What is there to do in Iceland in October? Are the summer tours still running, and have the winter tours yet started? What is the weather like, and what places are easily reachable? Continue reading for all you need to know about Iceland in October.
October is one of the least busy months in Iceland. The rush of the summer is over and the festivities of early winter are yet to set in.
What this means for potential travellers, however, is that you can enjoy the best of both seasons without having to pay exorbitant prices for travel services.
The days are long enough for you to fill them with activities and the nights are dark enough for you to enjoy the Northern Lights; the majority of roads are still accessible and incredible locations such as the Westfjords are still open to visitors.
Many summer tours run until the roads are blocked with snow. In most parts of Iceland, that happens in November or December. Many winter tours, meanwhile, only require a little darkness to operate and, therefore, kick off the season in September.
October is a crossover between winter and summer, leaving a wealth of options available.
Photo Credit: Ooi Eric Studios
The Aurora Borealis can only be seen in darkness when the sky is clear. From May to September, they're impossible to catch because of the Midnight Sun.
On a clear October night, visitors have unparalleled opportunities to catch the lights.
There are many ways to capture this awe-inspiring phenomenon, but the best methods involve leaving the light-pollution of the city centre. Any light works against the intensity of the lights, so even if you can already see them well from your window, you're bound to get a better view from the countryside.
There are a few exceptions to this; Grótta Lighthouse is usually dark enough to see them, and city parks like Klambratún and Laugardalur offer better views than your backyard. There is also a tour that will take you to Viðey Island, just outside of Reykjavík.
That said, if you stay in one place, a few stray clouds could block your view. By taking a Northern Lights tour out of Reykjavík, your expert guides will be able to find areas with the clearest skies because they know lay of the land and the changeable nature of lights well like the back of their hands.
Bus tours tend to be more affordable, while super jeeps can take you to less accessible places—over rivers and down dusty trails—ensuring less light pollution.
You can also take a Northern Lights Cruise out into Faxafloi Bay, where you can be assured of near-total darkness. If you are in the north, you can take a cruise into the fjord Eyjafjörður from the town of Akureyri.
Of course, you can chase the Northern Lights yourself in a rental car, seeking out spots with little cloud cover.
While going Northern Lights hunting is considered a winter activity in Iceland, hiking and taking super jeeps into the Highland regions or up the country’s mountaintops are usually regarded as summer tours. In October, however, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Most multi-day hikes aren't available from the end of September onward, but there are many day-long opportunities to see the remarkable interior of the country.
For example, the forested ‘Valley of Thor’, Þórsmörk, can be visited and hiked on a day tour in October, allowing you to see this mesmerising land in its autumnal colours.
Landmannalaugar, an iconic Highland region of rhyolite mountains and natural hot springs, can also be accessed and explored on this super jeep tour that also introduces you to the notorious volcano Mount Hekla. Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk mark either end of the famous Laugavegur trail, the most popular multi-day hiking trek in summer.
The east of Iceland will become difficult to traverse in October, but not entirely out of the question. Day hikes up its incredible mountains, for example, are still running.
Photo from Mt. Snaefell | Hiking Day Tour
It is possible to take a tour of Mount Snæfell, the highest freestanding mountain in the country. You can also take a hike up Mount Dyrfjöll, renowned for the huge gap, or door, that divides it down the middle. Nearby mountain Stórurð, one of Iceland’s true hidden gems, is also possible to trek across throughout October.
Photo from Jokulsarlon Boat Tour
Boat tours of Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon are most popular in summer, but still available until the end of October.
Jökulsárlón is an enormous lake, the deepest in the country, which is filled with icebergs that have calved from a distant glacier tongue. They cruise slowly across the lagoon, churning and rotating towards the ocean.
Wildlife lovers will appreciate the fact that many seals call this area home, and it is one of the most reliable places to spot them.
To tour the lagoon, you can either hop aboard an amphibious vessel, which will take you from land into the waters, bringing you to the centre of the lagoon, where you'll be surrounded in surreal ice sculptures. For a slightly more expensive, but more intimate, experience you can take a zodiac tour in an inflatable boat with an outboard motor.
