Updated: Jul 12, 2020
An October trip to Iceland is an excellent idea. This is a crossover month that lies between the summer and the winter seasons. So there are all sorts of activities open to fall vacationers. The majority of summer activities are still in full swing and some of the winter fun has already gotten started. With far fewer visitors to Iceland in October the prices for accommodation, tours and vehicle hire are all much lower. This makes it a pretty affordable time to visit the country.
Another big plus of travel at this time of year is the lovely fall colours that light up the land. The landscapes will have taken on the beautiful fiery and golden hues of autumn. The experiences of driving, hiking or horse riding through Iceland’s landscapes will all be enhanced. In this article we will explore the top things to do in Iceland in October. We will also look at the weather along with practicalities such as what to pack and driving conditions in October.
The weather in Iceland in October
Perhaps the only potential downside of a trip to Iceland in October is the weather. This can be a very tumultuous month when it comes to wind and rain. It is on average a little wetter than usual during October in Iceland. Although it may well not be! The weather in Iceland is notoriously unpredictable. You might be unlucky in the height of summer and visit during an unseasonable week. Alternatively you could visit in October and have clear skies and sunshine.
The average temperature in Iceland in October is around 4-5 degrees Celsius in Reykjavik and the surrounding area. The thermometer might well drop below zero or could be as mild as 15 degrees Celsius. Although the weather is unpredictable and you might get lucky this is the start of winter in Iceland. So you should expect cold winds and rain and come prepared for them. The snows generally begin around the end of the month. So if you visit in the first few weeks of October odds are you will enjoy calmer and milder weather.
Daylight hours in October and seeing the Northern Lights
October sees the season turn from summer to winter. This means that there will be plenty of hours of darkness. And here lies one of the big advantages of travelling to Iceland in October. Dark night skies mean that you have a very good chance of seeing the Northern Lights!
At the start of the month the sun rises at around 7.30am and sets at 7pm more or less. But by the end of the month it feels far wintrier with sunrise after 9am and sunset soon after 5pm. This means that there are between eleven and sixteen hours of darkness a day in Iceland. So October is near perfect for sightseeing by day and spotting the Aurora Borealis by night.
Things to do in Iceland in October
As mentioned there all sorts of activities open to you if you visit Iceland in October. Many summer day tours are still running and winter activities are kicking off. Here are some of the highlights.
Road trips in October
Although the weather is changeable at this time of year it is still a good time for an Iceland road trip. The majority of Iceland’s roads and campsites will be open. Although highland roads and F roads will begin to close by the end of the month. If you are looking at car rental or camper van hire then consider a 4 x 4 vehicle. This will allow you access to all of Iceland’s roads (providing they don’t close early because of winter snows).
So road trips are very much possible at this time of year. You may prefer to stick to shorter routes such as the Golden Circle, the South Coast or the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. All three options offer plenty of incredible sights. Driving the South Coast you will enjoy incredible scenery from mountains to black sand beaches, lava fields and glaciers. While the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is known as ‘Iceland in Miniature’ because of its wealth of sights. If you would like to drive the full Ring Road then earlier in the month would be the best time.
Icelandic Horse Riding
Horse riding is one popular summer activity still very much open to visitors in October. The sturdy Icelandic horses are known for their good nature. So pretty much anyone can enjoy a ride even if they are novices. Seeing the stunning fall landscapes from the saddle is a wonderful experience.
Whale Watching Tours
Whale watching is another summer activity still available in October. In fact whales can be spotted year round in the waters around Iceland. But they are definitely busier during the summer months. However you can also catch them in pretty high numbers in October. As long as the seas aren’t too rough boats will head out on day tours. Boat tours set sail from both the North and South of Iceland.
Glacier Tours and Activities
Glaciers are an integral part of any trip to Iceland and in October you can enjoy them from all angles. Whilst most glaciers are for viewing only in summer by October it is possible to hike across many of them. At this time of year it is safe to explore the glacier ice caves too. Visitors to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon will still be able to take boat tours in October too. This is a summer tour where visitors sail around the icebergs that float across the on the lake.
Northern Lights Tours
As mentioned October is a great month for spotting the Northern Lights in Iceland. If you would rather not drive yourself then you can easily join one of the tours that start in October. Group tours or private jeep tours and even boat tours into the bay near Reykjavik are all options. If you are hiring a motorhome or campervan then you can easily look out for them yourself. If you are camping in or near one of the national parks you might well see the dancing lights you’re your bed! For tips on how best to see them read our article on Finding the Northern Lights in Iceland.
Events in October
There is not a great many festivals or events going on in Iceland in October. The busy summer schedule has finished and the winter events haven’t quite got started yet. There are a few dates for your calendar though. Halloween is not as widely celebrated as it is in the US but can still be a fun evening to go out. If art house movies are your thing then Reykjavik hosts a film festival in October and also the Icelandic Airwaves. This kicks off in late September and runs into early October. There are film showings in all sorts of weird and wonderful places including in a thermal swimming pool! Also in early October around he 8thor 9this the switching on of the Imagine Peace Tower. The tower is lit up to promote world peace and sends a beam of light high into the sky.
Hot Springs and Hiking
Although the days are getting shorter and the weather wilder you can still go hiking in Iceland in October. There are plenty of short day hikes to enjoy year round. And although Iceland’s multi-day treks are not accessible in October there are some challenging full day hikes to enjoy. Just make sure that you keep a good track of time so that you can be home before nightfall. From treks in the Vatnajökull National Park to coastal walks around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula there are many trails to tread.
Another classic feature of Iceland that partners well with hiking is its hot springs. As well as the famous Blue Lagoon there are many more hot spring pools in Iceland. Planning hikes that culminate in a hot spring bathe is a great idea especially in the chilly days of October.
What to pack for Iceland in October
If you visit Iceland in October don’t even think about taking cabin baggage only. You are definitely going to need plenty of luggage space. You will need warm layers and a good wind and waterproof jacket and trousers. Make sure that you have a decent jacket with a hood. Umbrellas certainly won’t stand up against the wild winds. As well as layers and warm socks, gloves and hats you will need sturdy shoes for walking in. For pictures of sunsets and the Northern lights you will need a decent camera and a tripod for long exposures.
Driving in Iceland in October
The majority of Iceland’s roads will be open in October so driving is certainly a good option. Having said that the road conditions can get tricky so you do need to be extra careful. As mentioned it is best to take shorter road trips around the south of Iceland. Bad weather can potentially hinder plans. High winds, heavy rains and snow are all quite possible. This can make driving very difficult or even impossible. You will need to be flexible and change your plans if necessary. Keep a good eye on the weather forecasts and aim to minimise any driving after dark. If you are a confident driver and you remain cautious there is no reason not to enjoy a road trip.