It’s usually the one of the first questions you ask yourself when you’re planning a trip. When should you go? When it comes to Iceland, the answer might not be as straightforward as you think.
Well, most places have three clear seasons; high season, shoulder season and low season. High season means the best weather, plus all of the attractions are open, but there are of course crowds upon crowds of other tourists there with the same idea. It’s also the most expensive time to go. Low season can mean some pretty nasty conditions (think blizzards, monsoons…), but expect to find any hotels and attractions that are still open blissfully quiet and cheap. Shoulder season is something in between high and low, where the weather, prices and crowds are all manageable.
And then there’s Iceland.
Iceland has all of the above, don’t get me wrong. Ok maybe not monsoons, I’m fairly certain it doesn’t have those. The high season in Iceland is summer, which runs from May to August. Prices nearly double, tourists flood in, standard. Shoulder seasons are March – April and September – October. And the rest of the year? Winter is very much coming.
But the decision on when to go to Iceland is much less clear-cut.
Firstly, why are you going? If the answer is, as it is for so many, to see the Northern Lights, then don’t go in high season! Iceland is basically in the Arctic Circle, and as such summer in Iceland means the famous midnight sun, completely ruling out your chances of seeing the aurora borealis, which requires total darkness. And if you want to drive the ring road, I’d highly advise you don’t plan on going in winter. Nobody wants to miss their flight because they got caught in a blizzard or ten.
In fact, every season in Iceland seems to have it’s own magical qualities that both enable and restrict certain activities. If you really want to experience everything that Iceland has to offer then you may well need to get yourself over there multiple times. But in the meantime, here are the pros and cons of each season in the land of fire and ice.
Let me paint you a picture, it’s below zero, you went ice caving during the brief four hours of daylight that you have each day, and now you are watching green lights dancing in the sky. I’m pretty sure this is what they meant when they said ‘winter wonderland’.
So Iceland in the winter is essentially cold and dark. But not too cold. Happily, being under the Gulf Stream keeps Icelandic temperatures from really plummeting, and it’s often colder in New York in the winter than it is in ICEland. Still pretty darn dark though.
Plenty of tourists go to Iceland in winter hoping to catch glimpses of the Northern Lights. And to cater for said tourists there are countless tour companies which offer countless amazing sounding day (and night) tours throughout winter to see the Northern Lights, to go whale watching, to the Blue Lagoon, to Ice Caves and even snorkelling between two tectonic plates. Bar the Ice Caving which you really only can do between November – March, and Northern lights hunting which requires those hours of darkness which you’ll get from September to April, you can do most of these tours all year round. But the conclusion is, there are plenty of awesome things to do in Iceland during winter, and a couple that you can’t do at any other time.
Due to the small number of daylight hours I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you do more than a long weekend during winter. You’re likely to stay based in Reykjavik and you’re may start to feel the effects of a lack of sunshine after a while. But a long weekend in Iceland exploring the capital and taking tours by day, and (fingers crossed!) catching the Northern Lights by night sounds like a pretty unbeatable winter break to me!
In summer, a whole different world of possibilities spring into life. Why stay based in Reykjavik when you can grab a car and explore this amazing country? I’ve not met a single person who has been to Iceland who hasn’t said it’s one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever visited, with a jaw-dropping photo opportunity at every turn. And the hiking opportunities are endless too. Hiking up mountains is so passé, why do that when you can hike a volcano!?
I can’t think of anything more romantic than escaping society for a week or two in a campervan to explore the wildest wilderness going. And before you set off perhaps you want to soak in the Blue Lagoon under the midnight sun? To quote Annie, sweet dreams are made of this!
If you are starting to get the picture by now that I think Iceland is a pretty wonderful place to be at any time of year and have never been more excited about an upcoming trip, then you are correct sir.
Okay so now what if you could have a nice, say, 8-12 hours of daylight, drive around the country hiking and exploring by day but still be in with a shot of watching the lights dance in the sky at night, and all for cheaper prices than the summer and better weather than the winter? Hello shoulder season!
To me, in Iceland the shoulder season has the biggest appeal. If you aren’t rich enough in money and time to be able to go to Iceland twice, during both winter and summer, plus you want to avoid the crowds and not miss out on (almost) anything whilst you are there, then this is clearly the time to go. Plus bonus points for all of the gorgeous autumnal colours you will see in September – October.
Of course you could end up having atrocious weather and the Northern Lights might not show their face no matter how little you sleep trying to catch them. Shoulder seasons are a gamble in that regard and it’s worth keeping this in mind. You’re never guaranteed anything in Iceland, where the weather is so crazy that you can experience four seasons in one hour, and the country’s biggest tourist pull is a naturally occurring and unpredictable event. But in shoulder season the gamble has worse odds, I guess. Either way, I’m pretty sure that in a country as diverse, picturesque and as crazy as Iceland, regardless of what the weather and the Northern Lights are up to, you are guaranteed to have something amazing to write home about!
We personally decided on going for 16 days at the start of April because we were too impatient excited to wait any longer, and we will spend the weekend in Reykjavik before heading off for two whole weeks of exploring the country. I cannot wait go, and to blog about all of the wonderful things we find.
So, if you are like me and Freddie Mercury and you want it all, and you want it now; go to Iceland in shoulder season. And I’ll see you there!