Whales, puffins, endless days. These are just a glimpse of what defines Icelandic summertime. In summer, the country literally opens up, as the roads that are closed off in winter are opened up again in summer. This means that you can head into the beautiful highlands area, cross straight through Iceland to the northern part (if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle) or drive to more isolated parts of Iceland, like the Westfjords and Eastfjords. Summer is a great time to visit Iceland, so let us tell you the ins and outs of this special season!
The midnight sun shines all summer
You probably know that the days in Icelandic summer are long, but you might wonder how many hours of daylight Iceland gets exaclty. Around the summer solstice (21st of June), the sun sets in Reykjavík just after 00:00 and rises just before 03:00. This means that the day is 21 hours long. But even after sunset, it doesn’t get completely dark. In the north of Iceland, days are even longer, with the midnight sun shining all night! After the summer solstice, the days get a little bit shorter every day, but it will take until August for the nights to return.
July is the warmest month
Did you know that the highest temperature ever recorded in Iceland is a whopping 30.5 °C? This record was set a long time ago in the Eastfjords, in 1939!
July is the warmest month in Iceland, with temperatures ranging between 10 and 20 °C, and with an average of 14 °C. In July, there is a slightly higher chance of rain than in June, but weather usually stays mild until the end of August. At the end of September, the highlands roads are closed again, and the country starts preparing for the next winter season.
Even though the weather in summer is generally mild, it’s very important not to throw caution to the wind. Icelandic nature is wild and untamed, meaning that if you’re not careful, you can get hurt. Always make sure that someone knows where you’re going and when you plan on coming back, and check out ICE-SAR’s website for travel alerts. Proper gear is also important, and always keep in mind that Icelandic weather is very unreliable, even at the height of summer.
You can’t see the northern lights in summer
Because there is so much daylight during Icelandic summer, you can’t see the northern lights. To see the northern lights, you need darkness, and already at the end of April, the days are too long to see them properly. The best months to spot the northern lights are between October and mid-April. But don’t worry, there are a lot of reasons to visit Iceland in summer! For one thing, it is the best time to go on a whale safari and to go birding – right as the northern light season ends, the first puffins come back to Iceland!
In summer, you can go on the best tours
Icelandic summer is the best season for heading out of the city and exploring the Icelandic countryside. Because the days are so long, you can go on longer day tours, for instance to glacial lake Jökulsárlón! Another fun summer activity is snorkeling in Silfra, one of the best diving locations in the world. Just imagine snorkeling between two tectonic plates under the midnight sun! Another great option in summer is venturing into the highlands. Landmannalaugar is an amazing geological area in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. The multi-coloured mountains are breathtaking, and the geothermal river is the cherry on top!
But staying in Reykjavík is great as well!
In summer, the city is also putting its best foot forward. Not only are parks and flowerbeds all around the city bursting with colours and life, the social life is booming as well. Austurvöllur square, in front of the parliament building, fills up with people as soon as the sun comes out, the swimming pools are oases of lovely geothermal water, and the nightlife is one-of-a-kind in the bright Reykjavík summer nights.
What to wear in summer in Iceland
You might have heard the old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” This holds true just as much for summer as it does for winter. To stay warm and dry, you have to layer your clothing. Wear warm, breathable fabrics underneath a waterproof outer layer. It’s always important to stay dry, and a good outer layer that protects against wind and rain is essential. You might be surprised, but bringing a hat and gloves is not an unnecessary luxury. You will appreciate these in the late evening, and especially in the northern parts of the country or close to the ocean, a chilly wind can blow. Even though it sounds excessive, you will thank us later! It’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, shoes! Hiking boots are essential for Iceland’s rugged terrain.
What to pack
First things first, bring a bathing suit! Even if it’s not sizzling hot outside, locals love going to the pool. It’s the perfect way to unwind. The thermal pools usually keep a temperature of 30 °C, great for swimming. But the best part are the hot tubs, with temperatures ranging between 36 and 44 °C. Icelandic people love soaking in hot tubs while chatting, discussing, or arguing about daily life. The most famous pool is the Blue Lagoon, but Reykjavík also has some great thermal pools.
Secondly, bring a photo camera. Iceland is a paradise for photographers and Instagrammers. The sun shines bright in summer, showing all of Iceland’s gorgeous bright colours. Combine this with the serene landscape, complete with waterfalls and dramatic coastlines, and you have excellent ingredients for a beautiful snapshot. Because of the bright sunlight, it’s also necessary to bring a good pair of sunglasses.
The next item on your list should be a sleeping mask. In Icelandic summer, the midnight sun shines almost all night. In Reykjavík, the shortest night is a little less than three hours, but even if the sun sets, it doesn’t get completely dark. A sleeping mask can be crucial for a good night’s sleep.
