How to Read a Northern Lights Forecast

Three people watching the northern lights by Skjaldbreið mountain.

The northern lights are a phenomenal natural occurance and some people make their way all the way to Iceland specifically to see them. Whether your one of those people, or simply think some aurora magic would be an ejoyable add-on to your vacation, the northern lights forecast can be a helpful useful tool. As any forecast, it’s not 100% reliable or accurate. Nature will do what nature does, and sometimes it’s not what we expected. However, the forecast is a decent indicator of whether you can expect to see some lights, how much, and where. Let’s take a closer look at what the northern lights are, how the northern lights forecast works, and how to read it.

What are the northern lights?

Before diving into the ins and outs of the northern lights forecast, let’s take a quick look at what the northern lights are. In short, the multicoloured lights we see dancing in the night sky and call the northern lights exist due to charged particles that originate from the sun. If they manage to break through Earth’s magnetic field, they collide with atmospheric gases which results in the gases being stripped of their electrons. The magic happens when these are recovered, and given the right conditions, we here on Earth are so tremendously lucky to be able to witness it.

But the right conditions are not always in place, which is why the norhtern light forecast can be a helpful guiding tool on our hunt.

The northern light forecast

On the Icelandic Met Office website, there’s a section called ‘Aurora forecast’. The forecast constitutes four parts: a cloud forecast, the time of sunrise and sunset, the time of moonrise and the moon phase, and a forecast of auroral activity. Together, these four components will give you a good idea of whether you can expect to see the northern lights or not. But how do you actually read the forecast?

Cloud forecast

Starting with the cloud forecast, you’ll see it on a big map of Iceland when you enter the Aurora forecast page. This maps tells you the predicted cloud covarage for the next three days. This is an important factor as mostly clear skies are necessary for us to see northern lights. You should, therefore, find a place where the sky is mostly or fully clear. On the map, coloured areas represent clouds while white areas represent clear skies. You can move back and forth in time by using the sliding bar at the bottom of the map.

Screenshot of the vloud forecast from the Icelandic Met Office.
Screenshot of the cloud forecast from the Icelandic Met Office. The forecast indicates nearly full cloud coverage in most places.

Level of brightness

Another necessary condition to see the northern lights is, of course, darkness. This is why autumn, winter, and spring are the best times to see them. During the summer months in Iceland, the sun is pretty much up 24/7. While it’s a phenomenal and highly reccommended experience, it doesn’t accommodate for northern light spotting.

To the right of the cloud map, there’s a box marked ‘Sun’, in which you can see the times of sunset and sunrise. If you’re not sure how those will impact the level of brightness, the box will also tell you whether it’s dark outside or not.

Below the ‘Sun’ box, you’ll see the ‘Moon’ box which tells you the time of the moonrise. There’s also an image of the moon which indicates which phase it’s in. Mild and low auroral activity might be difficult to spot with the bright light of a full moon, but if the activity is strong, it allows for better photography.

Screenshot of the 'Auroral Forecast', 'Sun', and 'Moon' boxes from the Icelandic Met Office.
Screenshot of the ‘Auroral Forecast’, ‘Sun’, and ‘Moon’ boxes from the Icelandic Met Office.

Auroral activity

The aurora forecast itself is a prediction of auroral activity at midnight each day. It is measured using the Kp index, which will give you a number on the scale from zero to nine. A zero indicates very low level of activity and a nine indicates extremely high levels of activity. A Kp index of 4 or higher is usually a sign of decent or very good northern light viewing but even on days when it’s lower, you might be lucky and spot some!

To summerize, the things you should be looking for in the forecast is a combination  of the following:

  • Areas with clear or mostly clear skies
  • Darkness
  • Higher levels of auroral activity

The best places to spot the norhtern lights

Northern lights can often be spotted within cities and towns, even the bigger ones like Reykjavík. It won’t be as strong as in the countryside, but you’ll still be able to see it! Popular places to see the northern lights in the capital include Grótta lighthouse on Seltjarnarnes, Grandi area and the Old Harbour, Perlan and Öskjuhlíð hill. For further information, check out our full guide on the best places to see the northern lights in Reykjavík.

Northern lights by Áskirkja in Reykjavík.
Photo: Golli. Northern lights by Áskirkja in Reykjavík.

That being said, there are few things as breathtakingly beautiful as a clear sky full of northern lights in the countryside and Highlands. The absolute silence of the wilderness and the overwhelming amount of stars visible lift the experience up to a whole other, nearly indescribable level. So, if you came to Iceland with the goal of seeing the norhtern lights, you can get a much better show if you go outside cities and towns where there’s less light pollution or none at all.

If you can’t or don’t want to drive, there are plenty of northern light tours awailable to book. They are dependent on weather conditions and will confirm in the afternoon of the day of the trip whether it’s on or not. Most will offer you a free second try if the first one doesn’t result in any northern light spotting. You can choose between a driven tour or a boat tour and some of them even include a hot chocolate, a welcome source of warmth during cold nights.

A jeep on a northern lights tour.
A jeep on a northern lights tour.

What not to do when looking for northern lights

This one might be obvious, but do not, under any circumstances, stop your car in the middle of the road to watch the northern lights. You should always find a place where you can safely park your car before turning. The roads in Iceland are usually quite narrow and often don’t have a big shoulder, so you might have to take some time to look for a good spot.

