The Best Time of Year To Come To Iceland is…not as easy to answer as you would think. Is summer the best time to come to Iceland under the Midnight Sun? Autumn, with the Northern Lights? Winter, inside the blue ice caves? Or spring tranquility? It turns out this is a deeply personal preference. One that we can hopefully explain in this blog post.
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?
The tourists who come to Iceland every year seem to agree that there’s no singular ‘best time’ 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 in the dead of winter. Midnight sun or Northern Lights, anyone? The always cute puffins or the stunningly blue ice caves? You get the point.
Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will you what is the best time of year for you.
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, spring time has plenty more to offer.
Firstly, it’s 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 while 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 sun set 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.
10 million Atlantic puffins call the Icelandic cliff sides home and over 20 different whale species come to the shores to mat tooe. 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.
And finally, a fan favourite in summer is to strap on some crampons and explore the glaciers. Glacier hikes are do-able all year round but with the addition of crunchy summer ice crust (the melting and refreezing effect), your local guide can 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 near the Solstice. This information was provided to us directly by a prominent Meteorologist in Iceland which simply confirmed our own personal observations anyway. Over the past few years we have noted from our private Northern Lights tours that it does indeed seem to be the case. The sky is often clearer (take this with a pinch of salt since Iceland is a cloudy place year round). 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 might actually get stuck in traffic for the first time. Though it’s not other cars filling the roads but the hundreds of sheep being herded towards their farms, where they’ll spend the winter in safety. 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.
Thankfully these days, winter is celebrated for it’s snowy landscape, Northern Lights filled nights, and beautiful blue ice caves. The hardships of winter are still endured by some but for us (tourists and guides) it can be one of the most unique times to visit the country.
The main thing to bear in mind is that the weather can play a part in choosing other times of the year. Wearing adequate clothing and keeping a close eye on the weather can be the difference between enjoying a winter wonderland and being stuck in a blustery snowstorm.
With that said, Iceland’s winters are not as cold as you think. Thanks to the gulf stream the average temperature sits around zero Celsius (32/ 33 Fahrenheit). This means you are able to experience an Arctic landscape without the sub-zero temperatures (most of the time).
Don’t get us wrong, there is still a definite drop in temperature compared to other times of the year. And with this drop in temperature, it’s finally the right time of year to discover some ice caves, safely.
Ice caves 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 at the end of autumn.
The colder months allow these blue icy structures to stand still long enough for us to explore. But by springtime they have disappeared completely, filled with water or simply 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 tour we’ve taken customers into snake like tunnels, open archways and confined caverns. All are different. All are beautiful. And all are blue.
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.