When is the best time to visit Iceland ? This is a frequent question but the truth is: anytime of the year. There are so many amazing things to see and do in Iceland. However, as many of you write to me asking about specific sights, I decided to gather my answers in this post to help you plan your trip accordingly: best time to visit Iceland for northern lights, puffins, puffins, lupin flowers, whales... And the best times of the years to visit Iceland and avoid the crowds.
Plus at the end, I did a pros and cons month by month.
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OVERALL - When is the best time to visit Iceland in 2019?
Visual overview - every year
It really depends on what you want to see.
The article below, gives your explanation about where and how to see all those special sights, but here is an overview picture to help you identify the best time for you to visit Iceland:
Specifics for 2019
Things to consider if planning a trip to Iceland in 2019:
- March 22-24 - Iceland Winter Games
- June: Reykjavik Arts Festival
- June 17 - Icelandic National Day
- August 6 to 11 (to be confirmed) - Reykjavik Pride
- There is a discussion to change time to a daylight saving hour - forum ongoing, no decision at this time
You can see the complete list of festivals and events here
Best month to visit Iceland
I think Beginning of September is the absolute best time to visit Iceland because:
- Roads are in good conditions
- The day is long enough to be able to see many Iceland Attractions
- There is enough night time to have a chance to see the Northern Lights
- There are less tourists than in Summer but accommodations are still open
- The Central Highlands roads are normally still opened
It is my opinion that it is the best time to see Iceland generally but it does not take into account your wishes for special sights. So let's have a look in more details.
CONDITIONS - Best times of the year to visit Iceland (Daytime, weather, crowds...)
Length of the days
Because of its Northern Latitude, sunrise and sunset times in Iceland vary greatly. So depending on when you visit the country, your might be limited in terms of light and can see more and less locations during the day.
Below are the amount of daylights to expect for different periods of the year
- March - 10 to 13 hours of daylight
- April & May - 13 to 20 hours of daylight
- June - 20 to 24 hours of daylight
- July & August - 15 to 20 hours of daylight
- September & October - 8 to 14 hours of daylight
- November to February - 4h30 to 8 hours fo daylight
It is also important to consider how long nighttime is to see the Northern lights (more on that later).
If you are planning an Iceland road trip with plenty of daylight, consider using my eBook with practical maps and detailed information to plan your day effectively and see all the most beautiful locations:
WEATHER - Best time to travel to Iceland
I don't recommend using weather as your first criteria for the best time to visit Iceland as it is very unpredictable. In the same day you can see the blue sky, get rain, experience strong windy moments and even get snow!
You don't come to Iceland for the weather. Any conditions will render the landscapes magical. Just have a look at Jokulsarlon below:
You should just know that it can be cold in Summer and it is actually not as cold as we imagine in Winter. For example:
- Average temperatures in January are between -3°C and 2°C (not the -20 we were all imagining...)
- Average Iceland Summer temperatures : 8 to 15°C
How to avoid the crowds in Iceland
Of course the Summer months are the more crowded.
Actually the land is so vast that you don't feel in when driving. You feel the crowds at each of the famous locations e.g. Golden Circle, Jokulsarlon, Seljalandsfoss.
- Therefore I recommend traveling in April/May or September/October
- If you really want to travel in Summer, then you either go very early to avoid the crowds (lots of daylight hours) or you go to less visited areas such as the Westfjords.
CONDITIONS - Best time to go to Iceland
Driving might be one of the most important things to consider when deciding the best time for you to visit Iceland:
- The F roads to the magnificent Central Highlands are opened only from Mid June to September (depending on conditions)
- Apart from Road 1, ice and snow will be your driving partners from November to March - The blog Anxious adventures has great photos of what you can expect when driving in Iceland in Winter.
