Best time to visit Iceland
Do you like nature in its raw state? Icelandic snowy landscapes will delight you! With 5 to 7 hours of sunshine per day, winter days are short in Iceland, and the pace is hectic to make the most of the magic of this exceptional land during the coldest of seasons.
The snow-capped countryside is sumptuous; the low sun offers a very photogenic grazing light. The waterfalls are icy, the glaciers and volcanic beaches sublimated, the ice caves are at this period of unparalleled beauty, and the water sources warm surrounded by snowy landscapes are there to warm you up. The whole offers a spectacle and an element of mystery that you are not ready to forget.
As for activities, the hunt for the northern lights is on. The middle of winter with its clear sky and nights is the ideal period to observe this natural phenomenon which illuminates the landscape with colorful sails. Dog sledding, snowmobiles, and glacier hikes are activities you can practice in the heart of sublime snow-covered landscapes.
Discover Iceland in spring
An ideal period for travelers who like fair and low prices, spring is a time not to neglect to visit the land of fire and ice. If the weather is windier and the snow is sometimes still present in the ground at the beginning of the season, the days are getting longer, and the temperatures are gradually rising to let nature take back its rights.
Flowers light up the ground, birds light up the sky, and puffins start to be seen in May. This mild season with fewer travelers is also a great time to go on horseback riding.
Traveling to Iceland in summer
Choose the period from May to September to visit this beautiful region: the temperatures are pleasant and the tourist attractions open. It is possible to leave in the fall or in the spring as well, and winter will offer you the spectacle of the Northern Lights!
Endless days with the midnight sun await you in Iceland during the summer period. With all the roads being reopened and the weather getting better, you can go around the island and explore the highlands for sublime treks and hikes, including on the glaciers! It is also the perfect season to discover Landmannalaugar, one of the country’s most spectacular regions, and take part in many festivals.
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Not to mention that summer remains the best time to observe Icelandic wildlife: whales meet there and offer a splendid spectacle to visitors who will also have the privilege of being able to observe puffins on the country’s wild coasts.
Visit Iceland in autumn.
Both prices and temperatures gradually drop at this time of year. The nights are getting longer, and the Northern Lights reappear. Ice cave exploration and other winter activities also resume, especially the Iceland Airwaves, the famous Reykjavik music festival that makes Icelandic autumn famous. Groups from all over the world gather there to party until the end of long nights.
And to finish convincing you, here is a concentrate of landscapes and activities to discover in Iceland:
Weather, temperatures and climate in Iceland
Iceland is known to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Between the natural landscapes, the northern lights, and so many other wonders, there is a lot to see in Iceland, and it is customary to hesitate when deciding when to go.
Here is a short guide that should help you learn a little more and choose the best time to go to Iceland.
Seasons in Iceland
One might think that Iceland is a country where winter lasts most of the year, and the whole territory is constantly covered with snow and ice. It is not so. For much of the year, the Icelandic climate is much more welcoming than you might think.
Of course, since Iceland is located far north, the winter is cold and can last a long time. However, the Gulf Stream, a sea current that leaves from Florida and the Bahamas, travels through the Atlantic Ocean to the coasts to the south and west of Iceland, bringing some warmth.
Geothermal activity is also intense in Iceland, the land of geysers and hot springs. These heat inputs come into contact with cold air from the Arctic, which can often cause dramatic climate changes.
Summer in Iceland
The summer period in Iceland is from the end of May to the middle of August. It is, in fact, the time of the year when the most significant number of visitors come to discover the magnificent landscapes of this country. During the summer, the days are very long in Iceland. During this time of the year, the sun never really sets quite. It is the famous “midnight sun“.
In the days preceding and following the summer solstice (June 21), this natural phenomenon is most impressive. From June 18 to 26, the sun does not reach the horizon until after midnight in Iceland. Watching sunsets that never seem to end in these sumptuous landscapes is a real privilege.
Best time to visit Iceland
Summer is the best time to travel to Iceland if you want to take long nature trips and discover all the contrast of the landscapes of this country, with its waterfalls, geysers, mountains and glaciers. Some areas of the country, such as the Landmannalaugar Valley, are inaccessible during the rest of the year, and summer is the season of choice for hiking enthusiasts.
When it comes to the weather, expect anything! On average, temperatures are close to 15 degrees, but in summer in Iceland, you could very well have a bright sun and a thermometer that reads 25 degrees one day and have to take out the coats the next day. Even if it is rarely less than 10 degrees, the strong wind can make it feel freezing.
