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by Santorini Dave • Updated: November 15, 2018
When Is The Best Time to Visit Iceland?
- Best Time to See the Northern Lights: Many people come to Iceland hoping to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights, as it’s an ideal place to do so, thanks to the small population and long distances between towns that make it easy to escape light pollution, even if you’re in or near Reykjavik. There are a number of factors required in order to see them, including guaranteed darkness, which is why the best time to see them is from late September through late March. This is when there are full dark nights, although the lights can sometimes be seen as early as mid-August or as late as mid-April. Another important factor is the weather – cold, clear nights are best for aurora views, as on warmer nights there is often some precipitation or a lot of cloud cover. Solar flares on the sun or solar wind is also required. When all of these factors come to gather, you’ll have the best chance to view the colorful dancing lights. As there is less precipitation in October and November along with full dark, chilly nights, these months tend to bring the highest odds for viewing.
- Best Time for Sightseeing: Iceland is renowned for its numerous spectacular sights, particularly waterfalls, geysers and volcanoes. Ideally, you’ll want to have longer days in order to see as much as you can, yet fewer crowds to interrupt the view, and weather that doesn’t make roads impassable. That means going in the weeks that frame either end of the high season, about the last week of May through mid-June, or anytime in September.
- Best Time for Whale Watching: Generally, the best time to go whale watching in Iceland is from April to October. The peak season is in the summer months: June, July and August, with tours available from Reykjavik, Vestmannaeyjar islands of the south coast, Husavik Akureyri and Dalvik. You aren’t out of luck if you come during the winter, however. Provided a storm doesn’t blow in, winter whale watching is available from Grundarfjordur on the Snaefellsness Peninsula. While it doesn’t sound like it would be very pleasant, watchers are given thermal suits, making it fairly comfortable to see the orca whales that follow the herring in the area waters.
- Best Time for Good Weather: The best time for optimal weather in Iceland is during the high season, particularly July and August when average highs are around 13°C, though temps can reach as high as 15°C or even 20°C. If you’re hoping to avoid the rain, the lowest amount of rainfall occurs in May and June, and temperatures are often a pleasant 11°C.
- Best Time for Visiting Blue Lagoon: The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions all year round, though the biggest crowds tend to be there between May and September, peaking in July and August. The winter months are typically the calmest, particularly in December and January, outside of the holiday period. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the least crowded days of the week throughout the year, but more importantly is the time of day you visit. Peak hours are in the morning, from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and lunchtime is generally the busiest time of day overall. By 3 or 4 p.m., the crowds are much smaller, and you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy a soak as the lagoon is open until 10 p.m. January 1 through May 25 and August 21 through October 1; to 11 p.m. May 26 through June 29; and midnight June 30 through August 20, and October 2 through December 31.
- Best Time to Save Money: Airfare is typically cheapest during the winter months, outside of the Christmas and New Year holidays, as are accommodation rates. Prices for everything peak during the busy summer months. If you’re hoping for a combination of lower overall costs and better weather, go during the shoulder season: mid-May through mid-June or September through mid-October.
- Best Time to Avoid Crowds: If you’re hoping for a more relaxed experience without the crowds, avoid going to Iceland in the high season, from mid-June through August. By visiting in April or May, September or October, you’ll encounter fewer tourists, yet the days will be long enough to enjoy sightseeing and possibly decent weather. The fewest visitors come between November and March, but this is also when inclement weather and the short, dark days can affect your plans.
Iceland’s Travel Seasons
- High Season (mid-June through August): Iceland’s high season falls during the peak of summer, a time when the days are long (the sun never completely sets on the longest day of the year), allowing visitors to enjoy the country’s myriad of outdoor adventures in the Midnight Sun. This is the best chance for pleasant weather, but you can also expect to find a lot more tourists at popular attractions, higher prices, and have greater difficulty finding accommodations.
- Shoulder Season (Mid-May through mid-June, September through mid-October): Iceland doesn’t have much of a shoulder season, with the majority of visitors arriving during the peak of summer. Coming in late spring, visitors can expect the snow to be thawing, there to be fewer tourists and a wider range of accommodation availability, and occasionally lower prices too. In early autumn, temperatures may be cool and crisp, with golden light and changing colors on the trees. There will be fewer travelers, some lower prices, and, the later in the fall you arrive, the better chances you’ll have of seeing the northern lights.
