Are you thinking about visiting Iceland in September? What is the weather like in Iceland in September? How different is it from the weather in August? Is it too early to see the Northern Lights? What are the best sites to visit and things to do during this early autumn month? How would COVID-19 impact your travels? Read on to discover everything you need to know about Iceland in September.
September is a great month to visit Iceland. The Icelandic autumn slowly and softly rolls in, gradually changing the colors of the Arctic foliage. The leaves transform from a luscious green into soft shades of red, orange, and yellow.
The days grow colder, but winter has yet to settle in, so you'll see snow—but only capping the mountains. The residual warmth of Iceland's summer seeps into September's days, which means that the roads outside of the city will still be open, making even the most remote regions of the tranquil Westfjords easily reachable.
Most of your favorite summer attractions are still accessible in September. Some might close during the second or third week of the month, however, so you'll need to plan if you want to travel to the most secluded areas. Iceland still boasts the same fantastic landscapes, but they're less crowded during September, cloaked in the autumn's vibrant palette.
Before getting into the details of what September in Iceland has to offer you, there are a few things you should know regarding the possible impact COVID-19 could have on your travels.
So long as everything continues going in the direction it is in Iceland, COVID-19 should have very little impact on your travel plans. Anyone who is vaccinated, has proof of a past infection, or comes from one of several approved countries can enter just by filling in a pre-registration form, and as of June 2021, all restrictions such as mask mandates have been lifted.
The country's vaccination program is proving to be very successful, and its tracking and testing systems are amongst the best in the world. As such, Iceland is one of the safest and most appealing holiday destinations for September.
The Northern Lights excursions that are beginning, the Highland hikes that are still open, and adventures that range from snorkeling to glacier hiking: all are running once more. As the tourism industry is still getting back on its feet, however, many of these can be enjoyed with far fewer crowds than usual! An added bonus, this can provide comfort to those still eager to maintain a degree of social distancing.
In spite of restrictions being lifted, the cleanliness of your services and venues will still be maintained to an excellent standard.
Discover more about the changing regulations on the COVID-19 information page.
No matter the time of the year, there are several unmissable Icelandic sights and adventures, like traversing the Golden Circle's sightseeing route, going on a whale watching tour, taking a dip in the Blue Lagoon, and seeing what the capital city, Reykjavík, has to offer. There are, however, a few things those visiting in September should pin to their itinerary.
The best time to see the Northern Lights is between September and April, since you'll need darkness to see them, and there isn't sufficient darkness from April to September.
Seeing the lights can be as simple as looking out the window of your accommodation in Iceland at just the right moment, but it is always best to drive away from the city's light pollution on a clear night and into the darkened countryside. Once in a while, the Northern Lights appear in the sky above Reykjavík, but the easiest and most reliable way to catch a glimpse of this celestial light is on a guided northern lights tour.
On these tours, a professional guide will lead you away from the light pollution into unspoiled nature, where you can fully appreciate the glory and grandeur of the Aurora Borealis as they dance and flicker in the dark sky.
Those traveling in September can, therefore, enjoy the best of both worlds: on the one hand, they’ll be able to chase Northern Lights with more optimism; on the other, they'll be able to take tours that are only operational in the summertime.
One of Iceland's most popular sightseeing routes is the road that runs along Iceland’s South Coast. Just off the highway are some of the most famous and unique attractions in the country, such as the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, and the black sand beach of Reynisfjara.
Those traveling the south coast should pass by the stunning Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon since September is the last month in which you can take a boat ride on the lagoon for a dramatic, up-close view of the enormous icebergs that float on the freezing water.
The final days of September and mid-October also mark the end of many volcano tours in Iceland. After the autumn, you’ll have to wait until spring to visit the warm waters of Askja Crater lake, descend into the empty magma chamber of Þríhnúkagígur volcano, and take a Volcano Tour to the Westman Islands.
If you are driving yourself, you could head up to Landmannalaugar's rhyolite mountains, where you can take a dip in a natural hot spring. For a chance to get to know the Highlands in-depth, a guided tour is just the thing. Some of these tours are operated in a super jeep, a large custom vehicle built to go off the beaten track to some of Iceland’s hidden gems.
