Iceland is a beautiful country and remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with over 2 million visitors each year. Much of the country’s popularity is attributed to the beautiful landscapes and scenery and endless outdoor activities, such as hiking trails or seeing the Northern Lights. But the country is also known for its slightly unpredictable weather. It’s not uncommon to see sunny, clear skies, only for there to be a full-on blizzard an hour later. This phenomenon is so common that Icelanders have a word for it: gluggaveður.
If you ever visit Iceland, you’ll probably hear a resident say, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes!”
Despite its name and location just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland has four distinct seasons — but they might not be exactly what you’d expect. A warm Atlantic current called the Gulf Stream runs through Iceland’s water, which brings mild winters and cool summers to the region. In the capital, Reykjavik, you can expect low-30s°F in the winter and high-50s°F.
The seasons in Iceland are truly unique and spectacular. And no matter the season, you could almost always visit glaciers, volcanoes, hot mineral springs, waterfalls, caves, and even get to see the Northern Lights. The best thing you can do is to rent a car, so you don’t miss any of these exceptional experiences. If visiting Iceland is on your bucket list, then learn more about the country’s distinctive seasons to know what to expect.
In Iceland, winter usually ranges between December, January, and February. The lowest temperature is about 28°F with a high of 37°F. During these months, you’ll expect to see lots of snow, blizzards, and plenty of icy roads. Since Iceland is close to the Arctic Circle, it experiences something close to polar nights. Polar night is the opposite of midnight sun, where the sun’s discs aren’t visible at all — meaning the night lasts for more than 24 hours.
Because of its axis, perfect polar nights aren’t very common in Iceland. The country doesn’t experience this phenomenon as much as more northern countries like Norway, Sweden, and Finland do. However, there are several days of the year where you only get a few hours of sunlight:
It’s unique experiencing sunrise so late in the morning, but many tourists love the change of pace. Tourists also love to experience the readily available winter activities, like glacier hikes, snowmobile tours, geothermal pools, and seeing the Northern Lights on a clear night.
Planning to see the Northern Lights? Winter is the perfect time to do so. Here is a handy map of Iceland, highlighting the areas with extra light pollution. You’ll want to leave city centers and find total darkness:
You also don’t want to miss out on the fun holidays. Icelanders love to celebrate, so if you’re visiting in winter, be sure to attend these holiday events:
Spring in Iceland lasts throughout March, April, and May. Temperatures are typically a low of 30°F and a high of 50°F. As you can see, spring temperature is fickle. It almost seems like the weather is stuck between winter and summer, with a mix of blizzards, rain, and sunny skies. During these few months, locals check the weather every day, several times a day. Even so, spring is a beautiful time in Iceland. Grass begins to grow, trees bloom, and flowers blossom. Animals like whales and exotic birds make their way back to the country after leaving for the winter. And when the weather calls for it, whale watching and visiting bird sanctuaries are great.
Summer is during June, July, and August. July is the warmest month of the year, with temperatures reaching a high of 70°F. In the northernmost parts of the country, the high might only reach the upper 50s°F. Because of its warmer temperatures and long days, summertime is the most popular time for tourists. Locals and visitors alike love to spend time doing outdoor activities, such as:
People also love to celebrate Midsummer, which occurs each year to celebrate the longest day of the year. According to folklore, seals turn into humans, cows can speak like humans, and elves come out of their hiding places at night. Midsummer festivals might include two days of nonstop celebrating, including programs, music, dance, arts, and all kinds of other activities. You can expect up to 21 hours of sunlight on some of the sunniest days of the year, with sunrises and sunsets as such:
These are undoubtedly long days — but sometimes Iceland sees longer. Because of its location on the earth’s axis, Iceland in the summertime has a lot of midnight suns. The midnight sun is when the sun doesn’t go below the horizon so that days last for well over 24 hours at a time. If you’re not used to this, it might be wise to invest in some blackout curtains!
Autumn months occur during September, October, and November. When visiting, you can expect a low of 32°F and a high of 51°F. During these months, the weather might be a little crazy. You can expect a mix of high winds, rain, and snow, with October being the wettest month of the year.
Best of all, starting in October, you can begin to see the Northern Lights depending on how clear the skies are. Autumn is also the beginning of other activities, such as:
Like New England in the United States, autumn in Iceland is breathtaking. The air is crisp and fresh, and the colors from the changing leaves are bright and vibrant. A mix of new snow with autumn colors makes for beautiful hikes, sightseeing, and photography.
Iceland is unique in the sense that it has the best of both worlds where it’s never too cold, but never too hot either. Of course, the weather can be unpredictable, but the natural landscapes are breathtaking — even if you are experiencing gluggaveður! Just in case, be sure to prepare for your time in Iceland by packing the essentials:
No matter the season, there’s so much to enjoy in Iceland. If you’re planning a trip to this magnificent country, then remember these key tips:
Whatever the season that you visit Iceland, you’re sure to enjoy what the climate has to offer.