Best time to visit Iceland? Well, it’s not so easy to answer this question. And that’s simply because every season has its own magical spirit and offers a completely different experience. If you are planning a trip, there’s a tough decision to be made.
Best time to visit Iceland depends above all on what you would like to experience in Iceland. Winter is definitely the best time to visit Iceland for Northern Lights. If you are an avid hiker, then you will have countless hiking possibilities in the summer. When you want to avoid the crowds and at the same time are afraid of Icelandic winter storms, then the best time to travel to Iceland is autumn or spring.
A long time ago Icelandic year was divided only into two seasons – winter and summer. Spring and autumn were so short for the always busy Icelandic farmers that they stopped noticing them. What’s more, in the past people didn’t count age in years. According to a very old Icelandic custom, they counted it in winters.
If it’s your first visit, winter is probably not the best time to go to Iceland.
Best time to visit Iceland: winter?
Winter is a favourite season of many Icelanders. It doesn’t surprise us at all. In this season you can finally avoid the crowds. Iceland turns into a snowy kingdom for quite a long time. Famous spectacular landscapes covered with tons of snow look really amazing. The best word that describes Iceland in winter is a fairy tale. It gets even more fairy-tale-like when the Northern Lights start to rage on the sky. Winter is definitely the best time to see them. Magical, colourful lights dance over the incredibly beautiful landscapes. Imagine what kind of show is that! And Iceland is one of the bucket list destinations to see Northern Lights.
Many people dream to see the island in the winter. They would love to go, but they still hesitate. Most of all, they are afraid, that the heavy weather conditions will spoil their trip. If it also bothers you, don’t worry that much. Winter in Iceland is not as severe as it might seem, at least if we think about the temperatures. Luckily the Gulf Stream controls the whole situation. Thanks to it the water from the Caribbean Sea regularly warms up the island. Don’t expect any giant frost; it is around -5 °C most of the time, sometimes -10 °C. But you have no chance to experience here Siberian cold.
However, the winter weather can easily needle the visitors, especially these who aren’t accustomed to it. Wind can blow wildly and indeed it is much stronger than in the summer. You can come across crazy snowstorms and icy roads. Strong wind and slippery roads definitely are not very good travel companions. If you don’t have any driving experience in such extreme conditions, you should postpone the winter trip and work on your driving skills. Besides, the day is very short. If it’s your first visit to Iceland, we would say that winter is not the best time to visit Iceland for you.
For sure, a winter road trip in Iceland is more demanding than one in the summer. It requires more meticulous planning. You have to constantly keep an eye on the weather forecast (vedur.is) and check the driving conditions (road.is). It’s very important because your itinerary depends on the weather situation. It’s better to wait until the crazy snowstorm or relentless gale disappears. It’s much better to observe it from a hotel’s window with a cup of hot tea, instead of fighting with it on the road. During a snowstorm, a road might be blocked anyway, so you have to wait until the weather gets better. Sometimes you can get stuck somewhere for a day or two.
That said, winter has also many advantages. First of all, it is cheaper than in the summer. The price of accommodation and car rental drops significantly. Moreover, you don’t need to book accommodation a few months earlier. You can do it later, for example, a few days in advance or even the same day. For us, it’s a big advantage, because we like to make spontaneous travel decisions and don’t like precise plans. Of course, you need to check which hotels or hostels are open in the winter because not all of them operate all year round.
Have a look at our original Icelandic fine art prints!
No Northern Lights and no hiking in spring, that’s why in our opinion it’s not the best time to visit Iceland.
Best time to visit Iceland: spring?
In Iceland nature is waking up very quickly after the long winter. Before you notice, you already tread on a fresh green grass, even when a few days earlier there was no sign of it. Days are getting longer very fast, and it’s getting warmer. There are already quite many tourists, especially around the capital, but if you go somewhere further, you can experience Iceland without the crowds.
Icelandic spring may play some sly tricks. It happens that you are planning to see how the Icelandic spring looks like, and don’t see it at all. Sometimes snow may lie down here even until early May. Everything depends on the region. And another surprise: you are happy about the beautiful spring, then you are driving to some other place and find yourself in the winter kingdom. Iceland is a tricky fellow.
Summer is many people’s favourite season. If you are one of them, then it’s the best time to travel to Iceland for you.
Best time to go to Iceland: summer?
