With not just one but two positive announcements on a COVID-19 vaccine, and with Iceland again doing well in its efforts in reducing domestic cases, we are finally (cautiously) optimistic for an increase in travel in 2021. Particularly summer 2021. But is summer the best time to come to Iceland? This is probably the most frequently asked question we get from customers and journalists alike, so we thought we would dedicate an entire blog post to answering the age old question, when is the best time of year to come to Iceland?
Ok, so the short version is there is no bad time to come to Iceland! Summer is admittedly an incredible time to come with its warmer weather, eternal sunshine and flourishing life. But what about the winter ice caves, the autumn Northern Lights and the lambing season in spring? Tricky isn’t it.
To be honest, saying that any time of the year is a good time is a bit of a cop out when it comes to the title of this blog. But it’s actually true. So hopefully this blog post will explain why each season has its merits.
In fact, the tourists who come to Iceland every year seem to agree with me since the peaks and troughs of tourist numbers that many countries have to endure are less stark here in Iceland. After all, there is just as much reason to come to Iceland in the summer as there is the dead of winter. Midnight sun or Northern Lights. The always cute puffins or the stunningly blue ice caves. You get the point.
So, rather than creating a headache for ourselves and trying to entice you to come to Iceland at a specific time of year I thought I would detail why each season is so magical in Iceland instead.
You can then decide for yourselves.
Below is my, ahem, top 4 best times of year to come to Iceland…summer, autumn, winter and spring.
Just a little inside scoop, my favourite time of year is summer…the endless daylight hours allowing evening hikes, but mainly because of the immense wildlife, like the 10 million puffins that flock to Iceland to mate. So if it seems like I’m a tad biased it’s because I am.
In contrast, my co-founder, Dagný Björg’s favourite season is autumn with its stunning hues of colours after the greens of summer, the cosy evenings as it gets cooler, and the chances of spotting the northern lights. And my other co-founder, Scott’s favourite time of year is spring due to the increasing day lengths, slightly warmer weather, but still plenty of snow around for some great backcountry skiing. Most of our guides tend to favour winter because of the blue ice caves, slightly less busy sights than in summer and winter wonderland aesthetic, great for guiding.
Anyway, I don’t want to give the game away. Read on to learn more about each season.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO COME TO ICELAND
1. Spring time tranquillity (April and May)
Let’s start with the quietest time of year (by far). Many of you have heard that Iceland has become somewhat overcrowded in recent years. Thankfully, this is a myth. However, there are of course lots of tourists enjoying Iceland year round just like you (prior to the pandemic), so if you really are trying to find the quietest moments then spring time is likely the best time of year to come to Iceland (with the exclusion of Easter week). I’ve left out March for this section as it is still considered winter in Iceland.
Aside from the solitude you will experience, which is becoming a bigger and bigger incentive for people in a post COVID-19 world, despite the expected arrival of a vaccine, spring time has plenty more to offer.
Firstly, it’s a warmer than winter. A fairly obvious point to make, I know. But the great thing about Iceland in spring is that you can be relatively warm while travelling around and still get to see the mountains and volcanoes covered in snow. Perfect for picturesque hikes, on glaciers or otherwise. You might even experience the odd snow shower while here. Effectively, you get to experience some of the benefits of winter without the sub-zero temperatures.
By mid-April the days are already long, the migrating sea birds and whales are returning to Iceland’s black shores, flowers begin to bloom and everything seems to be springing back to life after winter. The day lengths start to become longer, so it is also easier to squeeze more exploring in with each day.
However, the biggest draw for many in spring is to experience the birthing season. There are more sheep in Iceland than people so when we say there is ample opportunity to bump into a newly born lamb we mean it, literally. On our 2 day Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon tour we sleep overnight at a working sheep farm, Lilja, where you can get up close to the baby sheep. Thankfully, this remote farm doubles up as a clean and comfortable hotel too.
2. Summer under the midnight sun (June, July and August)
It’s all in the title for this season! The midnight sun is an experience unlike any other. Sitting in a natural hot spring with a drink in one hand, watching the sun set at midnight is something only Iceland and other arctic regions can offer. My favourite part of this phenomena is the fact that in the same sitting you can watch the sunset over the jagged mountain tops and see it miraculously re-emerge mere minutes later to provide an incredible sun rise. Not many people can say they have seen a sunrise and sunset at the same time. If the warmer weather of summer is important to you then this is likely the best time to come to Iceland for you.
Summer in Iceland is also bursting with life. The vibrant Alaskan Lupine bloom across much of Iceland’s flat lands temporarily turning the landscape purple. Also, around 10 million Atlantic puffins call the Icelandic cliff sides home and over 20 different whale species come to the shores to mate. Add in the release of the 400,000 or so sheep into the wild and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that you are on an isolated island on the edge of the arctic circle.
