When is the best time to visit Iceland? What are the seasons like in Iceland? What is the Icelandic weather like? When can you see the Northern Lights? When can you see the puffins? When is the midnight sun?
These are some of the most frequent questions we receive, although the most popular one is 'when is the best time to visit Iceland?' and it's a hard one to answer because Iceland is so varied in nature and wildlife and the weather is so unpredictable. So we decided to put in as much information about the climate and seasonal attractions as possible into one place!
Iceland has four seasons, although sometimes it doesn't feel that way as the weather changes all the time. You'll probably hear the joke 'if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes' when you're in Iceland. Many people think that Iceland is constantly freezing cold but that is not the case.
Iceland actually enjoys a much milder climate than its name suggests. This is partly due to the Gulf Stream that flows along the west and south of Iceland, bringing warmth all the way from the Caribbean!
Unfortunately though, this also means that the mild Atlantic air gets mixed with the cold Arctic air coming from the north and causes sudden and frequent changes in the weather. It also means that there is a lot of wind and storm in the country and that the south part of the country gets more rainfall than the north.
Another reason for the warmth in Iceland is the fact that Iceland is situated right on top of one of the earth's hot spots. Iceland is a country of incredible geothermal activity and full of hot springs, geysers, mud pools, volcanoes and occasional earthquakes.
This is one of the few places in the world where you can see two tectonic plates meet on the earth's surface, as the tectonic plates normally meet underneath the sea. Iceland is actually being divided into two by the Eurasian and the American plates and the divide runs straight through the middle of the country and is very visible at Þingvellir national park, where you can even go diving or snorkelling between the two continents. In a few billion years, Iceland will be split into two.
Don't be put off by the volcanic activity or earthquakes, whenever a volcano starts erupting it becomes an attraction instead of people fleeing away and earthquakes are minor and very infrequent. No big damage has happened due to volcanic eruptions or earthquakes with the exception of crop failures hundreds of years ago and some cancelled flights in recent years due to ash clouds. And the volcanic eruptions are just so incredibly beautiful to witness, reminding you of the forces of nature!
- Find volcano tours here.
Although the temperature in Iceland is milder than you might expect - it's still pretty cold! Depending on where you are from you may find it warmer or colder than you expected (that also depends on your luck, the time of year you visit and how warmly dressed you are!)
The average temperature in Reykjavík is around 1-2°C (33-35°F) in wintertime and around 12°C (54°F) in summer. The temperature in Reykjavík can drop down to -10°C (14°F) in winter, or go up to +10°C (50°F), and during summertime it can drop down to around 7°C (44°C) and go up to 25°C (77°F).
Reykjavík is in the south part of the country, and the further north you go there is a greater difference in the temperature. The largest town in the north of Iceland, Akureyri, generally receives more warmer days during summer (but still averaging lower than Reykjavík, around 11°C or 52°F), but colder days in winter (around 0°C or 32°F) and much more consistency of snow.
The town of Ísafjörður, in the Icelandic Westfjords, can sometimes be inaccessible during wintertime due to heavy snowfall. That happens to multiple other towns and villages in the Westfjords and in the north and east of the country.
Temperature wise, Icelandic winters are not as cold as Canada or Russia - or even in New York or the Baltic countries! In summertime however, it never gets any hot days, although sometimes it can get pretty warm. The highest temperature recorded in Iceland was 30.5°C or 86.9°F in 1939 in the east of the country.
The temperature is pretty mild throughout the year and there is not as drastic of a change between summer and winter temperatures as there is in New York for example.
This 'mild' weather however is totally unpredictable. You can wake up to a beautiful sunny day, get dressed and by the time you're dressed there's a raging snow blizzard outside. Or you can be driving in some valley with nothing but clear skies, pass a hill and enter a scenery of fog and rain.
There is also a drastic difference in the weather between parts of the country, and if you are situated on barren plains, in a sheltered valley or standing on the top of a glacier! In addition to that, it may feel colder than the temperature indicates due to the wind chill factor, but on warm days it may feel pretty hot if it's a calm day since the air is pretty dry.
Icelanders are used to this constant change in the weather and if you book a tour that gets cancelled due to weather, you'll receive a full refund or it will be scheduled for another day.
We believe all the seasons to have something great about them. You can read about the different seasons here and then make up your mind yourself when is the best time to visit Iceland, depending on your preferences!
Summer time is the high season and when most people come to Iceland. The weather is milder, the days are longer and it's truly a spectacular time to visit Iceland. If you're coming to Iceland for the first time, we would definitely recommend coming in the summer time.
