WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT ICELAND?
Iceland Travel Guide: A Complete Season Breakdown and Comparison
Published: 06 November 2019 | Updated: 09 June 2020 by Debbie
When is the best time to visit Iceland? Tricky question, right? Whatever time of year you decide to make your way over to this gem of a country, you're going to have a great time. With it's stunning landscapes, warm and friendly locals and adventure opportunities galore, Iceland really is a place you have to visit at least once.
So does it really matter when to visit? It all depends on what kind of trip you're planning. Do you want to go out in search of the northern lights? Travel around the ring road? Maybe you're hoping to spot some whales? Or to explore the ice caves? Unfortunately, these activities won't be possible all year round.
So which time of year is right for your trip? In today's post, we're discussing what you can expect during the different seasons, which should help you choose the right time of year to visit Iceland.
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Iceland is generally known to have two different seasons - a harsh winter and a slightly less harsh summer. But there is a tiny slither of spring sandwiched in between them. And even though the spring season is short in Iceland, it's definitely a time of year worthy of consideration. The intense storms of winter have blown away and the snow is starting to melt. The days are starting to get longer and the puffins are coming home to nest. So what else can you expect from spring?
• Springtime in Iceland is generally considered to run from mid April - May.
• Approximately 15 hours of daylight.
• The weather is going to be unpredictable, even in spring (it is Iceland after all) but there are three things you can be sure of - the clouds, the rain and the wind! So don't get caught out, skip the umbrella and pack a good windproof, waterproof jacket to protect you from the elements.
Pros Of Visiting During Spring
• The 15 hours of daylight springtime offers means you'll have plenty of time for exploring and having adventures. If you visit during May you'll likely get to experience the midnight sun.
• The warmer temperatures mean there's a higher chance the Ring Road will remain open throughout your trip (unfortunately, this probably will not include the F roads in the highlands, which generally remain closed until the summer)
• Catch a glimpse of cute little puffins during your trip. The first sightings of the year happen during the spring season.
• Cheaper prices. Flights, accommodation, car hire - all are significantly cheaper in spring, compared to the summertime.
• Take advantage of the fewer tourists and start your day early. This way you give yourself a better chance of enjoying some of the more popular sights without the crowds.
Cons Of Visiting During Spring
• If you've chosen to visit Iceland during the spring, unfortunately you won't get to see the northern lights. Full dark nights will give you the best chance, but by the time mid-April comes around, the nights will be lighter, giving you a very low chance of spotting the northern lights.
• A big plus of visiting in spring is the warmer weather. As we've already seen, this means more hours of daylight for exploring and the roads will be more accessible because of the lower chance of snow. But this will also mean no ice caves. They are still there throughout the spring and summer, but the warmer temperatures means the caves are unstable and will not be safe to enter during your visit.
Summer is, hands-down, the most popular time to visit Iceland - and for good reason. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, the flowers are in bloom and the highlands are finally accessible for adventure. But with this comes the crowds. So what else can you expect during a visit to Iceland in summer?
• Iceland's summer is normally considered to begin in late May and runs through to the end of August.
• The average temperature is generally between 10°C and 15°C. However, it can get as cool as 5°C and a warm as mid 20s.
• There's around 20 - 22 hours of daylight in the middle of summer.
• Even though summer is the warmest time of year, the weather can still be unpredictable. It won't be as wet as spring, but it can be just as windy. So don't get caught out - wear plenty of layers for those chillier days. But if you're lucky, you may get to enjoy some still and warm summer days.
Pros Of Visiting During Summer
• In the height of summer, Iceland sees between 20-22 hours of daylight. The longer days and the warmer weather gives explorers more time for sightseeing and a chance to tick off those bucket list experiences.
• Summer is the perfect season to take a road trip. The roads will be free from snow, meaning travellers can easily visit places that are usually inaccessible during the rest of the year. So make the most of the clear roads and take a trip to the highlands, explore the east and west fjords and/or drive the ring road.
• During the summertime, all the migratory animals come home to enjoy the warmer weather. This provides the perfect opportunity to go out in search for puffins or to take a whale watching tour.
• Iceland is beautiful year-round, but summer has a special charm. The grass is green and lush and the wildflowers are vibrant and colourful. The beautiful scenery will have you making multiple stops on your journey to take Instagram-worthy pictures.
Cons Of Visiting During Summer
• If you've decided to plan your Iceland trip during summer, you will not see the northern lights. The northern lights are never guaranteed in Iceland, but with the midnight sun, it's almost impossible to catch a glimpse of the aurora. So if you want to give yourself a chance of seeing the northern lights, summer isn't the time of year to visit.
• You won't be able to explore the ice caves. Unfortunately, the higher temperatures in summer means the ice caves are unstable and will not be safe to enter during your visit. If you have your heart set on exploring them, winter is the time to plan your Iceland adventure.