The roads to one of the most beautiful but least visited places in Iceland, the Westfjords, are accessible via a small car in the summer, but only the main roads are open during the wintertime. And even then, you're advised to drive a four-wheel-drive vehicle with good winter tires. So in September, you should still be able to reach Dynjandi waterfall before the roads leading to this beautiful cascade close.
Of course, the famous ring road is open all year round (unless there is a massive snowstorm) but as Iceland descends into winter, traveling the highway becomes more and more difficult.
The Icelandic cultural calendar begins to fill up in the autumn with art, music, and film festivals. You can find a fair few around the city in September and one just a short drive away on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
As the bright days of summer give away to the dark nights of autumn, the citizens of Reykjanesbær hold a festival celebrating the darkness. Ljósanótt or The Night of Lights Festival is an annual event offering guests a taste of the very best of the local culture.
Artists show their work around town, and galleries and private studios will be open to visitors. A variety of musicians perform at venues around the area. Guests can enjoy a tasty traditional Kjötsúpa meat soup, check out a collection of classic cars, and ride around on carnival rides.
The main event is at dusk on Saturday evening when the people of Reykjanesbær turn on the lights that illuminate Bergið, the cliffs overlooking the town, and end the night with an amazing firework display.
Held annually at the end of September, Reykjavík Film Festival (or RIFF) shows roughly a hundred films from over forty countries in just eleven days.
The festival shows a wide range of drama and documentary films, paying special attention to up-and-coming filmmakers with the category ‘New Vision,’ which offers only a director's first or second feature-length film.
Other categories include ‘A Different Tomorrow,’ showing films that help to make us better citizens of the world; ‘Icelandic Panorama,’ which shows films from many of the most talented filmmakers in Iceland; and ‘Focus On,’ which shines a spotlight on a single nation’s cinematic history.
Screenings are mostly held in the arthouse cinema Bíó Paradís, but special events are held all over Reykjavík city. You could catch a film concert at Harpa Concert Hall or check out the swim-in cinema in the heated indoor swimming pool, Sundhöll Reykjavíkur.
Oktoberfest is a two-week festival held every year in Munich. The festival attracts millions of people and has inspired numerous events around the world that use the name ‘Oktoberfest.’ This folk-festival is usually associated with beer.
The Icelandic Oktoberfest or Oktoberfest SHÍ originally started as a small gathering amongst students studying German at the University of Iceland. The students would set up a tent on campus, drink beer and listen to Bavarian music. When the group graduated, the student council took over, and the festival grew.
Around 20,000 beers are consumed at the new-and-improved Oktoberfest each year. The festival lasts from Thursday to Saturday and is visited by about 2,000 people, most of whom are students.
The traditional Bavarian music has been replaced by some of Iceland’s top bands and artists, such as Retro Stefson, AmabAdamA, and Paul Oscar. They perform in large tents to the roaring crowds of drunk students.
The weird and wonderful Icelandic landscape has shaped most of the country’s culture—and September brings some of the country’s oldest traditions: ‘Berjamó’ and ‘Réttir.’
Photo by Jeremy Ricketts
One of Icelander's favorite pastimes in September is picking berries or going to ‘berjamó.’ This time-honored tradition is where families or individuals head out of the city to pick the wild, pesticide-free berries that grow all around the country.
There is a certain stillness in the act, and it can be very relaxing. You sit out in the unspoiled nature, hearing nothing but the muffled sound of berries dropping into your container and perhaps a raven cawing in the distance.
Growing wild in the moss-covered lava are crowberries, the most common type of berries in Iceland. These fresh but slightly bitter berries have been used in Icelandic desserts and juices for centuries. Other types of berries found here are bilberries, juicy blue-colored berries commonly paired with Icelandic Skyr, and blueberries.
From the spoils of the day, Icelanders make various jams, cakes, juices, and wine. If you are only visiting for a short while and don’t have the means to make your own jam, you can add the fresh berries to vanilla skyr or just eat them as a snack.
