Iceland is beautiful no matter when you visit. But there are some benefits and drawbacks of every season.
In winter, you can expect 22 hours of darkness. But to compensate for those eerily long nights, you will have a chance to see the magical Northern Lights. Now, you won’t get to see the Northern Lights in the summertime, but you will have long hours of daylight to explore Iceland’s glaciers, hot springs, and black sand beaches.
This article will tell you about the pros and cons of every season, so you can work out when you should come and visit the land of fire and ice!
Visiting Iceland In Summer
Summer is definately the most popular time for visitors in Iceland.
This means that the tourist attractions are going to be busier, and it may be more difficult to get accommodation if you don’t book well in advance. Peak season prices are typically a bit higher for some activities like whale watching.
Glacial ice caves are too dangerous to visit in the summertime, but you will still be able to see ice formations in some of the deeper lava tunnels like Lofthellir. (Not one for claustrophobic people, mind you!)
Although you can see and explore the glaciers with a guide, they are not going to be as spectacular in summer.
Driving in Iceland is a lot easier in the summer. Honestly, you will find a self-drive tour a lot less intimidating between late May and mid September. You won’t have to worry about white-out conditions, which means you’d lose out on days for which you had planned activities.
The mountain roads will mostly be open, but don’t forget you can’t explore these with most hire cars, or your insurance is void!
Even so, your drive around the ring road will be very straightforward in the summer. You don’t have to worry about blizzards or icy conditions, and the long hours of sunlight will give you great visibility to enjoy the rugged landscapes as you go.
Even though it is peak tourist season, you can still find quiet places to explore in the summer. Iceland is a big place, and the majority of visitors stick to the South Coast. So if you want to get away from the buzz, you only need to head to the countryside. (There’s a lot of it!)
You have an excellent chance of seeing whales in the summer, and the beautiful Atlantic puffins arrive on mass from May until mid-August. So if you love wildlife, summer is probably the best time for you!
You’ll also find a lot going on, like music festivals, and it’s mild enough for you to save a lot of money by camping. (But it’s not going to be tropical, even in summer!) Unless you’re a seasoned mountaineer, we wouldn’t advise anyone to camp in Iceland outside of summer.
Visiting Iceland In Autumn
Autumn is a great time to visit Iceland too, just wait until you see the beautiful fall colors! But there are some drawbacks of the season.
If you wanted to see our famous puffins, you’re out of luck. They only come to Iceland to breed during the summer months, and then they head back out across the water.
The whales will start leaving in Autumn, so you aren’t going to see as many. But there will still be some hanging around in October.
If you visit early on in the Autumn, you will have less chance of seeing the Northern Lights. But you’ll have longer daylight hours to enjoy other activities, so it’s a fair trade-off.
If you don’t like driving in the snow, you may want to avoid Iceland at this time because it’s a regular occurrence. (But on the plus side, sitting in a hot spring as the snow falls is pretty spectacular).
Autumn has so many benefits.
Now that the demand for hotels and restaurants is easing off, the prices will start relaxing too. So if you don’t mind waiting a bit longer to come and visit, you can probably save quite a bit of money!
There will be plenty to do once you get here. Festivals like Iceland Airwaves, Oktoberfest, and Rettír all take place in Autumn. You’ve probably heard of the first two, but Rettír is a really special festival for Icelanders to celebrate herding the sheep from the hills. You can expect dancing, beer, and lots of happy locals.
The temperatures aren’t crazy low yet, and you’ll still have enough daylight to explore. (You’ll have an average of 9 hours of sunlight in October, but only 5 in November). That means you’ve got a decent chance of seeing the Northern Lights, but you don’t have to freeze your butt off to see them.
Plus, the golden leaves are stunning at this time of year! You’ll be able to soak up some spectacular landscapes without sharing them with too many tourists.
But a word of warning: weather starts getting less predictable from mid-September, so you will have to be prepared to change your travel plans at a day’s notice. (check out our weather guide)
Visiting Iceland In Winter
Iceland gets cold in winter. Really, really cold.
The temperature in Reykjavík will drop down to -10°C (14°F), which will be a shock to visitors from more tropical climates.
Driving will be more challenging, with some roads blocked after heavy snowfall, and the mountain roads will be closed pretty much all the winter. The good news is that Icelanders are used to snow, so the Ring Road will get cleared as soon as safely possible.
But Iceland is also dark at this time of year.
In fact, you may have up to 22 hours of darkness a day. If you’re planning to visit hotsprings, go to restaurants, and explore museums, then it’s not such a big deal. But if you want to go hiking and see Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls, your activities may feel limited in the winter. This is especially true if you’re traveling on a budget. (Visitors normally save money by doing free outdoor activities like hiking and wild swimming, but that’s not so easy in the darkness!)
If you don’t mind spending a bit more money on your vacation, you’ll find plenty to do in the winter.
You’ve got some great activities like ice caving on a glacier, and the frozen waterfalls are going to take your breath away. You can still enjoy a good soak in the hot springs, which are even more magical in the bleak midwinter.
Many people dream of seeing the Northern Lights, and this is your best chance!
Visiting Iceland In Spring
Visitors shouldn’t imagine that spring is a time of sunshine and blooming flowers. Things will be getting greener, and temperatures will start warming up, but Spring in Iceland is still like Winter to most people.
It’s going to be cold, and snow will be frequent.
You can expect storms throughout the spring, which can put a spanner in the works if you had planned a road trip.
The great thing about Iceland is spring is that the summer activities like horseriding and snorkeling start opening up, but it’s still off-season.
That means fewer crowds and better deals in hotels and restaurants.
You’ve still got a chance to see the Northern Lights, but the deep snow is melting, and the temperatures are much more bearable. (But there’s always a chance of snow in spring, the Icelandic weather loves to keep us on our toes!)
The days get lighter and longer, and roads that were closed off in winter will start opening. (Slowly). There are also many festivals and concerts as people shake off their winter cobwebs and start socializing again.
For example, there is a free music festival called I Never Went South in the Westfjords in April. Plus, you’ll find snowboarding competitions and culture festivals throughout the season.
Iceland is much busier in the summer than any other season, but with good reason. Summer is the best time to do a self-drive tour because the road conditions are nice and manageable, and you’ll have long daylight hours.
If you want to escape the crowds, you only have to get off the South Coast, and you’ll have plenty of room to spread your wings.
Each season is unique and special in its way, so that doesn’t mean you should never visit Iceland outside of the summer. Now you know the drawbacks and benefits of every season, you can plan the perfect trip for yourself!
We hope you found this article helpful. For more information about visiting Iceland, you can check out the rest of our blog. And for help choosing the perfect self-drive adventure, just head over to our tour page.