One of the first things about Iceland that stands out to visitors is its climate. After all, it’s hard not to notice: the majority of Iceland is south of the Arctic Circle, and locals are used to weather and daylight patterns that would disorient most people from other parts of the world. From what to wear to how when to visit, here’s what you need to know about thriving in Iceland’s climate.
Iceland’s climate less extreme than the nation’s name might suggest. The Gulf Stream provides Iceland with a maritime climate that features mild summers and winters. Most visitors to Iceland arrive in the summer months, from June to August. Iceland experiences crisp summers. In the Southwestern part of the island, where Reykjavik is located, summers usually range in temperature from about 55 to 70 degrees.
Iceland’s winters are relatively mild considering what you might expect from a nation near the Arctic Circle, but that doesn’t mean the winter weather isn’t tough to manage. Iceland weather can shift on a dime, and snow and rain can come on seemingly out of nowhere. Many of Iceland’s tourist attractions close for the winter, but one big advantage of visiting during the colder months is that you’ll be arriving during Northern Lights season.
If you’re looking to experience mild weather but don’t want to face the big summer tourist crowds, consider visiting in late spring (April and May) or fall (September and October.) You may find that some tour companies and attractions aren’t operating, but many are still running. It doesn’t hurt that hotel and plane prices might be a bit lower this time of year as well!
One thing to consider is that Iceland’s daylight patterns shift intensely depending on the season. In spring and fall, Iceland’s daylight hours are similar to that of other parts of the world. During the winter months, however, Iceland sees very little daylight—about 4 to 5 hours of sunlight per day in Reykjavik. In the summer, on the other hand, the sun does not set at all for several months. During this phenomenon, known as “midnight sun,” involves hangs low in the sky in the evening, casting a beautiful light on your surroundings.
How To Dress For Iceland’s Climate
Scandinavians have a saying: “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” You’re likely to hear this phrase once or twice on your visit to Iceland, and there are few destinations where it rings more true.
The most important thing to remember when packing for a trip to Iceland is that the weather can change very quickly. You may experience bright sunshine, overcast skies, and driving rain within the span of an hour. Iceland is also often quite windy. Because of this, you’ll want to wear lots of layers when you’re out exploring. Button-up flannels and thick sweaters are great to have on hand. (Once you arrive, you might want to pick up a lopapeysa, a traditional Icelandic sweater, for extra coziness.)
Because Iceland can be chilly even in the summer, you’ll always want to have at least a light jacket and a rain coat. If you’re arriving at any time other than summer, you’ll also want to have a heavier coat to keep you warm in any situation. If your plans in Iceland involve lots of driving, make the weather changes easier on yourself by stashing backup coats and layers in your vehicle as you explore. No matter how much sunshine the forecast calls for, you never know when you’ll get caught in a rainstorm or cold snap.
While exploring Iceland can call for some serious bundling up, you’ll find typical urban attire in most parts of Reykjavik. Locals are often decked out in stylish outfits under their winter coats, just like residents of any other major city—but they’re way more prepared for weather changes than your average New Yorker or Parisian.
When it comes to footwear, you’ll want to pack hiking boots or an equivalent shoe for exploring the countryside. Iceland’s terrain can be rugged, slippery, and wet—regular sneakers just don’t cut it in the same way hiking boots do. Even if you spend all your time in Reykjavik, you may be glad you to have boots that can keep your feet dry in the case of snow or accumulating rain puddles.
The Effects Of Global Warming In Iceland
Sadly, just like many other natural gems around the world, Iceland’s wildlife and climate is threatened by the impact of global warming. Iceland’s iconic glaciers are melting at a rapid pace. Among many other issues, the fast melting has forced Icelandic tour guides to adjust their tours regularly.
As ice sheets melt, it’s becoming more and more difficult to safely reach the most exciting parts of some of Iceland’s glaciers, as well as the famous ice caves visitors love to explore. Even within the span of a few days, changes can occur that are striking to local guides.
Iceland’s beloved Jökulsárlón glacial lake and nearby iceberg beach, both of which are tourist favorites, are at risk of shrinking as the ice melts. The same can be said for Sólheimajökull Glacier, and many other natural wonders throughout the country. Experts also believe that Iceland will experience increased volcanic activity as the glaciers continue to melt.
As tough as this is, there are things you can do as a visitor to help protect Iceland’s wildlife. Never litter and always leave Iceland’s natural areas better than you found them. Follow the directions of all posted signs at natural sites, and don’t veer off the paths in outdoor spaces unless a tour guide has told you that doing so won’t cause damage. Much of Iceland’s vegetation and terrain has been mostly untouched for decades, and will take a long time to recover if it’s damaged. Treat Iceland’s outdoor areas with care and respect, and the land will be good to you in return.
Discover Iceland’s unique climate, and participate in protecting it, on one of our Iceland vacations.