When traveling to once-in-a-lifetime, exotic vacation destinations, it’s a given that you will plan your packing list for the optimal and most hassle-free experience. You’ll plot your itinerary, note where you want to eat some local cuisine, and even brush up on a bit of the local language. One of the things that people tend to overlook when planning is the climate and weather conditions at their destination.
If you drive over to Uluru (commonly known as Ayers Rock), in the Northern Australia Territories, you know that you are going to be dealing with heat and arid, dry weather. Similarly, tourists who venture to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, know that their weather patterns will be a bit less reliable, but that they can expect sun, heat, and some rain.
However, planning for Iceland weather patterns and nuances can be tricky. In fact, one of the most common phrases as it relates to the climate, weather, and temperature of Iceland is “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” You may consider this to be an exaggeration, but we can tell you firsthand that it is not.
Additional Iceland Resources
- Glaciers in Iceland: A Complete Breakdown of the Ice Kings
- Blue Lagoon at Night or During the Day? The Nitty Gritty
- Iceland Ring Road – Is 5 Days Feasible? We Break It Down
- 10 Things to Do in Akureyri: North Iceland’s Bustling Town
Deconstructing Iceland Weather Issues
While you can’t predict the Iceland weather conditions, you can prepare yourself and your group for the eventuality of this change. Knowing seasonal climate patterns, as well as how weather changes for different parts of Iceland can assist in packing appropriate gear or clothing for your unique needs.
Pieces of the Iceland Weather Pie
Cutting the island into four pieces, the north encompasses a large region of rugged mountainous terrain which to be fair, is a fairly accurate description of nearly any place in Iceland. But the northern mountains are the closest to the arctic circle and thus are particularly treacherous in winter months. Much of North Iceland’s attraction is in the rugged adventurous vein and this can be traced back to the weather in the region.
Iceland Weather: North Iceland
Right in the center of the north at the mouth of the Eyjafjörður Fjord is one of the larger towns of Akureyri. Winter in Akureyri will see an influx of skiing and cold-weather sport enthusiasts.
There is as close to a guarantee as Mother Nature can give you that there will be snow in the nearby mountains from December through the end of April.
If you travel further north into the Trollaskagi Peninsula, you may find ski-worthy Iceland weather through spring and even occasionally into summer.
Winter travel in this area can be dangerous and you should not be surprised if you come across more than a few closed roads, especially as you travel the Öxnadalsheiði pass.
For more about North Iceland weather and more, see our guide North Iceland: Iceland In 8 Days’ Comprehensive Guide
Spring Weather in North Iceland
Springtime in the north is simply the absence of precipitation. The snows fall infrequently and with less accumulation.
The temperature is still cold, but the daily lows begin to creep above the freezing point. Your highs will still fall under 50°F but that will be a welcome change after a cold winter.
The days are growing longer and we leave the Northern Lights behind. The white water rafting tours begin their business and will continue into the fall, but remember these rivers flow from the glaciers, the air temperature may be warming up but that water is still cold!
Winter Weather in North Iceland
Being closer to the arctic circle, the winter gave the north a spectacular view of the Aurora, and in the summertime the north benefits from the greatest degree of the Midnight Sun.
Unless you’re traveling up to Grimsey Island, you won’t be able to see the actual disc of the sun at midnight. However, you will experience the well lit night sky throughout the summer months.
The waterfalls are at peak flow as the glaciers continue their melt cycle and locations such as Dettifoss are at their most impressive display of power. Flowers are finally beginning to bloom for their short summer duration before autumn blows in and sends them back to sleep for the winter. This area of Iceland weather is some of the greatest winter wonderland.
Fall Weather in North Iceland
Autumn is a time of waiting in the north of Iceland. Tourism begins to ebb and the weather begins to turn wet and cold giving you a taste of what is to come. The Autumn winds and Iceland weather here can gust through the valleys enough to take your breath away. The onset of nightfall comes earlier each day as we switch from the midnight sun and anticipate the arrival of the Northern Lights.
Birds sense the coming winter and begin to reinforce their nests. The last remaining warm days are filled with whale watching tours and maybe one last white water trip before closing up for the winter.
Iceland Weather: East Iceland
East Iceland is often referred to as “the quiet side of the island”. This may be partly due to its distance from the popular nightlife of the capital city and accompanying international airport.
Or perhaps it is because life just moves a little slower out here in the east. Small villages, fishing boats, and rural life can be a drastic change from the bustling nature of heavily populated tourist destinations.