• The big downside to visiting Iceland during the summer is that it's peak tourism season, so be prepared to share the sights with lots of tourists. And because of the tourists, expect your trip to cost a lot more and for flights and accommodation to sell out fast - so book your trip as soon as possible.
Autumn, like spring, is a time of change in Iceland. The puffins begin to leave for the winter and the summer activities are winding down. The sights become less crowded and the autumn colours start to appear. If you're lucky, you'll get to experience the warmer weather of summer, whilst being in with a chance of catching the northern lights. Let's see what else autumn has to offer.
• Autumn in Iceland is fairly short and spans the months of September and October.
• Temperatures start off around 10°C at the beginning of September, but can drop to as low as 3°C as Iceland approaches it's winter season.
• Around 10 hours of daylight.
• Autumn is very much an in-between season. The high winds can make the air feel cooler and travellers may also find themselves caught in a snowstorm. Be prepared to experience all 4 seasons in 1 day.
Pros Of Visiting During Autumn/Fall
• As the summer activities start winding down, so do the tourists. Experience the same sights with fewer fellow travellers. The fewer tourists will also mean that flights and accommodation will be cheaper, making that dream trip more affordable (we won't go as far as saying cheap - it's still Iceland after all!)
• Autumn can provide 4 seasons in 1 day. As it's an in-between season, you may experience the calmness of spring, the lush greens of summer, the changing colours of autumn and the first snow of winter, without having to book 4 separate trips.
• October is one of the best months to see the northern lights. The combination of darker nights, clear skies and high solar activity provides perfect northern light hunting conditions - even though the lights are never guaranteed, October gives you a great chance.
Cons Of Visiting During Autumn/Fall
• As autumn is an in-between season, you may not get to experience summer or winter exclusive activities. The whales and puffins may have disappeared before the cold weather arrives, the ice caves won't be stable enough to explore and the F roads to the highlands may close due to early snowstorms. Some of these things may still be possible, but they're not guaranteed. So if any are on your 'must do' list, consider planning your visit for a different season and give yourself a better chance of ticking all the 'must dos' off your list.
• The unpredictable weather. Yes, experiencing 4 seasons in 1 day does have it's charm, but it can also make your trip more complicated. You'll need to pack for all 4 seasons and be prepared for random road closures due to unexpected snowstorms.
Winter is a truly beautiful time to visit Iceland. The country is transformed by a blanket of snow, there's a stunning 'golden hour' effect throughout the day and at night you'll likely have a chance of watching the beautiful northern lights dance across the sky. If you're brave enough to tackle the wintry storms and drive the icy roads, you'll have a trip like no other. Read on to find out to expect of Iceland in winter.
• Winter in Iceland spans from November to mid-April.
• Expect temperatures of between -5°C and 5°C, with an average of 0°C.
• Approximately 4-5 hours of daylight.
• Winter is a very unpredictable season in Iceland. Expect strong winds (as with all the seasons) and a lot of snow. But don't expect the weather to stay the same for very long. Snowstorms tend to come out of nowhere and catch drivers out, but they can pass almost as quickly as they arrive.
Pros Of Visiting During Winter
• Winter is certainly the darkest of the 4 seasons, but with the darkness comes more opportunities to see the northern lights. So keep an eye out for this incredible natural wonder and don't forget to wrap up when you go light hunting.
• The ice caves are finally open for exploring! So make the most of winter by booking a tour with a local guide and experience the caves for yourself.
• The beautiful golden hour effect.
• Who doesn't love a snowy walk. Iceland in winter doesn't disappoint in this department. Snowed in? Put on your woolly hat, grab your snow boots and go out and enjoy the beautiful snow. Don't forget to take your camera with you, as Iceland is the snow is magical.
Cons Of Visiting During Winter
• As mentioned earlier, winter is the darkest season in Iceland. And whilst this does mean you have a better chance of hunting down the northern lights, it doesn't give you many hours of daylight to explore. This means either shortening your Iceland bucket list or booking a longer and therefore, more costly trip.
• The unpredictable weather means travelling to the north of Iceland is risky. Sure, it is possible to travel to the north, but road closures are a big possibility. If you're set on exploring the more northern parts of this wonderful country, I would highly recommend you consider spring or summer for your next trip. Road closures will happen in the south from time to time, but the colder temperatures and the heavier snow in the north, means road closures are almost inevitable the further north you travel.
So there you go - our complete season breakdown and comparison. As you've seen, Iceland is worth visiting any time of the year, with each season having it's own special charm. But we hope this guide has helped you choose the right time that suits you.
Let us know your favourite season to visit Iceland and share with us your best tips below on how to make the most out of your favourite season.