Index


Introduction



In Iceland, the climate is cold, windy and cloudy for most of the year. Of course, it's a cold country because of the high latitude, and it can receive cold winds from the North Pole, but it's also tempered by the ocean, as well as by the mild Gulf Stream that flows in it. The result is a perpetually unstable climate, with sudden changes in weather and temperature, but with a limited temperature range, both between day and night and between winter and summer. Calm and sunny periods are rare. The northern coastal area is colder than the southern one because it is not reached by the Gulf Stream.
Precipitation is abundant on the southern side, where it amounts to around 2,000 millimeters (80 inches) per year in the most exposed areas, while on the northern side it's much more scarce, so much so that it descends below 500 mm (20 in) per year, although it is well distributed throughout the year. Along the west coast, the amount of precipitation is at an intermediate level; for instance, Reykjavik, receives about 800 mm (31.5 in) of rain or snow each year.
Iceland is the land of ice, fire and deserts. In the interior, there are vast glaciers, from which ice tongues descend towards the plains, while geothermal activity causes the presence of geysers and hot water springs, where people can bathe even if there is snow around; on the other hand, underground volcanic activity may cause sudden melting of glaciers, with the risk of flooding. It's worth noting the almost total absence of trees, as well as the presence of sandy soils in inland areas, where strong winds can cause dust storms.
In inland areas, there are plateaus and mountains, where the temperature naturally decreases with altitude. Because of the cold summers, snow only melts at low altitude, so the snowline is low, around 700 meters (2,300 feet) above sea level.

In winter, Iceland is not so cold, in fact the average temperature in plains and coasts is around the freezing point. This means that the temperatures can exceed 0 °C (32 °F) quite often even in winter, and rain instead of snow can fall.
Along the northern coast, winter is colder by a few degrees, and sometimes the sea can freeze inside fjords. In inland areas, winter is even colder, especially with increasing altitude. Snowfalls are plentiful along the southern slopes, while they are frequent but less abundant elsewhere. Winter is in any case very long, and the temperature increases very slowly over the months. In April, daytime temperatures are still around 6 °C (43 °F) in Reykjavik. Across Iceland, it can snow from October to May; along the northern coasts, sudden snow showers may occur even in June and September, while in inland areas, this can happen even in midsummer because of the altitude.
During winter, cold air masses from Greenland can lower the temperatures to around -10/-15 °C (5/14 °F), however, these cold spells are short lived because after a while the mild winds from the south begin to blow again. Cold records are not so low, at least for the latitude, in fact they are around -20 °C (-4 °F) along the coast, while they go down to -30 °C (-22 °F) in inland areas.

Summer is very cool throughout Iceland. In Reykjavík, during the warmest months, July and August, lows are around 9 °C (48 °F) and highs around 14 °C (57 °F), while on the north coast they are around 10/12 °C (50/54 °F). On the other hand, the days are very long. In Iceland, it practically never gets hot: the temperature rises rarely and for short periods above 20 °C (68 °F). The highest records along the coast are around 26 °C (79 °F), while in some sheltered inland areas they are around 28 °C (82 °F).

The coasts



Along the coasts we find the main cities of Iceland. However, Reykjavík is the only city of some importance.

Reykjavík

The capital, Reykjavík, is located on the south-west coast of the island. Here are the average temperatures.
Reykjavik - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-2-2-214799620-2
Max (°C)23361012141411743
Min (°F)282828343945484843363228
Max (°F)363737435054575752453937

As mentioned, in Reykjavik, about 800 mm (31.5 in) of rain or snow fall per year. Here is the average precipitation.
Reykjavik - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)757080604550506065857580800
Prec.(in)32.83.12.41.8222.42.63.333.131.5
Days131314121011101212151314148

The amount of sunshine in Iceland is not good, but it is generally passable in late spring and summer, also because of the very long days, while it is decidedly low in November in January, when the sun hardly ever shows up (also because the days are very short).
Reykjavik - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours124566654310

The sea in Iceland is cold throughout the year: the water temperature near Reykjavik ranges from 5 °C (41 °F) in February to 10 °C (50 °F) in July and August, so it's preferable to bathe in thermal pools...
Reykjavik - Sea temperature
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp (°C)65556810109876
Temp (°F)434141414346505048464543

Reykjavìk

Akureyri

Akureyri, the second largest city of the country, is located on the north coast, although within a fjord. Here, the monthly average temperature ranges from -1 °C (30 °F) in January and February to 12 °C (53 °F) in July. Here are the average temperatures.
Akureyri - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-4-4-3-1379851-2-4
Max (°C)22361014151411632
Min (°F)252527303745484641342825
Max (°F)363637435057595752433736

Being sheltered from the south wind, Akureyri is located in the least rainy area of Iceland; in fact, precipitation amounts to 500 mm (19.5 in) per year. Here is the average precipitation.
Akureyri - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)554045302030353540605555485
Prec.(in)2.21.61.81.20.81.21.41.41.62.42.22.219.1
Days11810656778111111102

On the islet of Grimsey, north of Akureyri, and on the Vestmann Islands to the south-west, the daytime temperatures in summer are lower; in fact, highs are just around 11 °C (52 °F) in July and August. This makes it clear that when you go on boat trips you can easily encounter a cold and windy weather even in summer.

Best Time



The best time to visit Iceland is summer, from June to August. Spring is cold and it's quite similar to winter, with frequent snowfalls and frosts, but the days are longer than in autumn.
For the same reason, that is, the longer days, March is preferable to the mid-winter period if you want to go skiing and cross-country skiing.
As in all the Nordic countries, the length of the day has a significant effect on human activities: the months of late autumn and early winter are characterized by endless nights and very short days, when the sun remains very low above the horizon even at noon. In Reykjavík, at the winter solstice (21 December) the sun rises around 11:30 am and sets around 3:30 pm. By February, the days are longer than in the period from November to January, even though the temperature is not higher.
In summer, the days are long especially in June, when it doesn't get completely dark even at midnight, and in the north, at the summer solstice (June 21) the sun does not set at all, since the extreme north of Iceland touches the Arctic Circle. On the small island of Grimsey, which is right on the Arctic Circle, at the summer solstice the sun is cut into two by the horizon at the moment when it is lower (which happens actually around 1 a.m.). On the island of Iceland, the points closer to the Arctic Circle are the northeast (see Raufarhöfn) and the northwest (see Ísafjörður), which are very close to the Arctic Circle. Already in Akureyri, the sun barely goes below the horizon around 1 a.m., while in Reykjavík, although it does not get completely dark, the sun goes below the horizon from midnight to 3 a.m.
The latter phenomenon, called white nights, whereby the sun goes below the horizon but remains close enough, so much so that there are still sunset lights even at midnight, in Reykjavik lasts from May 20 to July 23, although some faint lights around midnight are visible from late April and until late August.

What to pack



In winter: bring warm clothes, a fleece, a down jacket, a hat, a scarf, gloves, a wind jacket, a raincoat or umbrella, hiking boots, swimsuit.
In summer: bring a sweater, a shirt, a jacket, a hat, a scarf, hiking shoes, a raincoat or umbrella, swimsuit.