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When to travel to Iceland: weather and seasons
Iceland's climate, in spite of the country's name, should not put you off travelling there, and in fact there are plenty of visitors at any time of the year.
It's true that Iceland is cold, but not as cold as you might expect. This is because a branch of the warm Gulf Stream flows along the southern and the western coast greatly moderating the climate. As a result, the climate in Iceland is much warmer than in other regions of the same degree of latitude, with mild, windy winters and damp, cool summers typical for Scandinavia.
However, the Gulf Stream flow brings mild Atlantic air in contact with colder Arctic air resulting in a climate that is marked by frequent changes in weather and storminess. In fact, the weather is very changeable at all times of the year, and in Reykjavík there may be rain, sunshine, drizzle and snow in the same day! A common Icelandic saying - and it's not really a joke - holds that if you're not happy with the weather, just wait five minutes and it'll change...
This changeable weather depends mostly on the tracks of the atmospheric depressions crossing the North Atlantic. The passage of a depression some distance south of Iceland causes relatively cold and dry weather, especially in southern districts, while one passing northeastward between Iceland and Greenland brings mild, moderately dry weather in the north. So keep an eye on the meteorological forecasts when you're there!
Iceland is not as chilly as it sounds, but it can become very cold in both summer and winter when the polar winds blow. Note that since the island is small, climatic changes are quick to set in; it's definitely best to go prepared for rapid turns in the weather, especially in late autumn and early spring. There are no extreme temperature variations between seasons, but frequent weather changes are the norm, particularly in the south, which experiences many storms and heavy precipitation.
There are some variations in the climate between different parts of the island. In general, the further you move north and east, the greater the chance of pleasant weather because these areas lie in the rain shadow of the ice caps in the island’s interior. In Iceland you will find the warmest climate from the middle of June to the end of August. The country's highest recorded air temperature was 30°C.
The other special feature of Iceland's climate is the seasonal change in the length of day and night, creating unique weather phenomena. Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small island of Grímsey off Iceland's northern coast, but not through mainland Iceland. Summer days are long and nights short; in winter, days are short and nights long.
During the summer months there is almost continuous daylight; early spring and late autumn feature long twilights. In midsummer, daylight takes over completely and there is no night darkness during June and July. Average temperatures in July are about 12 degrees centigrade in Reykjavik; it is usually a bit warmer in the north and east of Iceland. Temperatures at Reykjavík range from an average of 11°C (52° F) in July to -1°C (30° F) in January, with an annual mean of about 5°C (41°F).
Considering the northerly location of Iceland, its climate is much milder than might be expected, especially in winter. The Northern Lights are often visible in autumn and early winter. From mid-November until the end of January the country only experiences a few hours of daylight each day. It doesn't snow as much in Iceland as you may think either, especially in Reykjavik where there is usually very little snow to be seen, even over the winter. Coastal areas tend to experience winter gales and are generally windy.
Although winters are fairly dark, Reykjavík averages nearly 1,300 hours of bright sunshine a year. Akureyri and the North are sunnier than Reykjavík year round, warmer in the summer and colder in the winter. Medium to heavyweight clothing is advisable if you're visiting during the winter months.
The ice most commonly reaches Iceland in the late winter or early summer and most usually affects the northern and northwestern coasts.
Climate in Iceland
Fahrenheit and centigrade, inches and millimetres, average values.
Our other Iceland pages:
Useful facts, dates and links to help you plan your tour of Iceland