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These are the best times to visit Iceland

Oct. 09, 2022
12 min read
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Part of Iceland’s immense charm is its weather — the spontaneous force that controls all activity for people living on (and visiting) the island nation. A matter of a few minutes can turn your sunny-day adventure into an afternoon spent waiting on the side of the road for a blizzard to pass. And while some may view that as a total vacation bummer, I prefer to think of it as an opportunity to fully experience the Land of Ice and Fire.

As someone who has a serious interest in Iceland and visits multiple times every year, I’ve quickly learned to appreciate Iceland during all its seasons and wild weather patterns — and figured out the best itineraries for all situations.

Ahead, you’ll find the best times to visit Iceland based on a number of factors: budget, high and low tourist season, weather and more.

(Photo by Chris Lawton/Unsplash)
CHRIS LAWTON/UNSPLASH

The cheapest times to visit Iceland

If you don’t really care about weather-specific activities, my advice is to take advantage of the shoulder seasons in spring and fall when crowds are thin and accommodations are cheaper (think: March, April, September and October). There are often cheaper flights during these time periods as well.

TPG is constantly scouring flight deals and we've recently seen prices under $300 for round-trip flights between Boston and Reykjavik on low-cost Icelandic airline Play.

Related: Great fall, winter and early spring deals on flights to Iceland

Naturally, flights to Iceland during the winter are going to be the cheapest, aside from the main holidays like Christmas and New Year’s (ticket prices skyrocket during those weeks), but in terms of value, consider visiting in the spring. Even if you pay a bit more, you may get more value given the more mild weather and longer daylight hours.

Icelandair's new Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane in Iceland. (Photo by Pall Jokull for Icelandair/The Brooklyn Brothers via Getty Images)
PALL JOKULL FOR ICELANDAIR/THE BROOKLYN BROTHERS/GETTY IMAGES

When to visit Iceland to avoid crowds

If you’re looking to take in the sights without hundreds of other strangers, look again to the off months of March, April, September and October. Since the weather is a bit more erratic than it is during the summer, fewer travelers take the risk.

If good weather is not on your list of things you care about, head to Iceland in the dead of winter (December, January or February). It’s going to be colder, but that and the extremely short days keep the crowds at bay.

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When to visit Iceland for events

Music festivals in Iceland

There are a number of festivals to keep in mind while planning your trip to Iceland. For the musically inclined, check out Iceland Airwaves in November, the Reykjavík Jazz Festival in August, Aldrei fór ég Suður in April, Secret Solstice in June or the four-day rock and metal festival, Eistnaflug, in July.

Atmosphere at Iceland Airwaves Blue Lagoon Chill Party. (Photo by Nicky Digital/http://NickyDigital.com/Corbis via Getty Images)
The atmosphere at the Iceland Airwaves Blue Lagoon Chill Party. NICKY DIGITAL/CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES

Art, film and culture festivals in Iceland

For arts and culture, there's the Reykjavík International Film Festival in September and October and the LungA Art Festival in July.

If you’ve done your research on the Icelandic sagas, plan a trip over the first Friday after Jan. 19 to partake in the Thorrablot celebrations. This mid-winter festival brings locals and travelers together to dine on the unusual foods of Iceland’s past like fermented shark, boiled sheep’s head and congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach.

Icelanders also celebrate the summer solstice, which occurs over June 21. With nearly 24 hours of sunlight, the bonfire celebrations go late into the night.

Related: 9 common mistakes you don't want to make in Iceland

The best times for whale watching in Iceland

During the winter, it can be hard to spot any kind of wildlife in Iceland, given the harsh climate. If you’re looking to spot migrating whales passing by, plan a trip between April and October — otherwise known as prime time for whale spotting. You can catch sight of minke, humpback, sperm, and fin whales, along with orcas, and there are plenty of tours on the Reykjavík Harbor that will take you to the best locations.

Whale watching in Húsavík, Iceland. (Photo by Davide Cantelli/Unsplash)
Whale watching in Húsavík, Iceland. DAVID CANTELLI/UNSPLASH

The best times to see puffins in Iceland

Puffins at Látrabjarg cliffs, the westernmost point in Iceland. ALEX WALKER/GETTY IMAGES

There are a few excellent spots to see Iceland's most adorable bird in its natural habitat, but no matter where you plan to go puffin-spotting, the best time to do it is between April and August.

You'll find the largest puffin colony in the world on the Westman Islands, known as Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic. You can even arrange a minibus tour where a local guide will share the history of the islands and take you to some of the local puffin hot spots.

Related: 7 things to do on your next trip to Iceland

The Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords provide a picturesque locale for seeing puffins and, along with them, millions of other birds who call the cliffs home, including razorbills and northern gannets.

Two animals you will see no matter when you visit: sheep and horses, and lots of them. Wool textiles are a huge part of the country’s retail market and exports, while Icelandic horses have become a key player in the area’s tourism industry — horse rides across the countryside have become a popular bucket list item for the animal’s distinct “fifth gait.”

