hours of darkness, so you can’t see Iceland’s northern lights in May.

The Temperature in Iceland in May

Iceland’s temperature in May ranges between 5 C (41 F)  and 20 C (68 F), meaning stepping out in a t-shirt and shorts is sometimes possible.

What to Pack for Iceland in May

Now that we know Iceland’s May temperature range, you can see that it’s essential to pack some winter gear and spring outfits.

The Reykjavik weather (in May and other months) tends to be a little better and warmer than the rest of the country. So if you’re only visiting the capital and the surrounding area, you might get away with fewer winter clothes.

That said, we still recommend:

  • A waterproof and windproof jacket
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Fleece and other layers
  • Plenty of socks
  • Scarves, hats, and gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuits 
  • Sunscreen
  • Cap
  • And that one spring/summer outfit 

Visiting Iceland in May or June

Visiting Iceland in May

May is an excellent period for travelers to maximize their holiday experience, hoping to get in as many sights and activities as possible.

While the midnight sun is not at its full peak, May is a shoulder season friendly to visitors’ budgets. You can also catch the tail end of glacier hiking tours and the start of whale watching and puffin watching.

However, if you plan hiking, the Central Highlands is not open until June. The National Day of Iceland and the Secret Solstice Festival are also in June. So choosing between the 2 months depends on the focus on your trip and personal preference.

If you’re looking for the best value for money, Iceland travel in May is it.  But if you want a chance to see the northern lights, you should visit in April.

Read about Iceland in June and Iceland in April  

Recommended Itineraries for May

The weather in May in Iceland is better, and many roads are reopening, making road trips across the country possible again.

If you're stuck for ideas, check out the following Guide To Iceland itineraries—the perfect inspiration for your May holiday to Iceland.

How did you enjoy your experience in Iceland in May? What did you get up to, and how did you find the weather? Was there anything you found that wasn't open to you? Please, feel free to leave your comments and questions in the Facebook box below.