Iceland: When to go
Iceland is a great destination whatever the time of year but in different seasons you can expect different experiences and attractions.
For Northern Lights
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Aurora Borealis thanks to its location at high latitude. But it needs to be dark and (most often) cold for the fabulous skylights to offer a display. Iceland has periods during the summer when it’s light day and through the night, so that is not a great time to visit for the Northern Lights. It is the autumn and winter seasons that provide the best opportunity for seeing the lights. The long, dark nights are useful and because Iceland experiences cold and many clear nights this adds to your chances. I heard, when visiting Iceland, that 9pm and 2am are times when people most commonly see the Northern Lights. We spotted our first at 8.30pm and the display was on and off for the next few hours. It’s also worth remembering that even when the forecast is not promising, the Northern Lights can be prone to do its own thing. I recommend you keep an eye on the night’s sky most evenings when it’s dark and fairly clear.
For whale watching
The boat trip companies claim that sightings of whales are 95% likely in the summer and 85% likely in winter. I was also told, by locals, that these figures might be a bit over-egged, especially the winter sightings.
It’s worth knowing, too, that the north of the island is better for seeing more species of whale watching and offers higher rates of sea mammal spotting. In the summer, sea conditions are also likely to be smoother, which means you have less chance of being seasick. Most boat companies hand out anti-sickness pills to passengers. One trip that is highly recommended is Sea Safari from Reykjavik. The RIB trip is 1.5 hours and because it’s fast and open-air you are less likely to suffer seasickness. The trips run May to August form the Old Harbour. Also, for something different, take a boat trip at the Ice Lagoon to see the amazing glacier melt icebergs and lots of seals.
The spring and summer months are the best times to see the many different varieties of birds. One of the biggest attractions on Iceland is puffins. The country is home to one of the world's largest colonies of puffins, with more than half of the world's population of the Atlantic Puffin breeds in Iceland.
The summer months are best for viewing the many puffins, before they head away for warmer climes. Sadly, puffin populations are decreasing on Iceland because one of their staple foods, eels, is also diminishing. However, there is still a very high chance of spotting these stunning birds. (Puffins galore. Pic credit: Trent Mcbride.)
For hot springs
Natural hot springs and lagoons are a year-round attraction of Iceland. Did you know there are 18 thermal pools in the Reykjavík capital area alone? Visit the most famous, the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, near Reykjavik, or climb the hillside to bathe in the warm natural geothermal waters of a river near Hvaragerdi.
For a city break
Reykjavik is a great city to visit for two or three nights. I’d recommend you stay longer and see more of the island but if it’s charming, beautiful cities that you enjoy Iceland has one of the best I’ve visited. It’s a great place to come year-round and especially attractive for families. Some of the things to do include making friends with the resident ducks, geese and swans at Tjörnin Lake and visiting the Reykjavík Family Park & Zoo.
Iceland in the spring and summer are perfect for walkers. Long daylight hours, plenty of sunshine and not so much rain make the island a wonderful place for exploring on foot. The weather in the autumn can be less predictable but if you are lucky you’ll experience cold temperatures but with bright blue skies.
Iceland has a ski resort that is located around 30 minutes from the capital. You need snow, so winter is best. See Blafjoll.
For festivals and events
The summer months are generally the time for Iceland’s festivals, including a classical music festival in Reykholt called Reykholtshátíð on the last weekend of July each year. The only circus in Iceland performs in Akureyri in the summer months. Find out about this and many other cultural events and dates at Midi.is. In winter, the capital’s multi-coloured Christmas lights, Hafnarfjörður Christmas Village and skating on Tjörnin Lake provide colder season attractions.
Check out the Macs Adventure Walking Tours to Iceland.