Are you going to Iceland in summer? This guide has everything you could possibly need to plan the most epic trip imaginable!
If you’ve been reading some of our other posts about Iceland then you’ll know that Iceland is the most beautiful country we have ever been to. Its dramatic landscapes and inescapable beauty surrounds you wherever you are, be it summer or winter. But, as you can imagine with the land of ice, winter makes much of Iceland inhospitable and inaccessible.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits to going to Iceland in the winter, for example ice caves, the Northern Lights and fewer crowds. However, if you are thinking of going to Iceland in summer then this guide aims to tell you literally everything you could possibly do in the summer months. Summer officially starts in April so if you are visiting Iceland from April onwards then this is the guide for you.
Things To Do In Iceland In Summer
Iceland is one of the easiest countries in the world to organise an epic road trip whatever the time of year. However Iceland in summer has one huge benefit – the roads are much safer and there is much more light.
Route 1 is the main road that circumnavigates the whole of Iceland. Around 800 miles long, the road is literally littered with incredible places to see and things to do. Nearly everything in this list is a short drive from some point on Route 1 so I highly recommend making your holiday into an epic road trip.
Even if you are only visiting Iceland for a short amount of time, you simply have to hire a vehicle to help you get around. If you decide to get tours to everything then you’ll end up spending much more money than hiring a vehicle and driving there yourself. This is especially true when the place you are visiting is free of charge, which many Icelandic parks are.
I have put this right at the top of my list because I believe it is the most important piece of advice. The sun doesn’t set until midnight in summer and you’ll want the added flexibility of your own vehicle to truly make the most of your trip.
Here I have made a map of some of the best places to stop during your epic road trip. You can find out information about all of the stops in this post so have a read through.
If you are a waterfall fanatic then I don’t know where else in the world you are going to be this spoilt. The waterfalls in Iceland that aren’t considered to be amongst the best are still world class in my opinion.
To put this in perspective, if you find yourself driving to Diamond Beach in the south-east of Iceland from Reykjavik, you’ll drive past 3 of the most beautiful waterfalls Iceland has to offer. Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Svartifoss. We stopped at this waterfall which isn’t even rated as one worth stopping at!
All of the waterfalls in Iceland are at their full splendour in the warmer months so Iceland in summer is the ideal time to come chasing waterfalls. There are so many to check out so have a look at this list of the top 10 waterfalls in Iceland to help you plan your route to each one.
Camera Tips For Waterfalls
You’re definitely going to want to capture some amazing shots of each waterfall when you get to it but you may not know the best way to get that quintessential moving water look. It’s all about having a low shutter speed. If you have a shutter speed option on your camera (this should be marked simply as an S) then stick it to that and set the shutter speed to 1 second.
This is your test shot so take a look and see if the water is too blurred or not enough. If you want more movement then make the shutter speed longer, and less movement make the shutter speed shorter.
You will NEED a tripod or place to put the camera for the shot. Even a surgeon can’t hand hold a 1-second shutter speed.
Animals To See In Summer
When you look out your car window and think to yourself ‘Iceland is literally a paradise’, the animals are clearly thinking it too! Iceland in summer is a pandemonium of life and nature that simply has to be a part of your adventure.
There is a lot more to Iceland’s nature than this but if you are strapped for time, here is my short guide to seeing Iceland’s ‘big 3’.
How can you not fall in love with one of the cutest and photogenic birds on the entire planet? Well, Iceland is home to the largest gathering of puffins in the entire world. Luckily there are plenty of places to see them.
Many guides will tell you that the best place to see puffins in Iceland is the Westman Islands off the south coast. However, if you don’t fancy getting on a ferry or flight over to the island then there is also Dyrhólaey in the south-east mainland where you can see puffins in the summer. You also get the added benefit of seeing one of the most beautiful rock formations that Iceland has to offer, a natural arch where someone actually flew a plane through!
If you are planning to explore the south-east then I recommend staying on the mainland to see the puffins. If you are specifically going to Iceland in summer for the puffins then the main Westman island of Heimaey or Látrabjarg in the West Fjords are the places to be.
How could you not want to see the biggest mammals on the whole planet? Iceland has so many opportunities to see so many different species of whale. However, you will have to decide what species you particularly want to see as there are ideal locations to maximise your chances of seeing one.
The best time to see whales in Iceland is during the summer months. So if you are going to Iceland in summer then this is the perfect time to get out and see these majestic creatures.
