Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Iceland

Destinations Best time to visit Iceland

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When is the best time to visit Iceland?

As an Arctic country, weather in Iceland is seasonal but cooler than mainland Europe for most of the year. Iceland is an island northwest of the UK in the North Atlantic Sea, approximately 65 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Typically, visitors tend to come to Iceland in the summer months when the temperatures are a little warmer, the roads are navigable, and the midnight sun makes the days lovely and long. However, there are more and more visits to Iceland in winter as people come to seek out the illusive Iceland Northern Lights, or aurora borealis.

Northern Lights and Midnight Sun in Iceland

The Northern Lights

The aurora borealis are a truly breath-taking phenomenon that occur at both the southern and northern poles of the earth, although in the south they are known as the aurora australis. Electrically charged particles from solar storms on the surface of the sun travel millions of miles and come into contact with our earth’s atmosphere. Most are deflected by earth’s magnetic fields, but some find their way through and accelerate towards earth. As they accelerate into our atmosphere, they heat up which causes them to glow. Different gases gases give of different colours when they are heated, which is what causes the different colours of the Northern Lights.

Technically the Northern Lights are present all year round, but the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland is between November and March. At this time of year there is only around 6 hours of daylight a day making it much easier to see the aurora in the darker sky.

Moody midnight sun over ice in Iceland

Midnight Sun

Conversely to the darker winter days, during the summer months there can be up to 21 hours of daylight in Iceland. This time of year is generally from May to July. At times the sun is barely over the horizon casting ephemeral colours across the dramatic volcanic scenery. During the Iceland midnight sun is a beautiful time of year to visit Iceland and the most popular time of year for visitors.

The land of the midnight sun, Norway, experiences a similar period of perpetual daylight as it is along similar lines of latitude, but the landscapes and topography couldn’t be more different to Iceland.

Scenery from the Laugavegur Trek

Trekking in Iceland

The climate and time of year in Iceland dictate how accessible the county is. The snow begins falling in early October to November and the temperatures drop to between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius. This can make the road conditions more difficult depending on the severity of the weather. Iceland of course is geared up to deal with snow, ice and treacherous conditions but sudden changes in weather, temperature and snowfall can make it difficult to plan your route.

Some of the most remote and exciting locations in Iceland are accessible only via F-roads. These roads are only open during the summer months but there are on fixed dates for opening and closing as it entirely depends on the weather and conditions. For this reason, many who come to trek the iconic Laugavegur trekking route can only access this region during the summer months.

Arctic fox in the snow

Wildlife in Iceland

The different seasons play host to a plethora of wildlife in Iceland where the unique landscapes are home to bird species, land animals and plenty of sea life. From native arctic foxes to non-native reindeer, arctic birdlife, whales, seals and fish Iceland has a surprising amount of wildlife to spot.

Bird such as gyrfalcons, eagles, owls, puffin and skua are all species of breeding birds in Iceland and the coastal areas benefit from the cacophony of birdsong at different times of the year. Mating birds attract predators such as seals, most notably near Glacier Lagoon in the southeast of Iceland.

April to September are the best times of the year for whale watching in arctic countries such as Iceland and Greenland. Species such as blue whales, fin whales, sperm whales, minke and humpback whales, orca whales and pilot whales can be spotted off the shores if Iceland during this time, but some are more elusive than others. Minke whales can be seen in Icelandic waters all year round, but blue whales and fin whales are most commonly spotted in the northern waters around Iceland.

For more information on when to visit Iceland, check out of destination guide HERE.