In September, the puffins have gone for the year, but the Iceland Gull returns mid-month from its breeding region in Canada and Greenland. Around the same time, many Icelanders head on out to the countryside to participate in one of the country’s oldest traditions, the annual round-up of sheep, ‘Réttir.’
The Icelandic sheep roam free around the countryside the whole summer, grazing on fresh grass and herbs in the wilderness. Every September, farmers invite their family, friends, and sometimes strangers to help herd the sheep from the plateaus.
Shepherds walk or ride on horseback to round up the sheep from the pastures, often with the help of the Icelandic sheepdog. They then herd them back to the sorting fold, where the sorting and the fun begin. Lambs are carefully marked in the spring so that, come September, their owner can reclaim them.
In Northern Iceland, there is a rich tradition of horse breeding and horse training, and Skagafjörður is the only county in Iceland where horses outnumber people. At the end of September or the beginning of October, horse round-up begins: horses roaming wild around the mountains are gathered into the farms.
The animal round-up is a part of a very ancient custom. Before roads were built, families were scattered around the country with little or no way to communicate. Réttir was one of the few times of the year when farming families gathered in one place.
It was used to trade horses or sheep and settle disputes between farmers (sometimes with fists), and it is where young men could try to impress women by wrestling unruly horses. Nowadays, things are a little different, but it's still a time of celebration. Horses are still traded, and young men continue to try to impress young women.
Gatherings of friends and families in Iceland often lead to singing (and the passing of the flask), and Réttir is no exception. After a long day of herding sheep or horses, a well-deserved party, or Réttarball, is often held for the participants.
So if you are driving around the countryside in September, be sure to keep an eye out for large herds of sheep and horses on the road, and if you are lucky, perhaps you’ll be invited to the Réttarball.
In September, visitors can enjoy many of the same outdoor activities popular in summer, including glacier-hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling, and snowmobiling. And things like the weather won't get in the way.
As the days pass, the chance of rain increases. However, the Icelandic weather is famous for being fickle, so you should always expect rain, regardless of the season.
The average high temperature in September is 11° Celsius (around 50° Fahrenheit), and the average low is 6°C (42° Fahrenheit), making snowfall unlikely. The temperature doesn't go above 15°C (59° Fahrenheit). But this is Iceland, so you should always expect the unexpected. Be prepared for anything, both freezing winds and a heatwave (although the former is more likely than the latter).
In September, low-pressure systems (aptly named "haustlægð"--Autumn Depression in Icelandic) begin to pass through the country. These systems cause strong winds--winds easily mistaken for hurricane winds--and can bring heavy rain along with the wind. Sometimes, the rain streams horizontally, and the waterfalls flow upward when a low-pressure system hovers over Iceland.
So remember to pack warm layers to ensure that you can enjoy Iceland, no matter the weather. And a nice windbreaker, just in case of a sudden rainstorm.
The night returns to Iceland in September. The days are still bright and long, so you’ll get to witness both fantastic sunsets and sunrises, but as each night brings more and more darkness, the chance to see the elusive Northern Lights increases.
Photo by Johannes Martin
If you plan a visit in September, you might be able to save a buck since September is considered the offseason. So you may find that the prices of flights are considerably lower than in the summer months. The offseason means that your favorite places are less crowded, giving you a great chance to immerse yourself in the wilds of this Northern Atlantic island.
If you enjoy breathtaking natural landscapes, get busy planning your September visit today. Not only can you see glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, and waterfalls, but you could also visit the Westfjords, the Highlands, and see the Northern Lights.
You can explore the country on your terms by getting a car and doing the driving yourself. Iceland’s Route no. 1, the Ring Road, completely circles the island, making it the perfect way to see what Iceland is like in September.
If you plan to stay a short time in Iceland, you could still get the essential Icelandic experience. This 4-day tour package will take you around the Golden Circle and Reynisfjara black sand beach in search of the dancing Aurora Borealis. You’ll also get to take a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon Spa, and adventure seekers can add a snowmobile or a snorkeling tour to this excursion.
Would you consider visiting Iceland in September? What would you like to do? Visit the Highlands, hunt for the Northern Lights, or just pick berries?