With WOW Air offering ridiculously low airfare to Iceland, this northern little island is high on traveler radar recently. I’ve seen more and more snapchat and Instagram posts from Iceland this year than ever before, and the number of people asking for my opinion on what to do in Iceland is growing exponentially! When people ask me what my favorite travel destination is, I name four: Spain, Morocco, Croatia…and Iceland. And almost everyone’s response: “Iceland is number one on my bucket list!”
I’ve already written a few posts on what to do in Iceland, but another big question I get is when the best time to visit Iceland is. My short answer? Every time is a good time to visit Iceland! But with such a difference from one month to the next, here’s a look at the longer answer of why one season might pique your interest more than another.
The best time to visit Iceland if you want to see the cold northern beauty in all its glory is in winter. Winter is Iceland as it was meant to be: cold, blanketed in snow, and the sky aglow. The best part about visiting Iceland in the winter is that there are about 18-20 hours of darkness, giving you about an 80 percent chance of seeing the northern lights.
The northern lights are incredible and you can only see them in the pure darkness, without any city lights around. The further north you go, the better chance you have at seeing them. The only problem is that the weather is so volatile that clouds and snow would hide the lights. However, the weather is volatile no matter what the season and it’s so quick-changing that there’s always a good shot at seeing them. If the northern lights are high on your travel bucket list, the best time to visit Iceland is winter.
There is a lot of snow in winter and much of Iceland is covered in white. It’s a little harder to sightsee the natural wonders in winter because a lot of them are under snow, but some of the attractions might even be better in white. For example, you can hike a glacier all year round, but in summer the snow melts and there is a lot of dirt. In winter, the glacier will be completely white in every direction. In winter you can also go ice caving, which isn’t a safe option as it gets warmer. Snow mobiling is an expensive activity but a really fun way to cover a lot of land fast and without roads. The waters of Silfra in Thingvellir National Park are about 2°C (36°F) year round, so it’ll be just as cold to snorkel or scuba dive between the fissure in summer as it is in winter. Why not try that while it’s snowing? I can only imagine how beautiful it would be!
Winter is also a great time to plan around holidays. Christmas in Iceland is a little different and the locals love to tell the stories they grew up with. And fireworks are legal in Iceland, which means New Years Eve comes with 24 hours of fireworks everywhere. Where better to ring in a new year?
If you don’t adjust well to change, spring has the most similar daylight to darkness ratio as the rest of the world. On the vernal equinox, around March 20, there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of sunlight. A month before has a few more hours of night, a month after has a few more hours of daylight. If you like a solid sleep schedule where you have plenty of daylight to sightsee across the country and still a chance to see the northern lights, spring is a great time to go.
It’s not warm in spring so don’t expect t-shirts and sandals. The temperatures do gradually rise as the months creep towards summer, but even in summer it never gets to be beach weather. The average spring temperature in Iceland is around 3°C (38°F).
Spring is full of Icelandic national holidays. The vernal equinox is in March, Iceland’s first day of summer is in April, Easter is in spring. Icelandic holidays Maundy Thursday, Labour Day, and Ascension Day are all in spring too.
If you’re hoping to see as much of Iceland as you can in a short time, summer is the time to go. There are about 20-22 hours of daylight on the summer solstice, so Iceland never really gets dark in the summer. Even at the darkest hour (2:00 a.m.?), it’s still bright enough that you wouldn’t need to use headlights. If you can stay up for 72 hours, you can probably see all Iceland has to offer at one time.
Another reason that summer is the best time to visit Iceland is for the ring road. If driving the 1,332 km (828 mile) road around the outside of the country is on your travel bucket list, summer is the only season you can guarantee all roads will be open, not flooded or snow-covered, and safe to drive. You also won’t have to worry about driving in the dark or finding an open campground before darkness hits.
Additionally, summer is the best time to visit Iceland to chase waterfalls. Especially Seljalandsfoss, which you can walk behind. In other seasons, the path behind Seljalandsfoss is too dangerous and closed. Even in summer it was a wet and cold walk behind the waterfall, but I probably wouldn’t have attempted it in any other season.
The summer solstice is a big party in Iceland. It marks the beginning of summer, which is a happy time among Icelanders. Lots of sunlight, the end of seasonal depression, the warmest temperatures of the year, and the celebrity-filled summer solstice party, the Secret Solstice Party. If you’re planning a summer trip to Iceland, try to incorporate June 20 to hit up this party!
The average temperature in Iceland in summer is about 13-20°C (55-70°F). While it might sound balmy to Icelanders, 70°F is downright chilly in July to the rest of us. Also, as you get away from the city and into the wilderness, the temperatures drop a bit. Winds make it feel even colder. However, as long as the temperature is over 15°C (60°F), you’ll probably see Icelanders in t-shirts and shorts. I’ve even seen them shooting down the main street in Reykjavik on a slip ‘n slide!
Like spring, fall is the best time to visit Iceland to avoid throwing your body’s schedule out of whack. The average temperature in fall is about 0°C (32°F). While it sounds cold, remember you’re in Iceland, one of the northernmost countries in the world. 0°C is actually pretty mild, considering! I mean, it’s been colder in New Jersey.
Fall is a rainy season in Iceland, although to be fair it’s been pretty wet each time I’ve visited. In each season I’ve gone to Iceland, it’s cloudy and rainy/snowy in the morning but almost always clears up in the afternoon. My tour bus guide said it started raining in October and by the end of November, it hadn’t yet stopped. It’s not ideal for things like walking behind Seljalandsfoss or sightseeing, but the rain drops can really enhance pictures around water like in the Blue Lagoon or snorkeling Silfra. I’ve seen some professional photos of these places in the rain that are just incredible!
So why visit in the fall? Prices are outrageously cheap. Probably because it’s the rainy season, you can most likely grab a $200 flight from many major U.S. cities and hotels/hostels/AirBnBs are generally wide open at lower prices. Tourism is low this time of year so you can capture Iceland’s natural wonders without people ruining your pictures. Even though there are usually lots of clouds, you can edit the pictures to get a dramatic effect.
Have you been to Iceland? What season did you visit? Which season do you think is the best time to visit Iceland? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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P.S. You might also enjoy 7 Best Apps for Iceland Travel or Tips to Decide Whether to Rent a Car or Take a Tour Bus in Iceland