Choosing the Best Time to Visit Iceland
Updated: Jan 14
The land of fire and ice contains wonder to behold throughout the year. One of the best things about traveling to Iceland is that you could go back every season and have a unique experience. So, in that sense, there is not a ‘best’ time to visit Iceland, but it depends on what you want to see. It also depends on what kind of weather you’re comfortable with. This is a brief guide to Iceland to help you decide when it is best for you to come and explore.
The Best Time to Visit Iceland to See the Northern Lights
When asked what they know about Iceland, most people will say that it is a great place to see the northern lights. And it certainly is; with little artificial light pollution even in the capital, the northern lights can be seen from anywhere. Of course, there is the chance of a much better sighting by hiring a rental car and driving into the countryside. The lights can be seen from September to April every year. In my first winter in Iceland, I caught a sighting around every two weeks. So, if your bucket list consists of seeing the aurora borealis, the best time to visit Iceland would be the winter months. Apps exist to guide you on the best times and places to hunt for them. Maximize your chances; keep an eye on the forecasts and take a drive to somewhere dark when the sky looks clear. You’ll be dazzled by what you see.
Other Points about Winter in Iceland
Whilst the allure of the northern lights is strong, there are other considerations to account for. The closer it is to the winter solstice; the less sunlight Iceland enjoys. By December, one can expect an almost completely dark day. This takes some getting used to but it is exciting for a short time. Additionally, the high likelihood of snow in winter adds to the magic. There is also the added bonus of ski resorts around Iceland; Bláfjöll and Skálafell are located a short drive from the capital. However, with snow comes cold. Compared to, say, northern Canada, Iceland is not so cold, but it can reach -5°C or below in Reykjavik. However, this is nothing that quality winter clothing cannot solve.
Another effect of the cold, snowy winters in Iceland is the limited access as a result. Reykjavik’s roads are cleared promptly whenever a storm hits, but outside of the city, it is not so straightforward. Many roads are closed or only accessible by super jeeps during the winter. If you are planning on exploring and do not have a hardy vehicle, perhaps a winter holiday in Iceland is not your best bet.
Since Iceland is a geothermal wonder, hot springs are found in abundance here. They are more enjoyable when the temperature drops; there is nothing like jumping in the snow after bathing in a hot spring. Why not venture out into the lesser populated areas of Iceland and find a safe hot spring to enjoy? I say safe because the water temperature can fluctuate. In the wild, there is no one to turn the heat down, so proceed with caution. Or you can stick to the controlled thermal pools, either one of the seven in Reykjavik or the Blue Lagoon.
Best Time to Visit Iceland to See Whales
On the flip side of Iceland’s winter wonders are its summer supremes. A huge attraction for many visitors to Iceland is the possibility of spotting whales. These can be seen from April to October, with the best likelihood in the summer months. Depending on where you are in Iceland the species will vary, but orcas, humpback and minke whales and more have been spotted. Of course, whale watching hopefully consists of seeing whales, but the boat journeys alone are an adventure. The tours operate from various locations on all coastlines as whales of all sizes journey here to feed. So, if whales are your passion, the best time to visit Iceland would be the summer months.
Other Points about Summer in Iceland
As mentioned before, in the winter months due to heavy snow and icy conditions, many roads are treacherous to tourists. This is the great thing about the summer months; there is no snow and ice to contend with. Therefore, this is a great time to tackle Iceland’s incredible hiking trails and experience its other-worldly basalt rock formations. These are even more impressive during the summer when there is no snow covering them, fully visible in all their glory. Icelandic turf houses are also a sight to behold, better viewed in the summer when their grass-covered rooves are a rich green. Also easily accessible in summer is the golden circle, a route consisting of well-known sites, one of which is þingvellir national park. This historically significant area is renowned for its beautiful waterfalls and scenic views.
One of the great things about summer in Iceland is the many hours of daylight. In June and July, the sun barely sets at all and so darkness is no longer a hindrance. Why not walk along one of Iceland’s black sand beaches in the midnight sun? Seemingly endless days are valuable assistance in utilizing one’s time in Iceland. However, they are not without their downsides.
Because darkness barely comes in the summer months, the body is less inclined to sleep. You may find yourself staring out the window at 3 am wondering why you are not tired. Thick curtains and a reasonable sleeping schedule help to maintain decent day/night ratios. Additionally, Iceland is not known for its hot temperatures. With an average July temperature of around 13°C in the south, you may not want to spend your time sunbathing. Very rarely, the temperature can hit 20°C but expect a mild summer. If you are not a fan of sweltering heat like that of Australia or Egypt, a summer visit to Iceland is for you.
Exploring Iceland - The Ring Road
Two topics are worth a special mention; the ring road and Iceland’s active volcanoes. The ring road, or Route 1, circles the entire island. It is just over 1300km long and passes through some of Iceland’s best attractions. It is definitely worth spreading the journey at least over several days. This gives you time to enjoy all it has to offer, such as enchanting forests, lakes, and waterfalls. Parts of the road can be closed in extreme weather, so a summer road trip is best to aim for. Then there are Iceland’s volcanoes; there are over a hundred on the island, 30 of which are active. Many of these can be visited safely and eruptions are incredibly captivating.
As well as being mesmerizing, they are also critical to Iceland’s energy; most housing in Iceland is heated naturally with geothermal heat. It is the volcanic activity that gives Iceland its unique characteristics; black sand beaches, rock formations, and hot springs. A visit to a volcano is not to be missed during your time here. With eruptions occurring every 4-5 years, time your visit to see the land of fire and ice at work. In short, any time is the best time to visit Iceland.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.