Traveling to Iceland in summer is popular for a reason. Beyond the popular destinations of Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle there are plenty of things to do in Iceland in summer. Aside from the weather being a lot warmer and sunnier than winter, there are plenty of activities that are strictly summer only. Off the beaten path travel is best achieved in summer time. With flourishing flora, nesting puffins, migrating whales, the midnight sun, and being able to easily discover hidden gems like the West Fjords, the summer really does offer an alternative to Iceland’s winter wonderland.
So, we decided to put together our Top 5 Things To Do In Iceland in Summer list to help you with decision making. The below highlights are either only possible in summer, or at least transformed to be completely different at this time of year. Without further ado.
Top 5 Things To Do In Iceland In Summer
1 | The South Coast of Iceland transforms with flowers and puffins
Iceland is beautiful in summer time! There’s no denying it. From June on wards, when you journey across the south coast you will see countless Alaskan Lupine. This is a tall purple flower brought over in the 50s to help catch ash in the air. Left unchecked, a particular windy day can spread previously fallen ash from a volcanic eruption onto nearby farms. In the worst case scenario this can suffocate the crops on the farms. These days, the picturesque flowers have spread everywhere much to the annoyance of some of the locals. But, it’s hard to deny their beauty.
By the time you drive to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall (you can walk behind this one) you will have undoubtedly witnessed dozens of migrating birds flying overhead. The white Fulmar, a cousin of the albatross, is a particularly numerous bird in this area. You will often see their babies sitting on the paths or roads having mistaken them for rivers.
Next up is the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach. You will be very impressed by the crashing waves and angular basalt columns as you walk along the black sands. But, in summer you are also likely to get a glimpse of the Atlantic puffin as they swoop from the cliffs past your head in search of food. This is one of their nesting grounds in Iceland. The way to spot a baby puffling, aside from size, is that they haven’t developed the hallmark orange beak yet.
You can experience this on our day tour along the south coast or our two day tour that travels the entire south coast. Both tours also include a glacier hike on different glaciers.
Finally, if you make it all the way to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in the south east then you are destined to see happy seals playfully swimming between the ice bergs. You will also undoubtedly walk past the Arctic terns nesting on the ground nearby. These tiny white birds hold the world record for the longest yearly migration at an impressive 15,000km.
2 | The Forgotten West Fjords become more accessible
For anyone who has read that Iceland is now overcrowded and want to avoid other tourists then the West Fjords is the place for you. With only around 6,000 locals living there, spread across an area the size of Belgium, you can imagine how quiet it can feel to travel through the glacier carved landscape. Most of Iceland’s visitors don’t travel this far north on their first trip to Iceland. It really does feel empty most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still tourists. In fact, the odd cruise ship will turn up at the major fishing ports from time to time with a temporary influx of people. However, there will be plenty of moments when you are looking out over the glacier scarred valleys completely alone. Not bad for an ‘overcrowded’ country. Our advice is to not rush through this part of the country.
At Hidden Iceland we spend 4 or 5 days in the area so that we really soak in the isolation and raw natural beauty. Our customers love the extra time to get that perfect picture. The Westfjords really is an amateur photographer’s dream.
The Westfjords is also the oldest part of the country, at around 15 million years old. This has given the landscape ample time to be manipulated by harsh weather, volcanic eruptions and moving glaciers. This also gives rise to unique mountain ranges, deep Fjords and some of the tallest sea cliffs in Europe at Látrabjarg. These 440 metre high vertical sea cliffs are also a perfect spot for puffins to nest. As you walk along the vertical edges you can easily peer down from above to see them undisturbed in their natural habitat. We run a 4 day trip here in the summer focusing on the views, nature walks and finding wildlife like the Arctic fox, puffins and seals. You might even see whales off the coast if you’re lucky.
3 | The Westman Islands get less windy
The Westman Islands are a collection of 15 sub-marine volcanic islands that erupted out of the ocean at varying times over the past 10 to 20 thousand years. The most recent eruption to take place here was in 1973. This was a volcanic eruption that took place on the only inhabited island of Heimaey. The eruption was sudden and explosive sending tephra, ash and gases high into the air. Lava flowed in every direction causing the islanders to evacuate the island.