- Low Season (Mid-October through mid-May): While an increasing number of visitors are coming during the low season thanks to the myriad of hot springs, winter adventures and nightlife, this is still a good time to come to avoid the crowds and enjoy better availability and the lowest rates of the year on accommodation, car rentals and airfare. Winters are surprisingly moderate, with temperatures generally hovering right around freezing, though days are often dark, with just four to six hours of daylight. Most major roads are plowed, but mountain roads and interior routes will be impassable, and many attractions, especially outside of Reykjavik are shut down.
Iceland Weather by Month
- Iceland Weather in January: January is the coldest month in Iceland, with an average high of 2°C, and an average low of -3°C. When you consider that the temperatures are similar to that of New York City, it’s probably milder than what you’ve envisioned. Winds often reach gale force, however, and when that happens, it does feel very cold. It’s frequently rainy, particularly in and around Reykjavik, and this month (along with February) have the best chance for snow. The days are short, with about four hours of sunlight in early January; sunrise is at 11:19 a.m. and sunset at 3:44 p.m. on the 1st, although by the end of the month that stretches to about seven hours, with the sun coming up at 10:10 a.m. and going down at 5:12 p.m. (Average Max Temperature: 2°C. Average Precipitation: 55mm.)
- Iceland Weather in February: February is similar to January in terms of temperature, but you’ll have more daylight hours to enjoy the scenery. By the end of the month, there is 10 hours of sunlight, with sunrise at 8:38 a.m. and sunset at 6:43 p.m. There is also slightly less precipitation, with an average of 40mm falling in the form of rain or snow. Instead of snow covered streets, you may even see lush gardens, with temps hovering slightly above zero on most days. The majority of attractions and roads in southwest Iceland will be open with the exception of significant storms that may blow through, and most will be wonderfully crowd-free. Dress properly and you’ll stay warm, with temps comparable to winter weather in the northern reaches of the U.S. (Average Max Temperature: 2°C. Average Precipitation: 40mm.)
- Iceland Weather in March: March brings even more daylight, with more sun than darkness throughout the day by the end of the month. As of March 31st, the length of day increases to 13 hours and 26 minutes – a gain of three hours and 16 minutes in just one month. Temperatures still haven’t changed much, however, and the amount of precipitation is the same as it was in February, meaning it will still feel like winter. Rainy days are as common as sunny days, though in the city of Reykjavik, most snow is likely to be seen on the surrounding mountains and not on the ground. Many roads, outside of the capital area and southwest region, will still be impassable without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. (Average Max Temperature: 2°C. Average Precipitation: 40mm.)
- Iceland Weather in April: While it’s not exactly beach weather, April unofficially marks the start of “summer” in Iceland. Temperatures are on the increase, with an average high of 5°C and lows right at freezing. Precipitation drops considerably, to half of what it was in February and March at 20mm, which can come in the form of snow but most often falls as rain, especially in the lowlands. By April’s end, the length of day has increased to 16 hours and 44 minutes, another significant gain over the previous month, with sunrise at 6:46 a.m. and sunset at 8:19 p.m. As you really should no matter when you visit Iceland, bring lots of layers and waterproof shoes so you can handle anything the weather might throw at you. (Average Max Temperature: 5°C. Average Precipitation: 20mm.)
- Iceland Weather in May: May is often a fabulous time to be in Iceland, with long 20+ hour days, fewer tourists and lower prices. While it’s still a bit chilly by most standards, with an average high of 9°C, there are typically plenty of sunny days. In Reykjavík, the chance of a wet day over the course of the month rapidly decreases, starting at 36% on the 1st and ending it at 29%. That said, the weather in Iceland is always subject to extreme change, and can be rather unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared for the unexpected. In the interior, mountainous areas of the country, there is still a possibility of snow. (Average Max Temperature: 9°C. Average Precipitation: 40mm.)
- Iceland Weather in June: June brings the longest day of the year. While sunrise and sunset hours shift throughout the month, the sun rises on average at 2:42 a.m. and sets at 11:32 p.m. In Iceland’s northern reaches, the sun barely sets before it pops back up again. Temperatures are climbing too, with the average high at 11°C, and it’s not unheard of for temps to reach 15 or even 20°C. There’s also less wind, and less rain, making it easier to enjoy all of those outdoor adventures. Of course, with that brings the peak tourist season, so expect bigger crowds, higher prices and book accommodations well in advance. (Average Max Temperature: 11°C. Average Precipitation: 20mm.)
