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 travelers have. However, the most popular one is 'When is the best time to visit Iceland?' It's hard to answer because Iceland is so varied in nature and wildlife and its weather is so unpredictable. Here is as much information about the climate and seasonal attractions as possible to help you decide for yourself.
Iceland has four seasons, although sometimes it doesn't feel that way. The weather changes all the time.
You'll probably hear the joke 'if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes' when you're in Iceland. Many people think that Iceland is constantly frozen, but that is not the case.
Iceland 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.
This warmth also means that the mild Atlantic air gets mixed with the cold Arctic air coming from the north and causes sudden and frequent weather changes.
It also means that there is a lot of wind and stormy weather and that the south part of the country gets more rainfall than the north.
Another reason for the warmth in Iceland is that Iceland sits on top of one of the earth's hot spots.
The island is one of the few places in the world where you can see two tectonic plates meet on the earth's surface, as they would typically meet under the sea.
Iceland is being divided into two by the Eurasian and the American plates. The divide runs straight through the middle of the country and is very visible at Thingvellir National Park, where you can even go diving or snorkeling between the two continents.
In a few billion years, these tectonic movements will split Iceland in two.
Don't be put off by the volcanic activity or earthquakes. Whenever a volcano starts erupting, it becomes an attraction instead of a reason for people to flee. Any earthquakes are minor and very infrequent.
No major damage has happened due to volcanic eruptions or earthquakes, except for crop failures hundreds of years ago and some canceled flights in recent years due to ash clouds.
The volcanic eruptions are incredibly beautiful to witness and will remind you of the forces of nature.
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 (this also depends on your luck, the time of year you visit, and how warmly you are dressed).
The average temperature in Reykjavík is around 1-2°C (33-35°F) in wintertime and about 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 7°C (44°C) and go up to 25°C (77°F).
Reykjavik is in the southwest part of the country, and the further north you go, the more different the temperature will be.
The largest town in the North of Iceland, Akureyri, generally receives warmer days during summer (though still averaging lower than Reykjavík, around 11°C or 52°F), but colder days in winter (around 0°C or 32°F), with more consistent levels of snow.
The town of Isafjordur, in the Icelandic Westfjords, can sometimes be inaccessible during the winter due to heavy snowfall.
This isolation due to weather happens to multiple other towns and villages in the Westfjords and in the north and east of Iceland, too.
Icelandic winters are not as cold as those in Canada or Russia, or even those in New York or the Baltic countries.
Summers can get pretty warm, but there are never any hot days.
The highest temperature recorded in Iceland was 30.5°C (86.9°F) in 1939, in the east of the country.
The temperature is pretty mild throughout the year, and the change between summer and winter temperatures is not as drastic as in New England, for example.
This 'mild' weather, however, is completely unpredictable.
You can wake up to a beautiful sunny day, begin getting dressed, and by the time you've finished, discover there's a raging snow blizzard outside.
Or you can be driving in a valley with nothing but clear skies, round a hill, and enter a scene of fog and rain.
There are also drastic weather differences depending on 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. On warm days you may feel hot since the air tends to be dry.
Icelanders are used to this constant change in the weather, and if you book a tour that gets canceled due to weather, you'll receive a full refund or be scheduled for another day.
All seasons in Iceland have something great about them.
Summer is the country’s high season and the most popular time to come to Iceland.
The weather is milder, the days are longer, and it's a truly spectacular time to visit. If you're coming to Iceland for the first time, we would definitely recommend doing so in the summertime.
If you are coming to Iceland for the second or third time, we'd recommend checking out one of the other seasons.
The prices will be lower for your accommodation (except for Christmas and New Year's Eve perhaps!) as it is the 'off-season,' but you will see a great contrast to the summer landscapes.
Some attractions are only available during the winter, such as the elusive Northern Lights and the spectacular ice caves in Iceland's many glaciers.
You could also find yourself on a crazy adventure that includes 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 about the climate and weather in Iceland, visit the Icelandic Met Office website.
