It may come as no surprise to you that July and August in Iceland are the most popular months of the year for travelling. This is true for both domestic and foreign tourists. Yes, the weather is generally warmer and sunnier than most other months but there’s much more to these two exciting months than just the sunshine. Read on to learn what you can only do in July and August in Iceland.
TOP TIP: getting off the beaten path is key for travel in July & August in Iceland.
ICELAND IN JULY & AUGUST | TOP FIVE THINGS TO DO
1. Warm, bright summer days
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way shall we. The two warmest months of the year are July and August. This alone is a great reason to come to Iceland in July and August.
The average temperature sits around 15 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit) which may not sound too hot but to be fair we are a tiny island skirting the Arctic Circle. That’s pretty good in my book. And actually, the temperature can rise into the mid 20s on the odd day, so shorts and t-shirt should definitely be packed as well as warm sweaters and a cosy hat.
From July to mid August you will get lots and lots of daylight. This means, you will have plenty of light to explore the far reaches of the country. These months tend to be the most popular for joining our 6+ day Grand Circle private tour. This is mainly because the weather tends to be pretty good. At the very least, you’re unlikely to encounter ice or snow on the winding roads as you traverse the Eastfjords or in the north. I can’t guarantee the same thing for any other time of the year.
In July you don’t get any real darkness so there really is nothing to stop you getting around the country and seeing as much as possible each day. In fact, it’s not until mid-August that it gets fully dark at night. But even then, you’re still getting 18 plus hours of daylight each day. Trust me, Iceland has more than enough adventure to keep you occupied during these long days.
2. Puffin & whale watching
By July in Iceland, puffin and whale watching has truly taken off. The few stragglers who hadn’t arrived in Iceland are settled in and in the throes of mating season. During this time you can get a glimpse of over 10 million Atlantic puffins nesting along the cliffs or dive bombing for their catch of the day. Out at sea there are over 20 different whale species to choose from on your whale watching trips. Humpback, fin and minke whales are the most common but we do get the occasional sighting of orcas and even the odd blue whale too.
There are plenty of whale watching options around the country. You can jump onto a Whale & Puffin tour in Reykjavik. Or, if you’ve decided to go around the island there is excellent whale watching tours in the north at Hauganes and Husavik.
What about the puffins?
Although there are massive numbers of puffins in Iceland, remember they live on the sea cliffs. So you need to be strategic if you want to see them close up.
That means you’re not likely to see them while walking through downtown Reykjavik. I recommend staying south, especially if you are approaching the end of August as this is the time they start to travel back to the ocean. It’s only the puffins in the south that stick around until the very end of August. If you are coming to Iceland in July then the Westfjords is another great place to spot them. The puffins are gone from those northern climes by mid-August though.
My personal favourite spot in the country for spotting the puffins is on the Westman Islands. It boasts the largest puffin colony in the country and also hosts a still warm volcano that can be easily climbed. You can clamber along the sea cliffs on the south of the island at Stórhöfði to get a truly close up experience of the clowns of the sea. Watch your head though, as the excited puffins are known to swoop pretty close as they return from sea.
You might even get lucky and see a whale breaching while you are there too. Two birds with one stone, metaphorically speaking of course.
You can join along on our day trip from Reykjavik to the Westman Islands all summer long or add it as part of an adventurous private trip.
3. Festivals in Iceland in July & August
Do you want to experience real Icelandic culture?
Then July and August in Iceland are the months for you. It’s no secret that the Icelanders really utilise their summer months. After all, the rest of the year is just a little too chilly for most outside festivals to attract the same kind of numbers as July and August. There are uncountable festivals in these months, usually one every few days, weekends be damned. But our personal favourites are:-
The Reykjavik Fringe Festival (3rd to 11th of July) is a celebration of all things Art & Culture. You’re just as likely to purchase a ground breaking piece of art as you are to discover the next big comedian or fall in love with a new band.
The Westman Island’s National Festival (Þjóðhátíð) is held in the first week of August. It is is an outdoor music festival that attracts bands from all over the country. Over 17,000 people have been reported to attend the final Sunday night ‘crowd sing’. Considering the entire population of Iceland only reaches 356,000 that’s quite a significant number of people.
Reykjavik Pride in Iceland also has events running all week at the start of August, culminating in the Reykjavik Pride parade.
