The mystical Northern Lights, plunging waterfalls, ancient glaciers, world class whale watching, and milky blue hot springs – these are just some of the highlights of visiting the folklore-rich island of Iceland.
When you know the best time to visit Iceland, you’ll be able to make the most of your trip. If you’re planning your first trip to Iceland, it’s a good idea to plan your stay at the right time of year.
The best time to visit Iceland really depends on what you’re going to see and do on your trip. There are pros and cons for visiting during different parts of the year, as you’ll see in our guide.
Planning to view the ethereal Northern Lights? You’ll want to make sure you’re going when they’re most visible and active – typically between August and April.
Hoping to explore the otherworldly landscape, take in natural wonders, or go whale watching? You’ll have the best luck when it’s warmest outside – the months of June, July, and August.
And if you want the ultimate Icelandic trip where you can experience a little bit of everything, you’ll want to plan your trip when all or most of these events overlap. We’ll show you the best time to visit Iceland and scratch all your must-see, must-do activities off your bucket list in this guide.
Learn when to visit Iceland for the best look at this country’s renowned natural wonders in our travel guide!
Why You Should Visit Iceland
Iceland is known for its breathtaking natural wonders and otherworldly landscape. This island country is dotted with massive waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, and even black sand beaches.
Situated in the icy Arctic, most people don’t visit Iceland to take in the “usual” island activities. Instead, people go to Iceland to see the natural beauty this country has to offer. One of the main reasons Iceland is a bucket-list location for many is the chance to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis).
This ethereal, colorful display in the skies over Iceland draws millions of visitors each year and is a wonder to behold in person. You have to go at the right time of year to have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in all their glory (we’ll get to that in the next section).
People flock to Iceland in the summer months partly because the sun never sets! From the end of May until the end of June, Iceland gets 24 hours of sunlight each day.
This makes it a popular destination for those ready to shake off the winter blues and take in maximum sunshine. With countless natural wonders, unique land formations, wildlife spotting opportunities, and more, Iceland deserves to be a destination on your must-visit travel list.
Read Next: The Best Things to Do in Iceland
Overall Best Time to Visit Iceland
Overall, the best time to visit Iceland is between May and September. This is a pretty wide range, so your trip preferences can help you narrow down exactly when to go.
May to Mid-June
Visiting during May through mid-June is ideal for most people. The snow’s melting, the crowds are thin, and outdoor activities and events are ramping up. The Northern Lights are at or near optimal visibility during this time.
Airfare and accommodations pricing tends to be a little lower during this “shoulder season” before the main tourist season in the summer. This makes May to mid-June one of the most ideal times to visit Iceland.
Mid-June to August
Iceland’s peak tourist season is at the height of summer (mid-June through August), when temperatures are warmest.
Whale watching is at its best, the sun never sets (May 21 – June 30), and the Northern Lights become more active and visible in August. However, the tourist crowds are thick this time of year and accommodations and airfare prices rise as a result.
During the start of fall in Iceland, temperatures start to dip and leaves on the trees begin to change color for a fantastic display. September is the wettest month, so you’ll want to prepare and bring raincoats if you visit during this month!
You’ll notice fewer tourists during September and cheaper airfare, accommodations, and rental car prices during this month. The Northern Lights are visible, but are not at their optimal visibility until October-April.
Cheapest Time to Visit Iceland
If making your trip affordable is your main goal, the cheapest time to visit is the best time to visit Iceland. That’s during the off seasons.
This runs from September to November and January to May. During these months, airfare ticket prices to Iceland are at their cheapest because the demand is lower.
September to November
The slowly-dropping temperatures and increased rainfall from September to November contribute to this being a less popular time to visit – and what makes it so much cheaper.
You’ll have great views of the Northern Lights during this time and plenty of activities to take in (including Iceland’s Winter Lights Festival). As long as you prepare with the right rain and cold weather gear, that won’t stop you from making the most of your Iceland adventure!
January to May
From January to May, Iceland moves from its coldest months (January-February) with daily highs around 36F.
In March, April, and May, temperatures warm up to highs around 48F, making your trip a little more comfortable. You’ll also have ideal opportunities to explore the natural wonders with moderate temperatures and thawing snow during this time.
Least Busy Time to Visit Iceland
The off-peak season in Iceland has two parts: September-November and January-May. You’ll have wildly different experiences during each of these periods, but the one thing they have in common is fewer tourists.
