The Best time to visit Iceland

Iceland’s weather changes as much as its turbulent volcanic landscape. You may really get four seasons in a day.
While its far north ocean location makes for fluctuating weather, summer is the best time to visit Iceland. June-August offer long daylight hours, low 20°Cs warmth, plus summer festivals. Dry weather inland makes this prime hiking season. May to September is the best time of year for Iceland if you want to go whale watching. Snow comes as early as September and can linger to May, but Iceland is very photogenic in autumn and early winter. Winter in Iceland (November-March) can be brutal and road closures make access to some areas difficult but offer a better chance at seeing the Northern Lights. You can combine orca watching with the Northern Lights in February and March.

What is the best month to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

March and September are the best months for seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. That’s all down to the equinoxes – the meteorological turning of the seasons, when geomagnetic storms in the Earth’s magnetic field double in frequency. These disturbances are what cause the Northern Lights, so twice the activity means twice the chance of seeing the aurora borealis. Read our guide to seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland for more.

Month by month guide on when to go to Iceland

January in Iceland

    Few visitors Northern Lights Winter photography
January is one of the quietest times to visit Iceland, with far fewer tourists meaning uncrowded main sites. Short, dark days are the name of the game in Iceland in January, with the sun rising around 11am and setting about 4pm – great for Northern Lights watching. At the end of the month you get a few extra hours of light in the day, so horse riding trips on hardy Icelandic steeds kick into gear.

February in Iceland

    Northern Lights Killer whales (orca) Photography
This is one of the best months to see the Northern Lights. The weather in Iceland in February is downright chilly, however, so this will still be set against snowy landscapes and on average -6°C temperatures, although Reykjavik and the coastline is always warmer and starts to defrost towards the end of February. Orcas visit too; our partners run boat tours and wildlife photography excursions to make the most of this spectacle.

February is great for a Northern Lights photography holiday.

March in Iceland

    Best for Northern Lights Killer whales (orca) Snowshoeing and ice caving
The third week of March (usually 21-22) is the vernal equinox – the astronomical transition from winter to spring. The weeks before and after are filled with twice as many geomagnetic storms than usual, which means more lively Northern Lights. Back on Earth, it doesn’t feel too spring-like with occasional snowstorms and below-zero temps – but also unexpected sunshine. Visiting Iceland in March is a chance to embrace winter activities like ice caving and snowshoeing before warming up in a hot spring. Oh, and orcas are still chasing herring too.

April in Iceland

    Spring in Iceland Small group tours begin Northern Lights
Iceland in April starts to feel distinctly spring-like. The weather is brightening and days creep up to a whole 14 hours of sunlight. As always in Iceland, expect the unexpected; snow is still just a shifting cloud away. Most small group tours start in April, when the roads are clear for exploring from the Westfjords to the East Fjords. Your chance of seeing the Northern Lights recede as the nights get lighter.

May in Iceland

    Short cruise season begins Whale watching Birdwatching
Iceland (and Icelanders) truly emerge from winter in May. Everyone is out and about, it seems, with bar terraces filled with people soaking up the cool sunshine and events like the Myvatn marathon kicking off. Late May is great for birdlife; geese gradually fill rivers and puffins nesting on sea cliffs are more accessible to boat tours. Circumnavigation cruises start visiting Iceland in May, as the coastlines defrost and seas calm a little – and as whales move north to feed.

June in Iceland

    Midnight sun Camping and hiking Wildlife watching
Fancy visiting Iceland in the summer? June is the month of the midnight sun; pack an eye mask for undisturbed snoozing. Birds are still busy on the sea cliffs of the Westfjords and whale watching trips head out to look for humpbacks and minke whales. The camping and hiking window begins in June, as well as summer sea kayaking. Iceland in June also marks one of the best times for self drive holidays, as most roads are clear of ice and days are long.

June is great for an Iceland small group holiday

We’ve got light all day, birds and flowers in the Icelandic summer, which is very beautiful.
– Geraldine Westrupp, from our partner Wild Photography Holidays

July in Iceland

    Hiking Photography Whale watching
July is a beautiful time to be in Iceland. Long, lazy days stretch till almost midnight, with the sun rising again at about 4am. It makes for great conditions for camping or hiking, with most trails open, including the Laugavegur trail and those of the usually inaccessible Highlands. The eerie late-night light is irresistible for photographers too. Whale watching tours are in full swing in Iceland in July, while back on land all roads are snow-free for drivers.

