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, the festivities of early winter are yet to set in, and the country is in somewhat of a limbo between the two.
What this means for potential travellers, however, is that you can enjoy the best of both seasons without having to pay exponential prices for travel services, or worry about there being too many crowds.
The days are long enough for you to fill them with activities and while 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.
As such, any holiday to Iceland in October promises to be rewarding, no matter your reasons for coming. Whether you seek adrenaline, natural escape, city culture or a mix of all three, this month has a wealth of options for you to enjoy.
Continue reading to learn about what to do, see and know regarding a vacation to Iceland in October.
- See also: Iceland's Seasonal Contrasts
What to do in Iceland in October
Many summer tours run until the roads are blocked with snow. In most parts of Iceland, this occurs in November or December. Many winter tours, meanwhile, only require darkness to operate and, therefore, begin in September.
October sits at an overlap between winter and summer, leaving an incredible wealth of options available. Listed below are the most rewarding excursions to take in Iceland in October.
The Northern Lights in Iceland in October
Photo Credit: Ooi Eric Studios
The Aurora Borealis dance above the skies of the Northern Hemisphere whenever there is enough solar activity. They can only be seen, however, in darkness, when the sky is clear. Throughout the months surrounding the days of the midnight sun (early-May to mid-August), they are therefore impossible to catch.
On a clear October night, however, this is not the case. From the first of the month, the sun is set for longer than it is risen (by the end of the month quite significantly), providing visitors with multiple opportunities to witness the northern lights.
- Find Northern Lights Tours here
There are many ways to capture this awe-inspiring phenomenon, the best of which usually will involve you leaving Reykjavík. Any light pollution from the capital city will work against the intensity of the lights, so even if you can see them well from a beer garden, your hotel window, or the streets, you would be able to see them much more clearly from the country side.
There are a few exceptions to this; Grótta Lighthouse is usually dark enough to see them, and if in a city park like Klambratún or Laugardalur, they should also appear more brightly. There is also a tour that will take you to Viðey Island, just outside of Reykjavík.
That being said, you lack mobility when staying in one place, meaning a few stray clouds could ruin your viewing experience. By taking a Northern Lights tour out of Reykjavík, your guides will be able to find the spaces with the clearest skies where the forecast is strongest, knowing both the nature of the land and the lights well.
Bus tours tend to be more affordable, while super jeeps can take you to less accessible places, such as over rivers and down old dirt tracks, to places fewer can get to, assuring you of less light pollution and more peace.
It is also possible to take a Northern Lights Cruise out into Faxafloi Bay, where you can be assured of a wide open sky and 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, it is possible to hunt for the Northern Lights yourself, by taking a rental car and following the weather to the places with little cloud cover when the forecast is strong.
Day Hikes and Super Jeeps in Iceland in October
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.
While multi-day hikes mostly cease at the end of September, there are many day-long opportunities to get to see the remarkable interior of this country, and the reaches that are not often visited by most who come here.
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.
- See also: All Super Jeep Tours
The east of Iceland will become difficult to traverse in the weeks following October but should remain reasonably accessible throughout the month. Day hikes up its incredible mountains, therefore, are still popular and running.
Photo from Mt. Snaefell | Hiking Day Tour
It is possible to take a tour climbing 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 separates it in its middle. Right nearby is the mountain Stórunð, one of Iceland’s true hidden gems, which it is also possible to trek on throughout October.
- See also: All Hiking Tours
Jökulsárlón Boat Trip in Iceland in October
Photo from Jokulsarlon Boat Tour
Another activity that is reserved for summer visitors but possible until the end of October is taking a boat tour of Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s most renowned and spectacular glacier lagoon.
Jökulsárlón is an enormous lake, the deepest in the country, which fills with great icebergs breaking away from a distant glacier tongue. They cruise slowly across the lagoon, churning and rotating as they do, towards the ocean, providing a scene of otherworldly beauty.
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.
