One of the best parts of visiting the Nordic country of Iceland is that it's a great year-round destination. In fact, the best time to visit Iceland is largely dependent on what you want to do when you arrive.
Iceland experiences four distinct seasons, so each time of year has its own advantages in what activities are possible.
Reykjavik is a culture-rich city and home to many world-renowned attractions that you'll want to experience during your Iceland trip. So take some time to determine what you want to do when you arrive to decide when is the best time to travel to Reykjavik.
Why visit Reykjavik, Iceland?
Reykjavik is home to less than 200,000 locals and is the the capital of Iceland located on the southwest coast of the country.
Known for it's natural beauty, history and culture, Reykjavik offers lots of activities and places to visit that make it a highly recommended tourist destination.
For explorers, Reykjavik is a great base point to travel to nearby geological attractions including geysers, lagoons, glaciers, volcanos, black sand beaches, waterfalls, lava plains and unique rock formations across stunning landscapes. Walking tours, driving tours, boat tours, and hikes are all available to help you see all that Iceland has to offer.
A vibrant nightlife and music scene makes Reykjavik a popular destination and home to many cafes, bars and restaurants to enjoy and some offer traditional Icelandic dishes.
What is Reykjavik known for?
As the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik is known for being one of the world's best cities for travel. There are many reasons to visit Iceland, and you won't want to leave Reykjavik off the list.
With stunning natural landscapes right outside the city, and a beaming arts scene and night life, Reykjavik has something for every type of traveler. You won't want to miss the:
Scenic mountains, volcanos, waterfalls, Northern Lights, incredible whale-watching tours, glaciers, hiking trails and fjords are just some of the stunning natural attractions that should put visiting Iceland at the top of your travel list!
It's hard to overstate the cultural relevance of Iceland's hot springs. For hundreds of years, Iceland's hot pools have created communities for people who gather in their warmth and spend time together.
The geothermal activity throughout Iceland is responsible for the natural hot springs, as well as geysers, mud pools and volcanos. The warm geothermal water of the hot springs rises from beneath the earth's surface and is used for heating greenhouses, homes, schools, and pools throughout Iceland.
The geothermal water in the hot pools has high mineral content and feels good to soak in thanks to its properties that are believed to benefit the skin, help alleviate pain, and clear congestion.
Taking a warm swim, even during winter months on the darkest, coldest Icelandic nights, is an experience you'll never forget!
Amazing New Year's Eve celebrations kick off a year full of festivals in Reykjavik. While there is no 'official' firework show in the city to celebrate the new year - more than 500 tons of fireworks are lit every year as nearly the entire population of Reykjavik rings in the new year.
Throughout the year, other festivals create a fun and lively environment in Iceland's capital including:
Secret Solstice (June)
Otherwise known as the Midnight Sun Music Festival, the Secret Solstice is one of the largest festivals in Reykjavik and welcomes more than 100 performers from Iceland and abroad each year to celebrate the summer solstice.
Culture Night (August)
Throughout central Reykjavik, Culture Night celebrates the start of the cultural year, when theatres and museums are open and launch their programs for the year.
Iceland Airwaves (November)
A genre-inclusive music event held across venues in the country's capital, Iceland Airwaves features the country's exciting musical performers.
Best time to travel to Reykjavik
When choosing the best time of year to travel to Iceland, there are many important things to consider, such as:
Do you want to save money on travel and attraction fees?
Then it's best to avoid peak season. Consider visiting during the shoulder season months of May and September.
Do you want to experience everything that Reykjavik has to offer?
Then your best bet is to visit in May or September, when the warmer temperatures mean that most mountain roads are open for you to explore.
Are you dreaming of seeing the Northern Lights?
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the elusive Northern Lights. Experience them in a way you'll never forget with the Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland & East Greenland expedition.
The Midnight Sun during June and July brings almost 24 hours of daylight to Reykjavik, so avoid travel plans during this time if you're looking to see the Northern Lights.
