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Best Time to Visit Iceland

Written by Anietra Hamper
Oct 16, 2019

When it comes to Iceland, the scenery is naturally stunning year-round, but certain times of the year are better than others to catch some of its most sought-after attributes.

The best time to visit Iceland depends on what you want to experience. Do you want to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, visit when there is the most hours of daylight, or navigate the Ring Road with no snow? Or, do you want to travel during the low season to get the best rates on hotels and airfare? All of these factors matter when determining the best time to go to Iceland for your specific travel priorities.

Iceland is a fabulous vacation destination, whether you just want to go for sightseeing or have a specific agenda, like hiking or doing photography. You will get your fill of waterfalls, volcanos, hot springs, Northern Lights, whales, black sand, and glacial lagoons. There is a lot to consider in order to get the best experience that you can out of your trip.

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Best Time to See the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights over Kirkjufell in Iceland

There is always a chance of seeing the Northern Lights anytime in Iceland, but if you are specifically traveling to see them, your best opportunity is from mid-October through March or early April, when skies are at their darkest. November through February have the most unpredictable weather, and heavy rain or snow can be inhibitors to the light show. A dark sky is the single most important factor in seeing the aurora borealis.

How to Increase Your Chances of Seeing Them: The Northern Lights are one of the top reasons people travel to Iceland. The stunning nighttime sky spectacle is an uncertain event, so you will need to plan more than one night to attempt to see them.

Generally, the Northern Lights appear in cycles, where they are visible for two or three nights and then dormant for five nights or more. To increase your chances of seeing them, you should plan to stay at least a week. Regardless of where you travel on the island, the hotels and inns can alert you overnight upon request if the Northern Lights make an appearance.

Weather factors are the other consideration. Skies must be clear in order to see the Northern Lights, and the small island experiences frequent and extreme weather changes. Your best opportunities to combat potential cloudy skies is to visit during the coldest nights. Bring thermals and layers, and check the weather in the days leading up to your visit to target the best opportunities.

You can also increase your chances of seeing them by staying in the countryside away from the lights of Reykjavik. Head about an hour outside the capital city to towns like Seyðisfjörður, Höfn, Stykkishólmur, or Dalvik Akureyri. There are many local guides and tour companies based out of Reykjavik that you can hire if you do not want to chance it on your own.

Best Month to Visit Iceland

Horseback riding through lupine in Iceland

The best month to visit Iceland is determined by what you want to experience. Most people have specific bucket-list items, like the Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights, or whale watching, but two of the best months to go are July and December.

July: The month of July is in the middle of Iceland's summer tourist season, but it is the month with some of the longest hours of daylight and almost guaranteed access to all of the country's roads and trails that are often closed due to snow several months of the year.

July is also peak whale watching season. This is one of the active months to see humpbacks, blue whales, minkes, and dolphins. It is a great month for photography around the island, from sheep herding and glimpses of Icelandic horses in the pastures to active waterfalls. Be sure to bring a tripod to capture some of the most iconic images of Iceland.

December: There are two main reasons that December is one of the best months to visit Iceland: the Northern Lights and the hot springs. With December having the longest, darkest nights, you have the greatest chance of experiencing the country's famed Northern Lights show. It is a trade-off for the below freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall, but well worth it.

December is a great month to try the many hot springs in Iceland that are often too overcrowded with tourists to enjoy in the summer, especially the Blue Lagoon. Take a dip into the thermal pools to wash away impurities and enjoy the health benefits. There are many public hot springs in Reykjavik that are open year-round.

Best Season to Visit Iceland

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Each season in Iceland comes with unique opportunities for exploration and natural experiences that the island is famous for, like the midnight sun, aurora borealis, and hot springs.

Summer: Summer is hands down one of the best times to go to Iceland. It is the season with the best weather conditions, comfortable temperatures, best opportunities for sightseeing, and when the roads and hiking trails are open and dry.

You get a front-row seat to the midnight sun. From May through August there is complete sunlight at midnight. While 24 hours of daylight makes it tough to sleep during your trip, it gives you more time to experience all that there is to see and do in Iceland. Summer is a great time to see minke whales out of Reykjavik.

Fall: The fall season is a lovely time to visit Iceland, when temperatures are slightly cooler, the summer tourists are gone, and the weather conditions are still favorable to do things like trekking on a glacier and riding an ATV over lava fields.

Fall colors on the trees are pretty, especially if you are horseback riding or hiking on one of the mountain trails. As fall dips into November, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights increases, and roads may start to close due to weather conditions. It is also a nice time to visit the Blue Lagoon when there are not so many tourists.

Winter: Winter days in Iceland can have almost 19 hours of darkness. It has the most inclement weather, but the top reason for visiting in the winter months is the chance to see the elusive Northern Lights. Prices will be cheaper for accommodations, and you will have plenty of availability on tours since it is the off season.

Winter is a great time to take advantage of the snowfall in Iceland with excursions like exploring ice caves and snowmobiling. It can be a fun time to visit the Blue Lagoon and the local hot springs where you can warm up, that is, until you get out.

