Iceland in Summer – Must Sees and Must Dos

March 4th, 2021

Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois

7 min read

Imagine exploring glistening icebergs and stark black sand beaches during the day. Then spending your evening relaxing or partying at festivals in the glow of the midnight sun. This is what awaits you on a summer trip to Iceland.

To help you plan, we’ve compiled this guide of what to see and do during your Iceland summer adventure. You’ll also find a few added tips of what to pack and what to expect from that famous Icelandic weather.

How is Iceland in summer?

What can you expect when you visit Iceland in summer? Long days, the best weather of the year, good driving conditions, and plenty of outdoor activities.

All of this makes summer a great time to visit Iceland. The longer daylight hours mean you can take more time to explore each day, drive greater distances, or simply bask in the sunlight well into the night.

Colorful summer sunset with Kirkjufell mountain in Grundarfjordur in West Iceland

How is the weather in Iceland in summer?

The summer months enjoy the best weather of the year. It won’t be the Caribbean, but it is called Iceland after all.

Generally, you can expect average temperatures to hover around 10-13°C (50-55°F). But every year there are warm days in the low 20s°C (68-77°F). 

When to visit in summer?

This may depend on your summer holidays, but here is our advice.

The height of summer, between June and August, is the popular travel season. For that reason, you may find you’re not alone at famous sites and on the roads.

This is especially true along the south coast and for day tours from Reykjavík. If you want to visit at that time, maybe you could head off the beaten path instead.  

Or, to see a quieter side of the country, visit during the shoulder season, in May or September. During these months, you’ll still benefit from some lovely weather and long days, but with more of the popular sites to yourself.

Top things to do in Iceland in summer

Spend your summer vacation in Iceland and you could get up to so much. Experience new things and relish Iceland’s stunning landscape.

We’ve compiled our favorite 15 things to do in Iceland in summer to give you some inspiration:

1. Take a dip in swimming pools and hot springs

Thanks to its volcanoes and geothermal activity, Iceland has a large number of naturally heated pools. In Reykjavík only, you’ll find almost 20 of them. Or you could book a slot to soak in the soothing waters of the Blue Lagoon in the Reykjanes peninsula.

You could also experience the more natural pools in the countryside. Go hiking and then relax in hot springs. Make sure to bring your swimsuit and towel for this activity.

Seljavallalaug geothermal swimming pool in Iceland

2. Camp your way around the country

While the winter isn’t as harsh as you may expect from this Nordic island for camping you’ll want to do so in summer. Camping is a fantastic way to wake up each day amidst the scenic landscape. And it’s cheaper than hotels, so you’ll save money along the way too!

3. Experience long days with the midnight sun

The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon whereby the sun doesn’t set at all below the horizon. It occurs in the summer in the extreme north and south of our planet. As Iceland is almost within the Arctic Circle, it boasts extended daylight hours in summer.

Between May and July, you can expect between 18 to 23 daylight hours each day. This means you have longer days for driving, exploring, hiking, or simply enjoying the midnight sun.

4. Hike in the stunning landscape  

Discover Iceland along the hiking trails for an adventurous getaway. With the better weather, hiking paths start to open for the summer season around April and May.

If you’re in Reykjavík for a short stay, you could hike up the nearby Mount Esja. With more time, drive to the highlands to take on the multi-day Laugavegur Trail. You’ll find plenty of other options, from East Iceland to the Westfjords.

5. Celebrate the summer solstice

The summer solstice is either on the 20 or 21 June in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the longest day of the year and in Iceland, it happens to be very long!

The period surrounding the summer solstice is also called midsummer. You have probably heard about it being celebrated in many Nordic countries. Iceland is no exception, and you’ll find parties across the country at this time of year.

The biggest one has to be the (not-so) Secret Solstice festival in Reykjavík. Don’t miss it if you’re visiting during midsummer.