- Iceland Weather in July: As mentioned, July is another one of the most popular times of the year to visit Iceland. The weather is often pleasant, though never too hot, and days are still long with sunset averaging around 11 p.m., and the sun rising early, at 3:23 a.m. July boasts the warmest temperatures in Iceland, with average highs of 13°C and lows at 11°C. Of course, like June, temps can creep up quite a bit more than that and you could end up with a number of much warmer days. While you might experience some light rain, average precipitation is still at a minimum. (Average Max Temperature: 13°C. Average Precipitation: 20mm.)
- Iceland Weather in August: Summer in Iceland is short-lived, so you can expect temperatures to gradually decline this month, though August is still one of the warmest and driest times of the year to be here. Temps rarely dip below 6°C, or exceed 14°C. There’s a slightly higher chance for rain than in June or July, with an average of 30mm of precipitation. Earlier in the month, you’re more likely to experience summer-like days, but as August moves towards September, temperatures drop and a chill comes to the air, especially at night. The days of the Midnight Sun are gone, though you’ll still have lots of daylight for exploring, with sunrise around 5 a.m. and sunset just before 9:30 p.m. (Average Max Temperature: 13°C. Average Precipitation: 30mm.)
- Iceland Weather in September: While the days aren’t as long in September (nearly 15 hours of daylight on the 1st, decreasing to 11 hours and 35 minutes on the 30th), temperatures are often pleasant, crowds have disappeared and prices start to drop. The earlier in the month you come, the warmer it’s likely to be, with temps as warm as 13°C. On average, the high hovers around 9°C and can dip as low as 5°C. There is a greater chance for rain, and even a possibility of snow, so be prepared by bringing plenty of layers and a variety of clothing. You may even be treated to the northern lights, which can generally be seen, when conditions are right, from about late September through late March. (Average Max Temperature: 9°C. Average Precipitation: 40mm.)
- Iceland Weather in October: By the end of October, it’s starting to feel like winter in Iceland. This month is a time of transition, the autumn colors are in full swing, and temperatures are gradually dropping while the days are increasingly shorter. On October 31st, the sun doesn’t rise until 9:03 a.m., and it sets at 5:18 p.m. The average temperature is a brisk 4°C and drizzle is quite common, so plan for wet, cool weather. On the upside, with the exception of some of the most remote areas of the country, the majority of Iceland is still accessible to tourists, and there are far fewer crowds and reduced prices too. (Average Max Temperature: 6°C. Average Precipitation: 30mm.)
- Iceland Weather in November: Summer is now a distant memory, and while it isn’t as dark or cold as December and January, temperatures drop to an average of around 3°C with lows dipping to about freezing, and the sun shines for only six hours or so, rising a little before 10 a.m. and setting around 4:30 p.m. Of course, the earlier in the month you arrive, the milder the weather and the more daylight you’ll have. Even though it’s likely to be pretty cold, with frequent days of light rain, snow and/or fog, depending on the specific destinations you visit, as long as you dress appropriately, most of the time you’ll be comfortable and find lots to do with fewer crowds to contend with. (Average Max Temperature: 5°C. Average Precipitation: 30mm.)
- Iceland Weather in December: December in Iceland is cold and dark, but it’s also one of the most beautiful months to be in the country, with snow covering the landscape and dazzling holiday lights helping to brighten the darkness. The days are very short, as it’s now the opposite of summer and the famous Midnight Sun. While you won’t see much daylight, what you can see has a surreal, iridescent quality unlike anywhere else that’s known as the “long blue,” or blue light that lingers before the sun finally rises. When it does rise, it grazes the sky and then quickly descends below again. You’re just about guaranteed to experience snow, rain, or a combination of both, though the temperature rarely dips much below freezing, with the low averaging -1°C. The weather also keeps many tourists away, so you’ll find fewer to contend with along with lower rates and greater accommodation availability. Bundle up and enjoy like the Icelanders do. (Average Max Temperature: 4°C. Average precipitation: 40mm.)
Iceland Events and Festivals
Iceland in January
- New Year’s Day – January 1st is a national holiday as it is in most nations around the world, though it’s really a two-day holiday here as just about everything is closed until January 3rd. As most people stay up very late on New Year’s Eve, the first day of the new year is often spent sleeping at home and the second day shopping holiday sales.
- January 6th – January 6 marks the official last day of Christmas in Iceland. Known as “þrettándinn,” it is celebrated with bonfires, traditional songs and fireworks.
- Thorrablot – This is an ancient Viking mid-winter tradition that originally was a feast of sacrifice, involving the blood of goats and oxen. Today, the celebration that starts the 13th week of winter on the Friday that falls within January 19 to 25, includes lots of singing, dancing, drinking and eating traditional Norse dishes like fermented shark, pickled ram testicles and boiled sheep heads. To attend a real celebration, you’ll need an invitation from a local, but some restaurants in Reykjavik offer special Thorrablot dinners.
