What is there to do in Iceland in October? Are the summer tours still running, and have winter tours started yet? What is the weather like, and what places are easily reachable? Does COVID-19 influence the ability to travel? 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 have yet to set in.
This slowdown means that you can enjoy the best of both seasons without paying 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 remain open to visitors.
It’s a great time to visit, as you’re about to learn, but let’s first discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic will possibly impact October travel.
After a long 2020, it finally seems like the path to a post-pandemic world is becoming clear. Health authorities are now administering vaccines, and testing is more available than ever. This progress is especially true in Iceland, which has managed to stay open to visitors throughout COVID-19 while keeping infection rates low.
Now that you’re planning your trip to one of the safest vacation spots in the world, we recommend you keep an eye on our COVID-19 information page. It’s updated daily with the latest on how the country is handling the virus. It will also provide you with all of the essential details and links. Meanwhile, here are answers to some common questions about how COVID-19 may affect October trips.
How will COVID-19 impact my October travel?
While there is not yet a clear picture of how COVID-19 will influence travel in the autumn of 2021, the current process requires a bit of preparation on your part.
First, you’ll want to pre-register online up to 72 hours before your arrival. When you’ve reached the border, you’ll be required to submit to two COVID-19 tests with a 5-day quarantine period in between. If you’re from an EU/EFTA country, you may bypass testing by presenting a certificate verifying you have already had COVID-19, have completed your isolation, and have the necessary antibodies.
Once these steps are complete, you’ll be free to explore the public spaces of this unique land safely.
Are October tours and activities affected by COVID-19?
Tours, activities, and attractions are still open! Even during the height of the pandemic, Iceland was able to keep tours and activities available with minor interruptions. By October of 2021, this should still be the case, with even fewer limitations.
There is still a chance that some services or access to some sites may be temporarily affected by local health authorities’ recommendations. However, you can easily select a date to check availability during your travel days.
Is it safe to do popular October activities like horseback riding and whale watching?
Absolutely! Any activity or tour you take part in will keep your health the top priority. Tour operators are keeping a close watch on the latest safety recommendations from the Ministry of Health.
They will also be disinfecting any equipment or vehicles you may use during your trip. This process includes the whale-watching ships, which have their railings and high-touch surfaces sanitized before and after every tour. Also, everyone in Iceland is well-versed in social distancing and wearing masks as needed.
Plus, most of the amazing attractions in October are outside, giving you plenty of room to enjoy yourself without worrying about being at risk. Horseback riding, glacier hiking, Northern Lights hunting—all of these are available to you in a way that is both memorable and healthy.
Many summer tours run until snow blocks the roads. In most parts of Iceland, that happens in November or December. Meanwhile, many winter tours 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.
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 center. Any ambient light works against the Northern Lights' intensity, 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 the lay of the land and the changeable nature of the lights 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, which will assure you of near-total darkness. If you are in the north, you can take a cruise from the town of Akureyri into the fjord Eyjafjörður.
Of course, you can chase the Northern Lights yourself in a rental car and seek 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 country’s remarkable interior.
For example, the forested ‘Valley of Thor,’ Þórsmörk, can be visited and hiked on a day tour in October, allowing you to see this mesmerizing land in its autumnal colors.
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. The 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 are still available until the end of October.
Jökulsárlón is an enormous lake, the deepest in the country, filled with icebergs that have broken off a distant glacier tongue. They cruise slowly across the lagoon, churning and rotating towards the ocean.
Wildlife lovers will appreciate that many seals call this area home, making this one of the most reliable places to spot them.
To tour the lagoon, you can hop aboard an amphibious vessel that will take you from land into the waters, bringing you to the center of the lagoon, where surreal ice sculptures will surround you. You can take a zodiac tour in an inflatable boat with an outboard motor for a slightly more expensive but more intimate experience.
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. You can see all of them well into October, including orcas, blue whales, and beaked whales with a little luck. Though the great whales are fewer in number, there will always be a few stragglers.
From Akureyri, tours head into Eyjafjörður. Here, the most common species seen are humpbacks, but belugas and even narwhals are spotted from time to time. These tours can be conducted in standard or high-speed boats.
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. They've been separated from their mainland companions for a millennium. As a result, they have developed many unique traits.
Fans of equestrian sports will be able to tell you that the Icelandic horse has a unique gait called a ‘tölt.’ It's said that when riding a horse in tölt, you can drink a glass of water without spilling. However, locals are likely to brag about how intelligent, curious, and friendly their horses are.