6. Go off the beaten path

As we’ve mentioned before, Iceland’s top sights attract a lot of visitors in the summer months. So, if you have time, travel off the beaten path. This way you’ll discover other fantastic attractions and have them more to yourself.

Certain regions, like the Westfjords, aren’t as accessible in winter. Another great example is the highlands. The roads into this region only open between June and August (dependent on weather). So, summer is the best time to head up there.

Explore parts of Iceland that few take the time to see and you’ll find breathtaking scenery at every corner.

7. Spot whales on a cruise

Whale-watching tours are available all year long but keep a few things in mind before booking this fun activity. Summer has 3 major benefits for whale watching.

First, the weather is usually better, meaning you’re more likely to want to spend your time on the deck waiting for the whales to make an appearance. At this time of year, the water is usually less choppy too, perfect if you don’t have the strongest sea legs.

But the biggest benefit is the higher number of whales that migrate to Iceland’s coast in summer. You may spot minke, humpback, and sperm whales, and, if you’re lucky, even the elusive blue whale.

Whale watching, Reykjavik

8. Enjoy some fresh local food

Iceland is a pleasure to visit for foodies. You’ll find plenty to dig your teeth into here.

Make sure to visit Dalvík in North Iceland. In summer, you could join the friendly locals for “Great Fish Day,” a celebration over a large seafood feast.

In Reykjavík, there are restaurants of all kinds that serve delicious Icelandic dishes as well as international cuisine. You could even take a food tour of the capital to get a taste of local ice cream, pastries, seafood (including shark!), Icelandic spirit, and more.

Or take a day tour to the idyllic Friðheimar greenhouse cultivation center. Or include it in your itinerary as you tour Iceland. At Friðheimar, they grow pesticide-free tomatoes and cucumbers with the aid of geothermal heat.

9. Party at music festivals

Summer is a great time to visit Iceland to immerse yourself in the culture. The country opens after a dark winter and Icelanders celebrate with loads of festivities.

Attend festivals with the locals or join an international audience at major events, such as:

  • Reykjavík Arts Festival – May or June
  • Seafarer’s Day – June
  • Iceland’s National Day – 17 June
  • Viking Festival in Hafnarfjörður – June
  • Secret Solstice in Reykjavík – June
  • Siglufjörður Folk Music Festival – July
  • Bræðslan music festival – July
  • Þjóðhátíð in the Westman Islands – August
  • Reykjavík’s Culture Night and Marathon – August
  • Reykjavík Pride – August

10. Try a sea swim

Although not for the faint of heart, why not dip your toes in the cold Northern Atlantic Ocean? A beautiful spot to do so is Nauthólsvík, a beach in Reykjavík. It’s probably best to keep this activity for a warm summer’s day!

And in case it’s too cold, there are hot tubs nearby to warm you up. Or you can keep your dips exclusively for hot springs and heated pools instead.

11. Explore the national parks

Iceland has 3 stunning national parks: Þingvellir, Snæfellsjökull and Vatnajökull. They are oases of natural wonders that are worth taking the time to discover. Not only because they encompass magnificent beauty, but because they are a treasure trove of fun activities. Imagine hiking, snowmobiling, or chasing waterfalls.

12. Go on exciting day trips

From exploring ice caves to descending deep into a dormant volcano, there is so much to do in Iceland. The unique experiences here will make your trip even more memorable.

You could snorkel between the tectonic plates at Silfra, go kayaking amongst icebergs, or journey inside a lava tunnel. There is something for everyone!

Glacier kayaking

13. See glaciers from up close

Did you know there are 269 named glaciers covering 11% of Iceland’s landmass? That’s a whole lot of glaciers! You could take a day tour to explore one or more of them with an experienced guide.

Try your hand at driving a snowmobile on top of Mýrdalsjökull glacier or along the Langjökull Ice Cap. Or go glacier hiking on an outlet glacier in Skaftafell. These will allow you to see the snowy landscape, glacial ice sculptures, ice ridges, and deep crevasses from up close.