And remember, no matter where or when you travel to Iceland the unpredictable weather and cloud coverage means that seeing the Aurora borealis can never be guaranteed so don't plan your trip to Iceland solely around seeing this fleeting natural wonder.
Are you looking to avoid large crowds?
If yes, it's probably best not to travel between June and August when the temperatures are warmest in Iceland and the tourism is at its annual high. The months of May and September see fewer tourists and fewer crowds while still offering access to many of the tourist attractions most popular when exploring Iceland.
Do you have specific activities in mind?
Are you interested in hiking, seeing whales, skiing or bird watching? Be sure to research the best time to visit Iceland for each activity to ensure that doing what you love to do can be part of your dream trip.
The best time to visit Iceland: May vs. September
If you're looking to avoid crowds, and save money while still getting the opportunity to experience much of what Iceland has to offer the best time to visit Iceland is during the shoulder seasons - May and September.
During May and September, you can still expect to experience long daylight hours and mild temperatures, but each month has it's own advantages and disadvantages for different activities so be sure to consider what you're planning for when you pick your travel month.
The Iceland summer months come to an end in September and this is the month that the daylight hours start to disappear earlier. If you're looking to travel in September, be sure to check out Arctic voyages such as Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland and Spitsbergen to explore and discover all this region has to offer in September.
With more darkness comes an increased chance of getting to see the Northern Lights, but many roads start to close for the winter in September which may affect your plans if you are looking to road trip around the city.
With the sun setting around 8:30 p.m. you'll still have enough daylight and diminished crowds to make for some great photography. September is also the last chance you'll have for whale watching before the ice and snow make boat tours too dangerous.
What to consider when planning a trip to Reykjavik
From season to season, and even minute to minute, the Iceland weather is hard to predict. While the summer months typically offer the best weather, don't be surprised by overcast and blustery conditions even during a summer visit.
Pack prepared to experience all types of weather - sometimes you'll get a taste of every season all in one day! Bring clothes you can layer comfortably to ensure you're ready for all types of Icelandic weather.
And if you're visiting in the winter, pack thermals and be prepared for freezing icy winds.
How to get around
Most attractions in Reykjavik are within walking distance of the downtown core making the city an easy one to get around to take in all the sights and experiences.
Reykjavik is also a great starting base for many different trips to the areas that surround the city and many organized driving trips start in the city to take you on your adventures throughout Iceland.
In addition, there are plenty of taxis and buses available for longer distance travels. And if you're interested in getting off the land and into the water, check out Four Arctic Islands: Spitsbergen, Jan Mayen, Greenland and Iceland.
Make sure to pack activity-appropriate clothing
While it may not be common practice to pack your warmest thermal socks and your bathing suit in the same suitcase, a trip to Iceland and the various outdoor adventures available to you means taking extra care in packing will help ensure you get to enjoy everything Iceland has to offer.
You'll want to pack appropriately for different activities so having your itinerary in mind will be important while you're packing for your trip.
Things to do in Reykjavik
Inside and outside the city limits, there are many trip ideas you won't want to miss no matter what time of year you choose to visit Iceland.
Known for its geothermal activity, Iceland is home to many public swimming pools and hot water baths including Sky Lagoon.
Located on a hill near the edge of the city, Sky Lagoon is a must-visit for those looking for an unforgettable and relaxing dip into geothermal waters with amazing views.
Water and bathing culture in Iceland are integral in many traditions. At Sky Lagoon, you can participate in a 7-step ritual to experience Icelandic relaxation and rejuvenation.
Not only can you expect pleasant temperatures during a summer visit in Iceland, it's also the best time to visit if you're looking for whales. Iceland's waters are home to 23 different whale species and visiting during the Iceland summer is the best time of year to see them when whale watching tours are open and the whales are active.
North Iceland typically has more opportunities for you to catch a glimpse of sea life and whales.
The Blue Lagoon
If you're considering a trip to Reykjavik, chances are you've heard of the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's most popular attractions.
Soak in the pristine, mineral rich water to relax, and connect with others.
