Is it Better to visit Iceland in the Summertime or the Wintertime?

Find out when it's the best to visit Iceland

|July 29, 2021

Iceland boasts many breathtaking natural attractions that can be enjoyed year-round. However, some unique activities can only be enjoyed seasonally. This raises the question of whether it is better to visit.


Volcanic attractions

Iceland is an ideal destination for anybody fascinated by volcanoes and volcanic activity. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge separating the North American plate from the Eurasian Plate runs right through the island, so there are active volcanoes and interesting geothermal phenomena all around.

aerial view of thingvellir park area

Volcanic eruptions cannot be accurately predicted, and they are not safe to observe, but there are many volcanic attractions you can see or experience. For example, the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. You can bathe in the lagoon’s milky blue pools of steaming hot water year-round courtesy of an underground lava field. The mineral-rich water of the lagoon is a byproduct of the nearby Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant.

The geysers found in the Haukadalur Valley provide a spectacular natural display. Strokkur Geyser typically erupts once every 6 to 10 minutes throwing a fountain of steaming water 66 feet into the sky. Nearby Geysir Hot Springs has been known to spurt boiling water 230 feet high, but it is not as faithful as Strokkur. Again, this natural geothermal attraction can be enjoyed year-round.

geysir eruption in iceland

However, there is one volcanic attraction unique to Iceland that you can only visit in the warmer months. Thrihnukagigur is the only volcano in the world you can explore inside, but it is closed during the winter. Thrihnukagigur has been dormant for over 4,000 years, so there is no danger. It is possible to descend through its crater to reach the preserved magma chamber below and experience for yourself the vast scale of this geological phenomenon.

Arctic attractions

With a name like Iceland, it’s not surprising to discover there are many Arctic attractions you can enjoy around the island. Iceland is a great destination for winter sports, such as Nordic skiing or snowmobiling.

people on snowmobiles in iceland langjokull glacier

If you are a fan of the TV show Game of Thrones, check out Mýrdalsjökull Glacier east of Reykjavik. That’s where the scenes for the Fist of the First Men were filmed, and the glacier is a popular destination for glacier hiking.

  

However, don’t explore a glacier alone. Arctic landscapes are spectacular, but they can also be unforgiving. You’ll need the assistance of an expert local guide from an organization like Adventures.com. An experienced guide will know where to go for the best views, be able to spot the dangers, and will ensure you have dressed appropriately for the cold weather that you may encounter on your glacier hike. 

  

Although you can experience Arctic landscapes year-round, you will benefit most by visiting during the winter. Not only is that when the ice and snow are at their most impressive, but it is also when you can explore Iceland’s fascinating ice caves. Join a guided glacier hike through Vatnajökull National Park to enjoy the mystical experience of the play of light inside one of these naturally occurring caves along the course of the glacier.

Skaftafell Vatnajokull National Park View in winter

Spectacular waterfalls

Iceland is blessed with the world’s greatest collection of breathtaking waterfalls. Some are associated with fascinating local traditions or folklore, such as Hjálparfoss where some Icelanders come to celebrate their wedding. At Hjálparfoss, two waterfalls combine at their base to create one, symbolizing marriage.

More famous falls, such as Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, are popular with Icelandic day-trippers. Seljalandsfoss is particularly noted for the trail that leads behind the falls and enables access to a secluded cave.

skogafoss and seljalandsfoss waterfalls in south iceland

You get a completely different experience visiting Iceland’s waterfalls in winter and summer. In winter, the falls are surrounded by magical icicles that turn the view into a winter wonderland. However, the snow and ice can make the falls difficult to reach, and the trail behind Seljalandsfoss becomes treacherous.  

In summer, the bright sunlight and surrounding greenery combine to create a more picturesque landscape. Also, the melting snow and ice on higher ground result in much more powerful and impressive waterfalls than in winter. Generally, you’ll appreciate Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls more in summer than winter.

The Northern Lights

Experiencing the Aurora Borealis is on many people’s bucket list for a good reason. Because Iceland has such a low population density, and it’s easy to drive out into the countryside away from the light pollution, Iceland is a fantastic place to go to watch this amazing natural light display.

happy women near northern lights in iceland

Iceland is on the edge of the Arctic Circle, which is the best location to observe the lights. However, the lights are easiest to see during deep, dark nights. Iceland sees huge extremes of day length, with Reykjavik seeing less than 4 hours of daylight on midwinter’s day but only 3 hours of “dark” on midsummer’s day. It never truly gets dark during midsummer.    

If you want to enjoy the Northern Lights in Iceland, you must visit during the winter when the nights are long and dark. The lights are frequently observed between September and April, but the closer to midwinter the better.

Northern Lights Watching Tour with Adventures.com

Whale watching

The volcanic activity in Iceland isn’t only confined to the land, and underwater volcanoes make the seas surrounding the island surprisingly warm. During summer, humpback whales flock to Iceland to feast on the zooplankton and fish that thrive in these warm Icelandic waters. They are frequently spotted offshore from April through November.

whale watching boat in north iceland near a whale

If you’re lucky, you can spot the whales from shore. Whales are known to swim into the Westfjords. However, the easiest way to guarantee meeting a whale face to face is to take one of the whale-watching cruises that depart from Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Húsavík.

Whale watching boats sail from Reykjavik year-round, but you’ll be lucky to see any in the winter, so the tour becomes more of a sight-seeing expedition. To enjoy waves breaking through the waves, it is best to visit Iceland in summer.

Summertime or wintertime

So, you can see that there are some spectacular natural attractions you can only see in the summer and others you can only see in the winter. Those that you can see year-round offer a different experience in the summertime when compared to in the wintertime. If you want to get the most out of Iceland and experience all the magical natural attractions on offer, it is better to visit Iceland at least twice. Once in the summer and once in the winter.

aerial view of myrdalsjokull glacier edge in iceland

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