You can also check my article on How to visit Iceland in Winter
There are more and more accommodations in Iceland so it might change. But keep in mind (at least for a couple of years):
- In Summer there are many tourists and accommodations are full very quickly
- In Winter, there are not many opened accommodations so they also get booked quickly
- The shoulder months of May and September are maybe the easier time to find accommodation in Iceland
In any case, if you plan on visiting remote locations in Iceland, you should book your hotels or guesthouses in advance. Check out my Iceland Accommodations Article for general information and 12 suggestions with personal reviews.
Best time to see the NORTHERN LIGHTS in Iceland
The northern lights, also called aurora borealis, are lights (often green) which seems to dance in the sky. To be able to see them, you need a dark night and a clear sky.
So when is the best time to visit Iceland for the Northern lights?
Best time of the year
The best months to see the Northern Lights are from late September to March, when there are enough night time to be able to see them.
Is there a month with guaranteed viewing ?
No, there are no guarantees. It depends on the solar activities and the cloud coverage. When the sky is all cloudy, you will see nothing at all.
Try not to plan your trip during the full moon. The darker the night the better.
- In remote locations away from any light source
- North Iceland is considered to be better as you have more clear nights
- Facing North is also recommended. Although not a rule - so for example, Kirkjufell is a great location
Practical Guide - Interested in hunting and capturing the Aurora Borealis? Learn more on how to see the northern lights in Iceland with tools to use, how to get ready, tips to photograph the Northern Lights...
Northern Lights excursions
If you don't want to chase them yourself, you should consider organised tours in the evening. There are different options, for example from Reykjavik:
- BUS TOUR - One of the cheapest options is to go on a bus tour. You leave from Reykjavik and the driver takes you to the best spots he knows depending on the forecast - Check out Program, availability and Price
- SMALL GROUP TOUR - This is my favorite options, it is easier to go from one spot to another chasing the northern lights because you can gather everyone more quickly and you can go off the beaten tracks - Check out Program, availability and Price
- NORTHERN LIGHTS CRUISE - A more original option is to go on a boat off the coast of Reykjavik to find the dark and hopefully see the Norther Lights - Check out Program, availability and Price
- A Cruise option is also available from Akureyri in the North - Check out Program, availability and Price
Best time to see WHALES in Iceland
Iceland is a great place to obsersve whales, as they enjoy the cold waters and abundant feeding grounds. Species visiting the island include the orca, minke, humpback and blue whale.
Best time to spot whales in Iceland
- Whales can be seen around Iceland all year
- However more sightings are reported between April and September
- Killer whales are mostly spotted in April and May
Whale watching Boat tours depart mostly from Reykjavik (South West) and Akureyri or Husavik (in the North). The North is considered a better whale watching spot.
Whale excursions options
- Whale watching cruise from Reykjavik, on a boat with heated cabin 🙂 - Check out program and Book
- Whale watching experience from Reykjavik on a speed Boat - Check out program and Book
- 3 hours Whale watching boat trip from Akureyri in the North - Check out program and Book
- Or leave from the Traditional fishing town of Husavik - Check out program and Book
Best time / places to see PUFFINS
The puffin is a strange looking bird with a black back, white underparts, and a distinctive colorful beak.
Best time to see Puffins in Iceland
- Puffins come to the coast to nest from May to Mid-August
- From mid June to mid July, the parents fly back and forth from the sea to the nests with food so it is a great time to observe them
Best places to see them
There are good places to see puffins in both South and North Iceland. However it is way easier to admire them from a boat
Iceland mag has a great article and a map with prime locations to observe the puffins in their natural environment.
As I said, they are easier to observe by boat. There are specialized excursions departing from Reykjavik - Check out this tour with great reviews
Best time to see ICE CAVES in Iceland
Ice caves are cavities that form naturally in a glacier and create strange formations.
November to March. Outside of this period the cave can collapse
Around glaciers... You should not go visit them by yourself. Always go with an experienced guide. Organized tours are available and should be booked in advance
Some might notice a cave in Langjokull toured in summer. This is not an ice cave but a man-made tunnel in the ice.
