Choosing the best time to go to Iceland is one of the most important parts of planning your vacation there. Each season has its pros and cons to consider, but it’s also important to realize that you really can’t go wrong. Iceland is spectacular year round so no matter when you choose you’ll probably be blown away. I asked some fellow travel bloggers to chime in on when the best time to travel to Iceland is so you can read their first hand experiences and make your choice.
- 1 Winter in Iceland
- 2 Spring in Iceland
- 3 Summer in Iceland
- 4 Autumn in Iceland
- 5 So, after all that, when is the best time to go to Iceland?
- 6 Factors to consider when choosing when to visit Iceland:
Winter in Iceland
Reasons to visit Iceland in winter
Winter is an amazing time to visit Iceland because the snow and ice give it that extra special touch of beauty. The waterfalls are frequently adorned with mounds of snow and icicles and even the thermal features at Geysir are made more dramatic by the extra steam they appear to produce in the cold.
Ice caving through the spectacular blue ice in Iceland’s glaciers is one activity that’s only available in the winter. There are some artificial ones closer to Reykjavik that were drilled by humans and can be visited year round, but if you want the real deal – naturally formed ice caves created by melting glaciers in the summer – you have to visit during the winter. The brilliant blue of the ice is well worth the cold and ice caving was by far my favorite activity we did on our trip.
Winter is also the best time to visit Iceland for the Northern Lights. Because it gets dark early this time of year and the nights are long, you have the most hours with a chance to spot these natural wonders. And boy would it be a shame to miss out on them.
Another aspect that makes winter the best time to visit Iceland is the lower crowd levels. You’ll see substantially fewer people at top attractions and will likely have cheaper rates at hotels and for flights during the winter. Who can argue with savings AND extra natural beauty?
Downsides to visiting Iceland in winter
The biggest downside to visiting Iceland in the winter is the weather. I’m from a northern climate so I’m very used to the cold and snow and (maybe more importantly) have the kind of clothes, outerwear, and driving experience necessary to handle it. If you’re not sure what to bring with you, check out my packing list for winter in Iceland and other winter travel tips.
For all the beauty that snow brings, it can also hamper your travel plans. Much of Iceland’s main tourist route winds through isolated areas, which means that the roads don’t get cleared off as quickly as you might be used to in cities. Slippery roads can result in unsafe travel conditions and cancelled tours. We were incredibly lucky on our winter visit and enjoyed a week of temperatures well above freezing, but two days after we headed home, a blizzard hit and shut down almost all tourist activities. My advice is to remain flexible with your plans, pack for the cold and snow, and have a backup in mind. And if you’ve never driven in snowy conditions before, maybe skip the rental and join a tour.
Winter is the best time to visit Iceland because…
You’ll never forget seeing the Northern Lights reflected by the ice and snow around you.
Spring in Iceland
Reasons to visit Iceland in Spring
Springtime is an incredible time of year to visit Iceland! If you’ve been researching the best time of year to visit for an upcoming trip, you’ve undoubtedly read that the summer months bring the warmest weather and the largest crowds.
But if you plan your trip for a bit earlier, during the shoulder season, you’ll find that you still get plenty of sunny days and have to contend with fewer tourists. Plus, prices are cheaper and you can easily book last-minute excursions. You’ll love the flexibility and serenity during the months of April and May in Iceland.
Another perk of visiting Iceland in the spring is that the winter ice begins to thaw and the roads become much easier to navigate. Iceland’s Ring Road is an 828-mile road that runs around the circumference of the island and during the winter months, a 4×4 vehicle is recommended. Many sections of the road can even be closed due to poor conditions. In May, the roads begin to open and clear of ice and snow.
You’ll also find that waterfalls are the most spectacular during this time of year, as the melting from the winter months makes the water flow more intense and dramatic.
Downsides of visiting Iceland in spring
Of course, there are a few downsides that come along with visiting Iceland during the spring months; the first being the weather. It will not be quite as warm as the summer with daytime highs hovering around 40-50 degrees, and at night the temperature can even drop below freezing.
The weather in the spring can also be unpredictable with torrential rain, gale force winds, and even snow with almost no notice. It’s not uncommon to experience windstorms that can blow your car door off if you aren’t careful. Pack plenty of warm clothes and a raincoat so you’re prepared for anything and everything!
Another springtime downside is the amount of daylight each day. Some may appreciate the long days because most of the activities in Iceland are outdoors so you can keep exploring until the evening hours. But if you are camping or renting a motorhome and want to get some shuteye, you’ll only have a few hours of darkness each night. In fact, by the end of May it never really gets completely dark.
No matter what time of year you visit Iceland you’ll want to check the weather and road conditions prior to setting off. It’s best to keep your plans a bit flexible just in case you need to reroute to avoid a massive storm or road closures.
Spring is the best time to visit Iceland because…
Plan to visit Iceland in the springtime if you are looking for a serene, peaceful experience free of crowds, fully booked campsites, and peak season prices!
By Val and Nick from Wandering Wheatleys – See more from them on Instagram!
Summer in Iceland
Reasons to visit Iceland in summer
Summer is the best time to visit Iceland thanks to the midnight sun. The lupines bloom and F-roads (four wheel drive only roads) open for the season. In the summer, warmer temperatures make it easier to get out and explore more of Iceland in comfort.
