ICELAND

Iceland

Discover the natural beauty of Iceland travel. With its incredible waterfalls, geysers and volcanic hot springs there is nowhere like it on earth.


What you need to know about Iceland

Language: Icelandic is the national language. Many locals speak English, especially younger locals in the main cities.

Currency: Iceland's currency is the Icelandic Krona.

Banking: All major bank cards are accepted by retailers generally in Iceland.

Weather: The weather in Iceland is crazy and fun. In the summer there is almost 24 hour sunlight, and in winter there can be as little as four hours of light, with Arctic winds bringing temperatures well below freezing - a hat, scarf and good winter clothes is a must!

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Amazing waterfalls can be found all over Iceland.

Visiting Iceland

Iceland may be a small country, but don't be fooled: there is much to do and see here. As well as overwhelming natural beauty, Iceland offers a multitude of sights, activities and events that are sure to delight the keen traveller.

 

When should you go?

Unless you have a specific purpose in mind, then the longer days from June until September will give you the best chance of cramming in the many spectacular sights that Iceland has to offer.

High season is from mid-June through to August though, so if you want to avoid the crowds then late spring or early autumn are good alternatives: we would recommend early-mid June or September for a good combination of decent weather, better accommodation availability, long days and fewer tourists to crop out of your photos!

Similarly, if you're budget-conscious but don't want a winter trip, then aim for late May to mid June, or late September to early October, when you'll miss peak prices but still get longer days and better weather.

 

Best time to visit to see the Northern Lights

Iceland is one of the most popular locations to view the Northern Lights because of its relatively low light pollution and long, dark nights, which produce ideal conditions for seeing the stunning aurora borealis. Since total darkness is needed to see them, you'll need to visit between the end of September and the end of March when it's dark after 6pm.

Other factors affect the visibility of the Northern Lights too, including the weather: cold nights are best because there is no cloud cover to block the view. November tends to have cold, dark nights but lower chances of rain than the winter months, so this we'd say this is a good bet.

 

When to take a dip in the Blue Lagoon

This geothermal spa is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, where visitors can relax and treat their skin to the lagoon's mineral-rich water. With water temperatures averaging at 39°the Blue Lagoon is popular all year round, especially as it's quite a special experience to view the Northern Lights from the dreamy warm water.

In peak summer, the spa is open until 23.00 or 00.00 and in the winter it closes at 20.00 or 21.00 (except for Christmas, so make sure you check holiday hours if you're travelling then). Due to the Blue Lagoon's popularity, entry has to be booked in advance.

The mid-morning and lunchtime slots tend to be the busiest, although since there is no time limit once you're in, it can still be busy in the evening with the numbers adding up. Even so, we recommend trying to book a slot a few hours before sunset; there's plenty of space even with a lot of people, and at this time you'll be able to relax and watch the midnight sun in summer or the Northern Lights if you're visiting in winter. If you've left it late to book, your best bet is the very early morning slots, which tend to be the least popular.

 

Go for a spot of whale watching

High season for whale watching is June-August, though you can go as early as April and as late as October. You can join a tour from Reykjavik, Husavik, Vestmannaeyjar (the islands off the south coast), Dalvik and Akureyri.

Winter tours are also available from Grundarfjordur - but only as long as there are no storms, so we wouldn't advise planning a winter trip around a whale-watching excursion.

 

Iceland's weather by season

Summer: Summer is Iceland's peak tourist season. With days so long that the sun hardly sets, tourists can enjoy the many sights and attractions well into the evening hours. The average temperature during this season is around 11°C and with the lowest rainfall in June and July, summer is also when you'll get the best weather. As you head towards the end of August, though, you'll definitely feel the temperatures dropping - especially at night.

Autumn: The transitional nature of autumn is beautifully demonstrated in Iceland: early September is still temperate and gets around 15 hours of daylight but by November temperatures will only reach an average high of around 3°C, with six hours of daylight. The chances of rain start to increase too, though with lower average rainfall than in the winter months, the end of autumn might be a good time to visit if you're hoping for a peak of the Northern Lights.

Winter: Winter in Iceland isn't as cold as you might expect: it usually hovers around freezing, reaching highest average temperatures of 4°C in December but dropping to 2°C in February and March, when you're also most likely to see snow. The winds can make it feel much colder, though, and together with the higher chances of rain and very short days in mid-winter (around four hours of sunlight around the new year), the winter months are probably not for the faint-hearted (though Christmas in Iceland is pretty great - see below!).

