Having lived in Iceland for the last two years, the question I get most often from my friends around the world is “When is the best time to visit Iceland?”
It’s a great question, largely because it has no single answer.
In fact, it usually requires a good number of follow-up questions.
- Are you more interested in Midnight Sun or Northern Lights?
- Do you want more wild scenery or to go to the places everyone is talking about?
- Do you want to avoid the crowds?
- Are you looking for better prices?
- Do you want to spend most of your time in geothermal pools?
With these questions in mind, here’s my take on comparative merits of the various seasons.
Autumn: late-August to end September
This time of year is still quite popular in Iceland’s more touristed Reykjavik, Golden Circle and South Coast areas, so prepare to pay top dollar for accommodations, but it’s a unique time of year when there are relatively “normal” amounts of light and darkness compared to other Northern Hemisphere destinations.
Combining this with often better-than-average weather means that it can be a good time of year for Northern Lights viewing (particularly when experienced at “summer houses” which have better availability after schools reopen at this time).
Early Winter: October – mid December
One of the less touristed seasons, that means accommodations are generally more available around the country. The weather, though not always predictable, generally allows for decent transport conditions and the locals are still out-and-about, making it a good time to make connections with Icelanders and go beyond the usual tourist spots. The season of the northern lights is between September and April for those who want to experience the magic of the Aurora.
Tourism takes on a different character once the snow starts to fall in earnest. It’s a good time of year to find one or two compelling spots and “get cozy” – especially if one’s accommodation has its own “hot pot” (geothermally heated hot tub) or is near one of the public geothermal pools which are popular throughout the calendar. It’s a particularly good time to rent a summer house, and many of the country’s hotels in key locations also remain open.
Contrary to popular belief, Iceland does not experience 24-hour mid-winter darkness even though it experiences 24 hours of light in the spring and summer. We get a good four hours of daylight, frequently with clear, sunny days, followed by sometimes-great Northern Lights viewing thereafter. Also, because of Iceland’s cheap sources of geothermal and hydropower, Reykjavik is an extraordinarily bright and well-lit city compared to more gloomy continental European locations.
Christmas in Iceland is a “warm” spot in this cold part of the calendar – as is New Year’s in Reykjavik, which is marked by the non-stop, city-wide firing of all kinds of fireworks, sold annually to fund the country’s volunteer rescue squad. Most revelers gather in the center of the city – though a good view can be obtained anywhere where there is sky to be seen.
Late Winter – March – Mid April
The real defining characteristic of this time of the year is more around light rather than weather conditions, which can remain wintry into May. But normal-length days and nights are the norm this time of year, making for easier longer-distance trips and and less of a rush to fit the day’s sights into a narrow daylight window.
Late-late Winter: mid-April-May
You can’t call this time of year Spring in a traditional sense, but therein lies the beauty in what I consider the best time to visit Iceland.
Wintry weather is largely finished at the lower elevations but Midnight Sun conditions prevail in May and mountains and hillsides around the country are still largely covered in snow. Weather in Iceland’s wild Westfjords is still unpredictable, but this is a great time for covering all of Iceland’s Ring Road towns and natural sights.
Spring (aka “Summer”): June – mid-August
I hesitate to call “Icelandic Summer” an actual summer, with temperatures only barely and sporadically cracking the 20C/70F mark over the course of the season. But in a world where heat waves and wildfires are increasingly the norm, Iceland’s predictable coolness is making it an increasingly popular, and increasingly expensive “summer” destination. A nice time to be here, but space and accommodation are at a premium. But the best time by far for the Westfjords.
The power of the Iceland Travel Planner
If you want to come in “summer” – it pays to plan in advance.
And if you want to come to Iceland at any time of year, the connections and experience of an Iceland Travel Planner can come in handy in terms of finding the right accommodations, crafting an itinerary that combines the tourist hot-spots with the hidden gems that will dominate your social media feeds and your post trip conversations, and can create interesting opportunities to meet and dine with actual Icelanders.
That’s what Iceland Unwrapped brings to the table – bringing travelers from around the world to Iceland and creating unforgettable Iceland experiences. Whether you are a solo traveler, a family, a business or a tour group, Iceland Unwrapped knows the country inside and out and can create unforgettable experiences: at any time of the year.
Mike Klein is an American-British writer and communication consultant based in Reykjavik.
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