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When to Visit Iceland

Date 07 January 2020

When to Visit Iceland

When to Visit Iceland

The time of year will change everything about your trip to Iceland.

It all depends on what you're looking for: while most tourists prefer summer, there are things to do all year round.

What criteria should you consider to determine your travel dates?

First of all, you can take a look at our tips before visiting Iceland.

The best period to go to Iceland, for you, will depend on:

  • The day cycle
  • Tourist attendance
  • Temperatures and climate
  • Budget
  • What you want to do and see

The day cycle

Daytime length at this latitude will vary immensely, in all northern countries but Iceland is very far north. In summer, the days can last up to 24 hours, whereas, in December or January, some days will provide a mere 4 and a half hours of light.

To give you an idea here are the yearly averages:

  • Daylight hours per month:

June is the month with the most light, up to 24 hours with its famous midnight sun. On the other hand, in January days can last 4 hours, even less in the north of the island.

The numbers don't lie: the longer the day, the more time you have to visit natural sites and even go hiking well into the evening, so summer is the most interesting period when it comes to exploring.

Tourist attendance

The months of July and August are by far the most crowded periods in Iceland. Then after a quiet autumn, Iceland gets busy again in December for end-of-year celebrations.

The other months of the year are slow periods for tourism.

Temperatures and climate

To get an idea of the average temperatures ( degrees Celsius) in Iceland, the weather page allows you to see more clearly.


It never gets hot in Iceland. July and August are when the temperature peaks, and that peak barely exceeds 15°C.

The weather is also tempestuous, and it's common to have clear blue skies in the morning, heavy rain, strong winds, and even a dash of snow before the sky clears entirely by dinnertime.


Iceland is an expensive country, and this is especially true for the essentials: car rental, accommodation, and food. But if you come during the off-season, outside of summer and December, you can find real bargains.

What you want to do and see

Indeed, your travel dates will depend on what you are looking for, so here are a few examples to help you choose:

  • If you want to see puffins: early June to mid-August
  • If you want to see the midnight sun: late May to mid-August
  • You want to see the Northern Lights: early October to late March
  • You are want to avoid crowds: late September to early December, and early January to early May.
  • You want to visit ice caves: early November to late March
  • You want to be able to travel everywhere on the island: late June to September
  • You want to hike in the highlands: late June to September

Iceland in winter

L'Islande en hiver

Despite the relatively short days between October and March, there's a great deal of activities to do in Iceland at this time of the year. While it never gets hot, the temperatures are not actually as arctic as you'd expect for this latitude, thanks to the Gulf Stream. As Iceland's air heats up, coastal temperatures, and in the capital, rarely drop below 0°.

Winter is a good time to have the chance to see the Northern Lights, which are easier to observe during a dark night and with a clear sky. The disadvantage of this period is the traffic across the country. Although the area around the capital on the main axis (road number 1) is mostly clear, the same is not true for secondary roads.

The Vegagerdin website will keep you up-to-date on all main road conditions in Iceland several times a day. With these variables, particularly in winter, you really need to pick the right mode of transport. Iceland shows truly wild side in winter, even near the capital Reykjavík, but you need the right wheels to get there. 

Most tourists going to Iceland in winter stay less than a week, or even a weekend. With all if not most inland roads closed, visitors remain in Reykjanes, on the Reykjanes Peninsula, in Snaefellsness, the Golden Circle, or the South of the island.

For self-driving tours, here are some examples in winter in Iceland via Guide To Iceland:

For tourists who want to avoid challenging drives, or prefer an all-inclusive package tours in small groups, there are many options:

A few must-see sites for short stays in winter near Reykjavík:

Our recommended periods in winter are March or October. March and October have longer days than December and February, are less crowded, and still offer all the charms of winter.

This article will be great starting point to get an idea of what you can do and see: Iceland in Winter.

Iceland in summer

L'Islande en été

The summer time in Iceland extends from May to August, and this time of year showcases the best of Iceland's magnificent colors and contrasts. May is much less crowded and is also the driest month, at least until mid-June.

The downside is many inland roads remain closed, and it's still much colder than summer. The contrast becomes most striking in June when the grass revives with vivid green colours as the birds come to nest, and the days are long and peaceful.

As far as roads are concerned, late June or even early July will see most roads reopening (by mid-June 85% of the roads are already open). Again remain vigilant as some trails, including Laki, Askja or even sometimes Landmannalaugar, open in early July. For reliable info, check the dedicated website:

From mid-June to mid-July is a great time to observe the midnight sun. With the summer solstice on June 21, the sun rises at 2:54am and sets at 00:05am.

Summer is a popular season so there are many self-guided tours on offer, and we recommend Guide To Iceland itineraries:

Days remain long until mid-August, in fact the nights are all but gone until late August (some have been lucky enough to spot Northern Lights in this period, but that's a rare occurrence).

It is also from mid-August that birds such as puffins migrate south in search of milder climes.

Iceland in spring

L'Islande en été

Gullfoss in March - Violette Genot @Unsplash

There are officially only two seasons in Iceland: winter and summer, but March to April can still be considered the Icelandic spring.

March means the end of winter, when the snow starts to melt and daylight hours overtake the nights. But it remains cold, with temperatures around 5°. Officially, the first Thursday after April 18 marks the first official day of Icelandic summer.

The main benefits of a spring-break trip:

  • Off-season means cheaper accommodation
  • Housing and car rental rates are a bit more attractive
  • The days are longer but winter attractions such as the Northern Lights are still possible until the beginning of April!
  • The colors of landscape change enormously as the snow melts
  • April is one of the driest months of the year

Learn more about Iceland in spring in our article: Iceland in spring.

Iceland in autumn

L'Islande en automne

The Icelandic autumn starts in September and ends in November. There is a major difference in climate, daylight hours, available activities between September and November.

The weather changes very quickly at this time of year and temperatures are much cooler than in summer. The Northern Lights will still be out in force in this period.

Autumn is often cited as a great time to visit due to the low number of tourists and lower accommodation prices compared to peak season.

The main advantages of a trip in autumn are as follows:

  • Off-season means you won't have to wait in line
  • Cheaper housing and car rental rates 
  • The days are getting shorter but it remains balanced, and winter attractions such as the Northern Lights begin as early as September!
  • The length of the days is important enough to be able to make the most of them (except in November)
  • The landscape colors take on autumnal hues
  • You won't need to book that far in advance, except during the October holidays
  • Enjoy trips to ice caves or glacier hikes

Learn more about Iceland in autumn in our article: Iceland in autumn.