When deciding what time of year to visit, consider where you want to go, what you want to experience and your budget.
Where Do You Want to Go in Iceland
There are certain places in Iceland that are only accessible in summer, or weather permitting.
The Interior is also referred to as the Highlands. If you want to explore the Interior, plan on traveling to Iceland in the summer: (Late June), July, August, (September).
Here are some of the highlights of the Highlands:
- Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve: views of Ryolite mountains, geothermal baths and Brennisteinsalda volcano.
- Laugavegur hiking trail, 55 km trek from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk in Icelandic)
- Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk in Icelandic), hiking destination in the Highlands
- Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range
- Hveradalir (valley of the hot springs), geothermal area
Note: While it’s not possible to drive into the interior with your rental car outside of the summer months, you could still reach the interior with a Super Jeep Tour like this Private Landmannalaugar & Hekla Super Jeep Tour from Reykjavik.
The Westfjords are called “Vestmannaeyjar” in Icelandic. You can access this region in winter, but depending on the weather conditions, some roads are inaccessible. Also, some roads are simply not serviced in winter.
Here are a few tips for your journey to the Westfjords:
- You can’t drive to Dynjandi waterfall or between Ísafjörður and Patreksfjörður in winter.
- You can’t hike Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the uninhabited northernmost region of the Westfjords, in winter, spring, or fall. The only realistic time to come here is mid-June to end of July.
- From our personal experience: We booked a night in Ísafjörður (mid-April), but couldn’t get there, because of the road conditions. A week before, however, it would have been no problem (so it just depends on the weather). We were able to access Patreksfjörður via Highways 60 and 62 without a problem.
The Landeyjahöfn ferry connects the mainland to the Westman Islands (mainly between mid-May and mid-September). But on days when the weather conditions are bad (mainly in winter), the ferry doesn’t operate. If the Landeyjahöfn ferry doesn’t operate, there might be one from Þorlákshöfn (Thorlakshofn). So realistically, the best time to see the Westman Islands is in summer.
For more details on how to get to the Islands, check out the Visit the Westman Islands Website.
What Do You Want to Experience in Iceland
Driving the Ring Road
It might be possible to drive the ring road all year round, but it’s not advisable in winter. In the winter, roads can be impassable. Even when we drove the Ring Road in April, we experienced less than favorable road conditions: icy roads, low visibility, potholes a plenty. We drove sometimes for hours without being able to see a thing (just endless white).
In case you don’t want to drive the ring road yourself, check out this top-rated 6-Day Ring Road Adventure.
Northern Lights can be visible between mid-September and mid-April. Your ability to see them will depend on cloud coverage, solar activity and light pollution. When we visited in April, we met people who saw them. We didn’t, mostly because of cloud coverage and because we were too lazy to wake up at 3:00 a.m. when it most promising.
Alternatively, you can join a guided tour like this Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik (Duration: 4 hours).
Atlantic Puffins are seabirds that spend most of their lives at sea, but return to land to breed during spring and summer. It’s possible to see them between early April and early September. If you really want to see them, it’s a safer bet to come between May and August. We didn’t see them in mid-April because it was a long winter.
Check out this guided tour from Reykjavik: Puffin Watching Boat Tour (Duration: 1 hour).
Visiting Ice Caves
is a winter activity (November – April).
If you are interested, check out this Crystal Ice Cave Day Tour from Jökulsárlón: (Duration: 3 hours)
Hiking the Interior
is a summer activity (mid-June to early September).
If you join this Landmannalaugar 4-Hour Hiking Experience, you can either get a pickup in Reykjavik, or – if you have your own 4×4 jeep inkl. F-roads permission – your meeting point is directly at the Landmannalaugar Wardens’ Hut (Google Maps).
Touring Fjallsárlón or Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoons) on a boat
is a summer activity (usually mid-May to mid-September). You can definitely visit the lagoons outside those months, but there will be no tours in operation.
If you are based in Reykjavik, check out this tour: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Boat Tour (Duration: 14 hours).
What’s Your Travel Budget
Iceland’s high season is mid-June through August, and not surprisingly the most expensive time to visit.
When we traveled in April, we saw that some of the guesthouses we stayed in increased their prices by 400% for the high season (ouch!).