Traveling to Iceland in the summer is magical. Beyond the popular destinations of Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle there are plenty of things to do during the summer months. Aside from the weather (hopefully) being warmer and sunnier than winter there are plenty of activities that are strictly summer only. With flourishing flora, nesting puffins, migrating whales, the midnight sun, and being able to venture off the beaten path to places like the West Fjords, the summer really does offer an alternative to Iceland’s winter wonderland.
We’ve put together a must see list of all the things to do in Iceland that are either only possible in the summer, or transformed to be completely different at this time of year.
1 | The South Coast of Iceland transforms with flowers and puffins
Traveling in Iceland in the summer is spectacular. As you journey across the south coast you will see countless Alaskan Lupine; a tall purple flower brought over in the 1950s to combat ash engulfing farmland. Now these picturesque flowers have spread everywhere much to the annoyance of some of the locals. It’s hard to deny their beauty though. By the time you get to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall where you can walk behind you will have undoubtedly viewed dozens of migrating birds flying overhead including the white Fulmar, a cousin of the albatross.
When you are walking along the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach you will be impressed by the crashing waves and angular basalt columns. But in the summer you are likely to also get a glimpse of the Atlantic puffin as they swoop from the cliffs past your head in search of food for their newly born pufflings. You can experience this on our day tour along the south coast or our two day tour that travels the entire south coast, both of which include a glacier hike on different glaciers. If you make it all the way to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 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 spread across the area that is almost the size of Belgium, you can imagine how quiet it can feel to travel through the glacier carved landscape. Most of Icelands visitors don’t travel this far north on their first trip to Iceland, so it can feel incredibly secluded.
The odd cruise ship will turn up at the major fishing ports but 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. This is 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 400 metre high vertical sea cliffs are also a perfect spot for puffins to nest and for you to peer down from above to see them undisturbed in their natural habitat. We run a 4 day trip there 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 winds of the Westman Islands subside
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, and arguably most notable was the 1973 volcanic eruption that took place on the only inhabited island of Heimaey. This 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.
However, the Icelandic people have had a long history living side by side with volcanoes. They learned from a previous eruption on the newly created island of Surtsey that it was possible to manipulate lava flow by showering the lava with sea water and changing its direction. This action 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 which is built around the ruins of the destroyed houses. Right afterwards you can hike to the top of the volcano itself and search for pockets of heat still emanating out of this multi-coloured crater.
The reason this is a summer recommended trip is that the Westman Islands are reportedly the windiest place in Europe. But in the summer the winds drop substantially and it even enjoys 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 with 1.1 million puffins choosing 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.
4 | Whale watching in the Midnight Sun
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. Although there is the odd spotting in winter it’s not until around June that the numbers rise and make jumping on a boat near Reykjavik worthwhile.
If you only have half a day to spare in the city then this fits quite neatly into your itinerary. Some of the more likely to see species when out on the ocean are 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 or basking in the midnight sun 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. In fact, in winter the glacier ice is more blue on the surface and you can safely discover huge ice caves with an experienced guide. So why have we included it in a summer ‘must do’?
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 waterproofs and safety gear. And although the ice is not blue on the surface it does react to the sun in a special way and create what is known as ‘sun crust’. It effectively makes the ice like Velcro for the crampons (spikes) to stick into as you hike. This all adds up to the glacier hikes being potentially much more adventurous in summer depending on the group’s desire.
Ice climbing could have its own section all by itself as this activity requires a lot of technical rope work (by the guides) and requires a higher fitness/ dexterity level to enjoy than a normal glacier hike. Although ice climbing can be done all year round in winter weather plays a much bigger role in deciding if the climb is safe and pleasant.
After all, when standing around waiting for your turn it can get very chilly. This is why we limit the number of customers per ice climbing guide to just 4 people. Then you can concentrate on trying to climb to the top of an ice wall, being lowered into a moulin (ice hole) or exploring the ice fall areas. Either way, if you want an easy glacier hike in summer or something more adventurous the ice is in perfect condition for any activity. Get in touch and together we can take your glacier adventure to the next level with our customised ice climbing tour!
If you would like to us to help you plan a fantastic summer trip please get in touch and together we will come up with your perfect Iceland summer itinerary.