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A Complete Guide to the Weather in Iceland

Iceland's climate and weather conditions - month by month

December 10, 2018
author Viktória Komjáti

By Viktória Komjáti

Viktoria is a restless adventurer with personal experience in all of the outdoor activities that Iceland has to offer. She loves to inspire others to get to know Iceland and to make a deep connection with the country during their travels.


When it comes to standing in the open air looking for the Northern Lights, backpacking in the wilderness searching for hot springs, sailing on the open ocean observing whales and puffins, or even just wandering around the colorful streets of downtown Reykjavík, the weather will probably be one of the most important factors affecting the way you feel and enjoy yourself at any given moment. Or, to be precise, it will not be the weather but rather if you have planned your trip accordingly.


In this article, you will learn about Iceland’s climate and the average temperatures, precipitation, and wind speeds each month. You will also find out about the length of the daylight periods, which vary month by month. This will help you to decide when it would be best for you to travel to Iceland and will also help you prepare for the weather conditions during your travels. Read our detailed guide to the weather in Iceland!

 

Iceland’s climate is a mix of subarctic, oceanic, and tundra. The weather is notoriously wet, cold, windy, and changeable. It is, however, still the mildest of the Arctic countries. Thanks to the warm Irminger Current - part of the Gulf Stream - that flows along the coast of the island, the winter temperatures are much higher than you would expect based on its location in the Arctic Circle.

The annual temperature fluctuation is quite modest. There is only 10-11°C (30-31°F) difference between the average temperatures during the coldest and the warmest months. This, unfortunately, also means that the summers are very chilly as they are hardly warmer than the winters.

Aside from the temperature, the wind speed is another important factor that will largely affect your thermal comfort. Together with the level of precipitation, it will essentially determine the quality of the clothes you will need to wear in Iceland. You can dress vainly in a thick warm sweater and heavy jeans, but the cold wind will cut through them and they will get wet in a second. Regardless of when you visit Iceland, you will definitely need windproof and waterproof clothing. What you need to wear under the protective shell layers, though, depends on which season you come in.

The Weather in Iceland: Month by Month

Before choosing the time of your visit, the first thing you should do is check the weather conditions expected each month and consider which one best fits your plans. Each season has different characteristics which allow different travel styles and activities.

Winter in Iceland

Iceland is a land of contrasts: fire and ice, darkness and light. Winter is the season of ice and darkness, for sure. The landscape is most likely white but can be golden brown where it is not covered by snow. Winter has its pros and cons. Whether or not it is a good time for you to travel only depends on the kind of experience you are searching for. If you would like to explore blue ice caves and admire the dancing Auroras, winter is your only option as they are not available in summer.

Officially, there are two seasons in Iceland: 26 weeks of winter and 26 weeks of summer. The first day of winter is at the end of October and the last day is on the 17th of April. During the winter season, the daylight periods are quite short, with December and January having the shortest days. The weather is especially unpredictable, snow and freezing can occur at any time. Traveling in winter, therefore, requires careful planning.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in winter

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in winter

You may experience glorious sunshine with wonderful sunset colors and long shadows, but you can also be unlucky and run into snow storms or road closures. You could possibly experience all of that on the same day. Make sure that you are well-organized and always have a Plan B.

There is no point, however, in checking the weather forecast weeks in advance as it is not reliable more than 4-5 days ahead of time. The best thing you can do is expect every type of weather and prepare accordingly.

Driving in Iceland in Winter

It is crucial to understand the dangers of driving in wintry conditions in Iceland. If you do not have experience driving in harsh weather, do not make this Arctic island your first attempt. It is likely to end badly. Leave it to the trained and experienced locals - you will be safest if you join a guided tour.

If you decide to rent a car, after all, it should be a safe four-wheel drive vehicle that is properly equipped for winter conditions. Give up on your plans of visiting very remote areas at this time of the year. The entire Highlands and most of the mountain roads are only open for a few months during the summer season. Try to stay on the Ring Road, which is the best-maintained road in Iceland. Always check the weather forecast, safety warnings, and road conditions before heading anywhere.

The Most Popular Winter Activities

Northern Lights tours, caving, ice caving, glacier hiking, ice climbing, snowmobiling, hot spring tours, sightseeing tours, multi-day tours, food tours,

Activities That Are Not Available in Winter

Multi-day hikes, Highland hiking tours, glacier lagoon boat tours, puffin tours, rafting, river jet tours, midnight sun tours

Snowmobiling on Iceland's glaciers is possible all year round

Snowmobiling on Iceland's glaciers is possible all year round

November

November is the first full month of winter In Iceland. The days begin to get noticeably short and the locals start to decorate their houses with Christmas lights. Around the end of the month, it starts to get bright at around 11 am and the sun sets before 4 pm.