Thankfully, the Icelandic people have had a long history living side by side with volcanoes. From previous eruptions, they learned that it is possible to manipulate lava flow by showering the lava with sea water and changing its direction. This action, taken by the islanders, saved the majority of the town and even inadvertently created a wave block at the fishing harbour. You can learn more about this eruption by checking out the Eldheimar museum on the island. The museum, built among the ruins, is situated at the base of the volcano itself, Eldfell. Believe it or not, this small volcano is easily walkable, and once you reach the top you are treated to multi-coloured rocks, hot pockets and incredible views.
The main reason this is a summer only trip is because the Westman Islands is one of the windiest place in Europe (in winter). Fortunately, summer in Iceland is not quite the same. The winds drop a lot, and the Westman Islands even enjoy the warmest average temperature in the country.
Oh, and did we mention the Westman Islands are also home to the biggest Atlantic puffin colony in the world? Over 1.1 million puffins choose these islands to mate and raise their pufflings in summer. You can find them either by boat, hiking along the cliffs or visiting the rescue centre if you have time.
Hidden Iceland run day trips here from Reykjavik in the summer which includes all of the above.
4 | Whale watching in the Midnight Sun
Kids love whales! Actually, adults love whales too! To be honest, we also love whales. This addition to the list was an easy one to put on. It’s summer only, and a big draw for many tourists.
The nutrient rich waters of Iceland are the perfect place for summer mating for so many types of whales. Even the famous killer whale, Keiko, from the movie Free Willy was found around Iceland. In fact, these waters are where Keiko was eventually re-released many years later. Iceland in summer is the perfect time to spot over 20 different whale species.
If you only have half a day to spare in the city then this fits quite neatly into your itinerary. If you’re lucky you might see; humpback whales, minke whales, fin whales, killer whales (orca), dolphins and even the odd blue whale. The fantastic part about these trips in summer is that you can also combine the trip with puffin spotting. Some companies even run tours that take advantage of the midnight sun. An experience like no other if you don’t mind staying up a little later.
5 | Glacier hiking and ice climbing
This is a funny addition to this list since you can enjoy glacier hikes all year round. Truthfully, in winter the glacier ice is more blue that in summer. Ice caves are also safe to enter in winter. So why have we included it in our summer in Iceland list?
Well, the main reason is that the weather in summer compliments these kinds of extended outdoor activities. Even on a windy and wet day in summer you can still stay warm with the right clothing. And, although the ice is not blue on the surface, it does react to the sun in a special way. The sun melts and refreezes the surface, during the summer, which creates a ‘sun crust’. This sun crust makes it feel like you are walking on velcro. Add in the crampons (spikes) we provide for your shoes and hiking becomes a whole lot easier.
This all adds up to the glacier hikes being potentially much more adventurous in summer. In winter, the ice is simply too slippy to walk into certain areas. This isn’t the case in summer in Iceland.
Ice climbing is not glacier hiking. Both are incredible, but they are not the same. Ice climbing is reserved for the more adventurous, and very fit groups. We run our trips for guests with no experience, but an extra level of mobility and fitness is required. Your guide will actively use ropes to give you access to new parts of the glacier that are not accessible from walking alone.
In reality, ice climbing can be done all year round too. But, it is far better to do this in summer. The main reason for this is that when one of the group is physically climbing, the remaining group must wait their turn. Sadly, you can only climb one at a time on a glacier. In summer, this is fine as there are great views to enjoy. In winter, however, you will get very cold, very fast. Not a pleasant experience at all.
To reduce the waiting time between climbs we limit the number of customers to 4. After all, an ice climbing trip should be for climbing, not waiting around. With only 4 you will have loads of time with your guide. And, loads of time to climb to the tops of ice walls, being lowered into moulins (ice holes) and exploring the ice fall areas.
Either way, if you want an adventurous glacier hike or an extreme ice climbing trip then summer is the time to do it.
In summary, if you would like to us to help you plan a fantastic summer trip please get in touch. Together we will come up with your perfect Iceland summer itinerary.