Best Time to Visit IcelandBy Meg Jernigan; Updated June 08, 2017
The best days and nights to experience Iceland
That investment in a top-of-the-line camera seems wasted without some outstanding shots to share with your friends. Iceland, the “Land of Fire and Ice,” offers two very different options for travelers. The Northern Lights weave across the sky during long winter nights. In the summer, daylight lengthens as the Summer Solstice nears.
Long winter nights and even longer summer days
The sun shines for almost 24 hours a day during the summer in Iceland. In the northwest region of the country known as the Westfjords, the sun never sets on the late June summer solstice. The pattern reverses in the winter, when the sun rises in the late morning and sets in early afternoon, sometimes appearing for less than three hours. In the winter, some roads are closed because of the weather, but you'll find great opportunities for winter sports. Spring and fall see fewer visitors and higher temperatures, as well as lower prices for popular tourist sites and services. No matter the season, pack outfits you can layer for the changing weather.
Is it really icy?
Despite its location near the Arctic Circle, Iceland enjoys a milder climate than you might imagine. The Gulf Stream warms the country’s southern and western shores, and winter can be milder than the same season in the northeast U.S. That same warm flow sometimes clashes with cold Arctic air, creating sudden storms and changes in the weather. Even though the sun stays up long hours during the summer, days are frequently cloudy and cool. Winter weather can be forbidding because of the long nights and severe snowstorms. No matter the time of year you visit, bring a swimsuit so you can take a dip in one of the many geothermal pools.
When to miss the crowds
The high tourist season runs from late May to early September in Iceland when a majority of international visitors arrive by plane and cruise ship. Winter is the second busiest, spring the least. Attractions like the Geysir hot springs and the Skógafoss waterfall are among Iceland’s top destinations. Expect crowds in the summer. Some areas, such as the Westfjords and the interior highlands, see far fewer tourists than the southern coast and the capital city year-round.
Traveling around Iceland
Getting to Iceland may be easier than getting around once you’re there. The country is a short flight from the East Coast. A paved highway circles the island, but interior roads are typically loose gravel. Since public transportation is limited, consider taking a guided tour rather than renting a car and joining the crowds on the roads.
The Northern Lights
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is breathtaking. Colored bands of green, yellow and violet undulate across the sky, creating a moving canvas it’s impossible to ignore. Visit in winter, when long nights bring the aurora to the fore, but keep in mind that’s there’s no guarantee the lights will appear, even in the winter. Plan to take long exposures with a good camera for the best results if you’re there to take pictures. You’ll be surprised by how many of the variations in color the naked eye misses.
More Travel Content
- Iceland Magazine: How long are the summer days in Iceland?
- Lonely Planet: Iceland, When to go and weather
- Visit Iceland: Practical Information
- Icelandic Met Office: Icelandic Climate
- Tourism in Iceland in Figures (see page 8)
- Visit Iceland: Driving in Iceland
- Space.com: How Cameras Reveal the Northern Lights’ True Colors