The temperatures decrease to freezing and the weather gets very wintry with a high chance of snow all over the country. Sometimes, Reykjavík and the southern parts of the country do not get any snow until December.

November is the beginning of the coldest, wettest, and windiest time of year, which will last until March. It is also the beginning of the ice caving and skiing seasons and there is a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights on any of the long, dark nights.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between -3.5°C and 3.4°C (25.7°F and 38.1°F)
  • Wind Speed: 22 km/h; 6.1 m/s; 13.6 mph
  • Precipitation: 72.5 mm (2.5 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.5
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 5-8
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 119/81
Frozen waterfall in a Crystal ice cave

Frozen waterfall in a Crystal ice cave

December

December is the darkest month in winter. On the shortest day, December 21st, the daylight period is no longer than 4 hours in Reykjavík and lasts only 3 hours in Akureyri, North Iceland. Even these short few hours are not completely bright as the sun is very low on the horizon, meaning that a few clouds can easily block the sunlight and cause complete darkness.

December is the second coldest, second windiest, and the third wettest month of the year. It may not sound very inviting, but the fact is that Iceland in December is just miraculous. The air is filled with Christmas vibes. Festive lights and candles decorate the walking street in downtown Reykjavík. Cozy cafés, guesthouses, and restaurants invite their guests to enjoy their warm atmosphere and great food. During Christmas and New Year, great concerts, cultural events, and giant bonfires await locals and foreign visitors to celebrate Iceland’s 13 Santas, Christmastime, and the end of the year. Iceland is a very popular holiday destination for good reason.

December is not made for long hikes but is perfect for Northern Lights watching, winter sports, ice caves, and cultural exploration.

Averages:

  1. Temperatures Countrywide: Between -5.1°C and 2.2°C (22.8°F and 36°F)
  2. Wind Speed: 25 km/h; 6.9 m/s; 15.5 mph
  3. Precipitation: 78.7 mm (3 inches)
  4. Number of Days with Precipitation: 13.9
  5. Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 4-5
  6. Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 8/92
The Ring Road in December

The Ring Road in December

January

January is usually the coldest month of the year. Snow covers the ground and, as the days are short, the sun barely climbs over the horizon for a few hours each day. However, the daylight periods grow longer every day, with 2.5 hours of difference in sunlight in Reykjavík between the first and last days of the month.

The average temperatures in Reykjavík range between -3°C and 2°C (between 26.6°F and 35.4°F) in January. The temperatures can be lower in the north and east of Iceland with average temperatures of -6°C to 1°C (21.2°F to 33.8°F).

January is a wet month. Precipitation usually arrives in forms of snow, sleet, and hail, but rain is quite common as well, especially in the capital area and in South Iceland.

Another thing to be aware of is the wind. January is the windiest month of the year with an average wind speed of 26 km/h (16.1 mph). It is very likely that you will experience strong and freezing cold Arctic winds at least once. Make sure you wear a windproof shell layer, a warm hat, and gloves.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between -6°C and 3°C (21.2°F and 37.4°F)
  • Wind Speed: 26 km/h; 7.2 m/s; 16.1 mph
  • Precipitation: 75.6 mm (2.9 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 13.3
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 4.5-7
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 15/85
Gullfoss waterfall frozen in mid-winter

Gullfoss waterfall frozen in mid-winter

February

February is still quite cold, wet, and windy. However, this month receives slightly less precipitation and wind than January. The days grow longer, with 7-10 hours of daylight. The Northern Lights are still visible during the dark night hours while the lengthening bright days make it possible to take sightseeing trips out into the Icelandic countryside.

The temperatures in Reykjavík range between -2.1°C and 2.8°C (28.2°F and 37°F), while in the north and east of Iceland, they are slightly lower with -4.7°C (23.5°F) as the average minimum. Precipitation is somewhat less (71.8 mm; 2.8 inches) and the wind may be weaker than in January, but there is no considerable difference.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between -4.7°C and 2.8°C (23.5°F and 37°F)
  • Wind Speed: 25 km/h; 6.9 m/s; 15.5 mph
  • Precipitation: 71.8 mm (2.8 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.5
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 7-10
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 25/75
Icelandic horses grow long hair during the winter

Icelandic horses grow long hair during the winter

March

March still counts very much as winter in Iceland. It is, however, significantly brighter than the rest of the winter months with 10-13.5 hours of daylight. March is still suitable for Northern Lights watching, as the nights are pitch dark and last 10-12 hours, even though they are 6.5 minutes shorter each day.

