With its bubbling lagoons, fiery volcanoes, amazing coastlines, glistening glaciers, and of course, the dancing Northern Lights, Iceland is a surreal island nation where, if you are lucky, you can experience all four seasons in a single day because of its changeable weather.
While it’s pretty cold out there even during the summer months (compared to many other places in the world), don’t shy away from visiting Iceland if you want to experience a mystical beauty that makes you feel you’re in the middle of a fantasy story.
Iceland has a lot to offer throughout the year and when you visit will depend on what you want to do and see.
Iceland is a Nordic island country located in the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans. Reykjavík is the capital city and houses 65% of the country’s population. The country runs almost entirely on renewable energy.
After Great Britain, Iceland is the second-largest island in Europe, and the 18th-largest island in the world.
Iceland has a Nordic social welfare system that offers tertiary education and universal health care to its citizens. On the median wealth per adult index, Iceland ranks third in the world, and on the Global Peace Index, it ranks first.
The country is geographically diverse with elemental features like fiery volcanoes, jetting geysers, jagged fjords, black lava beaches, and blue lagoons, all of which create stunning postcard-worthy landscapes.
If you want to experience warm weather, long daylight hours, and midnight sun while enjoying hiking, sea kayaking, and self-driving road trips, the summer months between June and September are the best.
If you want to enjoy whale watching and marvel at the majestic humpbacks, minkes, and blue whales, be in Northern Iceland between June and July. To see the orcas, head over to West Iceland.
If you wish to explore the less frequented hot springs, the shoulder season of September and October is the best because the crowd will have thinned out and the mountain roads will still be open.
For budget travel to Iceland, consider the winter months and the shoulder months of Spring and Autumn. That’s when the flight, hotel, and tour prices are the cheapest.
Cassie Boca | Unsplash
The climate in Iceland has four seasons:
Iceland Spring: This season starts in April and ends in May with temperatures ranging between 2.8°C and 6.3°C. These months have longer daylight hours.
Iceland Summer: This season starts in June and ends in September with temperatures reaching up to 15°C in certain places. Daylight hours are the longest in June and July. You will experience good weather.
Iceland Fall: Starts in September and ends in October with a gradual dip in temperature, which usually ranges between 4.3°C and 7.5°C. In some places, it can be 10°C. Daylight hours shorten.
Iceland Winter: November through April are the winter months when daytime temperatures can drop to sub-zero levels. The daylight is sparse. This is when the Northern Lights are at their best.
These four seasons can further be classified into:
Peak Season or High Season: This is usually the summer when tourism is at its peak and everything is expensive. This is when hiking trails and mountain roads are all open and accessible and you can experience stunning landscapes and culturally vibrant Icelandic life.
Low Season or Off Season: This refers to the winter months when the wind chill will bite. The low season starts in early November and tourism prices drop significantly. You’ll save money if you visit during the low season. (But it will be cold!)
Shoulder Seasons: Spring and Fall/Autumn are called the shoulder seasons when tourism drops, but there’s plenty to explore. Price drops and fewer crowds mean a cheaper and more pleasant experience.
The best time to visit Iceland depends on what you want to do. For outdoor adventures and road trips, the summer months are excellent. For spotting the Northern Lights, September to April is the best time. For low-cost travel, the shoulder season or the off-season is best suited.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the best time to visit Iceland:
January is a quiet month with fewer tourists. This is when the temperature hovers around -0.6°C and the days are short and dark.
Sunrise is at 11 AM and sunset is at 4 PM, making it a perfect month for watching the Northern Lights and for winter photography.
By the end of the month, you get a few extra hours of daylight to embark on horse riding trips on the back of cute Icelandic horses.
Tamara Bitter | Unsplash
In February, the temperature in Iceland hovers at around 0.1°C with a total of 7 to 10 daylight hours. However, in the snowy landscapes temperatures drop even further. Towards the end of February, Reykjavik and the coastline begin defrosting.