Weather doesn’t seem to affect the people of the east, it is simply an aspect of the land on which they live and a variable to which they are accustomed to.
For more about East Iceland weather and more, see our guide East Iceland: Iceland In 8 Days’ Comprehensive Guide
Winter Weather in East Iceland
Wintertime will give you the rustic “winter wonderland” you only see on postcards and paintings. Lovely homes and working farms nestled in the snowdrifts present the crisp image of idyllic winter. Driving your rental vehicle in that weather may prove to be less ideal.
The local population is accustomed to moving around in this kind of heavy wet snow, visitors less so. The “quiet” aspect of this part of the island makes it one of the best spots to witness the northern lights. Lack of light pollution from large metropolitan areas and generally lower tourist population means you will have the open sky to yourself all winter long.
Spring Weather in East Iceland
The spring thaw arrives in April and the annual rebirth of the flowers and trees begins as blossoms, and blooms begin to pop out from beneath the melting snow in this season of Iceland weather in the spring. The short season will bring decreasing rain and milder winds. A welcome respite from the depth of a long winter.
The puffins on the Fljótsdalshérað coast (say that three times fast, we dare you) will revel in the warming temperatures and lengthening sunlight. Before long, summer will arrive.
Summer Weather in East Iceland
In summer, the people of East Iceland have plenty of moderate days to enjoy. The temperatures begin to climb into the mid 50’s and the cool nights stay above 40°. This time of year for Iceland weather is beautiful in the East, with hikes such as Hengifoss opening up to tourists.
Tourists are able to make it into the highlands as the winter road closures are finally being lifted. Fishing trawlers come and go as the summer months prove to be a great time to be on the eastern shores with mild temperatures and less wind than in the spring and fall.
Fall Weather in East Iceland
Once summer comes to a close, autumn steps in as a brief and stark reminder that winter is coming soon. The people in the towns and villages begin to prepare, you will see farmers turning over their fields, townsfolk getting in those last few repairs on the buildings before the cold sets in.
Reindeer come down from the mountains to spend the coming winter grazing in the low lands and as the wet October rains give way to the first snows of November, the locals hold the Dagar Myrkurs festival to celebrate the changing of the seasons from fall into winter.
Iceland Weather: South Iceland
If you are a nature hunter, looking to personally witness those amazing pictures you’ve seen of Iceland online, you’re going to find many of your destinations on the south coast.
Stretching from Thorlakshofn just south of Reykjavik, all the way over to Hornafjörður on the western edge of the Vatnajökull glacier, south Iceland has so many sights for you to see that many visitors option to neglect the remainder of the island and spend their limited holiday time focused on the south coast.
Here you will experience all four seasons with a more mild approach as the majority of the south is classified as subpolar oceanic while most of the rest of the island is classified as tundra. This oceanic influence will mitigate the harshest conditions and tend to keep the seasons from reaching neighboring region’s extremes.
For more about South Iceland weather and more, see our guide South Iceland: Iceland In 8 Days Complete Guide
Winter Weather in South Iceland
That is not to say that south Iceland won’t see cold winters. Snow falls everywhere on the island and the south is no exception. The spectacular waterfalls are dressed in their winter whites and ice forms at the edges of the river, lakes and lagoons.
Seeing the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara or the dark basalt columns of Svartifoss contrasted against the blanket of fresh white snow is worth the winter visit in and of itself.
With so many visitors attempting to witness the amazing southern winters and spending the long dark hours peering up into the sky hoping to see the northern lights, it is always important to keep in mind that the aurora does not always appear on schedule and the rapidly changing winter weather could obscure your viewing with little to zero notice.
Summer Weather in South Iceland
Visitors flock to South Iceland in the summer and many of them are trying to beat the crowds by arriving in the spring. If you have the opportunity to spend more time on the island, experiencing the end of winter and the thaw into spring is quite the adventure, especially along the southern coast.
The benefits from the Atlantic Gulf Stream buffering the temperatures mean the mild winter gives way to a mild spring full of burgeoning flowers and budding trees.
Iceland does not see many thunderstorms, the ocean and air currents just don’t develop in the conditions that thunderstorms form. However, the unusual storms do crop up from time to time and they will pop up during the summer months in the southern area.
Also prone to the southern region during summer are dust storms. The arid lands surrounding the Vatnajökull glacier commonly have higher winds being off the coast and up in the highlands, and strong glacial winds can create strong dust storms
Fall Weather in South Iceland
Autumn in the south is another transitional period where we see the departure of the summer guests and locals begin preparation for winter. The winds begin to pick up speed and the rains return.
