You’ve already made the big decision. Your trip is going to be to the magical land of waterfalls, glaciers, the Northern Lights, volcanoes, and black sand beaches. Congratulations on your excellent taste in tourism destinations. So now that you’ve decided where to go, the next big question is WHEN. What is the best month to visit Iceland? You’ve probably heard (or read on travel forums) that summer is incredible. But then what about all the think you miss out on during the summer, like the Aurora Borealis or trekking in Vatnajökull’s ice caves? Well, there is something to be said for visiting at different times of the year. Iceland magically transforms, depending on the month you fly here. The seasons are so different that it can feel like two different countries! Let’s take a look at the various periods to choose from and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Visiting During the Summer Months
The jury is still out on whether or not June, July and August are the best months to visit Iceland. They are certainly the most popular. It’s easy to see why. The country has thawed from its winter permafrost. White landscapes blanketed with snow have been replaced by lush green fields and rolling meadows. The melted covering has once again revealed colorful scenery in places like Landmannalaugar hiking area, Askja crater lake, and Hverir geothermal area. And what about the Midnight Sun? Nearly endless days mean plenty of hours for outdoor pursuits such as visiting the Golden Circle, the Diamond Circle, Snaefellsness peninsula, and iconic waterfalls such as Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Not to mention all of the outdoor festivals. There’s something for everyone, from various music festivals to art festivals Gay Pride to swamp soccer to Viking festivals.
Disadvantages of Traveling to Iceland in the June, July, and August
The downside of coming during the summer is, of course, the crowds. Everyone is jostling for a spot as the number of people on the island swells. Most services like car rental and outdoor activities have all been booked up, likely up to six months in advance. Places like Laugavegur street in downtown Reykjavik feel packed to the gills with foreigners wandering around. If you’re not into dealing with tons of other travelers at popular sights and landmarks, I’d suggest steering clear of Iceland during high season.
Fall and Spring Travel in Iceland
Fall and spring in Iceland are probably not the traditional months that you’re thinking of. Both are quite compact, with fall lasting just the two short months of September and October. Winter hangs on for a long while, so spring doesn’t really start to make an appearance until April or May.
Visiting during shoulder season is great because you get the some of the benefits of summer (the weather isn’t entirely unbearable) mixed with some things you would otherwise miss in the summer (the Northern Lights for example). Visiting in either fall or spring means the perfect blend of nice (enough) weather, fewer crowds, and both summer and winter activities. You should note, however, that you won’t be able to visit Iceland’s Highlands or drive on F-roads if you don’t visit in the summer.
I can’t really think of too many disadvantages of visiting Iceland during these months. If you’re Goldilocks and months out of the year are the proverbial porridge, then fall and spring are just right. You’ll find lower prices (though not as low as in the winter), a good amount of daylight for your activities, and you’ll feel that in general, you’ll have the island to yourself.
Visiting During the Winter Months
Iceland’s winter is long, stretch from November all the way to the end of March. This is considered the low season as far as tourism is concerned. There are several pros and cons to visiting during shoulder season (fall and spring) as well as during December, January, and February. The most obvious benefit is the drop in prices that occurs after the vast majority of tourists have left the island. You’ll find steep discounts on everything from car and campervan rental to hotel and other accommodations. Some companies offer up to 30-50% off of their products and services. If you’re looking to save money, this is the cheapest time of year to come to Iceland.
Disadvantages of Winter Travel in Iceland
A winter trip to Iceland certainly has some serious drawbacks. Not enough that would prevent you from coming, but many people think twice after weighing the benefits and disadvantages. One of the most significant issues is the climate and the weather. Winter storms can threaten to derail your travel plans at a moment’s notice. They are not only dangerous but if you have a flight to catch or a strict schedule to keep, having to delay by a day or two due to a storm can be a total disaster. I’m not saying that you’ll have a winter storm, but it’s a possibility that you’ll want to keep in mind the best month to visit Iceland. Check the weather forecast frequently.
On a related note, it’s also extremely cold in Iceland during the winter. Temperatures hover right around freezing for several months and can frequently dip below. It’s important to dress well so that you can stay warm and dry should you choose to travel during this time of year.
Lastly, there’s the reduced daylight you’ll experience. With days as short as four or five hours in December, you’ll definitely have to cut back on your planned daily activities. Sunshine is precious during Iceland’s long winter so make sure you plan accordingly.
What is the Best Month to Visit Iceland?
As you can see, there is no “best” month to visit Iceland. It all depends on your preferences and travel style, activities you want to do, things you want to see. What vehicle you want to rent and a whole host of other factors are also part of the equation. Weigh the pros and cons, decide what’s important to you, and make an informed decision about your best month for visiting Iceland.