October comes just after the end of the summer, meaning that most migratory animals are now on their way out of the country; this includes the Humpback whales that feed in Iceland’s waters and the puffins that nest on its cliffs.
Even so, over twenty species of cetacean (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) live off of Iceland's coasts, and with a little luck, you can see all of them well into October, including orcas, blue whales, and beaked whales. Though the great whales are fewer in number, you always have a few stragglers.
Photo from Whale Watching from Reykjavik
From Akureyri, tours head into Eyjafjörður, where the most common species are humpbacks, but belugas and even narwhals are spotted from time to time; these tours can be conducted in standard or high-speed boats.
Photo from Husavik Traditional Whale Watching
The best whale-watching destination not just in Iceland but arguably in all of Europe, however, is Húsavík. In October, you can take a whale watching tour in Skjálfandi Bay for a chance to see an incredible wealth of life.
Riding an Icelandic horse is a quintessential Icelandic experience. These purebred creatures are the pride and joy of the nation because they've been separated from their mainland companions for a millennium and developed many unique traits as a result.
Fans of equestrian sports will be able to tell you that the Icelandic horse has a special gate called a tölt; it's said that when riding a horse in tölt, you can drink a glass of water without spilling. Locals, however, are likely to brag about how intelligent, curious, and friendly their horses are.
Horse-riding, therefore, is very popular amongst Icelanders and visitors, and there are a wealth of ways to enjoy the activity in October. From Reykjavík, you could take a tour over dramatic lava fields, imagining the experiences of Vikings in the settlement age. You could even ride a horse into Reykjadalur Valley to hot springs and a geothermal river (that, yes, you can bathe in).
There are similar tours around the country. In the North, for example, you can take this horseback riding excursion from Akureyri.
Photo from Skaftafell Glacier Hike | Medium Difficulty
Iceland's glaciers are one of its most precious assets, and one of its most popular attractions. They cover 10% of the country, and a variety of tours run atop (and within) them in October.
Glacier hiking, when equipped with the right gear and taken with a qualified guide, is an incredibly rewarding experience of the world atop an ice cap with incredible views of the surrounding area. Your knowledgeable guides will teach you about the geological and volcanic history of this island during your time together.
Photo from Solheimajokull Ice Climb and Glacier Hike
Sólheimajokull is one of the most popular glaciers for hiking; this tour to its peak leaves from Reykjavík and includes some of the features of the South Coast such as the famous, majestic Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls.
For those in the southeast of the country, it's possible to ascend the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, for an exciting trek. It is also possible to visit Svinafellsjökull within a renowned hiker’s paradise, the Skaftafell Nature Reserve.
Or, you can take a snowmobile. Though you must have a valid driver’s licence to operate one, guests as young as six can join as a passenger. This experience mixes sightseeing with adrenaline and can be lived on many of the country’s ice caps.
Taking a snowmobile tour on Vatnajökull, for example, is an exhilarating activity in the southeast. Those based in Reykjavík, however, will find it much easier to take an excursion to Langjökull glacier, which is much closer to the capital.
If touring Langjökull by snowmobile, it may be worth it to combine the trip with a visit to the glacier’s ice tunnels, which were carved out to specifically facilitate tours of the ice cap. You can also visit the glacier independent of a snowmobile.
The natural ice caves in Vatnajökull are often only available from November until March, although some operators begin to take tours in these incredible locations from mid-October. Otherwise, it is you can visit an ice cave in Mýrdalsjökull, the glacier that covers the active volcano Katla.
Photo from Whale Watching and Snorkelling Excursion
Snorkelling and diving are popular activities year-round in Iceland. They're conducted in Silfra, a fissure in the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in Þingvellir National Park. The fissure has filled with spring water that travelled through the porous lava rock.
The water is crystal clear, with visibility exceeding 100 metres, and it has a year-round temperature of 2° Celsius.
Photo from Snorkelling Silfra & Horseback Riding Tour
Though the temperature may sound daunting, the equipment provided is very protective. For dives and most snorkelling trips, you wear drysuits, which keep the water off, and insulating suits as an additional layer of warmth. The daring can wear wetsuits on snorkelling tours, which allow water in.