- See also: Seal and Seal Watching in Iceland
There are two options of boats you can take to truly immerse yourself in this scene. The first is an amphibious vessel, which will take you from land into the waters, and navigate you to the centre of the bergs. For a slightly more expensive but more intimate experience, you could instead elect to take a zodiac tour.
Whale Watching and Puffin Watching in Iceland in October
October comes just after the end of the summer, meaning most migratory animals are now on their way out of the country; this includes the great whales such as Humpbacks which frequent Iceland’s waters and the puffins nesting on the cliffs.
That being said, not all will have departed by the end of the month, and thus whale- and puffin- watching is still often very rewarding at this time of year.
Over twenty species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) live around Iceland, and all of them have the potential to be seen around Iceland in October. These species include creatures such as orcas, Blue Whales and beaked whales.
- See also: The Wildlife and Animals of Iceland
Tours depart from all around the country. Those from Reykjavík head out into Faxafloi Bay, where it is common to see minkes, humpbacks, and puffins feeding in the water.
From Akureyri, they head into Eyjafjörður, where the most common species are humpbacks, but creatures such as Belugas and even Narwhals are spotted from time to time; these tours can be conducted in standard or high-speed boats.
Photo from Whale Watching from Dalvik in North Iceland
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 out into Skjalfandi Bay for a chance to see an incredible wealth of life, and it is even possible to still take a tour to see nesting puffins as well.
A final great destination for whale watching in October is on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The fjord Breiðafjörður, on the northern side, is a renowned herring grounds and attracts many dolphins, seals, and orcas.
- See also: Whale Watching in Iceland
Horse-Riding in Iceland in October
Riding an Icelandic horse is as near to a vital Icelandic experience as you can get. They are the pride and joy of the nation, being evolutionarily separated from their mainland companions for a millennium and developing many unique traits as a result.
Fans of equestrian sports will be able to tell you that the Icelandic horse has more gaits (styles of walking) than any other breed. Locals, however, are more likely to brag about how intelligent, curious, and friendly this unique population is when compared to others.
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, soaking up the experience of a settler from long ago. You could even take a horse-ride into Reykjadalur Valley, to hot springs and a warm river you can bathe in.
There are similar tours all around the country. In the North, for example, you could take this excursion leaving from Akureyri.
Glacier Tours in Iceland in October
Photo from Skaftafell Glacier Hike | Medium Difficulty
The glaciers of Iceland are one of the main attractions of the country. Ten percent of the land is covered in them, and a variety of tours run atop (and within) them in October.
The most common of these tours in glacier hiking. Glacier hiking, when equipped with the right gear and taken with a qualified guide, is an incredibly rewarding experience, revealing to your the otherworldly space atop an ice cap, incredible views of the surrounding area, and educating you on the geological and volcanic history of this island.
Photo from Solheimajokull Ice Climb and Glacier Hike
In October, hikes can be conducted on many glaciers. The most commonly ascended throughout the year is Sólheimajokull; a tour up here leaves from Reykjavík, and also reveals to you some of the features of the South Coast such as Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls.
For those in the South-East of the country, there are more options. It is possible to ascend the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, for an exciting trek. It is also possible to ascend Svinafellsjökull within a renowned hiker’s paradise, the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Both these places are in excellent locations, close to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
- See also: Glaciers and Glacier Hiking in Iceland
The glaciers of Iceland can also be seen via snowmobile. Though you must have a valid driver’s licence to operate one, guests as young as six can join in the fun as a passenger. This experience balances sightseeing with adrenaline-pumping adventure and can be done on many of the country’s ice caps.
Taking a snowmobile tour on Vatnajökull, for example, is possible for those in the south-east. Those based in Reykjavík, however, will find it much easier to take an excursion upon 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. These tunnels were carved into the most stable part of the glacier to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the interior of an ice cap throughout the year.
It is also possible to visit this fascinating man-made feature independent of a snowmobile.
