There’s no such thing as the perfect time to visit Iceland as the weather is notoriously whimsical and the best season for your trip depends entirely on what you want to experience.
Mid-summer is glorious with eternal daylight courtesy of the midnight sun. This is the time for hiking, camping and exploring the wilderness, and when most services are open. The down side is many destinations will be packed with tourists.
We've got all the information you need about the highs and lows of different seasons. Whenever you choose to visit Iceland, pay attention to forecasts and road conditions and follow any safety advice issued by Icelandic authorities.
June to August is the best time for outdoor recreation
While there’s no good weather guarantee, this is your best chance of sun and warmish temperatures. Late June to early August is when most Icelanders go on vacation, filling up campgrounds wherever the best weather is forecast. This is the height of the tourist season – and height of the whale-watching season – so whatever you have planned, it’s best to book ahead.
Expect crowds at the most popular destinations, like on the South Coast and the Golden Circle. But as it’s bright all night, you can beat the crowds by traveling either super early or late. In July, Highland roads open up, but you'll need to book a tour or hire a 4x4 vehicle equipped for F-roads and crossing rivers (if that’s your plan). Summer is the best season for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Around mid-August, wild berries ripen.
Summer is also festival season. Fishermen’s Day is a national celebration held in every seaside town on the first weekend of June. Around June 21, summer solstice is celebrated on Grímsey island, Iceland’s northernmost inhabited island. The Reykjavík Arts Festival is held every other year – the next one is in June 2024.
Bræðslan music festival is held in Borgarfjörður eystri on the last weekend of July. Verslunarmannahelgi is a weekend in August that is packed with festivals and events, and Reykjavík Pride has various events held throughout the city, culminating in the Pride Parade. Reykjavík Culture Night and the Reykjavík Marathon are held on the third weekend of August.
September to November is the best time for cultural events
Nights grow colder and camping is no longer advisable as fall rolls into winter. The weather is often good, though, so hiking can still be enjoyable. Pay attention to weather forecasts and bring warm clothing. Nature starts to change colors, painting forests and heather yellow, orange and red. Þingvellir National Park is at its most beautiful.
Road tripping is still possible and there will be fewer travelers around. However, winter is around the corner, so roads get slippery as soon as the temperatures drop and conditions can get stormy.
Réttir sheep and horse roundups are held in the countryside, and the Reykjavík International Film Festival takes place in the capital. In East Iceland, the Days of Darkness festival is held around Halloween and the Iceland Airwaves music festival is held in Reykjavík. Advent is approaching and Christmas preparations begin. This is a great time for visiting galleries and museums, going to concerts, relaxing in heated swimming pools, and feasting on good food.
December to January is the best time for the northern lights
Christmas lights brighten up the darkness and a festive spirit is in the air as the dark season nears its peak. Frost glitters and snow transforms landscapes into winter wonderlands. Christmas markets are held in Heiðmörk outside Reykjavík, in Hafnarfjörður and on Ingólfstorg square in Reykjavík, which has the added bonus of an ice rink. If conditions are right, the first ski resorts open up.
The sparse daylight means that you have a bigger chance of seeing the northern lights, especially outside populated areas where there is less light pollution (find a northern lights forecast here). Joining tours is advisable. While it is possible to drive yourself, road conditions are often slippery and snowstorms are common. Festivals worth checking out include Dark Music Days and þorrablót mid-winter feasts, celebrated around the country. For the brave, restaurants often serve special þorri food.
February to March is the best time for snow sports
It’s still dark and cold so communities brighten up the darkness with events like the Winter Lights Festival in Reykjavík and List í ljósi festival in Seyðisfjörður in the East. In narrow fjords in the Eastfjords and Westfjords, inhabitants celebrate the return of the sun with sólarkaffi and have pancakes. Snow sports become more enjoyable as daylight gradually returns.
Spring is an abstract concept in Iceland as the weather doesn’t always play along. It can still be cold and snowy, but the days get longer and the sun sometimes shines on skiers – this is often the best time for snow sports. The first of the migrant birds arrive and slowly but surely, nature springs back to life. Around Easter, events like Easter egg hunts are a fun family activity. In Ísafjörður, the Aldrei fór ég suður music festival is held and Ski Week is around the same time.
April to May is the best time for off-peak travel
While the weather is still unreliable, temperatures gradually rise. The first flowers blossom and trees bud. Migrant birds arrive in flocks and lambs and foals are born. Migrant whales have also returned and with better weather, whale watching is more enjoyable. The bird-watching season begins, although some areas may be closed due to nesting.
There are relatively few tourists around and if conditions are good, this can be a good time for road trips. Look out for off-season discounts on accommodation and activities. However, not all tours and services have opened up yet.
The first Thursday after April 18th is the official First Day of Summer in Iceland, which is celebrated with parades and events around the country – even though the weather rarely plays along.