Summer is also the time when cities are the busiest. For example, you can attend the Secret Solstice music festival (June 21), Independence Day (June 17) or even the Reykjavík Culture Night (August 20).
Autumn in Iceland
From the end of August, autumn sets in, and it lasts until the end of October. During this time of year, temperatures gradually decrease, but they are still relatively pleasant. It is ideal if you want to discover Iceland differently and admire the beautiful colours that cover the vegetation.
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In autumn, tourist attendance is much lower. You can take advantage of your stay to explore the country’s national parks, such as Thingvellir, Snæfellsjökull and Vatnajökull. At the very end of fall, you might even have the chance to enjoy the first snowfall and see an Aurora Borealis.
Winter in Iceland
From the beginning of November to the end of March, the days are short during the winter, the temperatures are very cool, the lakes are frozen, and snow covers the mountains and forests. December 21 is the shortest day of the year, during which the sun is up for just over 4 hours …
If you want to discover the island during this period, I strongly advise you to rent a 4×4 in Iceland!
However, do not assume that the temperatures are polar during the Icelandic winter. In Reykjavík, the country’s capital, the average temperature is 2 degrees in winter. For example, it is less cold in Iceland than in New York at this time of year, although the wind can be freezing in the vast wilderness.
During winter in Iceland, you can experience glaciers, icy waterfalls, have a blast in ice caves, and spend time in hot springs to warm you up.
You can also take advantage of the very long nights to see the Northern Lights!
Spring in Iceland
In April and May, snow can still sometimes fall, but the vegetation gradually begins to regain its rights and bloom. Spring is probably not the best time to travel to Iceland since you will not have access to most winter and summer activities.
Although I might advise against this season for the first visit to Iceland, this period can still be exciting if you want to discover the natural landscapes during the low tourist season. It is also at this time of year that migratory birds such as puffins return to the country.
The best time to go to Iceland
Choosing the best period is very difficult since you will have to plan at least two stays to appreciate all that Iceland has to offer. The experience you can have during the winter will be very different from what you can have in the summer, so much so that there is no point in really comparing them.
Summer is undoubtedly the time when you will be able to discover the most things during your trip. The days are long, and the temperatures are often pleasant. It is the only time of year when you can indeed visit the Highlands of Iceland and go on a hike to discover the lava fields and waterfalls.
During this season, you will have every chance to be able to observe the whales in the fjords of the north and west of the country. Summer is also the best time to spend a stay in Reykjavík and discover a lively and particularly welcoming capital.
Winter is the right time to go to Iceland to immerse yourself in the heart of typical winter landscapes, enjoy the calm and admire the tremendous wild expanses covered with a white coat. It is, of course, also the season of the Northern Lights.
When to go to Iceland at the best price?
In Iceland, the period of high tourist influx is between June and November, with an absolute peak in attendance in July and August. The accommodation price is significantly higher during these times but remains very stable throughout the year.
Regarding airline ticket prices, the situation is quite similar. You will be able to find flights at prices reasonable enough to travel from October to May, especially if you book your flight at least 2 or 3 months before your departure date.
To go in summer at the best price, I, therefore, advise you to favour the months of May and June. In addition to saving money, you can visit the north of the country more peacefully at this time of year.
To go in winter at the best price, you can find great opportunities throughout the season. The prices still tend to increase slightly during December.
When to go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights?
For many of us, travelling to Iceland is an opportunity to discover superb landscapes and witness this magical atmospheric phenomenon. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your stay.
The chance to attend this show, all-weather conditions must be met. It will be necessary that the night has fallen, that the sky is less cloudy possible and that solar activity is present. It is from September to March that is the best time of year to see the northern lights.
When to see whales in Iceland?
Another impressive thing you can do during your stay is a sea excursion to whale watching in Iceland. You could see them all year round, but I still advise you to favour certain seasons if you want to maximize your chances and be able to observe certain migratory species.
From May to the end of September, all the conditions are met to see whales in Iceland, especially in the north and west of the country. Companies that organize excursions to the fjords estimate that the chances of seeing these magnificent marine animals during this time are close to 95%.
Going on a whale-watching excursion will be one of the highlights of your stay during your trip to Iceland. In the following lines, you can learn more about Iceland’s whales, the best places to go to see them, and the perfect time to plan your trip.
When to go to Iceland for whale watching?
The good news is that you can get the chance to see whales in Iceland any time of the year. However, if you want to put all the options on your side and observe as many different species as possible, it may be interesting to favour specific periods a little more.
By the way, if you don’t yet know when to go to Iceland, don’t miss my full article on the subject 🙂
The ideal time to see a large number of whales is between May and the end of September. It is at this time of the year that migrating whales pass through this region of the world.