If you want wide-open spaces, cheaper tickets and stay prices due to lower demand, and shorter wait times, visiting during the least busy seasons is the best time to visit Iceland.
September to November
Go in September or November if you plan to do lots of outdoor exploring. The Northern Lights put on a fabulous show at this time of year and will be a highlight of your trip.
Temperatures range from about 50F to 39F, getting colder as you reach the end of November. Overall, moderate temperatures and excellent opportunities for outdoor activities make this a great time to visit if you want smaller crowds.
January to May
If you visit during the other off-season, January to May, temperatures will be cooler, especially in January and February. These are the coldest, darkest months of the year in Iceland and have just 4-6 hours of daylight.
From March to May, temperatures rise to highs around 48-50F, which is perfect for outdoor exploring and taking in the sights. You should have good visibility of the Northern Lights during this time, too. And with fewer crowds driving the price up, you’ll have a cheaper Iceland vacation as well!
Worst Time to Visit Iceland
We’ve talked about the best time to visit Iceland, but what about the worst? There’s really no bad time to visit Iceland because there are pros and cons to visit in every season.
But if you’re trying to keep your trip affordable and avoid large crowds of tourists, the worst time to visit Iceland is during the peak season from July to August. It’s a shame, because the weather is temperate and warmest during these months.
But with this break from the cold and rain comes throngs of excited tourists ready to bask in the sunshine. With increased flights and more demand for accommodations and rental cars, the prices spike to visit Iceland from July to August.
Visibility of the Northern Lights is minimal because the sun is out for much of the day – 15 to 22 hours a day – during this time. If seeing these dancing lights in the sky is part of the reason for your trip, July and August (and all the summer months) are the worst time to visit.
More Things to Consider
Now you know the best time to visit Iceland (and the worst), but what else should you know? Here are a few more helpful pointers to consider when you plan your trip to Iceland.
- Bring cold weather gear for fall and winter visits. From November to February, temperatures hang in the low to mid 30s (Fahrenheit). You’ll need to bring cold weather gear if you plan to explore outdoors during this time.
- Prepare for lots of or very little sun. During summer months, Iceland gets anywhere from 15 to 24 hours of sunlight each day. It’s known as Iceland’s Midnight Sun. That can be a bonus or a drawback, depending on what you want. During December and January, Iceland gets as little as 4-6 hours of sunlight each day. Keep the nonstop light/darkness in mind when you’re planning when to visit!
- Get away from the city to see the Northern Lights. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is likely where you’re considering staying. But if you want the best view of the Northern Lights, getting away from the city a bit will increase your chances. The lights from the city can dim your view.
- Go during fall/winter for the best Northern Lights experience. During fall and winter, there are fewer hours of sunlight in Iceland. That increases the visibility of the Northern Lights, so if that’s on your bucket list, it’s worth braving the limited sunlight and colder temperatures to visit during this time.
- Plan around your must-do activities. If you’re going to Iceland to hike and explore the natural beauty, you’ll want to go during the spring and summer months for the best access. Many trails and roads are closed during the cold winter months due to snow and ice. A little weather research before you leave can help you plan activities (and pack the right gear) closer to your trip.
So, When Should You Visit Iceland?
There’s never a bad time to visit otherworldly Iceland. But there are certain times of year that are especially perfect for a visit. Overall, we’ve found 2 times of year that are the best time to visit Iceland: May to mid-June and mid-June to September.
Visit during May to mid-June if you want warmer temperatures, moderate crowds, and slightly lower airfare and accommodations prices. You won’t be able to see the Northern Lights well during this time, but it’s prime for outdoor exploring, hiking, and local events.
Visit during mid-June to September for the most complete Iceland experience. This is our recommendation for the best time to visit Iceland.
If you visit closer to or in September, you’ll have it all: Moderate temperatures, thinner crowds, lower prices due to less demand, and better visibility of the Northern Lights. You may be able to take in a little whale watching, and temperatures will be perfect for outdoor adventures.
Even if you decide to go in the dead of January (one of the darkest, coldest months of the year in Iceland), you couldn’t spoil your Iceland trip if you tried.
With so many natural wonders to behold – and don’t forget about those soothing hot springs – Iceland is an ideal destination any month of the year.
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