August in Iceland

    Peak tourist season Hiking and self drive holidays Arctic grand tours
The Iceland tourist season peaks in August, when festivals, cruise ship arrivals and summer breaks combine into a heady celebration of the island. Ease away from busy Reykjavik and go camping, hiking or sea kayaking; it’s one of your last chances before the days shorten and the cold sets in again. Or go on a self drive exploration of Iceland in August – you don’t have to go far for empty, endless roads. August is a good time to combine Iceland with Greenland or Spitsbergen for a full tour of the Arctic.

September in Iceland

    Northern Lights Photography Whale watching
The Northern Lights are more visible again in Iceland in September, when the sun starts setting at 8.30pm. Thanks to increased geomagnetic storms around the autumn equinox (usually 22 September) September is one of the best times to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Many minor roads – especially in the mountains – are closed from late September to June due to snow and ice. This is also your last chance to combine Iceland with Greenland before the weather makes the crossing too unreliable.

September is great for a Northern Lights and whale watching cruise in Iceland.

October in Iceland

    Northern Lights Autumn photography Few visitors
The last of the whale watching boat captains hang up their hats for the winter in October. This is also one of the last months for many small group tours. Landscape photographers visiting Iceland in October, however, are in their element, with people-free vistas and changeable weather that can give you snow, sunshine and thunderous clouds all in a week (or, sometimes, a day). Temperatures are still just above freezing in Reykjavik and most roads are clear for exploring.

November in Iceland

    Northern Lights Winter activities Hot springs
Late November through December and January are seriously lacking in daylight and warmth – not an issue for well-wrapped aurora borealis seekers. Iceland in November is the realm of winter holidays, with activities like ice caving, hot spring soaks and glacier hiking starring on itineraries. This is one of the quietest months in Iceland – something of a breather before the festivities of December.

November is great for a Northern Lights tour in Iceland.

December in Iceland

    New Year’s Eve celebrations Northern Lights Cold and dark
While winter can be a spectacular time to visit, temperatures can plummet as low as -10°C, particularly in northern Iceland, with December to February the iciest months. Wind chill can make apparent temperatures feel even lower. Don’t avoid Iceland in December, though – just pack proper thermal gear. New Year’s Eve is a spot of brightness in an otherwise dark, cold month as Icelanders huddle around bonfires and firework displays.
PLAY

Iceland Weather Chart

 
MIN °C
MAX °C
RAIN (mm)
JAN
-3
2
105
FEB
-2
3
100
MAR
-1
3
105
APR
1
6
80
MAY
4
10
75
JUN
7
13
70
JUL
10
14
67
AUG
8
13
86
SEP
4
11
94
OCT
3
8
119
NOV
-1
4
110
DEC
-2
2
105
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Iceland or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best times to visit Iceland for Festivals & Events

Sjómannadagurinn (first weekend of June)

Sjomannadagurinn (Seamans’ Day) celebrates the importance of fishing to Icelandic life. Every boat remains in harbour so the island’s sailors can have the day off to take part in maritime festivities, turning harbours into a melee of rowing and swimming contests plus mock sea rescues. Shore fun includes herring and mackerel feasts and traditional fishing songs – and plenty of drinking, of course.

Reykjavik Arts Festival (June)

People flock from far and wide to experience Reykjavik Art Festival, which started in 1969. There’s usually a theme that strings together shows that range from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra taking on The Valkyrie at the shard-like Harpa Opera House to fiery (and free) street performances.

Verslunarmannahelgi (weekend before first Monday in August)

AKA Shopkeepers’ Weekend – the weekend before the August bank holiday, when all 366,425 Icelanders seem to be out and about. Cars piled high with tents and bottles of Reyka head to the Westman Islands in their thousands for their raucous annual summer festival. Other people mooch around downtown Reykjavik, where there’s music and food festivals, and a generally genial atmosphere.

Iceland Airwaves (November)

Iceland Airwaves is the world’s most northerly music festival, with gigs lighting up the record shops, cafés and bars of Reykjavik in the dark nights of November. The event prides itself on giving over the stage to unknown talent – Sufjan Stevens and Of Monsters and Men cut their teeth here – as well as signing on Björk, John Grant and the Fleet Foxes as major headliners.

