Iceland is one of the most fascinating countries on the planet — an oversized island of fire and ice in the North Atlantic. While roughly the size of the U.K., Iceland is relatively unpopulated, home to fewer people but a vast array of natural wonders. And with Reykjavik as its cultural center, Iceland touts all kinds of great lures, from a thriving art and music scene to intriguing cuisine and colorful architecture.
One of the country’s greatest features has to do with its positioning. Being so far north, Iceland is treated to unbelievably long days right around the summer solstice. The weather tends to be cool and wet but compensated for by the hyper-extended days. During June, the sun there tends to set around 11 p.m. and come up around 4 a.m. It’s prime time to cross things off your nordic bucket list, like driving around the whole country via the gorgeous Ring Road, or trekking up north to dip in the restorative waters of Mývatn.
Iceland has many merits no matter what time of year you happen to visit. Winter takes some getting used to, as the sun generally barely comes up in time for lunch and is down just a few short hours later. However, Icelanders have creative ways of dealing with such a dilemma, like colorful lights throughout the city. With snow usually in the picture this time of year, it’s actually surprisingly light, once you adjust. And, if you’re lucky, you may even sneak a peek at the Northern Lights. If nothing else, you can cozy up in a great bar, cafe, or take in a show at the remarkable Harpa.
Spring tends to be pretty blustery and cool, and a lot of the more remote roads are just generally reopening as the snow recedes. You’ll enjoy less-expensive travel rates but the weather is iffy at best. The fall doesn’t last long in Iceland, and the dark days return rather quickly, but there are some intriguing draws, like late-season salmon fishing. Also, there are some great gatherings, namely Airwaves, an eclectic music festival that takes place every November in various clubs throughout Reykjavik.
Summer is certainly the busiest tourist stretch for Iceland, but it’s generally worth dealing with a few extra faces to access the corresponding benefits. As you might expect, the country genuinely responds to the time of year, as the changes are pretty dramatic. In the offseason, things tend to open later (if at all) and close earlier. In the swinging heat of summer, there’s generally more energy in the air, and the city especially comes to life.
Visiting Iceland is no longer a secret, but because many major U.S. cities offer direct flights, it remains a fairly affordable destination, even in the summer. We suggest booking on the early side given the heightened interest.
It may be the most popular time to do so, but late spring and early summer is the best time to visit Iceland. You’ll see other tourists, sure, but with the extended days, vast open country, and Reykjavik’s many accessible shops, museums, restaurants, and more, you can still feel like you have the place mostly to yourself. May, June, and July generally produce the longest days, best weather (relatively speaking), and best opportunities to explore area attractions like geysers, national parks, waterfalls, and puffin-filled cliff sides.
In the city, the feeling is very European and stretched out in a leisurely fashion. Locals tend to have dinner quite late in the summer — sometimes even outside — en route to a concert or a few of their favorite weekend watering holes (don’t forget to get a hot dog before you retire for the evening). Take in a local soccer match or have a thawing dip in one of the many thermal pools. Away from town, the many rugged beaches, trails, and volcanoes bask in extended daylight and beg to be explored at pretty much all hours of the long day.
If you’re adamant about getting ahead of the tourist cycle, try heading out in May or early June before the summer rush starts in earnest. The weather may not be quite as reliable, but you’ll feel a little more like a local.
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