If you are coming to Iceland for the second or third time however, we'd recommend checking out one of the other seasons. The prices will be lower for your accommodation (with the exception of Christmas and New Year's perhaps!) as it is the 'off-season' but you will see a great contrast to the summer landscapes.
Some attractions are only available during winter time, such as the elusive Northern Lights and spectacular ice caves in one of Iceland's many glaciers. Or you could find yourself in a crazy adventure that includes big super jeeps and snow blizzards, and come home with slightly more fun and exciting travel stories than usual. And nothing beats New Year's Eve in Reykjavík! :)
For updated information you need about the climate and weather in Iceland visit the website of the Icelandic Met office. Just remember the weather in Iceland can be extremely unpredictable (also in the summer) - so all forecasts should be taken with a pinch of salt!
Spring in Iceland are the months of April and May. Icelanders celebrate the first day of summer on the first Thursday after the 18th of April, that is the 'official' first day of summer and a public holiday. It's not that uncommon that it snows on this day. This is the official first summer's day but it would be fairer to say that it's the first spring day. During April and May Iceland can from time to time have some snowfall, but generally the snow is thawing in the mountains and the highlands, pretty much gone from Reykjavík and the coastline and flowers start blooming.
This is also the time when migrating birds, such as the popular puffin, start appearing in Iceland. The first puffins are seen in April and they stay until September. It is actually another bird, Lóa, or the Golden Plover that is supposed to bring springtime along with it, and the first Golden Plovers can normally be seen towards the end of March.
- Read more about the Icelandic birdlife here.
Springtime weather in Reykjavík can be anything from snow, sleet and rain to bright sunny days and the temperature averages between 0-10°C. Springtime can be fairly wet in the south part of the country but drier (and colder) towards the north (around Akureyri). The Icelandic highlands can be about 10° colder than the coastline and are closed for traffic.
The colours of the nature start to pick up, the grass may not be very tall or green yet but the leaves of the trees are just about to pop out. Spring flowers such as crocus and Easter lilies can be seen poking their heads out of people's gardens and you might even see some spring flowers blossom on trees. Generally people's spirits are lifted after the winter and there's excitement in the air for the summer that's around the corner.
Spring is an excellent time for tourists to come to Iceland, as you may still catch the Northern Lights, the weather is fairly mild but the high season hasn't started so there will be less tourists around and prices are lower. It should also be easier for you to find accommodation availability and many tours are available.
Icelandic summertime is normally considered to start in late May or early June and lasts through August. This is the most popular time for people to visit Iceland. The midnight sun occurs during the Icelandic summer, meaning that the days are incredible long and people gain extra energy.
The days keep getting longer and longer, until the longest day of summer which is around the 21st of June. After the summer solstice the days start to get shorter, but only by a minute or two each day! The sunsets turn into sunrises in spectacular shows of colour that may last for hours. Iceland is a paradise for photographers that want to catch the nature in the 'golden hour'.
- Read more about photography in Iceland here.
For travellers these long days are extremely handy as you won't ever get lost in the dark or need to reach a destination before it gets dark. There is no darkness! Don't worry, you'll still be able to sleep, just use black-out curtains :)
Most tours are available in summertime and you'll be able to see many locations in the long summer days, including mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls, many of them providing you with excellent contrasts in colour.
The weather can still be unpredictable and some years it feels like summer never comes. Temperature can be as low as 5°C but as warm as 25°C! On average the temperature is between 10° to 15°C. Summers are not as wet as springtime but it does rain occasionally. What brings the main cold factor is the windchill, as Iceland is a very windy country. If you're lucky, you'll get to experience nice and warm, still summer days in Iceland and if you are in town, you will see how the city comes alive!
Plenty of outdoor camping or music festivals take place in Iceland during summer time and many people choose to travel around the country and sleep in tents. Summer music festivals include Secret Solstice Festival and ATP festival, as well as an abundance of smaller ones.
In summertime, normally towards the end of June or beginning of July is when some highland roads are opened, after having been closed for the whole winter. This is the only time of year that you can access the popular valley of Landmannalaugar (unless you go on this Landmannalaugar super jeep winter tour) and Þórsmörk valley. So if you dream of going hiking in the Icelandic highlands, for example along Iceland's most popular hiking routes; Laugavegurinn and Fimmvörðuháls, then July or early August is the best time for you.
- Find popular hiking tours here.
