Waterhot deposited a comment here yesterday asking if the end of September is a good time to visit Iceland. And while I’d love to respond with a blithe ‘Oh, any time is a good time to visit Iceland!’ I thought I’d give a bit more thought to both the question and the answer. And post it here. Because this blog is read by Icelandophiles. [That’s right – I know you’re out there!] Who also might like to know.
When I lived overseas, the second-most-asked question I got about Iceland was, ‘What’s the best time to visit?’ [Ten points if you can guess what the first-most-asked question was.] And the automatic answer was, ‘July.’ At that time, people only used to come to Iceland to see the landscape so the weather had to be nice; now, however, they come for a lot more and besides, with climate changes and all, good weather is not limited to just one month in mid-summer.
I’d have to say, though, that the season of the midnight sun is my favourite time. The light is so magical then, and there is the best chance of good weather, and Iceland is at its most beautiful in the sunshine. So that would still be my automatic answer. From mid-June until the end of July.
However, we also have increasing tourism in the winter, particularly from Japan. Reason? The northern lights. Seeing the northern lights is a mystical, awesome, out-of-this-world experience. So for those who want to catch them, I’d recommend coming in October or November, possibly later, but no later than mid-February.
And then there are all the festivals. If you’re into having a wild time and meeting lots of gregarious [and drunken] Icelanders and getting caught up in the fever of an entire nation hitting the streets to celebrate, you’d want to come in the summer. It kicks off with Seafarer’s Day [which has now been stretched over a whole weekend in Reykjavík and is called ‘Festival of the Sea] which is the first weekend in June. Then there’s National Day, June 17, with its streetfest and live music. The craziest bash of the summer is the long weekend at the beginning of August, Verslunarmannahelgin, in which about 80% of the nation takes off to outdoor festivals, most notably the one in the Westman Islands. The following weekend is Gay Pride, in which all of Reykjavík is infused with a Mardi Gras feeling, and two weeks after that is the Reykjavík Marathon and Culture Night, that has become the biggest bash of the year in terms of numbers.
However, the granddaddy of all Icelandic festivals has to be New Years Eve, which every year attracts planeloads of tourists who come to witness the mayhem firsthand. I believe Iceland is one of the very few places in the world that actually permits the selling of fireworks to the general public [limited to a few days at that time of year]. So while you’ll get your organized fireworks displays in the days preceding and following New Years, the actual midnight shoot-up is totally random and absolutely insane.
So I hope I’ve gone some distance in answering Waterhot’s question – or indeed anyone’s who’s ever wondered. As for the end of September – well, I wouldn’t say it was ideal. There can certainly be nice days, but the weather can be totally unpredictable [read: windy with lashings of horizontal rain], and cold, yet not cold enough for the northern lights to appear, and there are no exciting festivals happening. [Incidentally, I forgot to mention the Iceland Airwaves music festival in October, which attracts bands from all over the world. If you’re into that sort of thing. And all winter there are of course myriad cultural happenings, like exhibition openings, concerts, theatre, dance, etc. etc.]
Meanwhile, today’s weather was gorgeous – seen from the window, at least. Sunny and bright. There was a nasty wind, though, particularly here down by the sea. Current temps are 6°C, day broke at 05.33 and night fell at 21.24.