A fan favourite in summer is to strap on some crampons and explore the glaciers. Glacier hikes are doable all year round but with the addition of crunchy summer crust (the melting and refreezing effect) allows your local guide to take you to places that are less accessible in the winter when the ice is harder and more slick.
3. The autumn Northern Lights (September and October)
I imagine you will immediately be asking why I’ve mentioned the Northern Lights in autumn instead of winter.
Isn’t this the defining feature of winter after all? Well actually, and please feel free to quote me on this, you are more likely to see the Northern Lights closer to the autumnal equinox than you are in the dead of winter. This information was provided to us directly by a prominent Meteorologist in Iceland to confirm our own observations. Over the past few years we have noted from our private Northern Lights tours that it seems to be the case. The sky seems to be clearer in the most part too. So, if Northern Lights are your only priority then perhaps this is the best time of year to come to Iceland.
September and October are funny months when it comes to the weather and climate. Some days you could be walking around in a t-shirt and in others you could be treated to a snow storm. If you give yourself enough time in Iceland during these months you are likely to experience all 4 seasons. The daylight hours are still long enough to enjoy all the same activities as you would in spring and summer, but dark enough at night to enjoy the starry sky too. It’s around this time of year that we start running our overnight Northern Lights tours to the lesser travelled Snæfellsnes peninsula. With it’s snow-capped volcanoes, cracked lava fields and turbulent shores it’s a great spot to peer up at the night sky as long as you wish.
Finally, as the temperature starts to drop, the local farmers go off in search of their free-roaming sheep, known as the rettir. This means you’re more likely to be stuck in traffic because hundreds of sheep are blocking the road than because of too many tourists. Trust me, it’s quite the sight if you’re lucky enough to see it.
4. Winter ice caves (November to March)
You will notice that this ‘season’ is longer than the rest, 5 months to be exact. Iceland’s winters can last a long time. To the weary locals of the past, this would be a difficult time of year that requires levels of skill just to survive. Especially when the wind starts to blow.
These days, winter is celebrated for it’s snowy landscape, Northern Lights filled nights, and beautiful blue ice caves. Some of our tourists will swear blindly that this is the best time of year to come to Iceland (our guides love it too). We can’t help but often agree. However, keep in mind that the weather can play a part in choosing other times of the year.
It’s true that the weather can get a little drastic in winter. But believe it or not, Iceland’s winters are not as cold as you think. Thanks to the gulf stream the average temperature sits around zero celsius (32 Fahrenheit). This means you are able to experience an arctic landscape without the sub-zero temperatures (most of the time).
With a drop in temperature, it’s finally the right time of year to discover some ice caves. They are created from the moving and melting of the glaciers in summer but are only safe in winter. This is because they temporarily freeze in time in whatever form they take.
The colder months allow these blue icy structures to stand still long enough for us to explore. By spring they have disappeared again or become unsafe. The scale and shape of each year’s ice cave is anyone’s guess. On our 2 day glacier lagoon and ice cave discovery tour we’ve taken customers into snake like tunnels, open archways and confined caverns. All are different. All are beautiful. And all are blue. We can’t wait to see what winter 2020 has in store for us.
Activities that can be done all year round
Still undecided? Here is a run down of some of the activities that can be done all year round:
Glacier hikes can be enjoyed all year round. The pristine blue ice in winter makes for some great pictures but the crunchy white ice in summer allows for adventure. The temperature has little effect on the enjoyment of a glacier walk.
Horse riding is great fun regardless of whether you are trotting through fresh snow, black sand or volcanic lava fields. The horses are lovely and warm regardless. Just don’t call them ponies, they get offended.
South Coast sights. This area is the least affected by the changing weather of the seasons. Although the rest of the country is open year round, with the exception of the highlands, the south coast tends to get less snow and ice on the roads. Thankfully our award winning 2 day tour to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is also in this region.
The Golden Circle and Snaefellsnes are must see locations. Snaefellsnes has the most photographed mountain in the country and the Golden Circle has a geyser that erupts every 10 minutes. Both are easily accessible all year round, each possible as a day trip from Reykjavik.
Have you decided when is the best time to come to Iceland yet?
Hopefully, one of these seasons has stuck out a little more than another for you. If you now have a preferred time of year in mind or want even more details you can get in touch any time. The best time of year to come to Iceland may well be different for each of you. Let’s start planning the perfect itinerary together.
Check out our private tour page for a custom planned itinerary.
Hi, I am Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland.
I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world and stepped foot on all 7 continents. My passion for the outdoors, science, nature, glaciers and volcanoes has led me to study and write about Iceland. I have been interviewed in Forbes, Conde Nast Traveller and Travel Pulse on various subjects.