Most of the natural ice caves in Vatnajökull are not accessible until November, but one tour makes an exception; this Glacier Hike & Ice Cave Tour from Skaftafell makes it possible to combine glacier hiking on and ice caving within this mighty ice cap from mid-October.
Snorkelling and Diving in Iceland in October
Photo from Whale Watching and Snorkelling Excursion
Snorkelling and diving are popular activities year-round in Iceland. They are conducted in Silfra, a fissure ripped open by the plate tectonics in Þingvellir National Park that has filled with springwater travelling underground through the porous lava rock.
This water is crystal clear, with visibility exceeding 100 metres, and it has a year-round temperature of 2° Celsius.
- See also: Diving and Snorkelling in Iceland
Photo from Snorkelling Silfra & Horseback Riding Tour
Though the temperature may sound daunting, the equipment provided is very protective. For dives and most snorkels, you wear drysuits, which keep the water off, and insulating suits beneath to keep you warm. The daring can participate in wetsuits, which allow water in, but lets your body heat it up for a layer of protection.
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.
Even so, it maintains the same sense of adventure, as you are, after all, still snorkelling or diving in Iceland in October, something not many can say they would have the nerve to do.
- Find Snorkelling Tours here
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:
|Drysuit Snorkel||Wetsuit Snorkel||Drysuit Dive|
|Min Height||145 cm||150 cm||150 cm|
|Max Height||45 kg||50 kg||45 kg|
|Must be a swimmer||Must be a swimmer|| At least 10 logged
drysuit diver OR
Be a certified dry-
- Find Diving Tours here
Festivals in Iceland in October
October is a little quieter than other months, but that does not mean that it lacks its share of events. Below are the most notable festivals going on.
Halloween in Iceland
Halloween in Iceland is not as celebrated anywhere near as much as it is in North America and some European countries. The day of fancy dress and candy in Iceland comes on Ash Wednesday, when the city comes alive with costume and fun. Even so, however, there are Halloween events going on across the city.
Queer Variety Cabaret Drag Súgur, for example, has a very popular and well-received Halloween show on the third Friday of the month.
The Reykjavík International Film Festival
Reykjavík International Film Festival, or ‘RIFF’, is the largest film festival in the country. Starting on the 28th of September and concluding on the 8th of October, those coming early in the month will be able to catch the majority of it.
Films from over forty countries of all genres are displayed over the festival, with an emphasis on up-and-coming, independent filmmakers. Concerts, meetings and exhibitions crop up across the city, allowing industry professionals to widen their knowledge and networks, and giving visitors a closer insight into how the artform works and flourishes.
- See also: The Story of Icelandic Cinema
Imagine Peace Tower Lighting
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.
It is not lit constantly, but when it is, propels a beam of light 4000 metres high in clear weather. Thankfully, visitors to Iceland at this time of year will have an opportunity to see it, as it is lit at 8 pm on October 9th. It is possible to take the ferry to Viðey Island to see it switched on.
Zara Larsson Concert 2017
Though not an annual festival, Swedish star Zara Larsson will be performing this October 13th, at Laugardalshöll. The popular singer has rocketed to international fame since winning Swedish talent show ‘Talang’ (Sweden’s Got Talent) at aged ten in 2008, and has since been renowned for songs such as ‘Symphony’ and ‘Never Forget You’.
- See also: The Top 10 Festivals of Iceland
What to See in Iceland in October
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, which it often is at this time of year, you will be able to walk down to a platform right at the edge of where Gullfoss waterfall is cascading.
The South Coast is the same, and again, if the conditions are right, you will be able to fully encircle Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
Photo from Ooi Eric Studios
Jökulsárlón, on the far side of the South Coast, is particularly beautiful in October; the effects of light on the ice change as the sun moves across the sky, and the place becomes even more spectacular beneath the Northern Lights.
This is usually as far as most travellers will reach when travelling counterclockwise around the country throughout winter, but most of the time, you can continue through the East Fjords in October.