Spring: As always, spring brings hope - and by the end of March the days will have stretched to over 13 hours of daylight. The temperatures don't catch up quite so quickly though, and early spring still feels very much like winter. From April, though, the chances of rainfall and the temperatures start to increase. By the end of spring the days are gloriously long and while the temperatures are not quite summery (average highs of around 9°C), it's a great time to visit if you want to miss the peak summer season.

 

Iceland events in Winter

Christmas: Christmas is pretty magical in Iceland (though very busy: book early!). With incredibly short days at this time of year (around 5 hours of daylight...) the locals need something to celebrate, so beautiful holiday lights abound. Grab yourself a mulled wine at one of the Winter Markets, take in a concert, go skating, or enjoy the natural hot springs under a starlit sky. You might even run into one of the 'Yule Lads' - Iceland's answer to Father Christmas, these 13 mischievous trolls love a prank and can often be spotted around town.

New Year’s Eve: New Year's Eve in Reykjavik is a visual treat of fireworks. If you can find a good viewing spot (try Öskjuhlíð hill for a complete view of Reykjavik and surrounding towns) you'll see thousands of private displays by individuals who have bought fireworks from the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams as part of their biggest annual fundraiser. There are even guided tours of the best places to view fireworks, as well as of the bonfires that are also a traditional meeting point for Icelanders on New Year's Eve. Restaurants and bars stay open late so you can party until the early hours with the locals.

New Year's Day - January 6th: Christmas and New Year's are both a big deal in Iceland, and the official end of the season is 'þrettándinn,' - or Epiphany - which is celebrated with fireworks. New Year's Eve is spent partying into the early hours, so don't expect much to be open until January 3rd when people have recovered!

Frostbiter: Icelandic Horror Film Festival (varies - Jan 30-Feb 1 2020): Held in various (and sometimes quirky) venues in Akranes, approximately 20km north of Reykjavik, this is a celebration of the horror film genre, with prizes for both Icelandic and International feature length and short films.

Thorrablot Midwinter Festival (1st Friday after January 19th): Traditionally a Viking sacrificial feast, today this midwinter celebration involves eating, drinking and much merriment. A traditional meal will include some rather unusual Icelandic delicacies such as rotten shark meat and boiled sheep's head, and although Thorrablot is more usually a family feast, restaurants will often offer special themed dinners for the more adventurous foodies keen to get involved!

Winter Lights Festival (early February): The Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival is a programme of free events around the city, celebrating both the darkness of winter and the coming light of the new season. Beautiful light installations light up the city and a mixed programme of art, sports, culture, history and environment is performed offer varied entertainment to locals and tourists alike. Most of the big museums and thermal pools also get involved in the Festival with late closing times.

Food and Fun (late February/early March):The Food & Fun Festival brings some of the world's top chefs to Iceland to celebrate Icelandic produce. Working with some of the best restaurants in Reykjavik, guest chefs create bespoke menus for the duration of the festival, using only Icelandic ingredients. On top of this, there is a televised challenge, which sees chefs competing to create dishes on the spot, again with only Icelandic ingredients available to them.

 

Iceland events in Spring

Beer Day (1st March): Celebrating the end of a 74-year ban on beer over 2.2% alcohol content, this unofficial holiday sees locals heading to the Reykjavik's many restaurants and bars for a beer extravaganza on the anniversary of the ban's repeal in 1989.

Reykjavik Folk Festival (Early March): This Festival brings together a variety of artists for a three-day celebration of Icelandic folk music.

Aldrei Fór Ég Suður Music Festival/ Isafjordur Ski Week (Easter Weekend) - Easter is the time to get out of Reykjavik and head to the Westfjords, the peninsula in the North West of Iceland. Since 2004, the Aldrei Fór Ég Suður ('I Never Went South') music festival has joined the annual Ski Week festival to create a massive weekend of music, skiing and cultural celebration.

First Day of (Icelandic) Summer (first Thursday after 18th April) - 'Sumardagurinn Fyrsti' is a fun but deceptive public holiday. Celebrated in April - when it can still feel pretty wintry - it is held on the first day of summer in the old Icelandic calendar, whose only seasons were summer and winter. Sumardagurinn Fyrsti sees marching bands, guards of honour and outdoor concerts to celebrate the coming of the longer summer days. Children also receive gifts - and in fact this was traditionally the annual gift-giving day in Iceland well before Christmas presents became the norm.

Reykjavik International Literary Festival (varies)– held every two years, this festivals brings key literary figures - novelists, philosophers, activists, poets and more - to take part in programmes including readings, talks and seminars. All events are held in English, and entry is free, so it's well worth looking up the programme if you're in town at this time.