Hikers and campers often go walkabout in the fall for the final flourish of natural colors but can be caught off guard if they haven’t packed foul weather gear.
Often the crisp but mild autumn morning can turn rainy and cold by the afternoon and you wouldn’t want to be out and about on the hiking trails unprepared for the sudden changes.
Iceland Weather: West Iceland
West Iceland is difficult to encapsulate. We actually have two very different regions, the Capitol Region encompassing lively Reykjavik and the surrounding mainland cities, and the Westfjords, a sparsely populated mountainous region with small villages and towns tucked away amongst the spectacular cliffs, mountains and fjords.
The rich and diverse urban life in the capitol region is in stark contrast to the rugged rural existence of the Westfjords.
For more about West Iceland weather and more, see our guides The Stunning And Often Overlooked Snaefellsnes Peninsula and The Westfjords: Iceland In 8 Days’ Comprehensive Guide
Winter Weather in West Iceland
Snow in Reykjavik is met with a certain degree of celebratory exuberance. The winter months are mild and safe when compared against the rest of the island. Dazzling light displays and readily available warmth in the myriad of local taverns, top-notch restaurants, or even a friend’s nearby home can lull a visitor into thinking the Icelandic winter is subtle and delightful.
While that may be true in the cities, when you venture out to the Westfjords, you will get a sense of winter’s true power.
Ocean currents keep the temperatures from the dipping too low for too long, but the brash winds from the ocean break over the mountains and bite at the land. Roads into (and out of) the Westfjords can often be closed for months on end in the winter.
Spring Weather in West Iceland
Once the winter breaks, spring arrives with a bound. City dwellers have seen enough snow for now and are thankful for the rapid thaw melting away the remnants of the long winter. Reykjavik tends to clear out the snow pretty fast and with the dwindling snowfalls, it’s not common to see accumulated snow in the capitol by the time spring rolls around.
Up in the Westfjords, wildlife is emerging from their winter cuddles to forage for food and to stretch their legs, spread the wings into the fresh spring air. Snow will stay on the ground a little longer up in the higher elevations but the thaw has arrived and summer is on the way.
Summer Weather in West Iceland
Warm summer days are welcome everywhere on the island but possibly most welcome amongst the small local populations in the Westfjords. Road closures and mountain passes are finally clearing up and passage into the interior is possible at long last. While the residents are not exactly averse to their temporary isolation from the rest of the island, it is always good to know the roads are finally open.
Photographers arrive in Reykjavik ready to explore the long summer days and midnight sun all around the island using the capitol area as a base camp for their excursions. Popular hiking trails closed through the winter and spring are now open for exploration and mild temperatures stretch to reach the 60° mark.
Fall Weather in West Iceland
Fall is here and the usual ebb and flow of visitors to the island can be seen in the capital region as late summer guests switch places with early winter guests. Those who have visited for the long summer days and moderate temperature activities such as hiking and camping are packing up as the ski enthusiasts and winter thrill-seekers begin to arrive.
The Westfjords are experiencing their early snows and the winds are picking up speed. Puffins are feathering their nests in the high cliffs at Látrabjarg and the Arctic Foxes are plumping up to prepare for the long winter nights to come. Enjoy the last vibrant explosion of flowering colors as the increasing rains coax the flowers and trees to blossom one last time before going dormant for the winter.
Our Final Thoughts on Iceland Weather Patterns and Preparedness
Iceland is a land of mystery and discovery, while you are here you may wonder at the crazy changes in weather. Its climate is just on the border of arctic cold but the weather from day to day is anyone’s guess. The seasons vary from region to region as Iceland is an island of contrasting topography.
The southern coast may be calm and clear while just a few miles inland, a storm is raging on the highland flats. You may leave your hotel from Reykjavik on a clear and sunny morning only to find the mountain pass leading to your destination is closed due to hazardous road conditions and near white-out visibility. Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, the daily weather in Iceland is sure to surprise you at least once during your visit.
One key to being happy is the managing of your expectations. All too often our unhappiness comes from anticipating one thing and being disappointed that it was not the same as we built up in our minds. If you attempt to micro-manage your vacation to the degree that foul weather or unexpected changes will derail your enjoyment, Iceland will certainly try your patience.
If you can manage your expectations, know as much as you can before you go, expect changing weather while you are there, and incorporate the inevitable inconstant weather part of your experience, Iceland will live up to all your dreams and more.