February is one of the best months for watching the Northern Lights, and this is also the time to spot Orcas or Killer Whales. There are boat tours available, along with many opportunities for wildlife photography.
The Iceland Winter Lights Festival is held during February’s first weekend with cultural events and light-art installations.
Anders Jildén | Unsplash
By March, the average temperature rises to around 0.3°C with 10 to 13.5 daylight hours. It is usually the third week of this month when the stunning transition from winter to spring occurs. It is known as the vernal equinox.
The weeks just before and after the vernal equinox have twice the number of geomagnetic storms, making March the perfect time to watch the Northern Lights.
Be prepared to experience occasional sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms along with some unexpected sunshine. This is when you can enjoy Orca watching, snowshoeing, and ice caving.
In April, the temperature rises to 2.8°C on average with 13.5 to 16.5 daylight hours, giving the feeling that Spring has arrived. However, there will still be some occasional snow.
The chances of witnessing the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis decrease, but the roads clear up from Westfjords to East Fjords, making way for group trips.
The puffins fly in to nest in Iceland during late April and they stay till August. However, the best time to see them is June & July.
There are plenty of boat tours that can take you whale watching, but if you are lucky enough, you can catch a glimpse from the shoreline.
Image source: Getyourguide.com
With a 6.3°C average temperature and around 16.5 to 20 daylight hours, Northern Lights spotting is now out of the question. This is the best time for whale-watching as they move north to feed.
Late May is also perfect for birdwatching. Boat tours can take you close to sea cliffs where the puffins nest.
As the seas calm and the coastline defrosts, the circumnavigation cruise tours start, most of which leave from Reykjavik.
June is officially a summer month with an average temperature of 8.9°C and 20 to 21 daylight hours. This is when you can spot the midnight sun, so, you better get prepped with your eye mask for undisturbed sleep.
Whale-watching trips will take you to areas where you can spot blue whales, minke whales, and humpback whales. For bird lovers, the puffins stay busy on Westfjords’ sea cliffs.
Outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and sea kayaking begin this month. You can also enjoy self-drive holidays because the roads are clear.
There are many festivals that celebrate the onset of the summer months such as the famous Reykjavik Art Festival. This is also the month when Icelanders celebrate the summer solstice (June 21st).
July is a tad warmer with average temperatures hovering at 10.7°C and daylight lasting for 18 to 21 hours.
You can still enjoy the midnight sun because the days stretch almost until midnight. The late-night light creates perfect conditions for photography enthusiasts.
This is the perfect month for hiking and camping. Most trails, including the famed Laugavegur trail, open during this month of Iceland summer. Whale-watching tours are also at their peak in July.
Freysteinn G. Jonsson | Unsplash
With temperatures dropping slightly to 10.3°C and the daylight shrinking by a few hours (15 to 18 hours), August is the peak season with maximum levels of tourists.
With many festivals, summer holidays, and cruise ship arrivals, Iceland truly springs to life and Reykjavik becomes an extremely busy city. Also, mid-August is the perfect time to spot puffins.
You can beat the crowds by choosing sea kayaking, camping, hiking, or even self-driving tours. This is the perfect month to visit Spitsbergen or Greenland. Don’t expect the midnight sun this month as it’s now darker at night.
The temperature starts falling in September with the average being 7.5°C. Daylight hours also drop to 11.5 to 14.5 hours, and with the sun setting at around 8:30 PM, the chances of spotting the elusive Northern Lights increase.
In fact, September is one of the best times to spot the Aurora Borealis because of increased geomagnetic storms around the autumn equinox (generally 22 September). It is also the festival season.
This is when you can enjoy the International Film Fest and the Reykjavík International Literary Fest which takes place between mid-September and mid-October.
September is also a good time for road trips and autumn photography. The South Coast is a popular stretch where you can enjoy photographing scenic glaciers, black beaches, and waterfalls.
