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Best Time To Visit Iceland

Home Destinations Nordic Europe Iceland Best Time To Visit Iceland

When is the best time to visit Iceland? The short answer is anytime you like! Iceland is a year-round destination, punctuated by two heavenly highlights: the midnight sun in summer and the northern lights in winter. But every season has its special appeal – the best time to visit largely depends on what you want to see or do on an Iceland holiday.

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Iceland by Season... at a glance

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  • Lengthening days and warmer weather ideal for self-drive
  • Quieter period before the busy summer
  • Spring equinox marks peak in northern lights activity
  • Birds, including puffins and golden plovers, arrive to nest
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  • Long days and midnight sun in the north
  • Perfect conditions for hiking, horse riding, driving and other activities
  • Peak season for whale watching May-Sep
  • Interior Highland tracks open late Jun-mid-Sep
  • Can be very busy; book as early as possible
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  • Quieter period following summer
  • Golden autumn colours on the tundra
  • Berry harvesting season
  • September is a beautiful month for self-drives
  • Northern lights visible from as early as late August
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  • Prime season for northern lights watching
  • Orca watching in West Iceland
  • Self-drive definitely still possible, especially in the south and west
  • Ideal season for a short break in a country hotel
  • Interior is closed except to 4WD super jeep tours

When can you see the northern lights in Iceland?

Northern lights watching is more commonly associated with winter, but spectacular displays of the aurora borealis can be seen over Iceland from as early as August. As the nights lengthen and darken, however, the northern lights shine brighter. The period either side of the autumn equinox in late September is a particularly rewarding time to scan the skies.

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Iceland in Winter

November to March are the darkest months, with just 4-5 hours of daylight on the shortest day (21st December) – ideal for northern lights viewing. Far from being dark, cold and uninviting, winter in Iceland is a magical season. Long nights help maximise your chances of seeing the northern lights – especially if you stay at a lodge or hotel in the countryside away from city light pollution. Equally mesmerising, Iceland’s waterfalls become frosted with ice during winter, while snowfall forms a vivid contrast with its volcanic landscapes.

Although the interior is closed during winter to all but a few hardy Superjeep expeditions, the main road network in Iceland is kept largely open. Self-drive holidays and escorted tours provide a wonderful opportunity to explore Iceland in winter when there are few other visitors and the rugged landscape is raked by beautiful, low-angled sunlight.

Winter activities in Iceland include glacier walking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and dog sledding. Keen hikers may have to wait until summer to gain access to trails in the mountains and interior, but there are few things more invigorating than a winter walk along one of Iceland’s black-sand beaches.

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Tips for travelling in winter

Iceland Specialist, Eric, offers some practical tips on travelling to Iceland in winter.

  1. Plan ahead – flights and accommodation do get booked up especially with the lure of the northern lights. Also consider when attractions are open, as hours may be shorter during winter.
  2. Be flexible, the weather can change – be prepared for everything and remember, f you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes!
  3. Pack warm layers – pack multiple thinner layers, not just thicker ones, as not only does the oxygen between the layers help keep you insulated, but you can add and remove as appropriate.
  4. Drive carefully – roads are kept clear of snow and ice by snowploughs from early in the morning, and your car will have studded tyres, so you shouldn’t run into any problems, but it is better to be safe than sorry. If you aren’t comfortable driving in snowy conditions, we can also advice some escorted or privately guided options so you can still explore.
  5. Don’t give up on the northern lights – while they are unpredictable, Iceland is right in the middle of the auroral oval. They can be seen from early evening to the middle of the night, so be patient. A lot of hotels offer wake-up calls should they appear, so be sure to put your name down on the list.
  6. Get into hot water – with an abundance of geothermal water, you are never too far from warm water to defrost in, whether one of the many hot swimming pools you will find in almost every village in Iceland, the hot tubs that most hotels offer, or even one of the country’s natural hot springs.

Summer in Iceland

This is the season to experience the midnight sun. Iceland enjoys 24hr daylight from late May to mid-July, but to witness the best of the midnight sun you need to get as far north as possible (parts of North Iceland are just a few kilometres below the Arctic Circle) and time your visit to coincide with the summer solstice around 21st June. The merging of sunset and sunrise during mid-summer creates a magical few hours for photography in Iceland.

Just because it’s summer, don’t forget that ‘winter’ activities are also available thanks to Iceland’s perpetual icecaps. Even at the height of summer it’s possible to go snowmobiling or glacier walking on Vatnajokull or Langjokull. Summer is an ideal time for a self-drive holiday in Iceland. You can easily drive to many of the country’s most famous sights, such as Geysir and Gullfoss. Although tourist attractions in Iceland are not as crowded as other destinations in Europe, July and August are the busiest months – plan a fly-drive holiday in June or September and you’ll still enjoy long hours of daylight but with the added bonus of having many roads largely to yourself. Remember that Highland driving tracks in Iceland’s interior are often only open from late June to mid-September, and you’ll either need to hire a 4WD vehicle or join a guided superjeep safari.

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What's special about Iceland in the autumn?

Tundra vegetation is burnished yellow, gold and orange during autumn – the stunning colours contrasting with Iceland’s black lavascapes or a dusting of early snow.

When the busy summer period is over, mild and often dry weather lingers into early autumn, making September an excellent month for a walking or self-drive holiday in Iceland. The days are still long (particularly early on in the month) and many summer activities are still operating. Photographers get the best of both worlds – rich autumn colours during the day and the chance of the northern lights at night – while hikers get to feast on an autumn harvest of blueberries, crowberries and redcurrants.

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Iceland Weather

During spring, temperatures in the south averaging 0-10°C; any low-lying snow quickly thaws. It remains colder (and drier) further north. Although it’s generally mild and calm during summer, with the lowest rainfall of the year (around 50mm per month), the weather can still be fickle, especially in the highlands. July is the warmest month in Iceland. Daytime temperatures average 10-12°C, but highs of 20-25°C in the south and west are not uncommon.

Nights begin to draw in by late August, autumn is still a wonderful time to visit Iceland. The days can remain relatively mild well into September, with temperatures reaching 10°C. In the south and west, the warming influence of the Gulf Stream keeps temperatures around 0°C during winter, but it can plummet to -20°C or more in North Iceland or the interior – especially when you factor in wind chill. Expect daylight hours to range from four hours in mid-winter to around 10 hours in late autumn and early spring.

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Important dates

  • Mid-late June: Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavik – music under the midnight sun
  • Early June: Sjomannadagurinn (Seamans’ Day) – celebration of Iceland’s maritime heritage with festivities and feasting in fishing villages around the country.
  • Summer: East Iceland has a vibrant arts scene with villages like Seydisfjordur and
  • Borgarfjordur Eystri hosting cultural and music festivals
  • New Year’s Eve: Reykjavik has a dazzling fireworks display
  • Late January: Dark Music Days festival, Reykjavik
  • February: Winter Lights festival, Reykjavik