Therefore, horse-riding is very popular amongst Icelanders and visitors, and there is a wealth of ways to enjoy the activity in October. From Reykjavík, you could take a tour over the dramatic lava fields while you imagine Vikings' experiences in the settlement age. You could even ride a horse into Reykjadalur Valley, where you will find 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.
Iceland's glaciers are one of its most precious assets and one of its most popular attractions. They cover 10% of the country, and various tours run atop (and within) them in October.
Glacier hiking, when equipped with the right gear and taken with a qualified guide, is incredibly rewarding. You can experience the world from atop an ice cap with incredible views of the surrounding area. Your knowledgeable guides will teach you about this island’s geological and volcanic history during your time together.
Sólheimajokull is one of the most popular glaciers for hiking. This tour to its peak leaves from Reykjavík and includes some of the South Coast's features, such as the famous, majestic Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls.
Those in the country’s southeast can 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 license to operate one, guests as young as six can join as a passenger. This experience mixes sightseeing with adrenaline and can be experienced on many of the country’s ice caps.
Taking a snowmobile tour on Vatnajökull, for example, is an exhilarating activity in the southeast. However, those based in Reykjavík will find it much easier to excursion to Langjökull glacier, 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 specifically carved out to 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, you can visit an ice cave in Mýrdalsjökull, the glacier covering the active volcano Katla.
Photo from Whale Watching and Snorkelling Excursion
Snorkeling 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 traveled through the porous lava rock.
The water is crystal clear, with visibility exceeding 100 meters, and it has a year-round temperature of 2° Celsius.
Though the temperature may sound daunting, the equipment provided is very protective. For dives and most snorkeling trips, you wear drysuits that keep the water off and insulating suits as an additional layer of warmth. The daring can wear wetsuits on snorkeling tours, which allow water in.
Taking a drysuit snorkeling or diving tour in October is a lot more comfortable than in the months following. The park’s temperature should be above freezing, so you won’t deal with icy equipment when you’re getting undressed, and you’ll warm up quickly once the tour is complete.
Photo from Diving Silfra and Horseback Riding Tour
While snorkeling 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. It became customary for young girls to give young boys a small bag full of ashes to make their love interest known. However, this tradition has 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 top-rated and well-received Halloween show on the third Friday of October. You can spot club-goers in Halloween costumes throughout the city.
The Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) is the largest 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, emphasizing up-and-coming, independent filmmakers. Concerts, meetings, and exhibitions crop up across the city, allowing industry professionals to build 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, it intends to encapsulate the couple’s message of unity, harmony, healing, and joy.
When lit, it shoots a 4000 meter-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 by everyone from local artists to big names such as the Swedish pop star 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.
In October, almost all of Iceland should be accessible unless unseasonable weather, flooding, or an avalanche blocks a major road. This openness means that you are free to reach the main sightseeing destinations with relative ease, either by taking tours or driving yourself.
For example, the Golden Circle is more than accessible; if the weather is good enough, you can walk down to a platform mere feet from Gullfoss waterfall's mighty cascade.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, on the far side of the South Coast, is particularly beautiful in October, as the changing light refracts off the ice. The glacier lagoon is even more spectacular beneath the Northern Lights.
The lagoon is usually as far as most travelers will reach when traveling counterclockwise around the country in winter. However, 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.
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, it will delight Game of Thrones fans, as many scenes ‘north of the Wall’ were shot here.
In terms of west Iceland, visitors in October can see both the Westfjords and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Snæfellsnes should be entirely accessible. Barring very unseasonable conditions, you should be able to loop around the peninsula and 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, vast 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 traveling 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 know what to expect from the country to make informed decisions about what to pack.
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), somewhat 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.
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 mostly considered relatively balmy for Iceland, October is the beginning of winter. 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. These strong, focused winds can easily push you over. On average, the wind is 11.5 miles per hour (around 5 meters per second) at the beginning of the month, and it picks up slightly to 12.5 miles per hour (5.5 meters per second).
Because of the drop in temperature and the higher probability of heavy rain, strong winds, dense fog, snowfall, and ice, many travelers 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 and unlit roads that lead into the Icelandic countryside.
If you do choose to rent a car, we highly recommend booking one equipped with a 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, your best chance at success will come when you consult the cloud forecast and aurora forecast. You want to head to areas with little to no cloud cover when the aurora forecast is ranked at ‘3’ and above. Be mindful that the cloud forecast displays all three layers of clouds, and all three will need to be clear to see the lights.
It also has to be dark outside. On October 1, the sun rises at 7:37 AM and sets at 6:56 PM. On October 31, the sun rises at 9:08 AM and sets at 5:13 PM.
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 several 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.