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10 Things to Do in Autumn in Iceland

|July 28, 2020
Passionate about people, places, adventure and life, Áshildur is a guide, blogger, food enthusiast, and business expert. Hiking is her ultimate therapy, yoga her spiritual practice, and books her escape. She is an Icelander living in Reykjavik.

Autumn is the perfect time of year to visit Iceland. The nature is beautiful and colorful this time of year with rainbows, red and gold leaves against a dazzling blue sky, wild mushrooms, and an abundance of tasty berries that sweeten our daily lives.

Although there is no frost yet, there is definitely a shiver of crispness in the air with great opportunities to see the dances of the elusive Northern Lights.

Autumn might be the most pleasant time of year to visit Iceland. Enjoy this magical season with adventures from our list of the top 10 things to do in Autumn in Iceland:

1. Enjoy the Beautiful Autumn Colors

The autumn in Iceland is very colorful, with vegetation changing from bright green to rich shades of red, yellow and orange. It’s amazing to see the moss-covered lava in its vibrant autumn colors and waterfalls surrounded by colorful trees. 

autumn trees in iceland near thingvellir

You might not know that fall comes early in Iceland. In mid-September the vegetation starts to change color and October is a particularly great month for it. Then the fall foliage really comes alive and pops against the sculptured mountains, glacial waters, black lava fields and green moss. You might even experience snow. 

Where to go? Most people go to Þingvellir national park (see more about Þingvellir in number two on our list) but the alternative is Heiðmörk, a reforestation area 6 km south of Reykjavík.

2. Discover The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a famous attraction in Iceland. The main stops on the circle are the Golden Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Area and Þingvellir National Park. The Golden Circle has been one of Iceland’s most popular routes for a long time. The route can easily be completed within a day as the classic journey covers around 300 km (190 mi).

aerial view of thingvellir national park hiking area in iceland

Þingvellir, often spelled Thingvellir, is both a geological and a historical wonder. It was home to the very first parliament in the world, founded in 930 CE. In 2014 UNESCO deemed the park a World Heritage Site because of its global significance. In Þingvellir you will see waterfalls plunge down lava cliffs and continental plates visibly drift apart. 

Geysir Geothermal Area is one of the bigger destinations in Iceland. It is home of the world-famous geyser named Geysir, which is now mostly dormant. Today, Strokkur geyser is the main attraction in the area. Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes and the jets of water shoot up more than 20 meters into the sky. Many other spouting geysers populate the area as well as bubbling mud pots and hot pools.

geysir strokkur geothermal area in golden circle

Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls, is one of the most iconic and beloved waterfalls in Iceland. The waterfall originates at Langjökull Glacier, the second largest glacier in Iceland. The bubbling water plummets down two separate drops and then gushes through a rough canyon. 

Why? The great thing about exploring the Golden Circle in autumn is the great color schemes. You might also find the cold crisp air refreshing.

How to visit? Starting in Reykjavik, drive into the southern uplands. The first destination, Þingvellir, is just 45 minutes away from Reykjavik and the Golden Circle is easily doable in a day. If you are not up for the drive, check out our expert-led small group guided tours.

Bonus: You can combine sightseeing with thrilling activities like snorkeling in Silfra at Þingvellir or snowmobiling on the second largest glacier, Langjökull, near Gullfoss. On the way you can also visit other attractions like Laugarvatnshellar, the natural hot water spa Fontana, the Secret Lagoon natural and the tomato greenhouse Fridheimar.

3. Participate In The Annual Sheep Round-Ups

In the fall, Icelanders and a fair number of tourists head off to the countryside and take part in Réttir, the annual sheep round-up. This activity is one of the country’s oldest cultural traditions.

sheep gathering in autumn in iceland

Icelandic sheep freely roam the mountains and fjords during the summer, fattening themselves with lush grass, herbs and moss. In autumn they are gathered by the rural communities. Farmers invite family, friends and anyone who’s interested to help with the rounding up.

How to participate: Réttir takes place throughout September and early October, usually on weekends. You can ask your hotel or one of the visitor centers for information on Réttir taking place when you are visiting. If you run into a Réttir celebration on accident make sure to ask for permission to enter.

Here is a list of the 2019 Réttir around Iceland. This media publishes a new list by the end of August every year, but unfortunately only in Icelandic. Don’t hesitate to ask around when in Iceland and get directions to the nearest Réttir.

4. Look For The Northern Lights

Northern Lights season in Iceland starts in the autumn and lasts until springtime. Autumn can be a very good time to see the aurora. The lights appear in many forms from scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs and shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

man watching northern lights from mountains in iceland

Where to see? Northern lights can be seen all around Iceland. To improve your chances, find a place far away from any street lights.

Grótta lighthouse is the most popular spot for northern lights hunters in Reykjavík. The lighthouse is located on the edge of the Seltjarnarnes peninsula within walking distance from Reykjavík city center. As it is surrounded by the sea, there is no light pollution by the lighthouse. 

Other places near Reykjavík are the conservation area Heiðmörk on the outskirts of Reykjavík, Þingvellir National Park, and Reykjanes peninsula, all 15-30 minutes drive from the city.

You can also check out our guided Northern Light tours. Our tour guides are experts in hunting for the Northern Lights and finding ideal viewing spots.

5. Visit The Hidden Underworld In Raufarhólshellir

A journey into Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel is a unique experience and a great opportunity to witness the inner workings of volcano eruptions. While the nature of the grounds is in full autumn colors, you will experience the vibrant deep reds and purples of lava in the cave.

two women exploring Raufarholshellir lava tunnel

The lava tunnel is a stunning geological paradise that was formed after a volcanic eruption 5200 years ago. The tunnel is one of the biggest in Iceland and gets up to 30 metres wide and 10 metres high at its largest point. The fantastic range of colors of the tunnel wall is caused by different types of minerals. This magical place inspires awe and wonder in equal measure.

