Updated: Jun 4, 2019
Iceland is situated high up in the North Atlantic Ocean not that far from the Arctic Circle. Along with its name this might lead you to assume that it is always freezing. An icy-land… (See what we did there?). However, the Icelandic climate in general is in fact far milder than most people might believe. The average temperature in Iceland in the winter months ranges from around -10 °C to 0 °C. While the average temperature range in summer is usually between 2°C and 20°C. This relatively temperate climate is all down to the warm ocean currents of the Gulf Stream that pass nearby.
That’s not to say that the weather in Iceland doesn’t get wild. When the warm waters of the Gulf Stream collide with cold fronts from the north they can create some extreme storms. Icelandic weather is about as changeable as you can get. The wind speed and temperature can also make it feel much colder than the thermometer states. If you are driving in Iceland you should always check the weather forecast and plan your day’s drive accordingly. Even in summer a cold front can blow in some wild weather or whip up dust storms. Here’s our guide to the Iceland weather and climate on a seasonal basis.
Iceland Weather in Spring
Officially speaking Iceland doesn’t have a spring season. Instead its climate is often talked about in terms of just winter and summer. During what most of the Northern Hemisphere would consider springtime it can still feel very wintery in Iceland. Snow can keep falling well into April and winter activities like ice caving and skiing continue.
From about May onwards the climate starts to feel a little more summery. This is one of the driest months of the year so it is a good month for hiking and sightseeing. By mid May in Southern Iceland there are about 18 hours of daylight. This time of year things are beginning to thaw out. All of that icy melt off means that the rivers and waterfalls swell with water. So it is a great time of year for seeing Iceland’s waterfalls at their very best.
Iceland Driving in Spring:
This is a change over season. March and April can still feel very much like winter. Many roads will be closed and if you are driving in Iceland, especially in the highlands you may need a 4x4 or snow chains. By May road conditions should be much easier. The majority of the roads will be open and passable by all vehicle types come May. Except of course Iceland's F roads, which are always for 4x4 vehicles only.
Iceland Weather in Summer
From June to August Iceland experiences its summertime. This is also the tourist high season and the best time of year for hiring a camper van in Iceland. The highest temperature recorded in Iceland was a scorching 30 °C. This was decades ago though and very much a one off. Temperatures rarely reach more than about 25°C and generally are around 15-20°C at the height of the warm weather. Still this is a very respectable temperature for both tent camping and motorhome camping. Even though this is summer, Iceland’s notoriously changeable weather can still throw many a curveball. Days can feel cold if the wind blows from the north and there may well be plenty of rainy days.
These summer months also see the phenomenon of the midnight sun. So if you visit Iceland in summer you will enjoy nearly 24 hours of daylight. This extra light opens up many more hours for sightseeing. So although it is high tourist season you can find quieter times to visit many of the popular sights.
Iceland driving in summer:
This is a prime time of year for a motorhome road trip around Iceland. All of the campsites and campgrounds will be open and all of the roads will be accessible. It is a busier time of year on the roads, but with such a low population it never really gets uncomfortably busy. You’ll be sharing the roads with other tourists though, so keep in mind that a lot of drivers may be on unfamiliar ground.
Iceland Weather in Autumn
Again, this is a crossover season and doesn’t really exist in Iceland. Summer-like weather conditions can continue well into September. At the same time Autumnal conditions can start to show from as early as late August. This makes September a really good time to visit Iceland by campervan. It is a slightly quieter time of year but the climate can still feel like summer at times.
Later in the season the days start to get shorter and the winds and rain can begin in earnest. It is also a beautiful time of year though with the fiery autumnal colours of the season and some clear days. As the nights draw in during mid-late autumn, the opportunities for seeing the Northern Lights increase.
Iceland driving in Autumn:
Driving conditions are still favourable at this time of year. Most of the roads will stay open throughout these months. The snows can start towards the end of the season though and if so the highland roads will begin to close.
Iceland Weather in Winter
Icelandic winters are long with real winter wonderland magic. The lowest ever temperature recorded was in the winter of 2018 when the mercury dropped to minus 38°C! Again, this was an extreme circumstance. The winter temperature in Iceland is usually around 0°C in the South, dropping to -10°C to -20°C as you head north to the glaciers.
The Iceland climate in winter is snowy and cold with long nights. In the depths of winter the sun never really rises. Instead there is a beautiful twilight that turns the landscape golden if the skies are clear. This is the time of year when the Northern Lights can be most readily spotted.
Iceland driving in Winter:
Driving in winter is still perfectly doable as long as you pick your route wisely and heed weather warnings. The ring road route and many southern roads will remain open year-round. Although lots of campsites close in winter, there are still many campsites open year round in Iceland. Many roads in the interior and the highlands will close. If they are open you will probably need a 4x4 vehicle to drive most of them.