Iceland is a sparsely populated Nordic country located in the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of around 400,000 residents. It is a part of the Nordic nations group comprising Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland due to their close ethnic, traditional, cultural, socio-economic, and political ties and their close locations in the Baltic Sea. Nordic derives from the word Norden which essentially means The North. The Nordic countries have much in common regards to history, religion, way of life, and social structure. But each country is different when it comes to travel, including Iceland.
Iceland has, in recent years, become the top favorite tourist destination in the world. Famed for its natural beauty, geological wonders, and adventure, it is full of Instagrammable spots. It is known as the country of fire and ice. The landscapes of ancient ice caps and glaciers, spouting hot water geysers, rugged fjords, and steaming solfataras, volcanoes, beautiful large lakes, gushing rivers and stunning waterfalls, whales playing in the seas, it’s all just a typical day in Iceland.
I am sure just this got you all excited. But wait! We have more for you. Don’t go by the name Iceland because Iceland is not as cold as the name suggests. This country enjoys a surprisingly temperate climate all through the year. The weather can change quickly, but it does not mean that you cannot catch a flight and land in Iceland any time of the year. Let’s discuss this in more detail.
The best time to visit Iceland
You can visit Iceland all year but the months from May to August are the best ones. Iceland is in the Northern Hemisphere, closer to the Arctic Circle, and so days will be shorter if it’s not summer and much shorter if Winters. May to August is the time when you will find the most beautiful weather, pleasant temperatures, and the longest days of the year. It enables you to plan and cover a lot of sights. The high season corresponds to peak rates for hotels, excursions, airfares, and most importantly low availability. So it makes sense to book everything months in advance. You can plan travel in the shoulder months of April and October when tourism activity is not at its peak to take advantage of reasonable rates, less touristic activity, and decent weather. Let’s discuss the travel seasons in detail.
Peak Season – 3 months
Not surprisingly, Iceland’s peak season is during the peak summer season. This is a time when the entire country comes to life and everyone, including the locals, enjoys it. This season lasts from mid-June to the end of August. The daytime during these months is extremely long, and there are some days when the sun will not completely set, which is an added attraction to experience. During these long days, the tourists can indulge in many activities without worrying about sunset upsetting their plans. They can literally wakeup anytime and head out any time of the day and not be worried about missing something due to the Midnight Sun. Being an experience in itself, the peak tourist season comes with a lot of crowds, fully booked out hotels, and excursions. So plan accordingly.
Shoulder Season – 1 month
The first shoulder season lasts from mid-May to mid-June, when tourism activity has started picking up, and the second from mid-September to mid-October. Anyone can be chosen as per your preference. The earlier season will ensure there are hardly any tourists around, and the country has just opened to tourism, with even the snow to be thawing, so everything feels fresh and new. There is even a wider range of accommodation available. However, since it is just the start of the tourist season, some activities may not be completely available. That’s why we recommend the second shoulder season from mid-September to mid-October, when tourism numbers are falling off every day. Still, all activities are open and in full force e.g. restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, tours, tourist guides, etc.
Low season (rest of the year)
After mid-October, the tourist numbers fall off significantly. All activities related to tourism will come to an almost standstill level. We are not saying that you will not be able to travel, but since the majority of travelers do not prefer the low season, most of the activities will cease. However, the low season has its charm due to many reasons. It is this season that tourists usually travel to watch the Northern Lights or aurora borealis. It is also a great time to visit the hot springs and enjoy the cities. Weather does not play a spoilsport as temperatures are in the range of 0 degrees Celsius, which is not entirely bad. The mountain roads will be impassable. The only downhill point is that the days will be short at just 5-6 hours per day.
Now let’s have a look at some of the famous tourist activities this country is famous for and when you can ideally complete them:
Best time for Northern Lights or aurora borealis
You can’t think of Iceland or the Nordic countries and not think of Northern Lights. This spectacular activity is a famous must-do that travelers want to tick off in their bucket lists. Many tourists travel to Iceland just for this activity. The best time to see it is between September to March. However, it will be wise to say that it’s a completely unpredictable and natural activity and the chances are that you may miss it even with the perfect conditions. The few conditions required for this are completely dark nights, solar flares on the sun, cold clear skies with no clouds, and the least amount of precipitation.
All this ensures crystal clear skies during which the sky will be clearly visible with the colorful dancing lights. The months between October and November are the best as they meet all the conditions.