March is ideal for those who would like to explore Iceland with its beautiful winter coloring. The long, bright days allow us to go on sightseeing trips and enjoy the beautiful landscape while still having the ability to explore blue ice caves and to catch the Northern Lights at night.

Weather-wise, March is still not much warmer than January or February, there is not much difference in temperature. They range between -2°C and 3.2°C (28.4°F and 37.8°F), in Reykjavík, while in the north the average minimum is around -4.2°C (24.4°F). March is the second wettest month of the year after October, with 81.8 mm (3.2 inches) average precipitation. The wind slowly continues to weaken in March as compared to previous months.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between -4.2°C and 3.2°C (24.4°F and 37.8°F)
  • Wind Speed: 22.5 km/h; 6.2 m/s; 14 mph
  • Precipitation: 81.8 mm (3.2 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 14.4
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 10-13.5
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 32/68
Snorkeling between the tectonic plates is available all year round

Snorkeling between the tectonic plates is available all year round

April

April is halfway between winter and spring. Statistically, the temperatures tend to stay over freezing and can climb up to 5-6°C (41-42.8°F). However, it is more likely to stay between 0-3°C (32-37.4°F) or even less in the north, with a minimum of -1.5°C (29.3°F).

The average wind speed is somewhat less than the previous month and the precipitation level drops significantly. Even though the number of days with precipitation is not much less than in the previous months, the total amount of rain and snowfall is considerably less.

April is the time when the bright nights kick in. Northern Lights tours operate until the middle of the month and the nights will begin to get extremely short. Those who would like to try to catch the Aurora have to stay up very late into the night. From about the 11th of April, the nights are semi-dark, which means that the Northern Lights will become less and less visible.

Depending on the actual weather conditions, April also means it is the end of the ice cave season. Ice caves become unstable and can become flooded by the meltwater from the glaciers. There can be a few ice caves that remain accessible all year round, but no one can really know this in advance. The condition of natural ice caves is entirely dependent on nature.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between -1.5°C and 5.7°C (23.3°F and 42.3°F)
  • Wind Speed: 20 km/h; 5.5 m/s; 12.4 mph
  • Precipitation: 58.3 mm (2.3 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.2
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 13.5-16.75
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 31/69

Spring in Iceland

Officially, Iceland only has two seasons: winter and summer. However, May is the month that is sometimes referred to as spring. But do not let it fool you, spring in Iceland is very different from what most people imagine this season to be. We do not have flowers until the end of the month and it is most likely that we will not even have green grass.

The weeks between late May and mid-June are the best for budget travelers. This period still counts as off-season, but the landscape will be getting more and more green, puffins and other birds will return to their nesting cliffs, the lupins will start to flower all over the country, and the campsites will open for the season. The flights are still quite cheap and affordable accommodation options are more likely to be available.

Kirkjufell mountain in the Midnight Sun

Kirkjufell mountain in the Midnight Sun

Nature slowly awakens to the joy of the hikers. The hiking trails can be still very muddy, though making the vegetation especially fragile. Therefore, many hiking trails remain closed for another few weeks until summer.

Eventually, even the most popular tourist attractions can be closed, such as the spectacular Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and the famous Reykjadalur Hot Spring route. It is crucial for everyone to respect these closures. In a matter of a few weeks or even a few days, people can destroy the entire vegetation of an area, causing irreversible harm to nature simply by walking on the muddy paths.

The Highlands and the mountain roads (the F-roads) will continue to be still covered with snow. Together with the multi-day hiking trails and the Highlands trails, they remain inaccessible until mid-June.

The Most Popular Spring Activities

Caving, glacier hiking, snowmobiling, hot spring tours, snorkeling, sightseeing tours, multi-day tours, food tours

Activities That Are Not Available in Spring

Multi-day hikes, Highland hiking tours, glacier lagoon boat tours, puffin tours, rafting, river jet tours, midnight sun tours, ice cave tours, Northern Lights

May

Statistically, May is the driest month of the year as well as one of the least windy. The number of rainy days can be lower than in summer, which is a huge relief to locals after the long, windy, and wet winter.

Temperatures can climb up to 10°C (50°F). However, spring is also notoriously unpredictable and even more hectic than the other seasons of the year. In 2018, we had snow until the middle of May and rain during the rest of the month, every single day. In other years, it can be sunny and pleasant. No one really knows what is going to happen!

