Iceland first gained international attention on the travel front as a must-visit winter-time destination. Visitors were excited at the prospect of rigorous hikes across glaciers, tramping through the snow- and ice-covered terrain, and the seemingly infinite number of outdoor activities.
Then, gradually, travelers began to flock to Iceland in the summer months, discovering its vast stretches of greenery, lakes, volcanic formations, glaciers, and its excellent range of outdoor activities such as kayaking, waterfall viewing, and wildlife photography—not to mention culture. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, has long been a mecca for music producers. In fact, it's common today for outdoor enthusiasts—after experiencing the outdoorsy pursuits of Iceland—to stay for a concert or two. Who wouldn't enjoy a little Bjork after an outing to visit the incredible waterfalls at Gullfoss, or trekking across the Falljökull glacial tongue in Skaftafell nature reserve?
One of the best reasons to visit Iceland in summer is the opportunity to witness the Aurora borealis in its unimpeded glory in the night sky. Itineraries such as Quark Expeditions' Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland are becoming popular with travelrers. This 14-day journey in late summer (September) takes you from the capital of Reykjavik to East Greenland, reaching as far north as King Oscar Fjord along the coast. The journey between the islands is your best opportunity to witness the northern lights while exploring in a small polar vessel.
Quark Expeditions' guests who join the Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland voyage have plenty
of opportunities to witness the mesmerizing Aurora borealis. Photo: Acacia Johnson
Why visit Iceland
So why visit Iceland in the summer? What is the allure for people who want a memorable summer adventure in a remote destination like Iceland? Why is Iceland worth the journey?
For one thing, there are plenty of landmarks worth seeing in and around the Icelandic capital. Reykjavik is rich with cultural sites and historic landmarks that pay tribute to its history. These range from the Saga Museum to the Settlement Exhibition. Many of these creations honor the settlements first erected by Vikings at the height of their seafaring adventures.
In addition, there's are sites like the Sun Voyager Sculpture that's a crystallized re-creation of a Viking vessel used by the explorers who arrived on the island during the Middle Ages. The crystalized vessel faces outward towards the sea, reminding visitors of how these early adventurers set sail from Iceland for other discoveries in nearby Greenland and elsewhere.
When is summer in Iceland?
Because Iceland is situated at the confluence of the Northern Atlantic and the Arctic, the conditions from the sea heavily influence the seasons on the island. Iceland is also located in the northern hemisphere so the timing of summer coincides with that of much of North America.
That means June, July, and August are considered prime summer in Iceland. (June and July are high seasons for Iceland so the later the better. August and September are definitely worth considering, especially if you're planning to explore the region on a polar expedition.) This is the time of year when conditions on the water are a little calmer, allowing ships to more easily approach the island from the sea. Additionally, whale pods and other marine mammals are more likely to appear near the shoreline of the island, making summer the optimal time of year to do some whale watching in Iceland.
August is also prime time for one of our most popular voyages, one known as the Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, and Spitsbergen. This 15-day adventure takes you across three of the North Atlantic's most impressive islands. You'll depart from Reykjavik (you can plan to arrive a day or two early to really explore much of Iceland). From there, you'll depart for a voyage to East Greenland before sailing further east towards the Svalbard archipelago to explore the largest island in the chain, known as Spitsbergen.
What to expect from Iceland in the summer
The geothermal Blue Lagoon baths are a popular stop for Quark Expeditions guests who spend time in Reykjavik, Iceland,
before or after their Arctic voyage. Photo: AdobeStock
Temperatures will vary depending on which part of the island you're visiting. On the warmest summer days, temperatures can reach as high as 25°C, making for a very pleasant day exploring Iceland.
However, temperatures do fluctuate by region. The western side of the island, where Reykjavik and many of the country's largest glaciers are located, tends to be a little cooler than the Eastfjords on the other side of the island. This region is typically more lush, green, and temperate than the rest of Iceland. If you prefer more hiking and outdoor adventures, the Eastfjords would be the better choice in summer.
5 reasons to visit Iceland in the summer
So what are some of the top reasons to visit Iceland in summer? Here are some specific examples of things you can do that you should consider for your visit to Iceland.
Exploring Iceland's green and icy terrains allows you to get the full island experience. Plan a journey to explore the glaciers near the Icelandic capital (Langjokull is the closest glacier to Reykjavik), or take a road trip to the eastern side of the island to explore some of the greener fields and mountainous ranges.
Plan an aerial view of Iceland's topographical beauty with a special helicopter tour. Fly above the tiny northern country and see how the land transitions from green to glacier to mountain and back again. You'll even be able to see volcanoes, especially in a helicopter flight over Fagradalsfjall.
Since it is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, the water near the shoreline is cold, often frigid depending on the time of year and the conditions of the day. But many people in Iceland make a game out of organizing polar plunges into those cold waters. If you're brave enough to test the elements, jump in feet first! But if you miss the opportunity, you can always experience the polar plunge which is part of every Quark Expeditions voyage!
Kayaking and paddling excursions
As mentioned, water sports and outdoor adventures along the coast are popular pastimes for Icelanders and visitors. There are organized kayaking, canoeing, and other paddling activities that can be undertaken from various areas of the country, especially from within Reykjavik itself.
Gray Line Iceland
Summertime is a great time to be outside on a patio and enjoy a cold beverage. Gray Line Iceland coordinates a regular “Taste The Saga” brewery tour for summer-time visitors. You'll be given samples of Brennivin, Iceland's homegrown brew, and you'll also be treated to a brief history of the evolution of brewing on the island.