Best time for all sightseeing activities
Iceland is famed for its natural wonders and stunning undisturbed beauty. This is what pulls visitors to this country. The incredibly unique landscape with completely, beautiful curving drive through the mountain roads, massive volcanoes, unmatched rugged nature, ancient melting mountain glaciers with naturally created ice caves, icefields, countless spouting hot springs, and spectacular waterfalls between glaciers, and more is what people want to see and enjoy. Considering it’s only an island that is sparsely populated, you will encounter craters, black sand beaches, a wide variety of active volcanoes, beautiful national parks, whale watching in the seas, which is a lot to keep you excited.
It is a nature lover’s paradise, and even if you are not a nature lover, just the sights will entice you and leave you mesmerized. All these activities demand clear weather and a lot of daylight, if not sunshine. Therefore, the ideal time to visit and cover them will be the peak tourist season or even the shoulder months, which will ensure you have more than enough daylight in a day to pack in a lot of activities. Compared to any other country globally, Iceland is probably the only country that will enable you to pack so much fun into one day (due to longer days) with a variety of natural wonders that will leave you want for more.
Best time for Whale watching
Luckily for you, the whale watching season covers the entire tourist season and even the shoulder months. So even if you arrive in early April or late October, you will still be able to catch sight of magnificent whales in their natural habitat. This is one activity we recommend that you do not miss. You will be able to find a wide assortment of tours at different prices online. They usually start from the cities of Dalvik, Reykjavik, Husavik Akureyri, and the Vestmannaeyjar islands of the south coast.
With pleasant and clear weather, whale watching is fun. However, you can also hop on tour at the other time of the year where tours do happen, but the frequency will be low. These tours are available in winters from the town of Grundarfjordur on the Snaefellsness Peninsula. Just watch out for the weather and hope that a storm does not spoil your plans. Tourists are handed thermal suits to keep them warm in the freezing cold air of the seas. You do not have to worry about the chilly weather. The seas near Iceland host magnificent whales, and you will find Humpback whales, Killer whales, Pilot whales, Blue whales, etc.
If your trip clashes with some of the local traditional events and cultural festivals, it’s an added advantage. Many tourists plan trips around cultural activities as it adds more fun to the travel and learning as well. Let’s see some of the famous festivals and events in Iceland:
New Years’ and Iceland’s Christmas
New Year’s Eve is closely followed by Iceland’s last day of Christmas. The locals celebrate this day with local events playing traditional songs, lighting fireworks, and dancing around bonfires. This festival is called “þrettándinn.”
Festival of Thorrablot
This is a winter festival, and typically all winter festivals will include singing and dancing, eating and drinking, and bonfires to brighten the damp winter mood. The festival falls on the 13th week of winter, usually in the second half of January. It is a traditional ancient Viking mid-winter tradition. Being a family and community affair, you will need a local to invite you to participate in one. However, a few restaurants will offer Thorrablot dinners if you miss out on an invite. In the old days, this festival included a feast followed by a sacrifice of goats and oxen. This traditional festival will entertain you.
Festival of Winter Lights
Closely followed by Thorrabolt, this takes place in the first weekend of February with almost the same intention to lift the spirits during the winters. You will find houses and entire cities being wonderfully lit up and grand performances and cultural events throughout the cities.
Festival of Öskudagur
Known as Ash Wednesday or Öskudagur, this event is when local children will dress up in costumes and sing and dance for candy. Very similar to Halloween, this event falls on the 7th Wednesday before Easter.
Food and Fun Festival
As the name suggests, for 4 days in late February, the best chefs in the world and the best restaurants collaborate to dish out the best food and includes competition as well.
First day of Summer
This is a traditional festival and celebrated with entertainment events like sports, parades, etc., and marks the official start of the summers. It takes place on a Thursday that falls between April 19 and April 25.
This event is officially known as Sjómannadagur and honors fishermen’s contribution to Iceland. It is celebrated with events like strongman competitions, swimming competitions, lively parties, food festivals, and cultural events. It is also celebrated in the memory of those who were lost at sea.
International Viking Festival
This is among the biggest 5-day fest event in Iceland that is hosted in mid-June and is focused on Viking culture and traditions.
As we have seen, Iceland is available to travel not just in the tourist seasons but also during non-tourist seasons and weather being pleasantly temperate all year round. Besides, the cultural events that take place even during the winters will keep you entertained. You can definitely plan for any moths of the year, but the peak seasons are the best when you can fit in a lot of the activities in your daily schedule. I hope this information helped you and you will now be able to plan your trip effectively.