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between 2.3°C and 9.5°C (36.1°F and 49.1°F)
  • Wind Speed: 13.6 km/h; 3.8 m/s; 8.3 mph
  • Precipitation: 43.8 mm (1.72 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 9.8
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 17-20
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 33/67
Dyrhólaey arch stone in early May

Dyrhólaey arch stone in early May

Summer in Iceland

Ultimately, summer is the time period when it is the most pleasant to visit Iceland, weather-wise. Summer lasts from June to August. The landscape is green and vibrant, the meadows are dotted with flowers, sheep and horses graze freely, loud bird chatter fills the air with life, and the midnight sun paints the skies and landscape with spectacular colors at night.

The most amazing hiking trails and multi-day treks become walkable and the Highland roads open around mid-June. For a limited period of time, the Icelandic Highlands burst into life and display their unparalleled beauty to anyone and everyone!

From late-April until mid- August, the nights are bright which means it is possible to travel even at night and to admire the landscape under the midnight sun. In late August, however, the dark nights return, leaving a short window of opportunity to hunt for the Aurora late at night.

The weather in summer is much more enjoyable than at any other time of the year. The wind and precipitation are at their lowest as is the chance of storms. However, do not have any illusions, this is still Iceland. The weather remains changeable, windy, and rainy but with more sunshine and occasional warm days.

Glaumbær Turf Farm in North of Iceland

Glaumbær Turf Farm in North of Iceland

Driving in Iceland in Summer

Summer is the safest and easiest period for driving. It never gets dark and the roads do not get icy. Despite the favorable conditions, car accidents are still common and most of the time could have been prevented.

The most frequent challenges to drivers in summer are the sheep which jump onto the roads, the unusual behavior of other drivers distracted by the pretty landscapes, cars stopping at random places along the side of the road, the low lying sun at night, occasional storms, strong wind gusts, and sandstorms. In remote areas and in the Icelandic Highlands, there are specific roads (the so-called F-roads) that are unpaved and have unbridged rivers cutting through them which need to be crossed in the car. This is only doable with large four-wheel drive vehicles. Always check for this with your car rental ahead of time! Never drive off-road, keep a safe distance when driving behind other vehicles, and always keep an eye out for warnings and the road conditions!

The Most Popular Summer Activities

Sightseeing tours and multi-day tours, multi-day hikes in the Highlands, glacier activities, snorkeling, kayaking, glacier lagoon boat tours, whale and puffin watching, rafting, river jet tours

Activities That Are Not Available in Summer

Northern Lights tours, some ice cave tours, skiing

The Icelandic Highlands in summer

The Icelandic Highlands in summer

June

June is the third warmest and the second driest month of the year. Average temperatures can climb up to 13°C (55.8°F) while precipitation stays below 50 mm (1.9 inches). The average wind speed is also at one of the lowest points of the year. It is no wonder why this month is the beginning of peak season.

The daylight lasts 20-21 hours each day, with the longest days clocked at 21:08 minutes in Reykjavík and 23:28 hours of daylight in Akureyri. The short nights are not at all dark, rather they are an endless sunrise and sunset show. These conditions are ideal for long road trips and hikes as the darkness will not determine when you should end your day.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between 6°C and 13.2°C (42.8°F and 55.8°F)
  • Wind Speed: 13.6 km/h; 3.8 m/s; 8.3 mph
  • Precipitation: 50 mm (1.9 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 10.7
  • Hours of Daylight: 20-21
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 30/70
Walking between the tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park

Walking between the tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park

July

July is the warmest month of the year with an average temperature of 14.5°C (58.1°F) in Akureyri, North Iceland. Occasionally, the temperatures can climb up to 18-20°C (64.4-68°F) on warmer days. This does not happen every day, but when it does, the locals go absolutely crazy for it. While 18°C (64.4°F) is not even close to what most people have in mind for summer, you will see Icelanders walking in sandals, wearing t-shirts, sunbathing in the park, and children building sandcastles on the beach while their parents swim in the ocean.

The length of the days will get shorter by 3-6 minutes each day, but this is not at all noticeable, and the nights are still completely bright. One can hike all night long without using a headlamp.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between 7.5°C and 13.3°C (45.5°F and 55.9°F)
  • Wind Speed: 13 km/h; 3.6 m/s; 8 mph
  • Precipitation: 51.8 mm (2 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 10
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 18-21
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 30/70
Some of the ice caves may be accessible all year round

Some of the ice caves may be accessible all year round

August

There is no considerable difference in the temperature between July and August. Statistically, the latter can be a tiny bit colder. August is the rainiest summer month. However, the precipitation remains much lower than in the winter months. After all, August is a great month for traveling and hiking in Iceland.

