When is the best time to visit Iceland?
One of the most common questions we are asked: When is the best time of the year to visit Iceland?
Our answer, of course: Any time! We’re a little biased, sure, but we think there is never a bad time to fly to Iceland.
Visiting Iceland all year round
The 'best time to visit' very much depends on what you’re looking to see and do in Iceland.
Our nature looks equally spectacular under the midnight sun, or under a layer of snow (so good, you should visit twice!).
Our swimming pools, natural hot springs and the new breed of design-led geothermal baths like the Blue Lagoon are popular no matter the weather. All that geothermal activity gives us hot water to soak in any time we fancy (and keeps our buildings toasty warm when the temperature drops).
Reykjavík’s appeal is year-round – there are first-class museums, restaurants, cafes and bars to investigate, and festivals to brighten up every month, from New Year’s Eve fireworks to November’s showcase of local music, Iceland Airwaves. As a start or end point for a road trip, for a collection of short excursions, or as a city break, Reykjavík is perfect.
Visiting Iceland in winter
Don't be nervous about traveling to Iceland in winter. Iceland's winter weather can sometimes pose a challenge, but the temperature doesn't drop as low as in many parts of Europe and North America, often hovering around 0°C (32°F). There's a lot to love about the long nights and northern lights, plus traditional celebrations around Christmas and New Year.
You can walk or snowmobile on a glacier all year round, but if your dream is to visit an ice cave you should plan your trip between November and March.
Skiing is possible from around December to April-May, depending on conditions, but when daylight increases from February is usually best – and Easter skiing is popular with locals. Tröllaskagi in North Iceland is a winter paradise.
You might like to join in the uniquely Icelandic festivities such as Þorrablót, when the local cuisine shows its oddball side.
Winter is Iceland's northern lights season
There's not a lot of daylight hours for exploring in winter (especially in December and January, with 4 to 7 hours of light), but the abundant dark skies bring a greater chance of viewing aurora.
You need dark, clear skies for the best time to see the northern lights, so October to March is ideal - but you might get lucky with color filling the skies anytime from late August to April. Read more about planning a trip to see the northern lights.
Visiting Iceland in spring
Nature gets a boost in spring, when white turns to green around the country. Temperatures are varied, from cold in March (an average of 0.3°C / 33°F) to relatively mild in May (averaging 6.3°C / 43°F). As the months progress, the increasing daylight is noticeable, from 10 hours of daylight in early March to 20 hours in late May.
Easter falls in spring, and the onset of Lent brings some fun, food-centric celebrations. Not long after, nature brings some of our favorite seasonal visitors.
The irresistible puffins come to nest in Iceland from late April to August. The best time to see puffins is June and July, when they are active and feeding their chicks.
Whales have a similar schedule. From about April to September is the best time to go whale watching – from boat tours, but also from the shoreline if you're in luck.
Visiting Iceland in summer
Iceland summers are glorious. It's the most popular time to visit, with scenic highland roads and hiking trails to explore (scroll down for road trip information). Puffins and whales are summer visitors keeping animal lovers happy, and daylight is near-endless.
A fantastic range of festivals celebrate the season, and locals and visitors delight in events centered on live music, sport, the arts, and more. Stop by for Pride festivities in August, for a taste of how Iceland celebrates diversity.
June and July are perfect for exploring outdoors under the midnight sun. Serious hiking and horseback riding trips are most fun when the weather is good, so July to September is recommended. Earlier can work for some parts of the country, but after the snow has melted is best for exploring the highlands and mountains.
How hot does Iceland's summer weather get?
Summer is also when temperatures peak: the average temperature for these months is around 9°C or 10°C (50°F), but when the sun is shining and there's little wind, this truly is T-shirt weather (we promise!). Temperatures can top 20°C (68°F) in many parts of the country.
Visiting Iceland in fall
Dark nights return (and the locals can catch up on sleep) when autumn rolls in. The temperature drops (average temperatures range from 7.5°C / 46°F in September to 1.3°C / 34°F in November), the northern lights begin their dark-sky appearances, and things get cozy and colorful before winter sets in.
The annual sheep round-up, known as the réttir, is held around the country in September. It gives great insight into rural Icelandic life, plus some context to all those lovely lopapeysas (woolen sweaters) you see.
Fall festivals include Reykjavík's jazz and film fests. One of our favorite times of the year is November, when Reykjavík hosts the annual Iceland Airwaves festival: 3 days of incredible music from homegrown and international artists.
Planning for your Iceland road trip
Iceland's Ring Road – when you have time
Want the best road trip of your life? Traveling Iceland's Ring Road (Hwy 1, a total of 1322km or 821 miles circling the country) can be done all year, but we recommend the summer months and shoulder seasons (April to October) as the weather is generally calmer, and there’s enough light to enjoy all those spectacular landscapes. Give yourself at least a week to drive it (10-14 days is better, if you can). Winter travel requires more planning, a better vehicle, and more flexibility to take account of fickle weather.
Short road trips in Iceland
Maybe you've already done the Ring Road, or are looking for a shorter trip? Iceland's south coast is a super-popular stretch, wrapping up some of the country's finest features (waterfalls, black beaches, glaciers) in a gloriously scenic drive.
If you're looking for something a little less touristed but equally beautiful, check out North Iceland's scenic routes, the Arctic Coast Way and Diamond Circle. If you've got a day to explore near Reykjavík or the airport, consider the Blue Diamond route around Reykjanes peninsula (home to the Blue Lagoon and our hot new volcanic eruption).
If you're set on exploring the country's vast interior, bear in mind that mountain roads only open in June or early July, and close again in September or October, depending on weather conditions. These are Iceland's so-called F roads, which are indicated on maps with an F before their number (road F26 is the Sprengisandur route through the center of the country, for example). You need a 4-wheel-drive if you want to explore mountain roads and highland regions.
Useful resources to help you decide when to visit Iceland
Iceland 101: Planning Tips for Travelers – our blog post covers some of the basics.
visiticeland.com – the best place to get fully Inspired by Iceland.
safetravel.is – a project of the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue.
vedur.is – the website of the Icelandic Met Office has everything from weather and aurora forecasts to earthquake reports.
road.is – the best source for information on road conditions.
timeanddate.com – a handy place to see sunrise and sunset times, and how many hours of daylight you can enjoy.
Festivals in Iceland – what's on when, to help you make some tough decisions!