In the summer, Iceland has sunlight all day and all night, known as the midnight sun. This makes it easier to explore at off-peak hours for the popular tourist stops along the road. The summer is also the best time to take a Ring Road road trip around Iceland to find all the best waterfalls in Iceland. Some of the roads in Iceland are called F roads. These roads require four-wheel drive. In the winter and much of the spring and fall, these roads shut down and become impassible. In the summer, the F roads are mostly open, allowing you access to waterfalls that are hard or even impossible to access in the winter.
As you drive around Iceland in the summer, you will also find lupine fields blooming. These flowers typically bloom in June but sometimes as late as July depending on the temperatures. The lupine fields with mountain backdrops make for beautiful photos and the perfect road trip scenery.
Throughout the summer, many people visit Iceland and take tours to the main tourist spots. This can be a benefit if you plan to take tours in Iceland as plenty are available. If you are not a fan of crowds, they are easy to avoid thanks to the midnight sun. To avoid the tours, go early in the morning or in the late afternoon and evening. Most of the tours are out from around 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., so visiting popular stops outside of these times allows you to avoid the majority of the crowds.
Downsides of visiting Iceland in summer
Even in the middle of the night in southern Iceland it never truly gets dark. This could make it harder to sleep. Most hotels and accommodations have blackout curtains to make it easier to sleep. If you are camping in a tent or camper van, it may be harder to sleep with the constant light. Make sure you have a plan or bring something to cover your eyes just in case.
Summer is the best time to visit Iceland because…
Overall, summer is the best time to visit Iceland because you can access more remote spots and explore at all hours of the day and night.
By Christine from Live.Love.Run.Travel. – See more from her on Instagram!
Autumn in Iceland
Reasons to visit Iceland in the fall
Traveling during the offseason has its perks — cheaper accommodations and flights and hardly any crowds. In Iceland, fall is the ideal time to visit because visitors can catch the Northern Lights, still enjoy the country’s warmer weather and see a majority of the sites before they are closed for the winter.
Iceland’s landscape comes to life in the fall. In the early fall, visitors can still camp and access the country’s F-roads. It’s later into the autumn season that these roads begin to close and some attractions begin to be inaccessible. On the other hand, other attractions like whaling and ice cave tours begin to open up depending on the weather that season. The weather is unpredictable in Iceland, especially during the autumn months, so some days you might experience crisp autumn days while others feel like cold winter evenings.
Lastly, Iceland’s stark beauty shines best during the autumn months. The rustic grasses glow gold and the misting waterfalls are backdropped by the clear, slate blue sky. The sunsets and sunrises are as if they were paintings lifted off a canvas and tossed onto the sky.
Downsides of visiting Iceland during autumn
If you visit Iceland earlier in the fall (September and early October), you’re less likely to see the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights are a huge draw for tourists, so missing the beautiful phenomenon would be disappointing. I visited Iceland the last week of October and the first week of November and lucked out. I saw the Northern Lights nearly every night except when there was a blizzard and when I was staying in downtown Reykjavik, which brings me to my second point.
There might be snow on the ground during the fall. When I was there in November, on the last days of my trip snow was a common occurrence. If you are unfamiliar with driving in winter conditions, avoiding the colder months in Iceland might be your best bet. I grew up in Minnesota and found the roads in Iceland very manageable even without a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
Fall is the best time to visit Iceland because…
After tallying all the pros and cons, I believe the best time to visit Iceland is in the autumn. Looking out over the lime green lava fields juxtaposed against the harsh black rocks seemed more prominent in autumn than any other season. There was less jostling of tourists and the sweeping landscapes took my breath away in their autumn hues. Also, I’m a sucker for snow and sitting in a hot spring as a blizzard swirled overhead is a once in a lifetime experience. Iceland is simply impeccable and cannot be missed during autumn.
By Martha from Quirky Globetrotter – See more from her on Instagram!
So, after all that, when is the best time to go to Iceland?
It’s so hard to choose! For me personally, the Northern Lights were a major draw, so winter made sense for me, but at the same time seeing the midnight sun in summer sounds fascinating too. It’s all going to come down to what activities you want to see and do the most and what kind of weather you want to experience. And after all that, you may well find yourself wanting to plan another trip to check out a different time of year.
Factors to consider when choosing when to visit Iceland:
Road closures – Bad weather can temporarily close roads and the F-roads that take you to some gorgeous backcountry spots are typically closed for several months from late fall through spring.
Crowds – The top tourist spots can get super crowded and tours will likely be harder to book in the peak summer travel time. If crowds are a concern for you and you’re flexible, you may want to visit Iceland in the shoulder seasons (late spring or early fall).
Weather – Be sure to pack appropriately and consider the possibility of bad weather impacting your activities or driving conditions. No matter what time of year you visit, bring some layers as temperatures can vary
Seasonal attractions – Some roads close during colder months and some attractions or tours are only available during certain times of year. I had my heart set on ice caving and seeing the Northern Lights, so winter was an easy choice for me, but if you’d prefer 4×4 rides out to hidden waterfalls, summer may be a better choice for you.
Seasonal pricing – Summer is peak season, so you’ll likely pay more for flights, hotels, and rental vehicles.
Daylight – Because most of the attractions in Iceland are outdoors, you’ll want to stretch your days as long as possible. I felt we had plenty of daylight hours in winter to see what we wanted to see, but if you really want to maximize what you can see, late spring and summer will give you the most natural light for hiking and visiting scenery.
What do you think is the best season to visit Iceland? Let me know in the comments!
Check out these other Iceland travel tips!
- 38 Bucket List Worthy Things to Do in Iceland
- Itinerary for One Day in Reykjavik, Iceland
- Your Perfect Six-Day Southern Iceland Itinerary
- Top Tips for Viewing the Northern Lights
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