 

Iceland events in Summer

Reykjavik Art Festival (two weeks in June, every other year): this festival aims to bring a diversity of national and international artistic expression to Reykjavik, with performances and exhibits at various venues throughout the city.

Seafarer’s Day & Festival of the Sea (first weekend of June): a celebration of Iceland's fishermen and their impact on the country's culture and economy, 'Sjómannadagur' is also a remembrance of those lost at sea. Fishing villages hold celebrations and the fishermen compete in various races and events. As you can imagine, there is plenty of amazing seafood on offer too!

Iceland National Day (17th June): In honour of Iceland's independence from Denmark on 17th June 1944, Iceland National Day sees towns and cities awash with colour for one of the most celebrated events of the summer. Parades, performances, concerts and outdoor events are held, and celebrations go on into the early hours.

Summer Solstice and the Secret Solstice Festival (21st June): Summer Solstice in Iceland is quite a spectacle. This festival is held over four days to celebrate the midnight sun, with performances from domestic and international bands, DJs and other performers.

International Viking Festival (Mid June): Viking Village in Hafnarfjörður hosts the country's biggest Viking festival, where costumed Vikings set up stall and sell their wares, host battles and teach visitors from the modern age the most important skills of the time, such as throwing axes, making wood carvings, and using a bow and arrow.

LungA (mid July): if you're travelling around the country during your stay, it's worth a visit to Seyðisfjörður for this weeklong event, which combines music and art in this small but beautiful town in east Iceland.

Innipúkinn Festival (Late July): If you find yourself in Reykjavic during the July bank holiday, it's worth checking out this music festival which although small, features the best of Iceland's bands and musicians. Though you might not appreciate the stand-up comedians (though who are we to question your language skills?), there's plenty more to enjoy, including the food trucks.

Verslunarmannahelgi (first weekend of August): as this is a bank holiday in Iceland, many locals go camping for the weekend. If you head to the Westman Islands, you'll be in good company, as many Icelanders head here for live music, bonfires and general merriment until the early hours.

Pride (second weekend of August): Join the thousands who take part in the annual Pride weekend in support of Reykjavik's LGBTQ community. Concerts, parades, parties and more make this a great time for locals as well as the increasing number of tourists who come to join the fun and celebrate universal human rights.

Reykjavik Marathon and Menningarnótt (Third weekend of August): Thousands of runners descend on Reykjavik to take part in the many races on offer, from the full and half marathons to a team relay and shorter fun runs. If you're still not convinced then perhaps the offer of free entry into the thermal baths - available to all runners - will sway you! When the marathon finishes, Menningarnótt, or 'Culture Night' sets in, with all sorts of public events around town, culminating in a fireworks display to round off a big summer weekend in Reykjavic.

 

Iceland events in Autumn

Reykjavik International Film Festival (September): A number of venues in Reykjavik take part in the Film Festival, which has a focus on up-and-coming filmmakers. The programme includes a wide range of independent films from over 40 countries, including award-winning entries and even world premieres. There are also workshops and panels, giving film enthusiasts a chance to interact with the directors.

Iceland Airwaves (November): 'The world's most northerly music showcase...situated halfway between North America and Europe', this annual music festival celebrates the best of both Icelandic and international emerging talent. The likes of Florence and the Machine, Hot Chip and Of Monsters and Men had early appearances at Iceland Airwaves before going on to become huge names, and established artists such as Björk and Mumford & Sons have also graced the festival's stages. A huge event on the Reykjavik cultural calendar, this is definitely one for music-loving travellers.

Imagine Peace Tower (9th October - 8th December): The Imagine Peace Tower is an outdoor light art installation that was conceived by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon. Every year, it is lit on Lennon's birthday, 9th October, when Yoko Ono herself attends and addresses visitors who take free ferries to Viðey Island where it is situated.The Imagine Peace Tower remains lit until the anniversary of Lennon's death on 8th December, and is lit again at a few other times in the year - Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Yoko Ono's birthday and New Year's Eve - during which times there are guided ferry tours. Symbolising world peace and 'emanating wisdom, healing and joy', the lights create different effects based on the weather conditions and are a beautiful and meaningful sight to take in on your visit.

Halloween (31st October): If you're in Reykjavik at the end of October, don't forget your costume! Although trick-or-treating isn't a tradition here, venues around the city host fancy dress parties, often with live music, costume competitions and other celebrations.

 

Travel destinations in Iceland

Reykjavik: the capital city and main hub of everything going on in Iceland. All flights will be landing at Keflavik airport and then probably transferring to the city that is around 30-40 minutes away.

 

Best hotels in Iceland

Best hotels in Reykjavik

 

Best restaurants in Iceland

Places to eat in Reykjavik