The Best Time to Visit Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland Winter
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While there are many unique travel opportunities, various adventures, and great events here year-round, most people agree that the best time to visit Iceland is in June when the weather starts to warm up and the country experiences 24 hours of sunlight.

However, if you're planning your first trip to Iceland, the best time of year to explore this Nordic island nation really depends on what you're looking for—whether you prefer warmer weather and outdoor events or you don't mind a little bit of cold for a great nightlife scene.

When it comes to deciding what time is right for your trip, you should consider when to expect the biggest and smallest crowds, warmest or coldest weather, and highest or lowest costs for airfare and accommodations.

Peak, Shoulder, and Off Seasons for Tourism

Undoubtedly, July through the early August is the busiest time of year for Iceland's tourism industry, but crowd sizes and travel prices start going up in May and June and don't really start going down until September. If you're looking to avoid lots of tourists and save money on your trip while still being able to access popular attractions, you might consider visiting in the shoulder season, which happens from early April to mid-June and mid-September to early November each year. 

The dead of winter, which runs from early December through mid-March, is the official off-season for Iceland, but a boom in year-round tourism since 2008 has resulted in prices for airfare and accommodations stabilizing over the years as more travelers have discovered the joys of this Nordic country's coldest season.

However, you can still find great prices on last-minute airfare and even some special travel deals from the United States this time of year.

When to See Natural Phenomena in Iceland

Known as a country of mystical landscapes and breathtaking vistas, one of the main reasons people visit Iceland is to enjoy its natural phenomena, including the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), the Midnight Sun, and the Polar Nights.

While nearby Norway may be home to the best places to see the Northern Lights, there are plenty of great spots in northern Iceland to catch a glimpse if you from mid-October through March, a period known as the Polar Nights when the country experiences up to 19 hours of darkness a day. However, if you're a creature of the sun, you may prefer to travel in the summer instead when the Midnight Sun results in over 20 hours of daylight from June through August.

Summer: Great Events, Long Days, and Nice Weather

Summer in Iceland is one of the best times to visit because the weather is pleasant and the sun barely sets. If you'd prefer longer days to explore the outdoors and hike the defrosted fjords, you'll love that there are about 20 hours of daylight (on average) each month of this season.

The summer kicks off early with end-of-spring events popping up around the country in May and continuing into June, the dryest month of the year. Next, July is the warmest month of summer, with an average temperature of a pleasant 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the weather in Iceland usually stays mild until late August.

Along with seasonal events—including outdoor concerts and festivals celebrating art, culture, and music—Iceland provides ample opportunity during the summer to explore the highlands and thawed fjords, swim in crystal-clear mountain lakes, and hike around the gorgeous island landscape.

The drawback to summer, though, is that prices are generally higher across the board—on food, accommodations, attractions, rentals, and airfare. Additionally, lines are longer, hotels fill up, and restaurants run out of room on their reservation lists as tourists flock to the most popular spots during the long daylight hours of Iceland's summer.

Winter: Mildly Cold With a Thriving Nightlife Scene

Don't let the name Iceland fool you: The winters here aren't particularly bad; temperatures average 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the lowlands and 14 degrees Fahrenheit in the highlands for most of the season. However, temperatures can dip down to 22 degrees below zero in the northern part of the country, so you'll want to avoid that area if you visit during the winter.

Summer has the benefit of long days but come winter, daylight shrinks to about five hours in a period called the Polar Nights.

If you can endure little sunlight, the question of when to visit Iceland suddenly becomes much harder because Iceland also has many bolder things to offer in winter: never-ending nightlife in Reykjavik, infinite chances to view the Northern Lights, and plenty of outdoor snow activities such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

The colder part of the year is also when flight prices to Iceland fall drastically and local hotels suddenly cut prices by more than half. Budget travelers wondering when to go to Iceland should aim for February or March because those months have more daylight than the earlier winter months but still the smallest crowds and the lowest prices.

Spring and Fall: Unique Adventures in the Shoulder Seasons

As the crowds pick up and die down in spring and fall, respectively, Iceland offers a unique variety of activities and events to entice shoulder season travelers, including the annual Iceland Airwaves Music Festival in Reykjavik in November and the arrival of puffins to the island in April. In both of these shoulder season, you might also catch some special deals for flights, hotels, and resorts in May as summer destinations begin to open or when they start to close in late October. 

While some attractions might not yet be open in March or April, which is the best time to see the snow giving way to lush greenery and wildlife, you're sure to find plenty worthy of exploring. Spring is particularly great for taking unique destinations like the many remote hot springs spread across the country whose access roads were buried under snow all winter.

However, if you visit in September through mid-October, you'll have an even better opportunity to enjoy the hot spring since there will be fewer crowds and you won't have to rely on snow melting to access these remote destinations. Additionally, some of the best opportunities to see the Northern Lights are on clear autumn nights in late October through early December, before winter weather settles in and blocks the view with thick clouds.