Spring: Early spring in Iceland may still have snow-covered roads, but the days are starting to get longer. You also still have a chance to catch the Northern Lights during your visit. This shoulder season may limit some winter activities as they come to an end, and some summer excursions may not be available yet.

Spring is a great time to go whale watching, with many kinds of tours available out of Reykjavik. Spring is when you can catch a glimpse of another of Iceland's famous animal residents, the puffin, the unusual-looking bird that is more active in the spring.

Best Time to Visit Reykjavik

Summer in Reykjavik

The capital of Reykjavik is fun to explore in both the winter and the summer, but the months of June, July, August, September, and October will be the most comfortable for walking around the city. These months allow you to enjoy the view from the top of the Hallgrímskirkja church without the bitter cold and snow.

You can stroll the winding streets to stop in at the many boutique shops, Reykjavik Harbor, and the Harpa concert Hall when activities are in full swing. You can also relax in one of the 17 public thermal pools in Reykjavik without the winter chill.

Cheapest Time to Visit Iceland

Godafoss Waterfall

The cheapest time to find low rates on hotels and airfare in Iceland is during the off-season, which runs from mid-November through April. The downside is that winter is fierce in Iceland, so you may be limited on the activities that you can enjoy. Oftentimes main roads and hiking trails are closed due to snow and ice.

If you pack for the inclement conditions, with a jacket, boots, and an umbrella, you can travel pretty cheap. This is the best time of the year to see the Northern Lights, so if that is your reason for wanting to go, the discounts will be a bonus.

Another option is to travel to Iceland during the shoulder seasons, which are May through June and September through November. You will not find discounts as steep as in the off-season, but you will find lower rates than during the high summer season.

The shoulder seasons and winter will get you great prices on things like airfare, hotels, guesthouses, rental cars, and tours, but keep in mind that you will pay a premium for everything else once you get to Iceland.

Worst Time to Visit Iceland

The Blue Lagoon

No matter when you plan to visit Iceland, there's a trade-off, so it depends what is most important to you. Generally the most congested time of year to visit is July through mid-August. These weeks have the greatest number of tourists, which will make your visit to places like the Blue Lagoon loaded with visitors and tour groups that fill to capacity quickly.

If this is your window of availability, you might want to plan a short visit to Reykjavik and spend the majority of your time exploring more remote areas of Iceland, like the West fjords or the glaciers, farmland, and glacial lagoons on the east side of the island.

When to Experience the Midnight Sun

Icelandic horses lit by the midnight sun

The peak time to experience Iceland's midnight sun is around June 21st. The broader window for experiencing the midnight sun is from May to mid-August when it is still daylight at midnight. On the longest day, Iceland will have 24 hours of daylight, and the midnight sun can be seen anywhere in the country.

After the solstice in late June, the country decreases daylight by one to three minutes a day until the end of December. You can credit the tilt of the earth's axis to the sun and Iceland's proximity to the Arctic Circle for this incredible phenomenon.

When to Travel along the Ring Road

Snowcapped mountains along the Ring Road

The Ring Road is a fascinating drive. Some travelers plan their entire trip to Iceland with a trip around the Ring Road, so they can cover the entire rim of the country. The summer months are the best time to drive the Ring Road, since brutal weather conditions in the winter often cause closures.

The Ring Road is more than 1,300 kilometers, so it will take some time to do, and you will want to plan to spend time in the fishing villages and stop at the waterfalls and hot springs that are throughout the country.

If you go in the summer, there will be many other drivers on the road with you. Other decent options are the months of May, June, September, and October, when there are fewer cars traveling the Ring Road and the weather is still nice.

Keep in mind that Iceland is a sparsely populated country, which means that you will drive for many miles at a time, even several hours, without seeing a person or a city, so you want to plan that trek when there is nice weather and road conditions.

When to Visit the Golden Circle

Rainbow over the Skogafoss Waterfall along the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular routes to visit in Iceland, and if you plan to do it on your own, your best bet for scenery and accessibility is during the summer and early fall. Just like traveling on the Ring Road, you will have fewer tourists and still nice weather if you plan your Golden Circle visit during the shoulder months of May, June, September, and October.

There are many tours available most times of the year to the Golden Circle, which is a must-see in Iceland, but lots of tourists choose to go on their own. The Golden Circle route connects Pingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal valley, and the Gullfoss waterfall in a 230-kilometer route. If you want to drive the Golden Circle yourself, and you are up for an added adventure, you can camp at Pingvellir National Park along the way.

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More Spectacular Scenery: If you enjoy the natural beauty and allure of Iceland, you may want to plan a second vacation to the country's neighbor, Greenland, to experience the ice fjords and whale watching. If you are looking for other northern climates to explore, you may also want consider the parks and beautiful landscape of Alaska, or head to Canada's remote northern regions around Hudson Bay and to see polar bears at Churchill, Manitoba.

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