Iceland is a breathtaking country, wooing travelers from every corner of the planet who want to explore its incredible natural wonders.
The summer days bring crowds who want to road-trip, hike, or party their way through the endless daylight, while winter means it’s time for arctic adventures, seeing the northern lights or taking a dip in a geothermal pool like the famed Blue Lagoon – or somewhere more off the beaten path. So when is the best time to go to Iceland?
From the main events to the less crowded off-season, here's how to decide the perfect time for your next Iceland vacation.
June to August is the best time for road trips and hiking
With long, sunny days and the best weather of the year, visitors descend en masse, especially to Reykjavík and the south. Prices are at their highest, and pre-bookings are essential. Though it’s busier and more expensive, you will be rewarded with endless daylight, plentiful festivals, and lots of outdoor activities. The highland mountain roads open to 4WDs from mid-June or later, and this is the perfect season for hikers.
May and September are the best times to avoid crowds
These months bring breezier weather and occasional snow in the highlands. The access via mountain roads is weather-dependent. However, it’s optimal visiting conditions if you prefer smaller crowds and lower prices over cloudless days. Days start to get longer in May, but the peak tourist season hasn't quite kicked in, and September offers a reprieve from visitor numbers as the weather takes a turn – the perfect times for a budget-friendly break.
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October to April is the best time to see the northern lights
The winter means mountain roads are closed, and some minor roads shut due to weather conditions. However, there are plenty of winter activities on offer, including skiing, snowshoeing and visiting ice caves. There are brief spurts of daylight, but that just leaves long nights promising spectacular natural light shows – keep an eye on the weather forecast to optimize your chances of seeing the northern lights. New Year's Eve in Reykjavík is becoming a big tourist event, but be aware that some hotels shut between Christmas and New Year.
After December’s cheer, the festive hangover hits. The first few weeks of the year can feel like an anticlimax – not helped by long dark nights and inclement weather.
Key events: Þorrablót
The coldest month in many parts of Iceland, though everyday life in the capital can seem untouched. The countryside may be scenic under snow, but it's mostly dark – there are only seven to eight hours of daylight per day.
Key events: Winter Lights Festival; Food & Fun
Winter is officially over in other parts of the world, but it’s not time to start celebrating here. The country wakes from its slumber; winter activities such as skiing are popular as daylight hours increase.
Key events: Beer Day; Iceland Winter Games; DesignMarch
Easter is celebrated in a traditional fashion (Easter egg hunts and roast lamb), and spring is in the air. Days lengthen, and the mercury climbs, meaning greenery after the snow melts, plus the arrival of thousands of migrating birds.
Key events: Sumardagurinn Fyrsti; Reykjavík International Literary Festival; Puffins on Parade
May is shoulder season and isn't a bad month to visit, just before the tourist season cranks up in earnest. Enjoy prices before they escalate, plus lengthening days, spring wildflowers and first-rate birdwatching.
Key events: Whale Watching
Hello, summer! The short, sharp, three-month-long tourist season begins. Pros: the best weather, near-endless daylight, the pick of tours and excursions, the best choice of accommodation. Cons: big crowds, peak prices, the need to book all lodging in advance.
Key events: Seafarers’ Day; Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival; National Day; Opening of Mountain Roads; Midnight Sun; Midsummer; Lobster Festival; Reykjavík Arts Festival
Iceland’s festival pace quickens alongside a (hopefully) rising temperature gauge and a distinct swelling of tourist numbers. Expect busy roads, crowded trails, packed campgrounds, no-vacancy guesthouses, etc, and the need to book ahead.
Key events: Landsmót Hestamanna; Folk Music Festival; Skálholt Summer Concerts; Eistnaflug; Bræðslan; Laugavegur Ultra Marathon
The busy tourist season continues apace, with Southern Europeans flying north for holidays. By mid-month, the puffins have departed (and some whales, too); by late August, the local kids are back at school, and the nights are lengthening.
Key events: Verslunarmannahelgi; Þjóðhátíð; Herring Festival; Reykjavík Culture Night; Reykjavík Marathon; Reykjavík Pride; Jökulsárlón Fireworks
Tourist arrivals decrease significantly, and prices drop, making this an excellent time to visit. The weather can still be agreeable, but summer-only hotels, attractions and services are closed. Highland roads are closed by month's end.
Key events: Réttir; Reykjavík International Film Festival
October marks the official onset of winter, with cooler temperatures, longer nights and the appearance of the Northern Lights.
Key events: Northern Lights
Summer is now a distant memory. November sees nights lengthening (the sun sets around 4pm) and the weather cooling, but Reykjavík parties hard, with big crowds gathering for its flagship music festival.
Key events: Iceland Airwaves; Days of Darkness; Ice Caves
A festive atmosphere brings cheer to the darkest time of the year. Christmas markets, concerts and parties keep things bright and cozy, followed by New Year’s Eve celebrations. Note that some hotels are closed between Christmas and New Year.
Key events: New Year’s Eve