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When is the best time to visit Iceland in 2020

Iceland comes complete with some of the world's most dramatic natural wonders - from active volcanoes to massive glaciers and hot springs. It is also home to puffins, whale watching, great seafood, and of course the Northern Lights. Now that we are reminded of how amazing this Nordic country is, let's explore Iceland's weather and when it's the best time to visit.

Understanding Icelandic weather

Traveller on top of a cliff watches a waterfall - best time to visit Iceland

Four seasons in one day is a reality in Iceland. And although the month of May is one of the best times to visit the island, you can, even then, be greeted with sleet. Days can start off sunny, but then a chilly wind can come and take your breath away. The reason for its fluctuating weather is its location in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The Gulf Stream and its North Atlantic drift is the reason for Iceland’s temperate climate. This warm North Atlantic drift becomes the Irminger Current and comes westward off the southwest coast of the island. This means that the climate here is much milder than you’d expect for a country so close to the Arctic Circle. So it isn’t completely covered in ice, even though its name suggests so.

View of a lake on a sunny day in Iceland

However the changeability of Iceland’s weather is mainly due to atmospheric depressions called ‘Icelandic lows’. When an Icelandic low crosses the North Atlantic it brings with it cold and dry weather. This effects the south of Iceland especially. When it passes north-eastward between Iceland and Greenland, it brings mild and dry weather. This has more of an effect on the north of the island. So the best advice when packing for a trip to Iceland, is to pack layers and a waterproof jacket.

Temperature-wise, and taking Iceland’s capital Reykjavik into consideration – expect an average of 12 degrees Celsius during the summer months. This temperature can increase to the mid and high twenties. However it can also drop to seven degrees. In winter expect an average two degrees Celsius during the day. This can rise to ten degrees but can also drop to minus 10 degrees Celsius. So wrap up warm.

Icelandic seasons and the best time to visit Iceland

Iceland does have the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. And although there is a number of reasons to take a trip during each of these seasons, the best time to visit Iceland especially the first time, is during the summer season of months June, July and August. During this season, the weather is milder, there’s less rain, and more daylight, meaning longer days. Temperatures can be as low as five degrees Celsius but can reach up to the mid-twenties. But as was mentioned before, prepare for changeable weather.

Sunset in Ólafsvík - the best time to visit Iceland

Outside of these summer months, the spring month of May is a great option as the weather becomes milder. And on the other side of summer, the autumn month of September is also a great option because the chill factor hasn’t taken hold.

On the other side of the spectrum, if you’ve already visited Iceland during the summer months, or if you just prefer colder weather, then the winter months that last from November through to March might be for you.

Spring in Iceland

Spring in Iceland

The spring season in Iceland are the months of April and May. Snow still falls, but in general it is around this time that snow begins to thaw on the highlands and mountaintops. Flowers and fauna come back to life, and the country starts becoming greener. If you’re a fan of puffins then you’ll be interested to know that April is the month the birds return to Iceland, staying until September.

Weather-wise spring brings with it four seasons – rain, sleet, snow and sunshine. Temperatures range from zero to 10 degrees Celsius. It’s usually drier and colder in the north of Iceland and wetter and milder in the south.

Catch the Northern Lights in Iceland

Travel Tip: There are more advantages to visiting Iceland during the springtime. Heimaey, part of the Westman Islands, is open for business during the months of April and May. It has the largest colony of puffins in the world and the island offers visitors a Lava Walk tour, which includes a hike to the top of Eldfell Volcano. If you visit in late March-early April there’s a chance you could witness the Northern Lights. And who wouldn’t want to see those! Plus it is less crowded and a less expensive time to visit.

Summer in Iceland

Summer in Iceland

The summer season in Iceland are the months of June, July and August and it is for multiple reasons the best time to visit Iceland. Days are longer, and more of these days are filled with sunshine than rainfall. Flowers and fauna have fully bloomed, so the island is a much greener sight than its previous two seasons. Days get longer until June 21st and then start to get shorter again. This time of year offers beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and the golden hour here can last longer than sixty minutes.

Weather-wise summer brings temperatures that can reach as high as 25 degrees Celsius. However, there will still be a chill factor by means of the wind, so it’s best to layer up or down accordingly.

Sunset at the Blue Lagoon

Travel Tip: All tours are available during the summer season. Spend time wandering around Reykjavik, before taking a ‘Golden Circle’ tour. This tour includes the famous ‘Geysir’ (geyser), Gullfoss, a spectacular waterfall and the historic Thingvellir National Park. Visit the Blue Lagoon and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Go whale watching, with the best sightings available at Reykjavik and Húsavik. There are also a number of festivals in the summer months to enjoy, the largest being Secret Solstice in June.

Autumn in Iceland

Young woman wearing black coat and white hat looks out on dramatic landscape of Fjadrargljufur canyon under dramatic stormy skies.

The autumn season in Iceland are the months of late August, September and October. Stunning photographic opportunities across the island are on offer as leaves begin to change colour and the land is sprinkled with snow.

Weather-wise autumn has similar traits to springtime, with the average temperatures falling between zero and 10 degrees Celsius. However it can feel much colder with the addition of much more wind and rain.

Travel Tip: Late August can still be quite mild, with inland Iceland dry enough for successful hiking trips. Many tours begin to close up this season, in particular tours of the highlands and water-based tours such as rafting. On the plus side there are much better chances of witnessing the Northern Lights as the official Aurora season is from October until March. Plus it’s a cheaper time to visit.

Winter in Iceland

Man traveler enjoying Vatnajokull glacier landmark, Explorer inside ice cave, Skaftafell glacier.

The winter season in Iceland are the months of November, December, January, February and March. It is in these colder months that the country glorifies its namesake. The country is covered in snow, making its beautiful landscape even more magical. Waterfalls freeze, and glaciers truly shine.

Weather-wise winter weather in Iceland can be unpredictable. The south of the island can reach between minus five and plus five. The north of the island can reach minus 10.

The Aurora Borealis lights up the island's winter skies

Travel Tip: Wintertime is a magical time to visit Iceland. The Northern Lights light the sky, and ice caves form under Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier. Hot pools and hot springs are the perfect way to relax whilst surrounded by snow. And if festivals are your thing you’ll be happy to know that two of Iceland’s largest take place during this season – Iceland Airwaves in November and Sónar Reykjavík in February.

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