Taking a drysuit snorkelling or diving tour in October is a lot more comfortable than in the months following; the temperature in the park should be above freezing, meaning you don’t need to deal with icy equipment when you are getting undressed and you can warm up quite quickly once the tour is complete.
Photo from Diving Silfra and Horseback Riding Tour
While snorkelling and diving tours are as safe as possible, conducted with group size limits under the supervision of professionals, you can only partake if you meet the following requirements:
October is somewhat quieter than other months, but it's not without its fair share of events.
Halloween in Iceland is relatively new, and is generally celebrated as an extension of Öskudagur (Ash Wednesday), when Icelandic children dress up and sing songs in exchange for candy. In addition to its obvious relation to the religious holiday, Ash Wednesday also became a sort of Valentine's day, when youg yirls would give young boys a small bag full of ashes to make their love interest known. This tradition has, however, disappeared, and in its stead came Hrekkjavaka, which more closely resembles traditional North American Halloween celebrations.
The queer cabaret show Drag Súgur, for example, has a very popular and well-received Halloween show on the third Friday of October, and club goes can be spotted in Halloween costumes throughout the city.
The Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) is the largest film festival in the country, which kicks off on September 28 and ends on October 8.
Films from over forty countries of all genres are screened throughout the festival, with an emphasis on up-and-coming, independent filmmakers. Concerts, meetings and exhibitions crop up across the city, allowing industry professionals to build both their knowledge and network.
Photo from Imagine Peace Tower Tour
The Imagine Peace Tower is a memorial from Yoko Ono to John Lennon. With ‘Imagine Peace’ written on the base in twenty-four languages, its intention is to encapsulate the couple’s message of unity, harmony, healing, and joy.
When lit, it shoots a 4000 metre-high pillar of light into the sky. Thankfully, visitors to Iceland at this time of year will have an opportunity to see it. Imagine Peace is lit at 8:00 on October 9, John Lennon's birthday, and switched off on December 9, the day of his death.
Various concerts are held around the country in October. From local artists to big names such as the Swedish popstar Zara Larsson. The video for Zara's song 'Never Forget You' was shot here in Iceland in the barren lava fields of the Reykjanes Peninsula and in Reykjavík city.
In October, almost all of Iceland should be accessible, unless unseasonable weather, flooding, or an avalanche blocks a major road. This means that you are free to reach the main sightseeing destinations with relative ease, either by taking tours or driving yourself.
The Golden Circle, for example, is more than accessible; if the weather is good enough, you can walk down to a platform mere feed from Gullfoss waterfall's mighty cascade.
Photo from Ooi Eric Studios
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, on the far side of the South Coast, is particularly beautiful in October, as the changing light refracts off of the ice--the glacier lagoon lis even more spectacular beneath the Northern Lights.
The lagoon is usually as far as most travellers will reach when travelling counterclockwise around the country in winter, though, if the roads are still open in October, you can travel up to the East Fjords to see its idyllic mountains, bays, and villages.
An easy drive down the mountain passes and winding roads along the coast is a great way to see a wealth of Icelandic nature without being surrounded by crowds. You may spot a wild, roaming reindeer along your way.
Photo by Þorvarður Arnason
The north of Iceland is also worth seeing in October. Sites such as the Hvítserkur rock formation and the Vatnsnes Peninsula are easy to reach, and towns such as Reykjahlíð and Húsavík still have most of their services open to visitors. The Lake Mývatn area is spectacular and diverse, and, if it's covered in snow, will delight Game of Thrones fans; many scenes north of ‘the Wall’ are shot here.
In terms of west Iceland, visitors in October can see both the Westfjords and the Snæfellnes Peninsula.
Snæfellsnes should be entirely accessible; barring very unseasonable conditions, you should be able to loop around the peninsula and to cross its mountain passes, letting you see all the features that earned this area the name ‘Iceland in Miniature’.
You should be able to see the Lóndrangar basalt towers, Mount Kirkjufell, Snæfellsjökull glacier and volcano, the Buðahraun lava fields, Ytri Tunga beach, and many historic villages.