The remote mountains, bays and villages of the East Fjords are idyllic and beautiful; driving up and down the passes and winding along the coast is a great way to see a wealth of Icelandic nature without being surrounded by crowds. It also provides you with opportunities to see reindeer, as it’s the only place in the country where they roam wild.
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 is 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.
Regarding the former, the roads will largely still be open allowing you to visit incredible sites such as Dynjandi waterfall and the Látrabjarg birdwatching cliffs. Here you may catch sight of the last remaining puffins before they head off to feed for winter.
Snæfellsnes should be entirely accessible; barring very unseasonable conditions, you should be able to loop around the peninsula, and cross over its mountain passes. This will allow you to get to all the diverse features that have led to this area gaining 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.
The final sightseeing location to visit in Iceland in October is the Highlands. Two roads that join the north and 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.
The easiest and most renowned way to visit the interior, however, is with a trip to Landmannalaugar. Easy to reach from Reykjavík by travelling along the South Coast, this beautiful area has a dense concentration of features found across the Highlands. You can hike to the crater lake Ljótipollur, bathe in the natural hot springs, and admire the birdlife in Frostastaðavatn lake.
Before coming to Iceland in October, it is important to be aware of what to expect from the country, so you know what you should be packing and can make the correct, informed decisions regarding questions such as whether to rent a car.
Weather in Iceland in October
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, slightly higher than the annual monthly average of 73 mm. Visitors, therefore, should be packing largely winterwear, with waterproof and windproof garments and sturdy hiking shoes.
Photo from Ooi Eric Studios
This is especially the case considering how volatile the weather can be at this time of year. Since the turn of the millennium, the city’s temperature in October has dropped to -7.2° Celsius (19° Fahrenheit), and though it has reached heights of over 15° Celsius (59° Fahrenheit), it is much better to prepare for the worst rather than the best.
If you are coming later in the month, then certainly dress for winter. October is a month of transition; while September is largely considered quite balmy for Iceland, in November winter truly begins.
Driving in Iceland in October
Because of the drop in temperature and higher chances of heavy rain, strong winds, dense fog, snowfall and ice, many coming 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 conditions, especially on the gravel tracks and dark country stretches.
If you do choose to rent a car, it is highly recommended to take a four-wheel-drive. It is also essential that, before any journey, you check the weather website and road website, so you know the potential conditions you will be facing, and can avoid any roads that are closed.
Floods and avalanches are not uncommon in October, so ensure that you never drive on a road that is cordoned off.
Daylight in Iceland in October
One of the main reasons people decide to rent a car is so that they can hunt for the northern lights independently. For your best chance at success, you should refer to the cloud forecast and aurora forecast; you want to be heading where the skies are clear, and when the aurora forecast is ranked at ‘3’ or above.
Of course, you should only head out when it is dark enough. The sunrise and sunset times in Iceland in October can be found below.
|Time of Sunrise||Time of Sunset|
Suggested Itinerary for Iceland in October
Travellers to Iceland in October have a wealth of things to do due to the fact that the month is in the crossover between the winter and summer seasons. If booking self-drive tours or packages, therefore, you can very often choose one tailored to the seasonal experience that you want.
If you rent a car and drive yourself, you could have anything from a seven- to eleven-day adventure around the ringroad of the country, focusing on the summer attractions. A ten- or twelve-day self-drive shaped for the winter season, however, may appeal to those who want to enjoy the full circle of Iceland at a slower pace, with more consideration for the possibility of bad weather.
The twelve day trip is especially notable, as it will also take you to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Those who want to see the Westfjords will not find a package that guides them there in October, but can drive themselves.
- See also: All Self-Drive Tours
It may be good to have a few days set aside for this, and to combine the experience with a five-day exploration of the south and west of Iceland, or a three-day self-drive around the west with a focus on finding hot springs.
When in the Westfjords, there are unique tours running you could jump onto 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 seek the convenience of a package and want to see the whole ringroad, you could book a seven-day guided trip around the island, or a more immersive ten-day one. If you don’t have time for such an adventure, there are four- and five-day guided packages that can show you the south and west.