I advise you all the same not to choose the date of your stay only according to the most optimal period for the observation of the whales.
Indeed, even if you see a little less of them at certain times, there are no seasons when you will have trouble observing them. The places that I will present to you in the rest of this post will give you at least a 95% chance of spotting whales all year round.
In addition, the companies that will offer you to see whales will allow you to go back to sea for free the next day, if your first excursion was not satisfactory. So avoid planning your tour for the last day of your stay if you want to benefit from a second chance for free.
Unless you want to devote your entire trip to discovering these majestic animals, then it will be wiser to consider all the other activities you would like to do in Iceland to choose when to go.
Where to go to see whales in Iceland?
Even if you can generally observe whales all over the Icelandic coast, some regions are still favoured. Generally speaking, in the northern and western parts of Iceland, the fjords are most popular with whales.
This small town at the northern end of the country, about 500 kilometres from Reykjavik, is home to just 2,500 residents. However, this does not prevent it from being the European capital of whale watching.
Many visitors come to the region all year round to discover these cetaceans, and this small fishing village has today become a popular tourist destination.
In the bay of Skjálfand, you can see humpback whales, minke whales and white-nosed dolphins. If you are fortunate, you will even have the opportunity to see a blue whale or an orca.
It is, for me, the best place to see whales in Iceland! Be careful. However, it is better to reserve your sites as soon as your dates because it is trendy.
It will cost around € 75 per person.
It is the second-best starting point for whale watching in Iceland (which I was able to test during my third stay in Iceland 🙂)
From the Icelandic capital, you can find excursions that depart from one of the city’s ports or its region, towards the bay of Faxaflói. Reykjavik will allow you to see whales without necessarily having to go to the north of the country. It is a significant advantage if you have not planned to go up to the island’s north!
It is probably not during these small cruises that you will have the opportunity to see a vast number of whale specimens. Still, they will allow you to see minke whales, porpoises and dolphins, without the need to devote more than half a day to it during your stay in Iceland.
So I would say the second choice (but a good choice anyway if you are not going to the north) for whale watching in Iceland! The price is the same, around € 75. Again, it is better to reserve your seats to avoid unpleasant surprises (often more availability).
Akureyri is the second-largest city in the country and the only metropolis in northern Iceland. After Husavik, it is undoubtedly the quietest place to go to see whales, especially if your trip takes place during the winter. Less out of the way and more accessible than Husavik, this city will often be the best choice if you don’t want to spend more than a day or two discovering whales during your trip to Iceland.
If you go to Husavik in winter, you should go on a 4×4 rental in Iceland because the roads will not be passable otherwise with a small city car!
You will have no trouble finding companies that organize daily excursions in Eyjafjörður fjord., during which you can admire humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins and porpoises.
4. Dalvik and Hjalteyri
A bit further north, you can also reach Dalvik, a small fishing village where you can go out to sea to observe whales. This village is located in the Eyjafjörður region, just over half an hour’s drive from Akureyri.
Between Akureyri and Dalvik, you will have the opportunity to go to Hjalteyri. In this tiny village, don’t expect to find big tour companies, but you can head out into the fjord for a small, almost private cruise, during which you are virtually guaranteed to see humpback whales and minke whales.
The different species of whales that live in Iceland
If Iceland is one of the best places in the world for whale watching, it is above all thanks to the cold and warm currents that intersect in this region of the North Atlantic. Icelandic waters are very rich in fish of all types, which is bound to be a food source that attracts whales.
During your trip to Iceland, you may have the chance to see several species of whales evolve in their natural environment:
- The humpback whale: is probably the most famous whale after the blue whale. This animal, about fifteen meters long and about 30 tons, is very shy. In Iceland, you will have a perfect chance of being able to see them jump out of the water.
- The minke whale, also called the Minke’s whale, is the most individuals in Icelandic waters. Measuring ten meters and weighing a maximum of ten tons is a charming animal that enjoys contact with humans. If you travel during the summer, there is every chance you can see a minke whale specimen up close.
- The blue whale is the largest animal on the planet, reaching over 30 meters in length and weighing almost 200 tonnes. It is a rare species, and if you are fortunate, you may spot it off the coast of Húsavík.
- The fin whale is the second-largest living animal on earth. It measures about twenty meters and often more than 60 tons. You can see it all over the Icelandic coast.
- The sei whale is a little smaller than the fin whale, and it can measure up to 20 meters and weigh around 30 tons.