A visit to Raufarhólshellir is a fun activity for everyone and a good way to learn more about the geology of the powerful volcanic activity that formed the lava tunnel. The standard tour is 55-60 minutes long and if you like you can also book a private tour.

steel walking path bridge inside a lava tunnel in iceland

How to visit? Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel is less than a 30 minute drive from Reykjavík and easily accessible all year around. Tours run every hour on the hour and it’s best to book in advance. You can also join us on a 3-hour small group guided tour from Reykjavík.

6. Go Swimming And Meet The Locals

One of the best things to do in autumn is swimming in one of Iceland’s outdoor swimming pools. The swimming pools are a great source of natural therapy and an important part of national culture.

group of women relaxing in a swimming pool

Some swimming pools have saunas and steam baths, and most have hot tubs or jacuzzis. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting in a hot tub on a crisp autumn day or floating in a warm outdoor swimming pool and enjoying the beautiful skylight.

I always say that the best way to meet locals is to visit one of our many swimming pools. Icelanders are frequent visitors and when sitting in hot tubs they usually love to chat with the  people next to them.

How to visit? You won’t have any problem finding swimming pools in Iceland since we have about 200 swimming pools total and they’re found in almost every town. The most visited swimming pools in Reykjavík are Laugardalslaug and Vesturbæjarlaug, but the more iconic swimming pools in the capital area are Sundhöll Reykjavíkur and Sundhöll Hafnarfjarðar.

7. Pick Mushrooms And Wild Berries

Autumn is also the time to go mushroom or berry picking. Wild blueberries and crow berries are the most common wild berries in Iceland. You can also find wild strawberries in sunny spots in the south of Iceland.

growing icelandic berries in moss

Mushrooms hide away in Icelandic forests. You can find around 30 types of edible and tasty mushrooms among the porcini and chanterelles. To pick mushrooms, look for ones that are fresh and fleshy without any signs of decay. Additionally, only pick mushrooms with fully opened caps. It is hard to tell the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms when the caps are closed.

mushrooms in iceland

Mushroom and berry picking is a great outdoor activity and good fun for the whole family.

Where to go berry picking? The best berry areas around Reykjavík are in the outdoor recreational area Heidmörk, around Hvalfjördur and Borgarfjördur, in Thingvellir national park, on the slopes of Mt. Esja and the summerhouse region of Þrastarskógur near Selfoss.

Where to go mushroom picking?The best places to gather mushrooms are in the forests of Heidmörk, but other forests around Iceland are very suitable as well. See a map of Icelandic national forests here.

8. Why Not Take A Road Trip?

The autumn months are a low season for tourism in Iceland, which means fewer people on the roads. Take advantage of the smaller crowds to enjoy popular sights.

beautiful icelandic landscape in autumn on the south coast

The most popular road trip for Icelanders is the famous Ring Road or Route1. The Ring Road runs around the island and connects most of the great attractions and inhabited parts of the country. You will see the famous Golden Circle, the South Coast and its thundering waterfalls and black sand beaches, the Myvatn Nature Baths, Dettifoss Waterfall, and the remote East Fjords.

You should spend at least 6 days on the road to make the most of the trip. Here you can find the ultimate ring road guide in Iceland.

How to visit? You can take the Ring Road from south to north or north to south. The most common route is driving to the south coast first and then heading to the east, the north and then the west.

What to watch out for? When you drive around Iceland in autumn you should always check the forecast and drive according to conditions. The weather can change rapidly and you can easily experience icy roads and stormy weathers in the highlands and on mountain roads.

9. Taste Our Freshest Harvest

Autumn is also the time of produce and for harvesting anything that grows in Iceland. It is the time to eat Icelandic potatoes, carrots, kale, broccoli and cauliflower.

happy woman picking tomatoes in fridheimar

Autumn is also time for fresh lamb meat from sheep that have fed on rich and nourishing vegetation in the mountains and valleys of Iceland.

Countryside vegetable markets can be found in many towns and villages in late summer and early autumn. One of the best known is at Mosskógar in Mosfellsdalur valley near Reykjavík. The market has been operating for more than 20 years and sells more than 20 kinds of homegrown vegetables including carrots, potatoes, beets, kale and collard greens.

Another well-known vegetable market is open on weekends in August and early September in Sólheimar. Sólheimar is the oldest eco-village in the world, offering people with special needs varied and creative employment opportunities in a close-knit community.

aerial view of solheimar village in iceland

Freshly grown Icelandic vegetables can also be found in all supermarkets and local grocery stores in autumn. Some of them, like Krónan, host a special farmers market in their stores where you can get everything from freshly picked strawberries and raspberries to tomatoes and potatoes.

10. Get Festive

We Icelanders love our festivals. They are not only fun but also a great way to spend time with friends and family.

large audience watching a movie in theater

There are two major festivals held in autumn in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. The first one is the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF), which is highly regarded in the film community of both Iceland and Europe.

The second is Iceland Airwaves, a music festival that has become increasingly popular over the last ten years. The festival promotes a lot of emerging and established Icelandic bands and takes place in various venues around Reykjavík.

group of friends dancing in a music festival

Obviously there are other smaller festivals. Here are a few worth a look.

Enjoy the colorful autumn in Iceland in our stunningly beautiful landscape, pick some berries on your travels, stop by a swimming pool and get festive. That’s how we Icelanders like to spend our autumns!

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