14. Spot puffins in the wild

Ever wanted to see these cute birds in person? From late April to early August, around 8 million puffins come to mate and nest on the Icelandic coast. That’s 60% of the entire Atlantic puffin population that call Iceland their home during the summer.

The 4 million pairs create colonies along large sea cliffs. You’ll find quite a few around the country, but the best ones are in North Iceland and the Westfjords. A great way to see them is hiking, or you could take a whale- and puffin-watching tour.

15. Tour the island along the Ring Road

Think we would have forgotten this one? The Icelandic summer is nothing but perfect for an impressive road trip. With long days, you have more time to explore and enjoy yourself. Or you could also take fewer days to travel around Route 1 as you could drive more each day.

Top places to add to your must-see Iceland summer list

You now have an exciting list of things to do and activities to add to your itinerary. But what are the must-see places? Pick some (or all!) of the following Icelandic locations for a memorable summer tour. 

Here are the 15 best places to visit in Iceland in summer:

  1. Explore the Golden Circle’s top attractions – Geysir, Þingvellir and Gullfoss
  2. Experience the summer buzz of the capital, Reykjavík
  3. Walk around the lush canyon of Ásbyrgi in North Iceland
  4. Drive through the fjords of East Iceland
  5. Visit the village of Vík and its nearby beach, Reynisfjara
  6. Discover the varied wilderness of the Vatnajökull National Park
  7. Roam around the lunar landscape of the Lake Mývatn area
  8. See the icebergs glistening in the sun at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
  9. Tour the volcanic Heimaey in the Westman Islands
  10. Visit the remote Westfjords for unspoilt beauty
  11. Witness the highlights and rock formations of the Snæfellsjökull National Park
  12. Photograph epic waterfalls like Goðafoss and Seljalandsfoss
  13. Adventure yourself into the mountainous highlands
  14. Spot whales on a cruise from Húsavík
  15. Wander around the mossy boulders of Iceland’s lava fields, such as Eldhraun
Latrabjarg cliffs

Can you see the northern lights in summer?

If you’re visiting between mid-April and mid-August, the answer is no. Because it takes darkness to see the Northern Lights, you should avoid the months with endless daylight hours.

Peaking in June, the midnight sun is a spectacular phenomenon, but will restrict your ability to see the Aurora Borealis.

But visit in late summer, from mid-August into September, and you may be able to spot them. At that time, the nights are growing longer, giving you more opportunities to see the lights.

What to pack and what to wear on a summer trip to Iceland

Icelanders have a saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. This is the philosophy to keep in mind when visiting Iceland, even in summer.

With its ever-changing weather, the best thing to do is to be ready for everything. Bring layers so you can adapt to the day’s weather and appreciate all that Iceland has to offer, come rain or shine.

Here is a list of packing essentials for your Iceland summer trip:

  • Short-sleeved shirts and lightweight layers
  • Fleece or lightweight wool jumpers
  • Waterproof and windproof jacket or shell layers
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Gloves, scarf, and warm hat
  • Cap and sunglasses
  • Sturdy walking or hiking boots with good socks
  • Thermal underwear and socks for cooler excursions
  • Binoculars for wildlife watchers
  • Eye mask to help you sleep with the midnight sun
  • Swimwear, flip flops, and towel to take a dip or go to the spa

Planning your summer vacation to Iceland

Activities, tours, and accommodation book out early during this popular travel season, so start planning early.

Decide what you want to see and experience most and then put together your tour. For road trips, look at renting a car and booking accommodation or camping spots. Then add activities to your day-to-day itinerary.

Or you could let a local do the work for you. The travel experts at Iceland Tours are based in Reykjavík and know the country inside-out. They can advise you on the best activities and routes to take.

Get in touch or browse our Iceland vacation packages to pick the one that’s right for you. You can choose from self-drive itineraries, camping tours, city breaks, or even privately guided experiences of Iceland.

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Written by:

Camila Contreras-Langlois