You can also travel to the Highlands for one last look in October. Two roads that join the north and the south through the interior—the Kjölur Highland Road and Sprengisandur—should both still be open, and the views alongside each are spectacular.
You can expect glacier and volcano views, huge expanses of lava and black sands, hot springs and vast mountain ranges.
Landmannalaugar is one of the most popular spots in the interior of the island. Easy to reach by travelling along the South Coast, this beautiful area has a concentration of features that are otherwise scattered across the Highlands. You can hike to the crater lake Ljótipollur, bathe in its natural hot springs, and go birdwatching in Frostastaðavatn lake.
Before coming to Iceland in October, it is important to be aware of what to expect from the country, so that you know what you pack and can make informed decisions.
The average temperature in October in Reykjavík is 4.8° Celsius (41° Fahrenheit), slightly below the average yearly temperature of 5.4° Celsius (42° Fahrenheit). The average precipitation is 77 mm (around 3 inches), slightly higher than the annual monthly average of 73 mm (2.8 inches). So bring your winterwear, your waterproof pants, and your windproof jacket, as well as sturdy hiking shoes.
Photo from Ooi Eric Studios
The weather in October in Iceland is erratic and temperatures in Reykjavík during this month have been known to range from -7.2° Celsius (19° Fahrenheit) to 15° Celsius (59° Fahrenheit) since the year 2000.
If you are coming later in the month, then dress for winter. While September is largely considered quite balmy for Iceland, October is the beginning of winter, when low-pressure systems station themselves staunchly over the country, causing high winds and heavy rains. Those elements, in tandem with cold fronts, make October a tumultuous month.
The sharp autumn winds funnel between mountain passes and buildings, lowering the average temperature and making it impossible to hold onto an umbrella--in fact, these strong, focused winds can easily push you over. The wind is on average 11.5 miles per hour (around 5 metres per second) at the beginning of the month, and it picks up slightly to 12.5 miles per hour (5.5 metres per second).
Because of the drop in temperature and higher probability of heavy rain, strong winds, dense fog, snowfall, and ice, many travellers to Iceland in October choose to forgo renting a car. Accidents on Iceland’s roads often occur because visitors are not used to driving in such hazardous conditions, especially on the gravel tracks on the unlit roads that lead into the Icelandic countryside.
If you do choose to rent a car, we highly recommend booking one equipped with four-wheel-drive. It is also essential that, before any journey, you check the weather website and road website, so that you know the potential conditions you'll be facing and can avoid roads that are impassable ("ófærð").
Floods and avalanches are not uncommon in October. Never, ever drive on a road that's cordoned off.
You might decide to rent a car in October to hunt for the Northern Lights independently. If that's the case, for your best chance at success, you should consult the cloud forecast and aurora forecast; you want to head to areas with little to no cloud cover (be mindful that the cloud forecast displays all three layers of clouds, and all three will need to be clear to see the lights), when the aurora forecast is ranked at ‘3’ and above.
It also has to be dark outside. On October 1, the sun rises at 7:37AM and sets at 6:56PM. On October 31, the sun rises at 9:08AM and sets at 5:13PM.
Because October is a crossover month between winter and summer, there's plenty to do. Keep reading for some proposed itineraries and potential sightseeing spots.
If you rent a car and drive yourself, you could take anything from a seven- to an 11-day adventure around the Ring Road, focusing on the summer attractions. A 10- or 12-day Self-Drive tour, might appeal to those who want to see the country at a slower pace.
The 12-day trip is especially notable because it takes you to Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Those who want to see the Westfjords won't find a pre-organized package that guides them in October, but can drive themselves without an itinerary and with appropriate caution.
If you do end up in the Westfjords, there are a number of tours in October. You could enjoy a sea-kayaking trip, or even spend three days in the incredibly remote Hornstrandir Reserve, where Arctic Foxes roam without fear of people.
If you don’t wish to drive yourself, but want to see the entire Ring Road, you can book a seven-day guided trip around the island, or a more immersive ten-day one. If you don’t have time for such a long adventure, there are four- and five-day guided packages that can show you the south and west.