I highly recommend trying to see these beauties as they are by far the most acrobatic and most fun to spot. I have seen blue whales, bryde’s whales and humpbacks and the humpbacks have to take first place for the attraction. The best place to spot them from is in the north of Iceland and in particular the port of Húsavík.
Blue And Fin Whales
The 1st and 2nd biggest mammals on the planet. The best place to see them is definitely in the north of Iceland. Not the most common of sights but if you are getting a tour from either Húsavík or Akureyri in the summer then you have a very good chance of spotting them.
This is the most numerous and easiest to spot whales of all the species in Iceland. If you are thinking of getting a tour from Reykjavik then the minke whale is the most likely sight you will see.
So orcas are not actually whales but the larges dolphin in the world. However, I’m sticking them in the whale section because it’s easier. The single best place to see orcas in Iceland is definitely the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to the west of Iceland. Orcas are the most difficult species to spot due to their shyness to the boats compared to other species in this list.
The best place to see seals in Iceland is the Vatnsnes Peninsula, around a 3-hour drive from Reykjavik. If you are already going to Diamond Beach in the south-east and you have a tight schedule then do not worry about going to the Vatnsnes Peninsula as you should be able to see seals swimming around the ice in the glacial lagoon at Diamond Beach.
You can see seals all year round in Iceland, however, the best time to see them is in summer. You have significantly more time during the day to ensure you get there 2 hours before or after high tide to maximise your chances of seeing them.
With the super long days and warmer weather, Iceland becomes party central in the summer months. Who can blame them? With the short cold days of winter, Iceland really wakes up for half the year.
Whatever you are looking for in a festival, be it art, music, food or history, Iceland has one for you in the summer months. That includes the most popular of the bunch, The Secret Solstice in June. If you are going to Iceland in summer and enjoy a good party then The Summer Solstice is literally a must do activity. Where else in the world can you party until midnight and the sun still be in the sky?!
If music festivals aren’t your thing then you don’t have to go far to be spoilt for choice. Reykjavik itself has so many festivals throughout summer without having to drive throughout Iceland.
If you don’t mind travelling then there is even more to see! From the Þjóðhátíð music festival on the Westman Islands, the Great Fish Day in Dalvík to the Lobster Festival in Höfn.
But let’s say for a second that you are unable to go to Iceland at the exact time of any of the major festivals. Never fear! The nightlife in Reykjavik becomes the envy of the world as bar and club goers party deep into the night.
Hot Springs & Lagoons
When I went to Iceland I had already heard of a couple of the most well known geothermally heated pools in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon and the Myvatn nature baths. I assumed there were a couple of smaller places around Iceland but pictured similarly built up and well-designed tourist centres surrounding them. How wrong I was.
Obviously, there are plenty of easily accessible naturally heated pools and lagoons throughout all of Iceland. These tend to have good infrastructure and have changing facilities to hand. If you are going to Iceland in summer with children then I recommend looking at these over the wilder more natural hot springs.
However, if you are an adventurer like me then there are some truly incredible natural pools hidden in the mountains and valleys that few people take the time to go and explore. The variety is also stunning with Reykjadalur being a geothermal river, Hellulaug being a small pool next to the sea and even a tiny pool in Reykjavik where you can dip your feet when they get cold.
Really take your time researching the places you are visiting because you never know, there might be a secret natural spring where you can bathe in amongst nature without another soul in sight.
Hiking & Camping
Arguably the most popular activity in Iceland in summer is hiking and camping. This doesn’t just include tourists coming over to see the incredible trails that become accessible in the summer months but also the Icelanders too. And you don’t have to do much research to understand why this is the case.
Iceland has a hiking experience for every single different type of hiker, from 6-day excursions through canyons and lava fields to 1-day walks and adventures. They include the Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls trek which is rated as one of the best hikes in the entire world! If you are looking to for a hike without anyone else around for miles then I highly recommend the East Fjords. Hardly anyone ventures up there because of the distance from Reykjavik but the wilderness is stunning.
Don’t be put off by the jagged and daunting looking landscapes that cover so much of Iceland as there are plenty of easier and more relaxing walks that still allow you to capture the incredible beauty that Iceland has to offer off the beaten track.
There is so much advice out there about the best hikes and climbs in Iceland that I highly recommend researching your routes before embarking on them to ensure safety and maximum fun!
The Golden Circle is the most well-known tourist attraction that Iceland has to offer all year round and this is no exception in Iceland in summer. It includes Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir national park. The relatively close proximity to Reykjavik, accessibility and incredible beauty of the 3 natural landmarks make it a favourite for good reason.
All three of the activities in the Golden Circle are free of charge.