The Icelandic autumn starts late August and stays until late October or early November. Autumn is a great time to visit Iceland as it's still relatively warm in late August, getting colder each day though! In September and October prices for accommodation go down but you'll be able to see the gorgeous autumn colours of Iceland, perhaps experience the first fall of snow of the year and even catch the Northern Lights!
The only downfall is that it may be really windy, wet and possibly quite cold. Autumn is similar to springtime in temperature, between 0° to 10°C but autumn feels windier, maybe it's just because all the leaves falling from the trees keep being blown around in the wind! Obviously there are also still days such as you can see in the picture above, taken at Þingvellir national park.
When there is a new fresh layer of snow mixed in with the autumn colours, the moss and the lava, you'll be able to see some incredible colour combination, such as you can see in this picture from Hraunfossar - Lava Falls.
Autumn is when the birds start leaving and some tours such as river rafting or highland tours stop being on offer. On the other hand, this is when you'll be able to go mushroom or berry-picking in the countryside. You can pick wild blueberries, crowberries and strawberries in Iceland. You'll also be able to find redcurrants, although they are mainly planted and found in people's gardens.
And remember to search the skies for the Northern Lights!
Winter in Iceland is between November and March. These are the darkest months of the year, the shortest day of the year is just before the Christmas holidays, on the 21st of December. On that day there's only daylight for about 4-5 hours. Fortunately though, the Christmas season is filled with twinkling fairy lights in every garden and on every street!
Wintertime is great to cuddle up indoors over a nice cup of hot chocolate or bathe in one of Iceland's many hot tubs, hot pools or hot springs! You can bathe in some hot springs all year round - but they feel especially nice during the winter time :)
Wintertime in Iceland is mainly famous for two things: The Northern Lights and the natural ice caves. The ice caves are formed underneath Vatnajökull glacier, Europe's largest glacier, during summer when the ice is melting and big rivers flow from underneath the glacier. During summer you can't visit the caves since they're full of flowing water but when the temperature drops and the water turns back to ice, then Iceland is left with spectacular blue caves to explore.
You can see the Icelandic glaciers all year round and they can be breathtaking in summertime as a contrast to the summer colours, although it is in winter time that they become truly spectacular. Contrary to many people's belief, Iceland is not constantly covered with snow during wintertime, the snow has a tendency to appear and melt and appear again, so you can still see the contrast of colours and get a sense of the incredible size of the glaciers.
Wintertime is Iceland's most unpredictable season when it comes to weather. If you are in the south, such as in Reykjavík then the average temperature is around 0°C. It can go down to -5° or up to +5°C but doesn't normally get any colder or warmer than that. That's not considering the windchill.
The further north you'll go, such as to Akureyri or Ísafjörður, you will be greeted with more snow and colder temperatures. Nothing very extreme though, but it's likelier that the temperature may drop down to -10°C. Sometimes you'll be able to see some beautiful winter landscapes, full of snow, ice and icicles.
The highlands are closed during wintertime but some glaciers are accessible. Tours depend on weather and visibility and can be cancelled with just a few hours notice. When they are cancelled you will be offered another tour in return or a full refund. Therefore you shouldn't find yourself on top of a glacier in a crazy snowstorm, but if you do, temperature may drop down to -15° to -20°C. The best advice we can give you is to bring a lot of warm layers, preferably wool or fleece. That way you can always add a layer or take one off!
The Northern lights are best seen between September and March. It's impossible to see the Northern Lights at the height of summer (June/July) because in order to see them it needs to be dark and at this time Iceland has the midnight sun and the nights stay bright. By August, nights start to get darker and the Northern Lights can occasionally be spotted then. The 'season' for the auroras is considered to be from September until March, when the nights are dark for a substantial amount of time.
From time to time the Northern Lights are particularly active, such as in 2013 when there was a solar maximum and spectacular displays were seen.
In 2012 the Met office launched a Northern lights forecast for Iceland. Using it you can see where and how strong Aurora activity is predicted at each given time and area. Look for the white parts, they signify clear skies, and that's when the Northern lights are best seen in natural darkness. The forecast is not a 100% guarantee and some nights when the activity is high on the scale (such as 7 out of 9) then you may not see anything and at other times when the activity should be low (1 or 2 on the scale) then you can see some great aurora performance.
We have a variety of articles about the Northern Lights, the best places to see them, what causes them, what they look like etc.
- Find all of our articles about the Northern Lights here
- Book Northern Lights tours here
- Book Northern Lights holiday packages here.
So, when do YOU think is the best time to visit Iceland?