The days get shorter every day and dark nights return around the middle of the month. They are still not pitch dark but can be dark enough for the Northern Lights to be able to light up the sky.

Around the end of the month, the rain starts to get more and more frequent and the weather in the Highlands can get colder day by day. August is still suitable for hiking and road trips as well as all kinds of outdoor activities.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between 7.1°C and 13.9°C (44.8°F and 57°F)
  • Wind Speed: 13.6 km/h; 3.8 m/s; 8.3 mph
  • Precipitation: 61.8 mm (2.4 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 11.7
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 14.75-18
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 34/66
Rafting is one of the many popular summer activities in Iceland

Rafting is one of the many popular summer activities in Iceland

Autumn in Iceland

Around the end of August, the weather begins to change and it gets more rainy and windy. It can be still relatively mild, though. The weeks from early September to mid-October still officially count as summer, but they are referred to as autumn instead. Winter can arrive in late October, but the arrival of the first snow can be different every year. Usually, the northern part of the country gets wintry weather a few weeks ahead of Reykjavík and the southern regions.

Autumn in Iceland is relatively mild but quite rainy and often stormy. Sheep are brought in from the fields, the grass slowly turns a golden brown, and Icelandic nature takes on its beautiful autumn colors.

The hiking trails in the Highlands become inaccessible and the Highland roads close down for the winter. Only specialized Superjeeps can get to this area between October and June. Autumn is not an ideal time for hiking and camping as it is cold, wet, and the hiking trails and campsites are in the process of closing down. It is, however, still a great time for sightseeing Ring Road trips and many outdoor activities that are organized by local tour operators.

Colorful landscape in Thingvellir National Park in September

Colorful landscape in Thingvellir National Park in September

The length of the day in autumn is perfectly normal. It is bright outside 11.5-14.5 hours per day in September and 8-11.5 hours per day in October. This means proper long days and proper long nights, which makes it ideal for both those who want to travel and to see the Northern Lights and those who do not really like snow or frost.

The Most Popular Autumn Activities

Northern Lights, Superjeep tours, Sightseeing tours and multi-day tours, glacier activities, caving, snorkeling, whale watching, hiking day-tours

Activities That Are Not Available in Autumn

Some ice cave tours, skiing, puffin tours

September

The average temperature in September is not much colder than in June. The precipitation increases after summer. September is the time for sheep gathering events, which are very popular for locals as well as for visitors. Berry and mushroom picking is another activity that locals love during these autumn weeks.

Northern Lights tours start to operate. There will still be a very good chance for nice, sunny weather when people can go outdoors and enjoy nature before the arrival of winter.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between 3.5°C and 10.1°C (38.3°F and 50.2°F)
  • Wind Speed: 17 km/h; 4.7 m/s; 10.5 mph
  • Precipitation: 66.5 mm (2.8 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.4
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 11.5-14.5
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 28/72
On the road in Autumn

On the road in Autumn

October

Statistically, October is by far the wettest month of the year with 14.5 rainy days on average. Heavy rains, storms, and cold winds are not uncommon. There are, however, clear days, too. Temperatures decrease day by day with occasional frosts, especially in the north. The first snow will fall in the mountains and in the Highlands. Heavy snow in October is not rare at all.

The daylight periods get shorter while the nights will get darker and longer. October is considered to be a low season and is a great time for road tripping, Northern Lights watching, and budget travel.

Averages:

  • Temperatures Countrywide: Between -0.4°C and 6.8°C (32.7°F and 44.2°F)
  • Wind Speed: 17.6 km/h; 10.9 m/s; 4.8 mph
  • Precipitation: 85.6 mm (3.37 inches)
  • Number of Days with Precipitation: 14.5
  • Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 8-11
  • Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 25/75
Thingvellir National Park on October

Thingvellir National Park on October

Weather-wise, Iceland may not have the best reputation as a holiday destination but think again. The Arctic conditions created our spectacular glaciers and dreamy glacier lagoons. The unique climatic conditions allow us to enjoy our otherworldly fields of moss and an unmatched tundra landscape. They provide a healthy, comfortable, and safe habitat for many rare and fantastic animal species such as the cute Arctic foxes, puffins, reindeer, and more than 23 whale species to live in.

On top of all that, Iceland successfully regains its visitors’ and residents’ favor by offering endless options for warming up in its terrific hot springs! Let’s enjoy these gifts and make sure we preserve them for the future!

Weather in Iceland

 

 

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