Just remember that the weather in Iceland can be extremely unpredictable (even in the summer), so all forecasts should be considered best guesses.
While spring comes to Iceland in April and May, Icelanders actually celebrate the first day of summer on the first Thursday after the 18th of April. It’s the 'official' first day of summer and a public holiday. It's also not that uncommon that snow falls on this day.
Though this is considered the first day of summer, it would be more accurate to say that it's the first spring day.
Iceland can sometimes have snowfall during April and May, but generally, this is when the snow melts in the mountains and highlands, allowing the flowers of Reykjavik and its coastline to start blooming.
Spring is also when migrating birds, such as the popular puffin species, start appearing in Iceland.
The first puffins return in April and stay until September.
Another bird, the la, or golden plover, is supposed to bring spring along with it. You can see the first golden plovers towards the end of March.
Springtime weather in Reykjavík can be anything from snow, sleet, and rain, to bright sunny days. The temperature averages between 0-10°C (32-50°F).
Springtime can be fairly wet in the southern part of the country, but drier (and colder) towards the north, around Akureyri.
The Icelandic Highlands can be about 10°C colder than the coastline and are closed for traffic during the spring.
The colors of nature will start to emerge at this time. The grass may not be very tall or green yet, but trees’ leaves will be close to returning.
Spring flowers such as crocus and Easter lilies will begin poking their heads out of people's gardens. You might even see some spring flowers blossom on tree branches.
Generally, the end of winter lifts people's spirits, 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. You can still catch the Northern Lights, the weather is mild, and the high season hasn't started yet, so there are fewer tourists around and lower prices.
It should also be easier for you to find accommodation and tour availability.
Iceland’s summer starts in late May or early June and lasts through August.
It’s the most popular time for people to visit Iceland.
The midnight sun appears, meaning the days are incredibly long, and people gain extra energy.
The days get longer and longer until the solstice, which falls 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 color that can last for hours.
Iceland is a paradise for photographers who want to capture nature during the 'golden hour.’
Read more about photography in Iceland here
These long days are convenient for travelers; you won't ever get lost in the dark or need to reach a destination before night falls.
There is no darkness! Don't worry, you’ll still be able to sleep. Just use blackout curtains or pack an eye mask to wear to bed.
Most tours are available in the summertime. You'll be able to see many locations during the long days, including mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, and waterfalls. Many of these will provide you with excellent color contrasts.
Still, the weather can be unpredictable, and some years, it feels like summer will never come.
Temperatures can be as low as 5°C (41°F) but as warm as 25°C (77°F). On average, the temperature is between 10° to 15°C (50-59°F). Summers are not as wet as spring, but it does rain occasionally.
The wind chill can make summer days and nights cool, as Iceland is a very windy country.
If you're lucky, you'll get to experience warm, still summer days in Iceland, and, if you are in Reykjavik, you will see how the city comes alive.
Plenty of outdoor camping or music festivals occur in Iceland during the summer, and many people choose to travel around the country and sleep in tents.
Summer music festivals include the Secret Solstice Festival, the Eistnaflug Festival, and many smaller events.
Towards the end of June or beginning of July, some of the highland roads are opened after being closed for the winter.
This is the only time of year you can access the famous valley of Landmannalaugar (unless you go on this Landmannalaugar super jeep winter tour) and Thorsmork Valley.
So if you dream of hiking in the Icelandic Highlands on the popular Laugavegurinn and Fimmvörðuháls routes, for example, then July or early August is the best time for you.
The Icelandic autumn starts in 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, though it gets colder as each day passes.
Prices for accommodations go down in September and October, and you'll be able to see Iceland’s gorgeous autumn colors. Maybe you’ll experience the first snowfall of the year or catch the Northern Lights.
The only downfall is that it may be windy, wet, and possibly quite cold.
Autumn is similar to springtime in temperature, between 0° to 10°C (32-50°F), though autumn feels windier. Maybe this is because of all the leaves falling from the trees and blowing in the wind.