And finally, a favourite of our CEO, Dagný Björg Stefánsdóttir is Culture Night. This is one action packed day, with most of the downtown area closed down to vehicle traffic to allow all sorts of festivities, music and games spread to the streets. It tends to coincide with museums and theatres announcing all their new programmes too.
In short, there are so many festivals going on in July and August in Iceland that this little section deserves its own blog post…which I’m sure I’ll get round to one of these days. One thing is for sure. If you are coming to Iceland in summer make sure to allocate a good few days simply for taking in the atmosphere of this incredible society.
4. The Highlands Are Open
It’s no secret that Iceland has a lot of unexplored land. Places that are missed by the average tourist. This is partially due to lack of knowledge of certain places but when it comes to the Highlands of Iceland it is literally because it is ‘closed’ for 9 or 10 months of the year.
Yup, you heard that right. The highlands are closed. Or rather, the roads are closed to get to the Highlands. With no permanent residents reaching into the higher altitudes of the country there simply isn’t enough provision to clear the roads of the huge amounts of snow that is received there each year.
But thankfully, in July and August the snow has well and truly melted. Even June still struggles with road closure as the locals patiently wait for the melt to come.
So what does all these open roads give you access to?
First of all, the Highlands are vast and unspoiled. In fact, they cover 40,000 square kilometres. That’s close to half of the entire country. So to traverse the entire region, even by road, is not something achievable on one trip. Two spots that are worth your time however is Thórsmörk (Valley of Thor) and Landmannalaugar. They are connected to each other via a 3 or 4 day hiking trail called Laugavegur (not to be mistaken with Reykjavik’s high street, which is quite the walk itself).
These are two incredible spots that showcase bubbling hot springs, steam vents, multi-coloured mountains, volcanic peaks, rugged walking trails and distant glaciers. You can utilise the campsites and Viking huts if you fancy staying overnight or hiking from one location to the other. For those of you with limited time you can easily do day trips to both. This is best done by joining along with our partners at Activity Iceland on one of their Super jeep tours. However, it is also achievable if you have a good 4 x 4 vehicle and are utilising our Self-Drive itineraries.
5. The Midnight Sun or the Northern Lights
Yes, you read that correctly. The first few weeks of July still enjoy the effects of a midnight sunset whereas the last few weeks of August delight in the first Northern Lights sightings. Quite the change in scenery between the two warmest months.
The Midnight Sun, especially in the north, is still very much visible in the first few weeks of July in Iceland. In fact, if you’re willing to stay up an hour or so later you’ll see the sun rise again too. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Northern Lights season doesn’t officially start until September but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to see them before that. By mid-August the sun is starting to set around 9pm. This means there’s enough complete darkness each night to get outside.
In truth, all you need to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is a clear sky and a dark night. Then you just have to hope that the sun is sending strong enough solar winds for them to appear. Actually, one of the number one reasons that people don’t see the Northern Lights is due to bad weather and clouds. So it stands to reason that if you can see them in summer then this would be ideal, right?
Well, my official endorsement is that you should still wait until September onwards when it’s dark enough after dinner to go exploring. So don’t plan your summer trip around spotting the Northern Lights. But wouldn’t it be an incredible surprise to add the dancing curtains to your roster one dark, starry night? I’ve personally seen the Northern Lights as early as the 16th of August and have been on tour in the Westfjords with customers on the 29th (and 30th) of August and seen a great display. So if late August is in your thoughts then add this little note to your itinerary just in case.
On the flip side, if you are desperate to be warmed by the midnight sun then come in the first two weeks of July. By the end of July the sun sets a little too early in the evening to officially call it the midnight sun. The sun setting at 10:30 or 11 pm allows you to do so much in a day. I won’t tell anyone if you want to say it was midnight.
So those are my top 5 things to do in Iceland in July and August. That is just the tip of the iceberg though. I could have easily picked another 20 things to add to this list without blinking an eye. In fact, I didn’t even mention the blooming of the purple Alaskan Lupine in June or wild berry picking in late August. I also could have gone into the intricacies of glacier walking in summer and why it’s so great. Or even talk about the well over 100 other migratory birds that come to Iceland in July and August, including the Arctic tern that has the longest migration in the world. Oh well, perhaps you’ll just need to come to Iceland in July and August to learn about the rest yourself.
Get in touch with us if you want us to help plan an itinerary, join a scheduled tour or create a private trip.
See you soon!