The water is so high in minerals it are said to have healing properties, and the views of the lava fields are unlike anything else in the world.
Visit An Ice Cave
Iceland is home to many ice caves and glacier ice caves but accessibility for tours depends largely on the weather. Many operators offer tours starting in November and through the Iceland winter.
Natural ice caves are constantly changing, sometimes detectable change even happens daily, so no two tours are ever the same. In Iceland you may see blue, white, or even black ice glaciers so be sure to read the tour itinerary and check out the pictures in the guides to ensure you're signing up to visit ice caves in a way that's meaningful to you.
Remember, it's important to never explore glacier ice caves on your own because they can be very dangerous.
Reykjavik Art Museum
Don't be confused by the three different locations and buildings of the Reykjavik Art Museum throughout the city, it's all the same museum!
Visit Iceland's most prolific art museum to enjoy exhibits dedicated to showcasing works from Icelandic and international artists.
You'll gain insight into the social, cultural, historical meaning of different artworks and might even have the chance to enjoy one of the more than 100 events that take place in the museum every year.
Perlan Museum and Observation Deck
Perlan Museum is a must visit for those looking to understand the wonders of Iceland's nature.
With ice cave, glacier, lava and water exhibits you'll experience the natural forces at play that have created the unique and stunning landscapes across Iceland.
And don't miss the Perlan Observation Deck that offers stunning 360° views over the city.
Visit Thingvellir National Park
One of the most popular places to visit in Iceland, Thingvellir National Park's history and natural beauty has made it a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Enjoy the park's guided tours, walking trails, horseback riding routes, fishing, snorkeling or hiking opportunities.
The Golden Circle
Whether you drive yourself, or join an organized tour - you don't want to miss the Golden Circle day trip. A popular tourist trek, you'll tour some of Iceland's must see sights such as Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park.
Imagine Peace Tower
Built in memory of John Lennon and designed by Yoko Ono, the Imagine Peace Tower is open to guests in all seasons throughout the year and provides visitors with a free audio tour.
Lit every night until midnight (and all night on John and Yoko's birthdays), you won't want to miss the sight of the bright light against the beautiful Icelandic backdrop.
The Hallgrimskirkja Church took almost four decades to be built and has a 244ft steeple from which the view at the top over the city and natural surroundings will take your breath away.
Reykjavik travel tips
Some fantastic adventures that include stops in Iceland include Under the Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland, Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, and Spitsbergen or Four Arctic Islands: Spitsbergen, Jan Mayen, Greenland and Iceland.
But if you are planning to spend time just in Iceland, it is recommended to spend at least a week to take in all the natural beauty.
Important items you don't want to leave at home:
- Thermals. Warm long johns or leggings are a must-have when travelling in and around Reykjavik in colder seasons. Even the Iceland summer nights can get cold. And don't forget warm socks to help keep your feet warm during every step of your exploration.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses. Especially if you're visiting during the Midnight Sun, you don't want to forget protection from the sun. Bright sun around the clock, shining back up at you from the gorgeous white snowy landscape can harm your skin and eyes.
- Swimsuit. You don't want to miss your chance to dip into the natural hot springs at any time of the year, so don't leave your bathing suit at home - even for visits during the coldest winter weather.
- Waterproof clothing. Because of the unpredictable Iceland weather, you'll want to ensure that you are ready for sun or rain no matter what you're doing. Having waterproof clothing (including a hat) will help you stay warm and dry no matter the weather.
- Camera. With incredible and unique sights everywhere you look in Iceland, you're going to want to ensure you have your camera with you ready to help capture the beauty that will surround you.
- Warm clothing. Investing in good warm clothing before your trip will help you enjoy (rather than shiver) your way through all the scenic experiences Iceland has to offer.
- Hiking Boots. Leave impractical shoes at home when you're packing for Reykjavik. Whether you're walking downtown, on hiking trails, or enjoying a walking tour through the Iceland landscapes you'll want to make sure your feet are supported and warm to make the most of your trip.