The weather in Iceland (and when to visit)

The weather in Iceland varies enormously from month to month, from town to town and even from minute to minute. So how do you know when to go? What’s the best month to visit Iceland? When is the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland? And what is the temperature in Iceland like each month?

What is the best month to visit Iceland?
Pic: Susanne Stöckli (CC)

We look at the all the pros and cons of visiting Iceland in summer and winter and provide a handy month-by-month temperature and rainfall guide, so you can decide when is the best time for you to visit Iceland.

When to go to Iceland: a quick guide

  • You can visit Iceland all year round, but key to enjoying it is making sure you have the right clothes.
  • For warm weather and a better chance of sunshine, the best time to visit Iceland is late spring and summer.
  • If you want snow, aim to go between December and March, with January being the month when you get the most snowfall.
  • The best month to see the midnight sun is June, though the nights are still bright and the sun visible below the horizon from mid-May to mid-August.
  • The northern lights are best seen in winter, from September to March.

What’s the weather like in Iceland?

The simple answer is that it’s changeable! At pretty much any time of the year, you can have rain, sleet, snow, sunshine and gales all within the space of a morning. So native Icelanders are very used to tailoring their activities, lifestyle and clothing according to the whims of the weather.

Due to Iceland’s proximity to the Gulf Stream, the temperature overall is milder than you might expect. Temperatures in coastal areas in particular are fairly moderate, though it’s also the Gulf Stream that brings with it the wild, wet and stormy weather conditions that can change within minutes.

Summer is the best time for hiking in Iceland
Pic: Michal Klajban (CC)

And, of course, it also depends on where you are in the country. Bright sunshine in Reykjavik, in the southwest of the island, is no guarantee that it won’t be blowing a blizzard along the northeast coast – and vice versa.

When’s the best time to visit Iceland?

There are pros and cons to visiting Iceland in all seasons. The country is stunningly beautiful in winter when covered in snow, and there are fewer visitors, though the days are short and the weather conditions may curtail some of your planned activities. In summer, it’s much easier to get out of the city, do some hiking (this 4-hour tour is a nice easy option) and get off the beaten track – plus the days are longer.

Why visit Iceland in summer?

Summer is a great time to get out and about and explore the country. The weather is usually good enough that you can go hiking, visit some of the country’s more remote beaches and valleys, or even take a tour through lava fields on the back of an Icelandic pony.

Summer is a good time for exploring remote parts of Iceland.
Pic: Joe deSousa (CC)

Summer is the season for whale-watching too, with plenty of boat trips leaving from Reykjavik in search of whales. June to August is the best time for whale-watching, though there’s a good chance of seeing them from April to October.

And, of course, the days are much longer in summer. In June, daylight lasts around 20–22 hours: in fact, it’s never really gets properly dark – a phenomenon known as the midnight sun. This slightly eerie half-light can make it hard to sleep – so some hotels have rooms facing into a internal well, with blackout blinds to help you sleep.

Why visit Iceland in the winter?

Obviously, snow and ice and the true grandeur of the landscape comes into its own in winter. The country is unbelievably picturesque when covered in a blanket of white. And there’s no better experience that sitting in a hot geothermal pool surrounded by drifts of snow gazing up at the stars in a clear winter sky.

Visiting Iceland in winter is best for people who are into sports
Icelandic ponies in winter / Susanne Stöckli (CC)

It’s also the time to visit if you’re into winter sports – snowmobile trips on a glacier, dog-sledding, skiing, snowboarding, glacier hikes and ice-caving are all popular winter activities. Check here for a whole raft of tours and activities that you can do in Iceland.

Winter is when you have the best chance of seeing the northern lights, too. Lying just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is far enough north to get great views of the Aurora Borealis. From September to March, the nights are long enough that there is a good chance of seeing this amazing light display on any clear night. Many of the country’s hotels will wake you up, if you ask them, when the lights appear.

Alternatively, an organised northern lights tour will take you to the best viewing location for that particular night, and if you don’t see the lights, you can join again for free.

The downside of all this, of course, is that there are fewer hours of daylight in winter, especially the closer you get to December 22nd – around the winter solstice, it’s dark for 19 hours a day.

Winter is the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland.
Pic: David Phan (CC)

And the weather conditions mean that some roads may be impassable in winter, and some areas of the country inaccessible. Driving around the Iceland ring road is not advisable in winter and even if conditions are good when you set off, snow drifts can close roads very quickly. Icelanders check road conditions regularly on this useful website when setting out on any trip in winter.

If you are travelling in winter, it pays to be flexible. Accept that any trip may well be cancelled at the last minute in bad weather, and don’t stress about it. Do as the Icelanders do, settle in by the fire and wait for conditions to improve.

Month-by-month guide to temperatures in Iceland

Reykjavik, in the southwest: holiday-weather.com/reykjavik/averages/

Akureyri, on the north coast: holiday-weather.com/akureyri_/averages

FAQ

What is the coldest month in Iceland?

The coldest month in Iceland is January with average temperatures of -1°C–1°C, though it can range from as low as -10°C up to 5°C.

What is the warmest month in Iceland?

July is the warmest and the least rainy month in Iceland, with daily temperatures of between 10°C and 15°C. Along the south coast, temperatures can reach 20–25°C on a warm July day.

What is the warmest it gets in Iceland?

Iceland’s highest ever recorded temperature was 30.5°C in June 1939, while Reykjavik’s highest temperature was 24°C in July 1976! However, these are once-in-a-lifetime events, and summer temperatures of around 12–15°C are far more usual.

What is the best month to visit Iceland?

Well, they all have their pros and cons, with the summer months being busier and more expensive. But, overall June is probably the peak month, with long hours of daylight, mild temperatures, verdant countryside and great opportunities for hiking and exploring.

See also:
10 of the best Airbnbs in Iceland
40 free and cheap things to do in Reykjavík
Getting an Icelandic sim card

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