Image source: icelandairwaves.is
October marks the end of Autumn in Iceland. The temperature drops to 4.3°C and daylight hours shrink to 8 to 11.5 hours. The summer crowds disappear, creating sweeping views of crowd-free vistas for photography enthusiasts.
You can encounter thunderous clouds, sunshine, and snow – all on the same day or week. Northern Lights can be observed at times, but the true attraction is the spectacular Iceland Airwaves music fest.
This is also a great time to hit the hot springs and geothermal spas.
Joshua Earle | Unsplash
November is when the winter months start setting in. Temperatures dip to an average, the daytime temperature can fluctuate between -1°C and 3°C, and at night, the temperature can drop even further.
Travel itineraries usually include outdoor activities like glacier hiking, ice caving, and soaking in the natural springs. Of course, the surreal northern lights are there to keep you enchanted.
Astra Liu | Unsplash
December and February are the two iciest months in Iceland. Temperatures in Northern Iceland can drop to -10°C, but in general, the temperature hovers around -0.1°C. Also, at this time of year there’ll be only 4 to 4.5 hours of daylight.
The long nights and Northern Lights exude romantic vibes, but the more adventurous can engage in some outdoor activities like snowmobiling on glaciers and skiing.
Despite being dark and cold, winter festivities set in, especially for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.
The Ring Road trip is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland. The Ring Road encircles Iceland and offers scenic landscapes, especially during the summer months (June to August). If you want to avoid crowds, go during the shoulder seasons (April to May and September to October)
North Iceland also has other scenic routes such as the Diamond Circle and the Arctic Coast Way. The beautiful Golden Circle displays Iceland’s three most popular attractions – Gullfoss Waterfall, Geyser geothermal area, and the Thingvellir National Park, best enjoyed in the shoulder seasons.
Iceland’s winter weather is perfect for exploring surreal ice caves. Mid-November to early March is best for the Katla Ice Cave tour inside Kötlujökull glacier. You can also engage in glacier walking on Vatnajökull – the largest glacier in the country.
Langjökull – the second-largest glacier offers the famous ‘Into the Glacier’ experience that will take you to the depths of the glacier through a man-made tunnel.
Jillian Kim | Unsplash
Witnessing the magical Northern Lights is down to the weather and good luck, as clear dark nights are needed. However, mid-September to mid-April gives you the best opportunities to spot the wondrous Aurora Borealis.
The Blue Lagoon is the most famous geothermal spa and hot spring in Iceland that remains open all year round. The temperature is a constant 102F (39C), so whatever the season, you can warm up in the thermal baths.
The best time to visit the Blue Lagoon is evening time where you can witness the midnight sun in the summer, or float around watching the Northern Lights in the winter!
Other thermal baths include the stunning Sky Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, and Myvatn Nature Baths.
In my opinion, the best time to visit Iceland is Autumn/Fall when you can enjoy an all-round experience with the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, take a dip in the Blue Lagoon, enjoy whale watching & birdwatching, go on road trips, and more. The only thing you’ll miss is the midnight sun!
The Low (winter months) and shoulder (April-May or September-October) seasons are when the prices are at their lowest. This is a perfect time for budget travel.
Low or shoulder season is the best time to visit Iceland for honeymooners because there will be fewer crowds offering more privacy. Wintertime travel can be very romantic, especially for cozying up and admiring the dancing Northern Lights.
The perfect time to visit Iceland depends on your personal preferences. Summer is great if you want warmer weather with plenty of daylight hours for outdoor pursuits.
If you are on a tight budget consider the transitional months of Spring and Autumn. You can even eye up the winter months when prices hit rock bottom.
If you don’t mind freezing temperatures and mostly dark days, the Winter is the best time for you.
No matter what’s on your mind, Iceland is a beautiful and exciting country to visit. I hope this article on the best time to visit Iceland has helped with your travel plans.
Have an amazing trip. 🙂