Geysir is genuinely one of the coolest things you can easily see in Iceland. The Geysir geothermal area is a collection of hot pools that lead up to the Great Geysir itself. You may have heard about other geysers around the world but the name geyser actually came from this original example.
Unfortunately, you are very unlikely to see Geysir erupt. If it did it can get up to over 100m high! You are, however, certainly going to see its younger brother, Strokkur, erupt every couple of minutes.
I know it sounds like it’s just some water blowing into the sky but seriously it’s one of the most incredible natural phenomena I have ever seen. I could literally sit there for hours waiting for a particularly large eruption to capture on camera.
Make Geysir part of your list 100%.
A beautiful protected national park, Thingvellir is also a must-see attraction for anyone staying around the South of Iceland in summer. It is particularly popular as it is formed on top of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates which are drifting apart. This causes large crevices to form throughout the park.
One of the most incredible things you can do at Thingvellir is dive in the Silfra fissure. At some points, you can touch each of the tectonic plates whilst gazing into some of the most brilliantly clear water of any dive site in the world. There are areas which are 100m long and you are able to see end to end! If you are a diver and you are in Iceland in summer then you would be crazy not to add this to the top of your list.
Gullfoss is a large powerful waterfall created by the river Hvítá falling into a deep crevice. In my opinion, it’s not one of the most naturally stunning waterfalls in Iceland, however, due to it’s proximity to Geysir, a must-see attraction, Gullfoss should definitely be on your itinerary.
Even though it might not be the most attractive, the sheer power of Gullfoss is sure to impress the most experienced of waterfall chasers.
What’s that? Why would you bother going to the beaches in Iceland because the temperature is on average 13o°C in the summer? Iceland may not be the place to grab a lounger and soak in some rays but the sheer drama that the beaches in Iceland have to offer is unparalleled to anywhere else I have ever been.
At Solheimasandur there is an abandoned plane wreck in the middle of the huge black sand plains, on Breidamerkursandur there are thousands of glistening ice diamonds making up the famous Diamond Beach and jutting out of Dyrholaey there is a huge natural arch where a daredevil pilot flew his plane through. And this is just the start of what you can expect to find!
Seriously, Iceland is one of the most incredible places on earth to go beach hunting so I made a comprehensive guide to all of the best beaches in Iceland to help you find your perfect beach.
Have you ever walked on a glacier? Scratch that, have you ever snowmobiled on a glacier!? Luckily for all of you warmer weather travellers, Iceland in summer still has plenty of opportunities to get into the mountains and experience the ice that is there all year round. It’s actually the best time in the whole year to get on a tour to go and see the glaciers because the weather is much more forgiving and the bright sunshine really lets you enjoy the majesty of these incredible places.
There are many different glaciers all over Iceland so wherever you are you will be able to book a visit up to one of them. DO NOT go up onto a glacier on your own. I always look for ways of doing activities without having to book a tour guide as they are usually expensive and unnecessary. However, in this situation, you should categorically not go up onto a glacier without a professional guide. They can be extremely dangerous places and if you go to the wrong section you could end up falling down a crevice and being seriously injured or worse.
Considering the abundance of geothermally heated water across Iceland, it comes as no great surprise that the Icelanders have thoroughly taken advantage of this and created some of the nicest warmest pools to frolic in during the summer months.
There really is a neverending list of incredible swimming pools wherever you are in Iceland. From the cities and towns all the way into the mountains and fjords. You may be all the way west tucked into the incredible beauty of the west fjords and come across a small heated outdoor pool overlooking the incredible beauty of Iceland’s idyllic landscapes.
You don’t have to necessarily plan a visit to one of these pools if you are visiting Iceland in summer but if you ever think that you may want a little dip and a swim then do a quick search to find out your closest pool and jump in!
If you are travelling as a family with kids, why not try planning your trip from pool to pool? It’s a genuinely fantastic way to get the kids interested and excited whilst also making sure you get to see all of the incredible sights that Iceland has to offer.
Some of the swimming pools you come across, especially in the middle of nowhere, are owned by local landowners. Make sure that you have spoken to the relevant people in any given place before you go ahead and jump in. It is usually very easy to find out this information as it will be nearby the site or you can find the information out online.
I am not the biggest fan of tours as they tend to cost quite a lot of money for something you could quite easily do yourself for significantly less. However, there as some things you simply cannot do without professional or local help. Here I have listed a selection of the best tours available if you are going to Iceland in Summer.
