Iceland’s weather is anything but predictable, always keeping locals and visitors on their toes. Although the island is close to the Arctic Circle, the country has a milder weather climate than what’s often expected, due to the constant warm Gulf Stream currents that regularise the temperature.
Interested in knowing more about Iceland’s weather? How cold it gets during winter and what to expect during summer solstice? If so, then read on.
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Iceland's climate in a nutshell
The main factors that determine the climate in each part of the world are its geographical location, natural features such as topography, water sources, mountains and forests as well as geological activity. These are elements that are subject to study and analysis, so their climate consequences are predictable and expected.
A quick glance at Iceland’s geo-location on a world map can make it seem as if its climate is relatively predictable. After all, it’s an island near the Arctic – just south of the Arctic Circle, but in the path of the warming Gulf Stream. Its mountainous ranges are low and landscapes nearly treeless. It is also the region where the North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, making it a place of exceptional geothermal activity brimming with hot springs, geysers, mud pools, and volcanoes.
These climate-determining conditions are characteristic of the whole of Scandinavia, but in Iceland, there are variances between different parts of the island: the southern coast tends to be warmer and wetter; the wind is stronger from the north, and snowfall in winter is more common in the north than in the south.
From the north comes snow and cold, icy winds; but despite its proximity to the Arctic, the island’s coasts remain ice-free even during winter. The North Atlantic current, also known as the Gulf Stream, sends warm waves from the Caribbean to the icy patch of land from the south and west. As a result of this, Iceland often surprises with its diverse weather that, at times, doesn’t live up to its name!
Iceland’s average temperatures
For the most part, the country has a cold, temperate climate. It is classified as sub-polar oceanic along its coastline. The south coast is warmer and wetter than the north. The Highlands are the coldest part of the country. The low inland areas in the north are the driest.
Winter snowfall is more common in the north than in the south. The highest recorded air temperature was 30.5 °C on June 22, 1939, on the southeast coast. The lowest was -38 °C on January 22, 1918, in the northeast hinterland.
In general, the island’s weather is much more moderate than expected. The main reason for this is the merge of mild and warm Atlantic air with the cold currents from the north.
Although Iceland has four seasons, sometimes it certainly feels like it has two. You can have a snowstorm in the height of summer and a heatwave on Christmas Day!
Winter in Iceland
Winter is the longest season on the island, lasting from November until March. Icelandic winters are relatively mild due to their latitude, maritime influence and proximity to the warm currents of the North Atlantic. They are much milder than, for example, winters in New York, which is further south but temperature-wise has colder winter days.
The southern lowlands of the island average about 0 °C in winter, while the north averages about -10 °C . The lowest temperatures in the north of the island range from about -25 to -30 °C.The lowest recorded temperature is -39.7 °C.
Winters bring along endless nights, clear skies and low temperatures: the perfect conditions for the Aurora Borealis, or, in other words, Northern Lights. Often appearing in between October and March, this natural phenomenon is best seen in a dark area, without any city light pollution. They come in all shapes and sizes, often green in colour and can either be static or dance along the skyline.
This season is also ideal for outdoor activities such as exploring Vatnajökull’s underground ice caves, most of which are unreachable during the warmer season! During this time of the year, the entire island transforms into a truly magical winter wonderland covered with a blanket of white. The ground freezes all over and makes room for some unforgettable natural scenery.
Unfortunately, winter does come hand in hand with menacing winds and snowstorms so strong that they entirely shut down Keflavík International Airport. Road visibility is, in some areas extremely limited and you should always make sure you have the right tyres and car for your planned adventure as black ice is present throughout the country.
When it comes to packing for a winter trip to Iceland, the more layers and lighter clothes the better. It goes without saying that waterproof hiking boots are a must. Make sure to bring along at least one merino-wool base layer, a suitable sweater/fleeces, and a breathable waterproof jacket and pants. If you plan on purchasing one thing from Iceland, let that be an authentic Icelandic woollen sweater, otherwise known as a Lopapeysa. It’ll keep you extremely warm during those cold winter days and fashionable!