There will still be days such as the one seen in the picture above, taken at Thingvellir National Park.
When there is a fresh layer of snow mixed in with the autumn colors of the moss and the lava, you'll see some incredible color combinations, such as those in this picture from Hraunfossar:
Autumn is when the birds start flying south, and some tours such as river rafting or highland excursions close for the season.
On the other hand, this is when you'll be able to go mushroom or berry picking in the countryside. You can find wild blueberries, crowberries, and strawberries in Iceland.
Redcurrants are also available, though they are mainly planted and found in people's gardens.
And always remember to keep searching the skies for the Northern Lights.
Winter in Iceland is between November and March.
These are the darkest months of the year, with little sunlight. The year’s shortest day happens just before the Christmas holidays, on the 21st of December.
On that day, there are only 4-5 hours of daylight.
Fortunately, Christmas in Iceland is filled with twinkling fairy lights in every garden and on every street, so it is a thoroughly cozy and lovely place to be.
Explore the Circle of Iceland on this 8-Day Guided Adventure
Winter is a great time 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 enjoy some hot springs all year round, but they feel especially nice when snow blankets the surrounding landscape.
Great rivers of flowing meltwater form the ice caves during summer underneath Vatnajokull, Europe's largest glacier.
You can't visit the caves when they're full of flowing water, but when the temperature drops and the water turns back into ice, the country is left with spectacular blue caves to explore.
You can see the Icelandic glaciers all year round, and they can be breathtaking as a contrast to the summer colors. But it is in the winter that they become truly spectacular.
Contrary to many people's beliefs, snow is not always covering Iceland during winter. The snow appears, melts, and appears again, so you can still see the contrast of colors and get a sense of the glaciers’ incredible size.
Winter is Iceland's most unpredictable season when it comes to the weather.
If you are somewhere in the south, such as Reykjavik, the average temperature is around 0°C (32°F). It can go down to -5° (23°F) or up to 5°C (41°F) but doesn't get any colder or warmer than that, though you should always consider the wind chill.
It's nothing too extreme, though the temperature will likely drop down to -10°C (14°F).
During these times you'll be able to see some beautiful winter landscapes, full of snow and icicles.
The highlands are closed during wintertime, but some glaciers are accessible.
Tours depend on weather and visibility, so be aware that they can be canceled with just a few hours’ notice.
When an operator cancels a tour, they will offer you another tour in return or a full refund.
These precautions mean you won't find yourself on top of a glacier in a crazy snowstorm.
If the weather happens to take everyone by surprise and you do find yourself in a snowstorm, the temperature may drop down to anywhere from -15° to -20°C (5 to -4°F).
The best advice we can give you is to bring many warm layers, preferably made of wool or fleece.
That way, you can always add a layer or take a layer off to make sure you are comfortable.
You can best see the Northern Lights between September and March.
It's impossible to see the Northern Lights at the height of summer (June-July) because of Iceland’s midnight sun when the nights stay bright.
By August, nights start to get darker, and you can occasionally spot the Northern Lights.
The 'season' for the best aurora hunting is from September to March when the nights are dark for a substantial amount of time.
From time to time, the Northern Lights are particularly active. For example, in 2013, there was a solar maximum, and spectacular displays were seen.
The next solar maximum is expected in 2025.
In 2012, the Met Office launched a Northern Lights forecast for Iceland. This report shows you their predictions for where and how strong the aurora activity will be at a given time and area.
The white parts of the forecast signify clear skies, which is the best time to see the Northern Lights.
The forecast is not a 100% guarantee. Some nights, when the activity is high on the scale (such as a 7 out of 9), you may not see anything. At other times, when the activity should be low (1 or 2 on the scale), you can see some amazing aurora performances.
No matter what time of year you make your trip to Iceland, you’re bound to have a unique experience exploring this wonderful country. If you’ve been to Iceland before, what time of year would you suggest is the best time to visit? Let us know in the comments below.