Iceland: Visiting in Winter vs Summer

Having now visited Iceland during both the Winter and Summer, I can see there really is no wrong time to go to Iceland! The landscape is just breathtaking in both seasons.

Go in the winter if you plan on mostly driving, relaxing, and hitting the major sights! I felt like I really got a sense of Iceland and Icelandic culture more during the winter- I interacted with a lot more local people, the destinations were way less crowded, and the vast Winter views were amazing.

Winter Pros:

  • See every sunrise and every sunset

  • Stunning winter landscapes

  • Way less busy/crowded

  • Perpetual perfect photo lighting

  • Cheaper

  • Overall better feeling of Iceland

  • Horses have their awesome winter coat

Top Winter Recommendations:

  • Pick up a copy of Halldor Laxness’ Independent People at Penninn Eymundsson (one of the few public toilets in Reykjavik is here!) and then head over to Reyjavik Roasters for an excellent cup of coffee while you read!

  • Hit up Laugarvatn Fontana after you do the Golden Circle- a nicer, more relaxed Blue Lagoon option. The bread add on is actually really fun and yummy!

  • Messinn has fantastic fish entrees and if you go for lunch it is the same portion size for half the price!

  • Visit the Snaefelless Peninsula.

  • Stay at Hotel Ranga if you want to see the Northern Lights- they have a wake-up call so you don’t have to stay up all night trying to catch them, as well as warm suits to throw on while you hurry outside. It sounds pricey, but when you factor in that all your meals are included, it’s actually a great deal! We stayed an extra night to get a deal and just did day trips out from the Hotel.

Go in the summer if you plan on mostly backpacking, camping, and hiking! It is just too dang cold to camp during the winter (I think all the campgrounds are closed anyways), and the enter highlands section is closed off, so you cannot travel through the middle of the country unless you fly over it.

Summer Pros:

  • Meet lots of friendly travelers from all over the world

  • More hiking and outdoor opportunities

  • Only time to hike/see the highlands

  • Stunning floral landscapes, variety in vistas (glaciers, grassy knolls, forests)

  • Slightly warmer weather

  • Feasible to camp outside, and therefore maybe slightly cheaper than winter for accomodations (although camping fees will still set you back $15-25 per person)

  • Puffins!

  • Lots more sheep, horses, and cows out in the fields

  • Way more things are open

Top Summer Recommendations:

  • Go see the Puffins at the black sand beach!

  • Hike the Laugavan trail (recommend doing this in 4-5 days).

  • The public pool next to the Reykjavik campsite is a cheap and nice alternative to Blue Lagoon.

  • Read Iceland’s Bell (also by Halldor Laxness) before visiting Thingvellir for an in-depth appreciation of the area and the legal proceedings that took place there. (You can also do this in the Winter, but many of the bridges to the interesting stuff are closed due to ice).

If you are planning a trip to Iceland, I am happy to answer questions or give advice in the comments!

Val OliphantComment