Iceland in February
- Winter Lights Festival – This festival hosted around the first weekend in February was created to help lift spirits and brighten the winter darkness. The capital city will be dramatically lit up, not only with gorgeous light-art installations, but with a cornucopia of cultural events from choral performances and figuring skating to fashion shows and belly dancing. Other highlights include Pool Night and Museum Night, in which the museums and pools around Reykjavik stay open late and offer free admission.
- Öskudagur – Öskudagur, or Ash Wednesday, is on the seventh Wednesday before Easter (February 14 in 2018). This is when Icelandic children dress in costume and sing for candy, similar to Halloween.
- Food and Fun – For four days in late February, and sometimes early March, the Food and Fun Festival is a time when many of the world’s most acclaimed chefs collaborate with the finest restaurants in Reykjavik. Special menus are prepared that consist only of Icelandic ingredients and are available at participating eateries during the festival. A televised competition is also held in which the top international chefs are challenged to create dishes on the spot, using purely Icelandic ingredients.
Iceland in March
- Beer Day – On March 1st every year, this unofficial holiday honors the anniversary of the 1989 legalization of beer with an alcohol content above 2.2%. To make up for the lost time it was banned (all the way from 1915 through 1989), Icelanders indulge in a beer spree, with celebrations held in pubs, clubs and restaurants throughout Reykjavik.
- DesignMarch – This event held over four days in mid-March showcases Icelandic product design, interior and graphic design, furniture and architecture over three days in mid-march. It hosts workshops, talks, exhibitions and other events, and has attracted big names in the past like Calvin Klein.
- Reykjavik Folk Festival – A three-day music feast held in early March, this event celebrates the Icelandic folk music scene with a lineup of folk artists of various styles and ages.
Iceland in April
- Easter – Easter marks the end to the long, dark winter. Most workers in Iceland get five days off, from Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, which may fall in March or April, depending on the year. Schools and most offices shut down, and many shops may be closed too. This is a time when locals often head elsewhere to visit family and friends, or to the famous ski festival in Isafjordur, which features ski competitions as well as a rock music festival.
- The First Day of Summer – The old Icelandic calendar, in which there are only two seasons, summer and winter, designated the official start of summer on the Thursday that falls within April 19 and April 25. Just about every town in Iceland will have its own celebration which typically includes parades, sporting events, street entertainment and gift giving.
Iceland in May
- Reykjavik Art Festival – This long-running art festival takes place every other year over 16 days starting in mid-May, with the next event to be held in 2018. It features a variety of national and international theater, art, design and dance that’s showcased throughout the capital city.
- Rite of Spring Festival – Hosted in early May, this festival is focused on cutting-edge world, jazz and folk music.
Iceland in June
- Seafarer’s Day & Festival of the Sea – This holiday officially known as Sjómannadagur, is held on the first weekend of June to honor the contribution fishermen have made to Icelandic culture and the economy, as well as to remember those who were lost at sea. In fishing villages across the country, you’ll find it celebrated with lively parties, fantastic local seafood, cultural events and paradise. The fishermen themselves take part in all sorts of competitive events like strongman competitions as well as rowing and swimming races.
- Iceland National Day – This official public holiday commemorates Iceland’s full independence from Denmark on June 17, 1944. One of the most popular events of the summer, the streets of Reykjavik are filled with colorful parades, street performances, traditional dancing, theatrical performances and free outdoor music concerts that last well into the night. Each town honors the day in its own unique way, so no matter where you plan to be, you’re likely to find a celebration.
- Summer Solstice and the Secret Solstice Festival – This relatively new festival is held on the longest day of the year, June 21st. It features rock bands, singer-songwriters, DJs and other acts from Iceland and beyond, hosted on multiple stages over four days under the Midnight Sun. There are also numerous local summer solstice celebrations held on this day in which Icelanders gather to watch the sun dip below the horizon only to quickly rise up again.
- International Viking Festival – The oldest and biggest festival of its kind in Iceland is held in Hafnarfjörður at Viking Village over five days in mid-June. A Middle Age market is set up where costumed “Vikings” sell handmade goods, host staged battles, dance, tell stories and show visitors how to do things like shoot a bow and arrow, carve wood, and throw spears and axes.
Iceland in July
- Innipúkinn Festival – This small annual music festival held over the bank holiday weekend in late July in downtown Reykjavik offers the chance to enjoy some of the country’s favorite bands, bringing in the cream of the crop of the Icelandic music scene. It also includes standup comedians, a music market and a wide variety of food trucks.