New Year’s Eve (31 December)

In preparation for New Year, firework stands raising money for the Iceland Search and Rescue pop up in almost every town. The result? Not one show, but a free-for-all of fireworks crackling on the horizon from 10.30pm to 2am. It’s combined with feasting with friends and family, before everyone pours out onto the (below) freezing streets for carousing around bonfires. Head to Reykjavik for the biggest celebrations.

Our travellers also ask…

When is the best time to see whales in Iceland?

The best time to see whales in Iceland is between May and October. The increased summer sunlight and warming sea temps make for a fish boom – which makes for a whale boom. You’ll most likely see minke whales, but humpbacks and dolphins are also common. Killer whales (AKA orca, the largest in the dolphin family) appear in Iceland from February to early June.

Read our guide to whale watching in Iceland for more

What is the cheapest time to go to Iceland?

Some of the cheapest times to go to Iceland are during autumn, winter and spring – September to May. The exception is December, when Christmas and New Year hike up prices. Aim for the shoulder seasons of September and May if you’d like longer days and milder temperatures. After all, there’s a reason fewer people travel Iceland in winter – it’s dark and freezing. Only snow lovers and Northern Lights hunters should apply when visiting Iceland in the winter.

What is the peak season in Iceland?

June to August is the peak season in Iceland. The school break and long, surprisingly sunny days understandably tempt visitors out to Iceland during the summer – especially when the sun barely sets in June and July. Luckily, we’ve put together some tips to show you how to avoid the crowds in peak season…

How to avoid the crowds in Iceland

Barring the period affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, visitor numbers to Iceland have risen by about 25 percent each year since 2010. The government is looking into ways of curbing numbers during the peak season of June-August, redirecting people away from the honeypot sites and considering a tourist tax.

However, there is no sign of tourism abating during the peak season, with a new flurry of film buffs also heading there to see the filming locations of Star Wars and Game of Thrones. The good news is that Iceland’s tourism highlights are still glowingly gorgeous, crowds or not. There are ways to put your holiday into crowd control mode, however, and here are a few of our pointers.

Reverse your clock

There are virtually 24 hours of daylight in Iceland during the summer season months (June-August), yet tourists still tend to stick to the 9-5. Think about visiting the popular spots early in the morning or late in the evening. This is more easily done on a tailor made holiday, but you can also chat with your fellow travellers on a small group holiday to see if you can get an agreement to do early starts or late night visits, particularly in places such as the Blue Lagoon.

Visit other lagoons

The Blue Lagoon is beautiful, but there are other lagoons to explore and bathe in, such as the Secret Lagoon also in the south-west and Myvatn Nature Baths in the north. The former, although far from being a secret nowadays, is still a lot quieter than the Blue Lagoon, and Myvatn is a must.

Go in winter

Yes, the days are shorter and, yes, it is colder. But winter in Iceland is also the best time to see the Northern Lights. You will also have snowy terrain, adding a whole other dimension to your trip. Few other countries frame the aurora like Iceland does, with shimmering glaciers, black lava fields and dramatic mountains opening up a box of delights for photographers in particular.

Follow the whales

Cetacean numbers rise between May and September when over two dozen species enjoy Iceland’s waters. Avoid the crowds by going whale watching in the shoulder months of May and September, and by travelling on our small, responsible whale watching trips that use quiet boats to get close to these marine mammals.

Go on a photography holiday

Tour leaders on photography holidays know where to find the spots where glaciers outnumber people or the locations of secret ice caves. Far from a whistle stop tour, you stop, look, learn and have time to fall in love with everything that makes Iceland so special – without the crowds.

Do a grand tour

There are a lot of myths in Iceland but one of the greatest is that you can see it all in a weekend. If you commit to Iceland for a longer period and even circumnavigate it, you will really start to understand its culture, have superb hiking experiences, explore extreme peninsulas and remote islands, and escape the crowds. Do this on land with a guided small group tour or from the sea on a small ship cruise with up to 34 passengers with whom you discover tiny fishing communities, islands and rugged near-Arctic landscapes.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Moyan Brenn] [Top image (Skorradalur): Axel Kristinsson] [Iceland summer: Vincent Ledvina] [Sjomannadagurinn: jenny downing] [Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights): v2osk] [Myvatn lagoon: Nuno Antunes]