So a visit to Iceland is on your radar? Maybe you’ve got some dates in mind for your adventure vacation, and haven’t quite settled on a destination, but Iceland makes the shortlist? Well this is a great place to start to find out more. Let us tell you all about the best time to visit Iceland, and what you can expect from a visit at different times of the year.
This page is the ultimate guide to the best time to visit Iceland, consider it a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about planning an Iceland adventure. We’re covering the seasons in Iceland, when it’s 24-hour daylight and when you can expect to see the sun at midnight (yep, that’s a thing in Iceland!) We’ll also talk about whether you’ll need a visa, things to do, how to choose a guided tour operator, booking flights, and pronouncing Icelandic words. So ‘velkominn’.
Grasping the seasons in Iceland, and what each season comes with, is crucial to planning your Iceland vacation, and more importantly, to enjoying every minute of it. Iceland is very similar to New Zealand in that it’s famous for having four seasons in one day. In fact the local saying goes "If you don’t like the weather just wait 5 minutes and you’ll get something different." Another important thing to consider is daylight hours in Iceland – in December for example, there’s only around 4 hours of daylight per day, whilst you can see the sun at midnight between late May and July, when it never gets completely dark! Let’s get stuck into Iceland’s seasons in detail.
Spring - March, April, May
The seasons in Iceland follow the norm for the Northern Hemisphere, and so spring is generally considered to be March, April and May. Weather conditions are still pretty chilly, although with the right gear these months can be a great time to get out hiking whilst there are a few less tourists on the more popular routes. Temperatures during spring average 1⁰-5⁰C (34⁰-41⁰F), with an average monthly rainfall of around 35mm.
If the Northern Lights are your reason for visiting Iceland, then March is one of the best months of the year to see them, around the equinox. Another reason to visit Iceland, at any time of year, but particularly in spring, are its waterfalls. As the winter gives way to the warmer temperatures of spring these natural beauties really get going, and thunderous falls such as Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Kvernufoss are in full flow with glacial meltwater – a sight to behold.
The light conditions in spring are perfect for amateur (or professional!) photographers. The combination of the unique landscapes, and the striking light combine nicely for some show-stopping photography.
Summer is the best time to visit Iceland – temperatures are warmest, the weather is at its most stable (although for Iceland that doesn’t always mean an awful lot!), and all roads, even the quietest ones accessing the most out-of-the-way places, are open for access.
If, like us, hiking is your main reason for visiting Iceland then look no further than the summer months of June, July and August. Temperatures average 8⁰-13⁰C (46⁰-55⁰F), and average rainfall per month drops to just 23mm – perfect conditions for getting out on the hiking trails of the East-Fjords, on our ‘Stelkur’ adventure.
If you’ve travelled to New Zealand in the spring/summer you’re probably familiar with the wildflower lupin? It’s a beautiful purple-blossoming plant – and Iceland is covered with them! You’ve may have seen the striking photos of quaint churches on hillsides surrounding by purple lupins – and they’re a great reason to make summer the season to see Iceland, particularly if you’re an aspiring photographer.
Aside from the purple lupins, the national bird, the Puffin (or ‘Lundi’ in Icelandic) returns to the shores of Iceland from the ocean from mid-April right through until mid-August. Our trips get you to some of the best viewing spots, including the headland of Ingólfshöfði, and the Vestmannaeyjar Islands.
Our favourite thing about the Icelandic summer though, is that all access roads are open, which allows us to reach the East-Fjords, where we’ll go hiking for 3-nights-4-days between cosy backcountry cabins, taking in a quieter, off-the-beaten-track route into the real natural beauty of Iceland. Check out the favourites album for our 'Stelkur' trip for an idea of what the East-Fjords are like.
If you’re travelling to Iceland independently, as opposed to with an organised tour group, then Autumn is a great time of year to visit. The cost of rental cars and hotels go down as the main summer tourist season has passed, and you’ll find it easier to find accommodation. During the autumn months of September, October and November the average temperatures are 3⁰-7⁰C (37⁰-45⁰F), with an average monthly rainfall of around 35mm.
Aside from those logistical reasons to visit Iceland in the autumn, it’s the best time of year to visit for Northern Lights. By late November the daylight hours have shortened to only around 4 hours (roughly), and with the November equinox comes a great opportunity to see the Northern Lights, in arguably the best country to view them in the world.
With autumn comes another unique opportunity for an activity you might not get to do at home – animal roundups (or ‘dýrahestur’). Local farmers hike into the hills to gather their animals and bring them in to shelter before the harsh winter arrives, and they’ll always welcome a helping hand from family members and tourists! You can find out more information on where the roundups are happening at a local tourist office, it’s a lot of fun!