In Iceland the first day of summer (Sumardagurinn fyrsti) is celebrated April 21. It has always been a very joyful day filled with games and festivities. In the past, it was one of the most important moments of the year, so Icelanders prepared for it for a long time. Although they don’t complain about winter, they still really look forward to each coming summer and some sunshine which it brings. As a result, the government decided that they should declare Sumardagurinn fyrsti a national holiday. People greet themselves with a phrase ‘Gleðilegt sumar!’ (Happy summer!) on that day. It’s not something unusual that when Icelanders welcome the summer, it still snows and the real summer (if we can talk about something like this in Iceland) is still far away. If you want to experience Icelandic summer, you have to wait till the end of June.
Visiting the island in summer gives you unlimited possibilities and is considered by many as the best time to visit Iceland. Only during this time the whole island (including the Highlands) is available. You can choose among all hiking trails, and all the roads are open. Nature is in its full bloom. You can observe an incredibly large number of birds, including the famous puffins. Summer is also a great time to go on a cruise in search of whales, dolphins and other ocean creatures. You simply can do whatever you have dreamt of doing in Iceland! Glacier walk, horseback riding, wild water rafting, etc. – the possibilities are endless. It is the mildest season of all. If you are lucky, you can even catch a considerable dose of the sun. As it comes to the temperature, you must still remember that this is not a Caribbean island and summers are rather cold. Expect anything between 10-15 °C, but bear in mind that it can get as cold as 6 °C and as warm as a little over 20 °C. One day you can travel in wonderful sunshine and spend several next in the pouring rain (unfortunately, this is not a warm summer rain). It doesn’t get dark at night, so you can go for a hike even at 11 p.m. Midnight Sun is a fantastic experience.
During the summer in Iceland you may even start to think why this country is called Iceland. The land of ice? Sure, there are quite many glaciers, but it must be a mistake. Greenland would be a much more appropriate name. In the summer Iceland becomes a green island, fresh, lush and mind-blowing. Sometimes it is almost unearthly green. Incredibly thick moss which grows on lava fields becomes even more vivid. The scenery begins to be as idyllic and magical as the Hobbit’s land, Shire. Apart from the omnipresent green, you can see amazing violet fields. The plant which is responsible for this is called lupine. And in the summer all sheep leave the farms and start to wander free. You can encounter them everywhere, even on the beach. Sounds like a fairy-tale? It really is!
Summer in Iceland is unfortunately expensive. Moreover, if you want to go there in this season, we have to warn you that it’s not something for a spontaneous traveller. If you don’t plan to go for longer hikes and camp in the wilderness or stay on the campsites, you have to plan everything very carefully. In the summer time, the whole island gets quite crowded. You can experience that, particularly at the major tourist attractions. That means you have to book your accommodation as early as several months in advance. In some places rooms are sold out even seven or eight months before.
Autumn is our favourite season in Iceland and for us it’s the best time to go to Iceland.
Best time to travel to Iceland: autumn?
Autumn is wonderful in many countries, but in Iceland, it simply overwhelms with its beauty. We love the island in this season. Tundra gets really incredible colours then, mostly because of the blueberry bushes which turn vivid purple. Hills and meadows look like endless fields of purple. Autumn in Iceland is strikingly beautiful but insanely short as well. Every time we regret that it can’t last longer. It’s probably our favourite season in Iceland.
What’s more, there are fewer travellers around. You can still go for an amazing hike, and some roads start to be fantastically empty, especially in more remote corners of Iceland, like the Westfjords. The prices drop a little. On the other hand, the weather starts to be more unpredictable, but hey, don’t forget that you are in Iceland! Actually, the weather is pretty unpredictable all year round. But we have to admit that it’s more windy than in the summer. You can experience some crazy storms, but it shouldn’t spoil your travel plans. If you follow the advice about the weather and travel conditions posted on vedur.is there’s no reason why your autumn trip to Iceland can’t be awesome. And last but not least, cool September air means that the aurora season has started. We advise you to keep your fingers crossed for a cloudless sky and prepare for the amazing light show.
Remember that Iceland is a capricious land when it comes to weather. You cannot assume that if you come to Iceland in the summer, you will have for sure better weather than in the autumn. It can be just the opposite. Icelandic aura has surprised us many times. When we travelled in summer, there were days that we didn’t take off our waterproof jackets for a moment, while in the autumn, we had almost a week of constant sunshine.
If we had to choose, autumn would be our best time to visit Iceland. But to be honest, we are crazy about Iceland in all seasons. And what about you – when would you love to visit Iceland?