Fourthly, we recommend bringing a reusable water bottle and a thermos. Icelandic tap water is the best in the world, and it’s completely unnecessary to buy water bottles in the supermarket. Just bring a bottle with you and fill it up whenever you can! Also, a thermos can be really nice when you are planning to stay outside for a prolonged time. When you feel weather-beaten, a warm cup of tea is just what you need!
Other items that you should bring are:
- Sun protection – even if it doesn’t get super hot, you can still burn!
- Anti-mosquito spray – especially if you stay close to a lake.
- A smartphone with data – it’s always good to be able to reach your accommodation if something comes up.
- If you are not from Europe, you will need an electrical adapter. Electrical sockets in Iceland are standard European electrical socket types C and E.
Keep your plans flexible
Summer in Iceland is amazing, but it’s definitely not like in Spain or other Mediterranean countries. Don’t come to Iceland expecting only high temperatures and calm weather. Even though it can get warm and sunny, the weather in Iceland is fickle and the most important thing is to stay safe. By all means, make plans, but be prepared to change them if the weather is acting up. Check the weather forecast before you set off and don’t risk driving far if the weather is bad!
Perfect Summer Tours in Iceland
Jökulsárlón day tour
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lake in Southeast Iceland (370 kilometres from Reykjavík), formed by meltwater from Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier of Europe. It’s one of the most special places in Iceland, with big icebergs that just broke off the glacier drifting in the lake. Going for a walk on Diamond Beach – so called because of the many ice blocks on it – is highly recommended.
If you want to drive to Jökulsárlón and back to Reykjavík in one day without any other stops, you will be driving for about 10 hours. You can also book a bus tour to Jökulsárlón. These bus tours will take around 14 hours, and since you don’t have to drive yourself, you can take all the beauty of Iceland in during the tour. There are several stops at waterfalls and other highlights along the way.
2. Snorkelling in Silfra
Increasingly popular in recent years, snorkelling or diving in the Silfra fissure in Þingvellir national park is an amazing experience. The lava-rock filtered glacier water is some of the cleanest in the world, providing amazing visibility. Go explore the underwater world while floating in water that is 2-4 degrees Celsius.
You can either drive to Þingvellir yourself (about 40 minutes), and then meet your guides at the Silfra car park, or book a snorkelling tour with pick up from your accommodation in Reykjavík.
3. Buggy adventure
Looking for a thrill? Then go on a buggy ride. A buggy is a fast, sturdy and stable ATV, perfect for everybody who loves the outdoors. Driving a buggy through rough Icelandic terrain, with mud pools, dusty roads and sometimes snow, offers an exciting adventure. Before the tour, you will get special gear and a short training. When going on a buggy tour, you better be ready to get dirty, with water splashing up on the side of the tires and dust being blown around your head. Tours will take you to Mt. Esja, Mt. Hafrafell and Mt. Úlfarsfell, or Hafravatn lake, all close to Reykjavík and offering beautiful views. Buggies are suitable for two persons, and please note that you need a valid driver’s license if you are the driver. A buggy tour will take 1 to 2 hours.
4. Snæfellsnes day tour
The Snæfellsnes peninsula has some of the most diverse landscapes in Iceland, with waterfalls, caves, black beaches, and most importantly, the internet famous Mt. Kirkjufell. It rapidly gained popularity in recent years, because it has been used as a filming location for several movies and series, like Game of Thrones. However, it has been a tourist attraction for decades, and Mt. Kirkjufell has been one of the most photographed mountains of Iceland for a long time.
It’s easy to go on a Snæfellsnes self-drive since it’s simple to get to by car. Read this article to learn more about a self-drive around Snæfellsnes peninsula. There are also 13-hour bus tours around Snæfellsnes peninsula. On these tours, you can just sit back and relax and be sure to stop at all the highlights, like Djúpalónssandur, Hellnar and Ytri-Tunga.
Paragliding is the ultimate in adrenaline travel. Fly like a bird over the south coast of Iceland. Paragliding tours start from Vík, the southernmost village of mainland Iceland. Here you jump off a mountain to paraglide over the black beach of Reynisfjara. You can also see Vík’s three trolls from above. The story goes that these trolls where just pulling a ship onto shore when the sun came out. They hadn’t noticed the sunrise and were turned into stone on the spot. Paragliding is a fun and exciting activity that will get your adrenaline racing, and a unique opportunity to see waterfalls, glaciers and black beaches from the sky. If you book a paragliding tour, they will take you wherever the best weather conditions are that day.