Tips For Iceland In Summer
As I said right at the beginning of the post, hiring a car will probably be the most valuable thing you can possibly do to maximise your Iceland enjoyment. Iceland is not the biggest country in the world and with carefully planned days you can actually see anything you want to see in a relatively short amount of time.
This is only really possible if you hire a vehicle to give you the freedom and flexibility that is so important. This is my single biggest recommendation. Shop around for a decent deal but make sure you get a 4×4 as then you have access to the many F-roads across the country. These F-roads are nearly always the final leg of a journey to reach the best places Iceland has to offer.
Lastly, in Iceland, you always have to have your headlights on no matter the time of day. The vehicle we hired actually did this automatically which was handy. If yours does not stay on then make sure you don’t turn them off as you could be handed a large fine.
Driving on F-Roads
If you have rented a 4×4 that specifically states you will be able to drive on F-roads around the country then this is completely fine. When we were there we experienced some very different conditions on some of these F-roads. Some were nearly as flat as the normal roads whereas some were extremely rough.
If you are not a confident 4×4 driver then just take your time. No one wants a hefty fine for damaging a vehicle whilst you’re on holiday.
If you have not rented a 4×4 then DO NOT go on these F-roads. So many people are saying that you’ll be fine but they really are wrong to recommend this. What’s the point in risking a huge fine for damaging a rental vehicle when for a small amount more you can do it comfortably?
Driving Off Road
Please do not go off road at any time in any situation. There are 2 big reasons for this. Firstly it will be against your terms and conditions of your hire vehicle. If you damage the vehicle during your off-road escapade then you WILL have to pay for all of the damages, whatever they may amount to. If you think this is bad wait for the second reason.
Secondly, it is highly illegal and if you get stuck and need recovery you are in for one hell of a fine. The last person to get stuck in some topsoil ended up shelling out over $3000. He didn’t even damage the vehicle.
You can literally find anything you want in Iceland, be it a log cabin with a hot tub or a tent in a field. It obviously depends on your budget but I do recommend having a look on Air Bnb because a lot of the locals put their holiday homes up for a decent price. Plus you get a whole apartment to yourself which is always nice.
If you wanted to make your trip a little more interesting then there are some really cool, unique hotels in Iceland that I recommend having a browse through. Staying in a converted bus or being abducted by a Viking could definitely improve your visit, depending on what you’re into of course…
The single biggest benefit of travelling to Iceland in summer is the midnight sun. In winter, tourists get significantly less time during the day to visit attractions across the country. However, you guys who are travelling in the summer can explore all the way from early in the morning to midnight.
Make the most of this opportunity. You may be tried and worn out but Iceland has so much to see and do you might as well try to cram it all in!
Weather & What To Wear In Summer
The average temperature in July is only around 13celcius so do not think you won’t have to bring warm clothes to Iceland in summer. Remember, you can always take clothes off but if you get too cold then this will just ruin your trip.
This selection of clothes are good for all year in Iceland so take a look and see what you don’t already have.
Iceland Packing List
Negatives Of Iceland In Summer
Because of the midnight sun, it is exceptionally difficult to see the Northern Lights in Iceland in summer. It is so difficult that I could say that it could be a waste of your time trying to see them. If you want to go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights then I highly recommend going in the winter.
The days are long, the weather is bearable and the festivals are in full swing, Iceland in summer is the busiest time of the year. It is significantly busier than any other time and this can be frustrating especially if you are a photographer. Your pictures will almost certainly have many people occupying the best spots and attractions.
I recommend getting up very early or going very late to places that are always open to maximise your enjoyment. This is another reason why making the most of the midnight sun is so important!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Iceland Better In Summer Or Winter?
For general exploration then Iceland in summer is vastly superior because of its much longer days and time to get around. However, if you want to see the Northern Lights or go into an ice cave, you cannot do this is summer because of the temperature and lack of darkness.
Is Iceland Cold In Summer?
The average temperature in July is around 13celcius which, to me, is not massively warm. However, it can get slightly warmer and colder than this so I would definitely recommend taking warm clothes whatever the time of year.
Is Iceland In Summer Crowded?
The more popular attractions in Iceland in summer can be very overcrowded. You can easily avoid this by making the most of the very long days and visit the attractions very early or very late.
Are There Glaciers In Iceland In Summer?
Glaciers are all year natural formations so yes they are all still present in the summer.
Do You Need A 4×4 In Iceland In Summer?
You do not NEED a 4×4 but it is highly recommended as this gives you access to all of the F-roads in the country which hide some of the most beautiful locations.
Are you planning a trip to Iceland in summer? Or have you already been and know of something I have missed off of my list? Please let us know in the comments below!
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