Like most destinations, Iceland has a busy tourist season that runs from the middle of June through August. The natives believe that tourists miss out on a lot by not visiting outside that time. Spring offers plenty of tourist activities, as does winter and fall. It also helps that the cost of everything from flights, car rentals, accommodations are less, too. Winter is the ideal time to see the Aurora Borealis, and Icelanders love Christmas. Those who do visit at that time of year usually choose Reykjavik, as it is central to all kinds of great tourist activities.
All of that said, there is a reason why the busy season is so popular. Many of the adventure trips that are available in Iceland close for the season in September. Out in the hinterlands, the roads usually shut down from October through to mid-May, with some staying closed till July. Precipitation picks up in September, and hits its peak between October and February. The driving rains and heavy storms during that time put many people off.
Vacation time for the locals hits at the same time as the tourist season, but that doesn’t mean that things close down the way they do in some European countries. Icelanders tend to have longer work weeks that Europeans, with the seasonal jobs often filled by vacationing students. Some cultural institutions shut down for the season, while many of the museum outside of Reykjavik are only open during the summer months. The cultural events that take place across Iceland generally fall in summer, but in Reykjavik, they are mostly held in Apr-May and Sept-Oct.
You also need to think about how much daylight you will get when planning a visit. This can have an emotional and physical effect, even in summer, when you will never experience total darkness. The sun hangs low in the horizon and creates a dazzling show of color and shadow. The daylight hours in spring and fall are about the same as in Europe and North America. Mid-winter sees daylight drop to about 4 or 5 hours per day. These numbers fluctuate wildly in the Northern parts of Iceland.
Iceland lies slightly south of the Arctic Circle, but benefits from the Gulf Stream, which provides cooler temperatures in summer and very mild winters (you can expect more severe winter weather in New York than in Iceland). Things can get a little wild with the weather, though. The Gulf Stream collides with the mild Atlantic air to deliver grey skies, fog, and wild wind and rain, not to mention sudden shift in the weather. It’s not uncommon to see all 4 seasons represented in a single day.
Precipitation is as its highest in October through February, and lowest in May to June. The highest precipitation levels are found in the south and west. You can access regional weather forecasts in English by contacting the Icelandic Meteorological Office (tel. 902-0600; www.vedur.is).
Iceland Travel Guide Team – Reykjavík (Iceland)