In addition to all these whales, you will also be able to discover several species of cetaceans in Iceland, such as harbour porpoises and white-nosed dolphins. On the occasion of an excursion to find the whales, you could also have the lovely surprise of seeing large sperm whales and orcas.
The price and course of the excursions
From any point of departure and throughout the year, you will find excursions starting at around € 75. Therefore, the price will not be a criterion of choice, and I advise you to choose the place where you will go to discover the whales of Iceland according to the time you will have to live this experience.
These excursions last between 2 and 3 hours and will allow you to go in search of whales aboard a traditional Icelandic boat, in the company of a specialized guide. The crew members will provide suits to keep you warm. However, do not hesitate to take the initiative, cover yourself well, and provide gloves and a hat. The trip to sea lasts several hours, and I advise you to protect yourself well not to turn this unique experience into a bad memory.
Some companies also provide for the possibility of having hot or cold drinks during the excursion. If you have booked your tour, always plan to arrive at least 20 minutes before the departure time.
If you want to take some pictures during your excursion to immortalize this moment, here are some tips for successful photos :
- Your camera needs to have fast autofocus and high shutter speed to take beautiful shots of these animals, which often appear stealthily. Set your camera to speed priority mode at 1/750 s minimum.
- If possible, prefer images in Raw mode, which can be corrected later, optimize the colour balance.
- Avoid zooming in too much. It isn’t easy to know exactly where the whales appear to you. Instead, take a wide shot, which you can crop later.
- Whales are not very afraid of humans and can sometimes get very close to boats. If possible, plan two goals to be prepared for any scenario.
- Whales come to the surface to breathe by following a cycle. After remaining immersed for up to 20 minutes, they will rise to the surface several times very closely. If you missed the first appearance of a whale, don’t panic, it will come up again several times in the seconds that follow, so you will have time to prepare and even change your objective if necessary.
Best time to visit Iceland
Aurora Borealis Iceland
Do you dream of going to observe the Northern Lights in Iceland? Me too, and it’s been done since this year 🙂 What a treat. It was AMAZING!
Iceland is a country that many travellers dream of, and it’s not very hard to see why!
This country offers so many landscapes and natural phenomena to discover, between fjords, volcanoes, ice caves, and of course, the northern lights.
Admiring this atmospheric event so particular is part of the experiences to live at least once in a lifetime; Iceland is one of the best places to admire this phenomenon. Here is a short guide that will tell you when to go and how to put the odds in your favour to observe the Northern Lights in Iceland.
What is an aurora borealis?
The Aurora Borealis is the name given to the northern lights that take place at the North Pole. It is a natural phenomenon characterized by the appearance of coloured streaks in the sky. The Northern Lights occur when particles emanate from our sun enter our atmosphere at a very high speed.
For those who want to know a little more (yes, yes, I did my research! 🙂), several atoms are present in our atmosphere, particular nitrogen and oxygen. When the particles carried by the solar winds come into contact with these atoms, light radiation is produced. These can take on many colours, mostly green, red, and purple, creating this fantastic and beautiful phenomenon of Aurora Borealis.
When to go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights?
The ideal time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is from September to March. During the Icelandic winter, this phenomenon occurs most regularly, although it is possible to observe the Northern Lights as early as late summer and early autumn.
If you had to pick just one month to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, I would recommend January.
It is by planning your trip for the beginning of the year, during January, that you will have every chance of being able to admire the most robust Northern Lights. The nights are longer during this period, and you can sometimes even enjoy this atmospheric phenomenon from the early evening. It is when the sky is perfectly dark that the Northern Lights are easiest to observe.
Discover the Northern Lights in Iceland
Going to Iceland at the right time will be a good start, but to indeed have the chance to see the Northern Lights, there are two great options available to you. You can go looking for them or use the services of an agency to let you guide and enjoy excursions where will organize everything for you (they know in particular the best places to observe the Northern Lights).
Personally, this is the option we have chosen. I didn’t want to manage the equipment to last the night (coffee, tea and chairs) and then drive to the hotel afterwards or sleep well in the car. The guide was also excellent and gave us some tips for the rest of our road trip to Iceland. Our excursion was from Reykjavik and cost € 45 per person. For more details, we booked on this site.
Several excursions are available; they will often depart from Reykjavik and will offer you to admire the Northern Lights by bus or minibus. Also departing from Reykjavik, it is also possible to explore the northern lights on the occasion of a small guided cruise in Faxaflói bay.
Where to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?
If you prefer to go looking for the Northern Lights on your own, the first thing to do is get away from the cities.
Maximize your chances of enjoying this unique natural spectacle, the sky must be very dark, and virtually no light source disturbing visibility.