Spring in Iceland
Spring is arguably the best time of year to visit Iceland – apart from the busy tourist season in summer, due to its relatively stable weather, ordinary daylight hours, and cheaper accommodation prices. Although spring first arrives in April, Icelanders officially celebrate the First Day of Summer as a national day on the first Thursday after the 18th of April.
The skies become clearer, the days longer and the entire island starts getting greener by the minute. The average temperature for early spring is 7-8 degrees Celsius and by the end of spring, you can be expecting around twelve to fourteen hours of daylight.
The snow begins to melt and natural attractions become more easily accessible. Spring is also the time when puffins can be seen, with thousands of colonies of these funny-looking birds coming inland to nest.
If you plan on visiting Iceland in early spring, be aware some roads will still be closed including F-Roads and Highland roads. If it’s your first time driving on the island, a safe bet will be to keep to the South Coast and only head up North when the weather permits.
Summer in Iceland
It’s safe to say that Icelandic summers aren’t exactly what you’re used to if you live in a warmer climate. Don’t bother packing shorts or cropped t-shirts as even in the heat of summer you won’t need them!
Although the average temperature in July in the south of the island doesn’t exceed 10-13 degrees Celsius, on a bright and sunny summer day, you will see locals abundantly tanning out in the streets, parks, and swimming pools. Warm summer days can reach 20-25 °C although they’re a true rarity.
The average annual hours that Reykjavík receives sun is about 1300, which is similar to cities like Scotland and Ireland. But there have also been some startling temperature records during the peak of summer: The highest temperature in Iceland was 30.5 degrees Celsius in 1939 on the southeast coast, and the lowest temperature was minus 38 degrees Celsius in 1918 at Grímsstaðir in northeast Iceland. Temperature records in Reykjavík were 24.8 degrees Celsius in 2004 and minus 24.5 degrees Celsius in 1918.
As summer is considered to be peak season in the country, it can get real busy real quick. Accommodation is harder to find and oftentimes more expensive than in the shoulder seasons. Car rentals are booked weeks in advance and camping sites offer limited on-spot availability. Nevertheless, summer offers visitors the most to see and do out of all seasons. Hiking paths open to the public as well as the country’s F-roads, allowing visitors to safely venture deep within the heart of Iceland. Wildlife is at its best, with flocks of horses and sheep gracing the countryside roads and arctic foxes making their appearance near Þórsmörk. The country is covered by luscious greenery and Iceland’s natural backdrops are at their finest.
Due to its geo-location, Iceland experiences near 24-hour daylight during the summer season. The longest day of the year, also known as the summer solstice takes place in late June, after which the days slowly start to decrease by a few minutes. This natural phenomenon makes way for much more road trip possibilities as visitors have the chance to explore the island all day and night long, should they wish to do so. Make sure you bring an eye mask as otherwise, the brightness will definitely keep you up all night long!
Autumn in Iceland
In autumn, the skies are often cloudy, with moving wind and rain, and the weather is highly unpredictable. Although you can experience all four seasons at any given point of the year, autumn certainly comes with a lot of drastic climate changes. The temperature ranges between 2 to 10 degrees Celsius but it can be considerably higher in August, and lower in October.
Some say that early autumn is the perfect season if you’re visiting Iceland for the first time. It’s not as cold as winter, accommodation is cheaper than summer and the country’s landscapes are coated with a mesmerizing color that adds to the already hypnotic natural scenery.
Most of Iceland’s natural attractions are still easily accessible and much less crowded than in summer and winter. This allows for a much more intimate experience as visitors can pace themselves however they want without having to worry about massive queues at crowded sights. It is the perfect season to go explore some off-the-beaten-track locations, as you won’t be disturbed by any other tourists nearby.