Iceland in winter is beautiful. However, it’s important to consider that some areas of the country are not accessible during this season as many roads close – such as the route to the East-Fjords area. It’s crucial to be flexible if you’re going to travel to Iceland independently in winter – expect delays and road closures - at least if you’re planning to stray far from the capital city Reykjavik.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not permanently dark in Iceland in winter – although the daylight hours are short (around 4-5 hours). Guess what though – that means that for those 4-5 hours the sun is either rising or setting, which means the light for photography is stunning, another good reason for an Iceland visit in winter.
Iceland is a geothermal island, covered with volcanoes and constant geothermal activity. With that activity comes natural hot springs, and what better time of year to experience them than when it’s chilly outside, the sun is rising (or setting) and there are far less tourists around?!
If you’re travelling independently rather than with a guided tour operator, then winter is a great time of year to visit Iceland if doing it cheaply is your priority. Flights, rental cars and accommodation prices are slashed as much as in half – careful though, if you want to spend what you saved on a few drinks, the tax on alcohol in Iceland is very high!
On average, the winter temperatures in Iceland are -2⁰-3⁰C (28⁰-37⁰F), with an average monthly precipitation of around 45mm.
Do I need a visa to visit Iceland?
Iceland is a party to the Schengen Agreement, which means that citizens of the USA, Australia, Europe and others, can travel to Iceland for up to 90 days without a visa. If you’re from the UK, as it stands you too are able to travel without a visa, for up to 90 days – although at this stage it is unclear how those rights will be affected as the Brexit process progresses. We’d advise you to seek the most up to date information by calling your country’s passport authority around the time of booking.
What to do in Iceland
Iceland is one of the most unique landscapes on earth, and so activities such as hiking, ice-hiking, photography, and ornithology are amongst the most popular ways for visitors to spend their time. If you’re travelling with a multi-day tour operator, you’re likely to be partaking in a series of hikes, viewing many of Iceland’s stunning waterfalls, its coastal islands, volcanoes and glaciers.
If you have time on your Iceland trip, we’d strongly recommend spending a few days hiking in the East-Fjords region, it’s a long way from the capital city where most tourists spend their time, the landscapes are absolutely stunning, and with cosy backcountry cabins to stay warm in each night, it’s a special experience not to be missed.
Another must-do near the country’s capital city is Blue Lagoon. The huge natural hot pools between the international airport and the city-centre are a great place to relax after your international flight, and a really good indication of the relaxed, luxurious experiences available in this beautiful and unique, but expensive country!
How to choose a guided tour operator
If, like so many others who love adventure travel, you prefer to leave the details of the itinerary to a guided tour operator, then choosing the best experience with the most reputable operators is crucial. If you can’t relax knowing you’re in the best hands, or you’re constantly second-guessing what’s in store day-to-day on your trip, you won’t get the most fulfiling experience from your adventure.
Our recipe for creating the perfect trip starts with a carefully personalised customer service experience. Our belief in creating this personal experience passes all the way to our guides on all our adventures – they really are incredible. Our guides are the number one thing our delighted guests comment on when they talk about their adventure – head over to our Europe reviews to find out more. Or if you’d prefer to see reviews from an independent site, check out our TrustPilot feed below.
Add to our exceptional customer service, and outstanding guides, our carefully researched itineraries, and you’re starting to see something special in the making. We always try to make our adventures multi-sport – although the focus is generally on hiking. On our Iceland trips for example, we’ll also do some kayaking for a unique perspective of one of the country’s many glacial lagoons.
Finally, we always make sure our trips are all-inclusive – we want you to relax knowing we’ll take care of everything. You won’t need to worry about where, when, or what you’ll eat, or whether you’ll be able to find accommodation – we’ve got it covered. So all you need to do is arrive, enthusiastic and ready to engage with like-minded people on an adventure of discovery, and your amazing guides will take care of the rest.
Iceland is an expensive country to visit once you arrive, but getting there, particularly from the USA and the UK, is very reasonably priced. We have a good relationship with a company called New Zealand Travel Brokers, and wherever you’re travelling from and to in the world, these guys can help you get a great deal, and make the process as hassle-free as possible. If you’d like us to put you in touch with them just let us know.
We can give you all the information you need for what time of day to arrive and depart in order to join our trip, as well as advice on airport transfers and places to stay pre and post trip.
5 tips for pronouncing Icelandic words
Most consonants are pronounced as they are in English.
J in Icelandic is pronounced like the ‘y’ in ‘you’.
An Icelandic ‘a’ is pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘bar’, but an Icelandic ‘á’ (with an accent) is pronounced like the ‘ou’ in ‘about’.
Icelandic ‘I’ and ‘y’ are pronounced as in the ‘I’ in ‘thin’ but ‘í’ and ‘ý’ (with accents) pronounced as the ‘ee’ in ‘feet’.
Icelandic characters ‘Þ’ and ‘Ð’ pronounced like the ‘th’ in ‘these’.
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