However, the moon is a bit special. The more it is present, the less dark the night will be, making the Northern Lights less intense. However, unlike artificial light pollution sources, such as city lights or car headlights, moonlight will mainly affect the nuances of hues and contrasts of the Northern Lights. But will not prevent you from enjoying a magnificent spectacle, even in the event of a full moon. If you prefer the Northern Lights with more vibrant colours, still prefer the periods when the moon is absent or new.
If these conditions are met, you will be able to see stunning Northern Lights in Iceland all over the place during the winter season.
For our part, we had decided to rent a 4×4 in Iceland for our ten-day road trip. It was our second road trip in Iceland, after our seven days in Iceland in 2018.
Best time to visit Iceland
Reykjavik, which is the capital of Iceland and home to just over 120,000 inhabitants, will not be the ideal place to observe the sky due to the many lights in the city. But by simply stepping away a few miles, you may find places that are ideally suited to view the Northern Lights. Álftanesfor example, about fifteen minutes by car from the capital, is a trendy place for photographers. We were able to have an evening there, and it was SUBLIME! A real feast for the eyes 🙂
Among the other places notably indicated to contemplate the Northern Lights, you can go to the southeast of Iceland, to the lagoon of Jökulsárlón. In addition to being one of the most beautiful places in the country, this site will be perfect for enjoying unforgettable northern lights.
It is where we photographed the most beautiful Aurora Borealis in Iceland. The shades of green were crazy! A MAGNIFICENT show!
You can also reach the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which is accessible by bus from Reykjavik. This place, which inspired Jules Verne for his Voyage to the Center of the Earth, is home to the highest volcano in Iceland, the Snæfellsjökull, a symbol of the country. It is truly a privileged place for observing the sky. Admire the aurora borealis above a volcano or a glacier; admit that it makes you want to!
The ideal weather conditions to see the Northern Lights
It will probably not surprise you, but to fully enjoy the spectacle offered by the Northern Lights in Iceland, the sky will have to be clear, and no clouds will obstruct the visibility. But in this country, the weather can be temperamental and change quickly. It won’t always be easy to predict the best time to go looking for the Northern Lights. In addition to a clear sky, it will also be necessary for solar activity to be there so that all the conditions are indeed met.
To help you find the ideal time, you can consult this page in particular. At first glance, this may seem quite complex, but don’t worry: an indicator at the top right of this page will give you the preliminary information at a glance. The higher the number of “Aurora Forecast”, the greater the Northern Lights’ chance to appear. The map on the page also makes it easy to find areas where cloud cover will be the least disturbing. These areas are those that appear in white.
It is possible to find the forecast at least 48 hours in advance, but it will always be helpful to check if the conditions have changed before setting out in search of these Northern Lights.
Finding the Northern Lights in Iceland in the sky, easy?
Often, at the time of their appearance, the Northern Lights can be of low intensity. For an untrained eye, it can then be quite challenging to detect them correctly. Fortunately, your camera, which has more sensitive sensors than the human eye, can help you if in doubt. By taking a photo of the sky with a reasonably long exposure time of a few seconds, you should see streaks of colour (mainly green) appear on your print. If not, you can continue your search.
Usually, the Northern Lights last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. They often face north, but some light trails may block the sky from east to west. If an aurora borealis forms early in the evening, there is a good chance that the phenomenon will recur a little later. If you arrive a little late on the spot, or if you know that an aurora has formed earlier near your location, then you will have a perfect chance of being able to admire another in the same place in the following hours.
How to photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland?
Of course, you will probably want to immortalize this magical moment, and there are a few simple tips to help you achieve successful shots. It will be essential to have a camera allowing you to choose a manual mode.
Today, many models offer this option, and this is even possible with certain smartphones equipped with high-performance photosensors.
If your camera allows it, first set it to the infinity symbol and then adjust the focus. Focusing at night is not necessarily easy. To help you, you can take a very bright star as a reference point.
A tripod will be essential to obtain quality photographs (especially if you do not want to blur !!!).
The Northern Lights are constantly in motion, and the stability offered by the tripod will allow you to choose a longer exposure time, and therefore get sharper shots.
The shutter speed will need to be adjusted according to the brightness and speed of the northern lights. For the more active, you can opt for a rate between 5 and 10 seconds. You can set your device between 12 and 20 seconds for a slower or lower intensity Aurora Borealis.
It is also good to know that the batteries in our devices tend to drain more quickly when it is cold, so it will be wiser to provide spare batteries. Likewise, you will need enough storage space, as getting the right photo can take time. To provide one or more extra memory cards.
Best time to visit Iceland