Although autumn isn’t the ideal season to go hiking in Iceland due to the high chance of rain, some of the most prominent hiking trails, including that of the Highlands, are still accessible and huts are still open. Paths may be wet and slippery, but with a bit of caution and a lot of planning, it definitely is possible to enjoy the Laugavegur Trail during this period of the year.
Autumn is also the perfect time to experience some of the country’s most exciting social events such as Gay Pride and Reykjavík International Film Fest. If you’re looking to mingle with locals, this is the season to do so!
Iceland’s weather by month
January is considered to be the coldest month out of all. Although it’s definitely cold in Iceland in January, chances are that it’s not as cold as you’d expect for a country so high near the Arctic Circle. The average daily temperature in Reykjavík ranges between -3 and +1 degrees Celsius however, this number can vary greatly. There have been Januarys with bright sun and +10 degrees and others where temperatures drop below 10 degrees. January is the month of blizzards and snowstorms but heavy snowfall rarely makes an appearance in downtown Reykjavík. Along with December, January has the shortest days of the year, with barely 4-6 hours of daylight. Nevertheless, the outdoor snowy landscape transforms the country into a winter wonderland worth seeing at least once in your life!
Although February brings more daylight than its shoulder months, the country can still experience brisk temperature changes paired with rain, snow, and substantial wind. The average daily temperature is +0.5 degrees Celsius but can vary greatly. February is the perfect month to explore the island as the landscape is still idyllically covered in a sheet of snow and the days are getting longer by the minute. In February, many roads are still impassable due to severe weather conditions including but not limited to those up North and near the East and Westfjords. Therefore it’s always best to stick to the attractions found near the main road.
March is an ideal time to visit Iceland. The weather is usually much calmer, the days are significantly longer and you have a good chance to still see the Northern Lights! The daily average temperature is around 0 degrees Celsius and is much colder in the North than in the South. Rain is also a common event and the further you go up the more it turns into snow. Icelanders celebrate the legalization of beer on the first of March therefore the whole town fills with events and festivities that last for days. It is the perfect time to bond with locals over a pint of beer!
The month of April brings along enjoyable weather and a temperature average between 1-7 degrees Celsius. The first signs of spring slowly start to appear, and the country once again fills with wildlife. April is the best of both worlds as winter activities such as ice caving, are still readily available and so are some summer ones. The crowds are still lower and accommodation much cheaper than in summer, yet daylight hours significantly increase. It is the perfect time to explore the island at your own pace just before the masses of tourists arrive. April is also unpredictable, and you can easily have all four seasons in the space of a few minutes!
May is one of the best months to travel to the land of Fire and Ice. Winter is no longer here, daylight is longer, accommodation still much cheaper than in June and the island’s fauna and flora become once again alive. Although the average temperature rises and averages 4-10 degrees Celsius, the weather may still throw some surprises here and there therefore make sure you pack accordingly. In addition, many additional activities such as ATV rides, Boat trips, Whale watching Tours once again re-open to tourists after the long winter season, and the options are endless.
June is the start of Iceland’s high season. Tourists start flocking the island from all over the world. Natural attractions become much more crowded and tours sell out fast. The temperature ranges between 5-14 degrees, and one might even say that it gets warm! The snow has already melted, the weather becomes much milder and the whole island gets covered from head to toe with a layer of luscious greenery. Precipitation in June is usually the lowest of the year, with short and light showers.
Hiking routes such as the Laugavegur Trail in the Highlands are once again open for visitors and cars are allowed to drive on F-roads. June is also the month with the most daylight. It’s the perfect time to go on long road trips, as daylight is endless. It reaches its pinnacle near the end of June with the summer solstice – the longest day of the year after which the days slowly start to get shorter.
Locals absolutely love the beginning of summer. There are plenty of social gatherings and events happening on every street corner, and swimming pools are full to the brim with people wanting to catch a sunray or two. Festivities are in full swing and international music festivals, like the Secret Solstice, gather vast international crowds.