- LungA – Hosted in the small town of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland, LungA offers a mix of art and music in a spectacular location that’s held over seven days in mid-July. It includes live music, a variety of workshops, and a wide range of art on display.
Iceland in August
- Verslunarmannahelgi – The first weekend of August is a bank holiday weekend during which many Icelanders leave town to go camping. The Westman Islands are the most popular destination, with visitors gathering at campgrounds to enjoy live bands and a bonfire that goes on well into the morning. There are also a variety of events held throughout the country.
- Gay Pride – Iceland’s biggest Gay Pride event is held over the second weekend in August. It features concerts, theater, all-night parties and a parade. Tens of thousands pour into downtown Reykjavik to show solidarity and revel with the city’s gay community, making it a fun event for all.
- Reykjavik Marathon – This annual event held on the third weekend of August attracts more than 10,000, from Iceland and abroad. It features a full marathon as well as a 42.2K team relay, a half marathon, 10K, and shorter “fun runs” for kids and adults. It kicks off early in the morning, with races starting and finishing at Lækjargata. Runners also get free admission to all of the city’s pools and thermal baths afterwards.
- Menningarnótt – Menningarnótt, or “Culture Night,” begins when the marathon ends. It’s one of Iceland’s biggest events of the year, and when the streets clear of runners, all types of cultural events fill in that can be found throughout town, in the parks, squares, streets, and individual homes, and ends with an impressive fireworks display.
Iceland in September
- Reykjavik International Literary Festival – This annual festival held in early September is considered one of the most prestigious literary events in Northern Europe and includes Icelandic and international authors. In the past, it’s hosted numerous distinguished writers, including Kurt Vonnegut, Seamus Heaney and David Sedaris. In 2017, it will take place from September 6 to September 9 at various Reykjavik venues.
- Reykjavik International Film Festival – Taking place over 10 days starting in late September, this festival shows a diverse range of non-fiction and dramatic films from more than 40 countries around the world. There are multiple screening venues in downtown Reykjavik that include world premieres and award-winning films from other festivals. It also encourages interaction with other art forms by hosting photo exhibitions, concerts and more.
Iceland in October
- Iceland Airwaves – This festival held over three days in mid-October, showcases some of the best Icelandic indie/alternative music talent, including big names like Of Monsters and Men and Bjork, along with a number of international artists and local DJs. It’s been called the “hippest long weekend on the annual music festival calendar” by Rolling Stone magazine.
- Illumination of the Imagine Peace Tower – On October 9th, John Lennon’s birthday, Yoko Ono invites guests on a complimentary ferry trip to Viðey Island to take part in a gorgeous illumination ceremony.
- Halloween – Celebrating Halloween is relatively new in Iceland, but it’s quickly become one of the year’s biggest party events for adults. There is no trick-or-treating, but restaurants and bars throw costume parties with prizes for the best costume, and many host live music too.
Iceland in November
- Frostbiter – This Iceland Horror Film Festival is hosted in the town of Akranes, about 40 minutes north of Reykjavik, and features horror films and filmmakers from around the world. A mix of horror feature films and shorts are screened over the last weekend in November. It also includes after-parties and other events.
Iceland in December
- Christmas holiday events – Christmas is celebrated in a big way in Iceland. As the days are very short, with just 4 to 5 hours of daylight, you’ll see lots of holiday lights to brighten things up. Annual Icelandic Christmas concerts, one of the oldest holiday traditions in Iceland are hosted, and a group of 13 mischievous trolls known as Yule Lads begin arriving into town, one each night from December 12 through Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is the most important night of celebration in Iceland, officially beginning at 6 p.m., when the church bells throughout Iceland ring in the Jól. Icelanders typically attend mass which is followed by a Christmas dinner with family.
- New Year’s Eve – New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik is one of the world’s most impressive celebrations. This is the only time of year when private use of fireworks are legal here, and individuals put on their own unique displays that set the skies ablaze. It also includes neighborhood and waterside bonfires that are meant to symbolize the burning away of the previous year’s troubles. Some 500 tons of fireworks can be seen lighting up the sky from every corner of the city starting at around 11:35 pm. There is lots of drinking and singing of folk songs, and some people dress up as elves and trolls. After midnight, the pubs and nightclubs remain open, with the celebrations going on well into morning. At 5 am, locals line up for hot dogs and then head to the hot springs to ease the pain of those inevitable hangovers.