The Crystal Ice Cave is often considered the most beautiful - Small group tours depart from Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Winter. Seats are limited so it is essential to book your seat.
(check out this article when F-Stoppers went filming a tutorial with Elia Locardi in and ice cave. The video behind the scene shows a lot in the cave and it really looks magical)
Best time to see LUPIN FLOWERS
Although lupin flowers exist in different colors around the world, they are mostly lilac in Iceland.
Lupin flowers normally bloom mid-June, perfect to catch them under the midnight sun
- Driving along the South Coast you will see many fields full of them
- Vik is often surrounded by those flowers
EVENTS and other things to see & when
Best time to see FROZEN WATERFALLS
Iceland is full of various amazing waterfalls but not all freeze during Winter and there are fully frozen mostly in January and February.
Just be careful driving and walking. If the waterfall is frozen, then everything around it too!
Best time for FESTIVALS and EVENTS
Iceland is quite famous for its festivals. I have not been to any but Guide to Iceland has listed its top 10. And for the complete list of festivals head to Visit Iceland (the tourism office website).
Here are a few:
- The viking festival in June
- Many music festival in July and August
- Gay pride in August
- The Yule lads legend around Lake Myvatn before Chritsmas
Want to see a VOLCANO eruption?
Best time: ... when they erupt 🙂
Best place: you never know which one will become active. Although Icelandic people fear that Hekla will erupt soon
As I visisted Iceland, Bardarbunga was active. I could not take a helicopter tour to get closer but on my flight from Reykjavik to Akureyri I spotted the smoke coming from it!
Best MONTH to visit Iceland - pros and cons
Let's summarize month by month to help you decide the best time to visit Iceland for you.
Iceland in Winter - November to February
- Pros - Winter magic, snowy landscapes, frozen waterfalls, ice caves, less tourists
- Cons - Short and colder days, Difficult driving conditions, lower number of open accommodations, no access to Central Highlands
Iceland in March
- Pros - Still snow on landscapes, ice caves are often be accessible, less tourists, some years the weather is beautiful, good balance of night and day
- Cons - Sometimes difficult driving conditions, lower number of open accommodations, no access to the Central Highlands
Iceland in April
- Pros - landscapes on transition (less snow), less tourists, good balance of night and day, higher number of Whales, partly frozen waterfalls
- Cons - Unpredicatble driving conditions, lower number of open accommodations, no access to the Central Highlands
Iceland in May
- Pros - a lot less snow, more roads opened, flowers start popping up, less tourists, higher number of Whales, puffins arrive towards the end of the month
- Cons - no access to the Central Highlands
Iceland in June
- Pros - Midnight sun, high flow for waterfalls, puffins, whales, lupin, the F-roads to the Central Highlands should open during the month
- Cons - Many tourists, no more snow on the landscapes, no chance of seeing the northern lights
Iceland in Summer - July and August
- Pros - warmer weather, long days, puffins (until end July), whales, high flow for waterfalls, access to the Central Highlands
- Cons - Many tourists, no more snow on the landscapes, low chance of seeing the northern lights
Iceland in September
- Pros - good balance day-night, higher chances to see Northern light, whales, high flow for waterfalls, roads to the Central Highlands should still opened, Autumns colors
- Cons - Less greenery, getting colder
Iceland in Autumn - October
- Pros - good balance day-night, higher chances to see Northern lights, Road conditions still OK, autumn colors, snow appear on some landscapes
- Cons - No access to the Central Highlands, rainiest month, getting colder
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO ICELAND
Want more help to plan your trip to Iceland?
All theses locations, along with many other beautiful places, are included in my eBook: The Road Trip Guide - Iceland.
It is a practical tool to plan your trip with maps, photos, planning tips, GPS coordinates...
Want to see more of Iceland's beauty?
Any other question? Leave a comment below