July is the peak of Icelandic summer with temperatures ranging from 7 to 13 degrees Celsius. July brings a lot of uncertainty when it comes to weather as temperatures can go up to 30 degrees in the blink of an eye, although this is extremely rare.
Low pressure brings along precipitation in the heart of the island, which might hinder any Highlands hiking plans. Although the weather might look ideal at first, it can change very rapidly therefore good waterproof outerwear is always recommended for all hiking activities. The midnight sun provides for endless road trip possibilities. Activities such as horse riding, canoeing, glacier hiking, and diving are readily available although they might sell out quickly.
August is still considered to be one of the warmer months of the year, which allows for plenty of outdoor activities like camping and hiking. With still a good 13-16 hours of daylight, there are plenty of activities to do and sights to see and the good news is that there’s time for all! The average temperature for August is between 8-13 degrees Celsius, with plenty of fine weather and warm nights. Although August experiences about 20 days of rainfall, precipitation is often short and light. It is the last month before the cold sets in and should be enjoyed to the fullest!
September marks the end of Icelandic summer. Although the average temperature ranges between 6-12 degrees Celsius, do not be surprised if you wake up one day and it’s -1 degrees, you’re in Iceland! Expect the unexpected and everything will work out simply fine.
In early September, most of Iceland’s tourism activities are running in full force as in summer. Rafting on Hvítá and canoeing in the glacier lagoon are still on the cards and the hiking trails and f-roads are still open to visitors.
September is a suitable time to experience what Iceland has to offer, as the prices are much lower compared to the previous months and accommodation, as well as car rentals, are more readily available.
October is considered a transitional month. There is still plenty of daylight for outdoor activities and road trips and winter has not set in yet. Having said that, expect to experience the four seasons in a day, or more likely in an hour! The average temperature sits around 5 degrees, with high chances of precipitation. Iceland slowly begins to quieten down, tourists are less seen and natural attractions are much less crowded. The island feels more intimate and allows for a more personal approach. The Highlands hiking routes shut down for the winter season and F-roads become impassable.
November brings the wintry weather along with it. The mountain tops are now exclusively covered with snow, the roads get slippery and the temperatures drop. Expect a daily average of 0-4 degrees Celsius. Daylight at the beginning of the month is around 7-8 hours and at the end, it drastically drops to only about 4 hours. This should be considered when planning your trip, as, by the end of the month, you might not have enough daylight for all the activities planned and may need to reorganize your itinerary.
The days get much colder with the frosty wind blowing from every direction so it’s a clever idea to bring your warmest jumpers and coat when visiting the island. If you are going to extensively explore the countryside, you might also want to bring along some crampons. They will come in handy!
November is also the month when the Northern Lights start to make their first visible appearance, which is extremely exciting for those venturing to the island during this month.
December is the coldest month of the year with average temperatures reaching -1 to 4 degrees Celsius. The weather can change quickly, and you can easily experience nights in the North where temperatures go below 15-20 degrees. Daylight is much more limited and road trips must be planned with that in mind. December is the perfect time to explore the country in the midst of winter. Natural attractions are harder to reach but entirely worth it! The whole island is coated with a blanket of snow and the landscape is simply breathtaking. It is the ideal time to try some winter activities such as snowmobiling or ice caving. Crowds are much lesser than in summer and accommodation is much easier to find. December marks the month of festivities with Christmas and New Year’s just around the corner. The city livens up, Christmas lights decorate all the streets and houses, and the smell of mulled wine reins all over downtown.
If you are planning to visit Iceland, the most popular times to travel are during the summer months from May to August, with July usually being the warmest, when you can enjoy many daylight hours as well as the summer solstice. December is also popular for winter holidays, although it will be quite dark during this time, and it precedes the coldest months of January and February. Regardless of which season you plan to visit, Iceland’s weather is always unpredictable, which makes exploring the country even more exciting!