Sheep grazing in an old lava field overgrown with vegetation in Budir on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Sheep grazing in an old lava field in western Iceland. WOLFGANG KAEHLER/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

The best times to hike in Iceland

Summertime is easily the best time to go hiking in Iceland, but it will also mean busier trails. To really get away from the crowds, you can hire a private guide who will bring you to some lesser-known hikes in the highlands, but this region is only accessible during snow-free months.

There are hiking trails open during the wintertime, but they will be less challenging (despite the blowing winds and heavy precipitation, of course). You can find hiking just about anywhere during any time of the year if you do the research. There are plenty of opportunities to take a stroll around almost all of the major attractions, from Pingvellir National Park and the waterfalls along Route 1 in the south to Reykjanes Peninsula and the famous Búðakirkja: a lone black church that sits on a lava field.

ICELAND - DECEMBER 09: Tourists walk through a rift in Thingvellir National Park. The park is part of the popular Golden Circle Tour. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
Tourists walk through a rift in Pingvelllir National Park. MELANIE STETSON FREEMAN/THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR/GETTY IMAGES

Consider your priorities: Do you want to hike through the Highlands or into some of the trickier areas of the north? Plan your travel for June, July or August. Are you more interested in snowshoeing or glacier walking? Find a tour company to take you to some of the prettiest spots during December, January or February. All other months offer great hikes, it just depends on the weather forecast for the day.

The best times to cycle in Iceland

Cycling the Ring Road is ambitious, but the views make it all worthwhile. Plan your trip during the summertime — preferably late June — for the most daylight. The sun stays up practically around the clock during this season, making it easy to bike long into the night without worrying about visibility. But don’t forget your eye mask if you actually want to sleep.

Route 1 Iceland aka Ring Road through Geysir, Iceland. (Photo by Kalle Kortelainen/Unsplash)
Route 1, aka the Ring Road, passing through Geysir, Iceland. KALLE KORTELAINEN/UNSPLASH

The best times to drive around Iceland

Let’s settle one thing: You can drive around Iceland during any time of the year, you’re just going to have different types of weather to worry about. You must choose if you want a leisurely, sunny road trip or if you are just looking to get from Point A to Point B. If you anticipate any snow during your trip, make sure your car has four-wheel drive. You will thank yourself over and over again.

Driving through the snow can be brutal. (Photo by Robert Bye/Unsplash)
Driving through the snow can be brutal. ROBERT BYE/UNSPLASH

It may seem obvious, but if you want a true road trip, go during the summertime when sunlight is abundant. Book your road trip around Iceland for July and you’ll never regret it.

If you aren’t afraid of driving through some true "winter weather" — hail, snow, blizzards, torrential downpours and a blip of sunlight all in the span of a few hours — you can drive in Iceland any month of the year. But the country will shut down the roads if they’re impassable, so keep that in mind. For example, you won’t be able to visit the highland region during the winter, or take some mountain road shortcuts.

The best weather for special activities

There are some things that can only be done during specific seasons in Iceland, which is part of what makes the destination so special. But if you’re looking for hot springs, never fear: relaxing in a hot spring is a year-round activity.

A man made thermal pool in Southern Iceland uses diverted water from an underground hot spring and reaches temperatures close to 85 degrees F. (Photo by John Fredricks/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A man-made thermal pool in southern Iceland. JOHN FREDRICKS/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

You will definitely get the most out of your hikes if you plan a summer trip. Not only will the weather be better, but you can get access to the multi-colored landscapes of Laugavegur and the so-called Volcanic Trails in the Highlands.

Laugavegur, Iceland. (Photo by Michael Hacker/Unsplash)
Laugavegur, Iceland. MICHAEL HACKER/UNSPLASH

In the colder months, you have the opportunity to get close to Iceland’s famous, electric-blue glaciers. Glacier hikes, ice caves and iceberg spotting are all popular — and encouraged — activities during the winter.

The ice caves, especially, are a huge must if you’re visiting during the winter, as they are completely inaccessible during the summertime. To visit them, you’ll need a trained guide familiar with the region. Do not try and visit these on your own as the melting pattern can be unpredictable and extremely dangerous.

Another strictly wintertime activity is northern lights spotting. The aurora borealis will only appear under extremely dark, clear conditions between September and April; when the nights are long you have a better window of time each day when you can view them.

Exploring ice caves at night can lead you to the northern lights at certain times of year. Here, they are spotted in Gigjökull, Iceland. (Photo by Jonatan Pie/Unsplash)
Exploring ice caves at night can lead you to a chance to also spot the northern lights at certain times of year. JONATAN PIE/UNSPLASH

Bottom line

There are some things in Iceland that can only be experienced during a certain season, meaning there truly is no bad time to visit the country. With that in mind, you should make a list of your vacation priorities. Looking to see the ice caves? You'll need to visit during the winter. Want to hike in the highlands? Again, that whittles down your travel options.

No matter when you choose to visit Iceland, though, you'll be treated to the country's unparalleled beauty, exciting outdoor activities and majestic wildlife.

Featured image by THOMAS TUCKER/UNSPLASH
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more