Equally, don’t stand in the middle of the road. Ideally, you should also use reflectors to enhance your visibility. If you don’t have reflectors, you can usually find them in gas stations, paharmacies, and even souvenier shops. Since they can be both useful and have an interesting design, these make for excellent memorabilia!

Don’t forget to dress warmly in layers: thermal underwear, a wool or synthetic sweater, a warm jacket, mittens, a warm hat, and a scarf. If it’s supposed to rain, wear water resistant clothing. Don’t wear cotton clothes, as those will not keep you warm if you get damp or wet.

Don’t go on a northern light adventure without checking weather and road conditions beforehand. As you’ve probably heard, the weather in Iceland can be unpredictable and change quickly, especially during fall, winter, and spring. And even in good weather, road conditions can often be less than ideal.

Attractions of North Iceland

Akureyrarkirkja church in the evening.

While North Iceland is a region less visited than the south, it holds many of the greatest attractions of Iceland. It’s a place of stark opposites, with dramatic and barren landscapes, lush farmlands, and charming villages. It’s fantastic for both outdoor activities and cultural exploration and suitable for any kind of trip, be it family, romance, solo travel or something else. To help you get the lay of the land, here is a guide to some of our favourite attractions in North Iceland and how to get to them.

How to get around in North Iceland

Before we dive into the attractions, let’s take a look at the options you have in terms of actually getting to them.

Firstly, there’s public transport. Frankly, it’s not a great option in terms of sightseeing in Iceland, especially outside the capital area. Trips in the countryside are not frequent, and the timing might not always suit your needs. Additionally, unless your goal is to walk and hike a lot, you‘ll miss out on some fabulous places, as public transport is geared towards the day-to-day needs of locals. This means that if you want to use public transport to get to the attractions of North Iceland, it will require some hard-core planning and a lot of time.

The most convenient way to explore North Iceland is by having a rental car or camper. This allows you to go everywhere you want to and at your own pace. If you don’t have time to plan, can’t drive or want to have a fuss-free vacation, you can opt for planned tours. You’ll have to pick and choose in terms of what to see, but you get the added benefit of a tour guide and the ability to just kick back and relax while on the tour. Alternatively, if you don’t have a car but want to see more than what’s available through your average tour, you can book a private tour tailor-made to your taste.

A car driving in the North Icelandic countryside.
Photo: Golli. A car driving in the North Icelandic countryside.

Towns and villages of North Iceland

Akureyri

There are numerous picturesque towns and villages worth visiting in the North. Akureyri, the biggest one, is a place full of life, culture and history. Full to the brim of iconic places that suit practically any occasion and vacation, you can’t go wrong with Akureyri. 

For a day of cultural exploration, visit Akureyrarkirkja church, Hof cultural centre, or the Christmas House. There’s also Græni Hatturinn, a pub that practically every Icelander knows and a place where leading musicians of Iceland have performed for decades. If you like the electrifying atmosphere of live music, don’t miss out on Græni Hatturinn!

The Christmas House in Akureyri.
The Christmas House in Akureyri.

If you want a culinary adventure, start with breakfast at Berlín (​​$$ – $$$), go to Greifinn ($$ – $$$) or Bautinn ($$ – $$$) for lunch, Brynja ice cream shop ($) for a classic Icelandic afternoon delight, and Rub23 ($$$$) or Strikið (​​$$ – $$$) for dinner. All are well known and popular among Icelanders and will have something fo everyone. 

For the outdoorsy people and families with children, Kjarnaskógur forest, with its many amenities, is bound to give you a delightful day. Walk or bike around the forest, play in one or all of the three playgrounds, bring something to barbeque, or have a game of volleyball or disc golf. Note that you have to bring your own ball and discs. You can end the day at the Akureyri swimming pool, home to the famous ‘toilet bowl’ waterslide. 

Siglufjörður

Siglufjörður, with its colourful houses, flourishing cultural life and striking natural beauty, is a popular stop with tourists and Icelanders alike. It’s a historic town with a rich connection to Iceland’s fishing industry and is known as the centre of the herring adventure, which took place in the early 20th century. You can visit the immensely popular Herring Era Museum while you’re there, which will take you through five different exhibitions and give you an in-depth look into the herring industry in Iceland. A museum about herring might not sound particularly grand, but visitors tend to be pleasantly surprised by it, even those not interested in fishing. With a hands-on approach to a large part of the exhibitions, the museum is also well-received by families. 

The hot tub of Sigló Hotel and the Herring Era Museum houses on a snowy winter day.
Photo: Golli. The hot tub of Sigló Hotel and the Herring Era Museum houses on a snowy winter day.

For a piece of the multicultural Icelandic food environment, book a table at Hótel Siglunes in Siglufjörður, where there is a renowned Moroccan restaurant. Several Tripadvisor reviewers have named it the best dining experience they had in Iceland, with the tajines getting particularly many mentions. 

Húsavík

Húsavík, often called The Whale Capital of Iceland, is known for its peaceful atmosphere and charming buildings. It’s also where the first house in Iceland was built and the setting of the Netflix film Eurovision. 

Being the Whale Capital, Húsavík is the place to go if you’re interested in whale watching. The nickname stems from the fact that over the summer months, spotting whales in the Húsavík area is so common that many tour operators have been able to report a 100% sighting rate. Additionally, they offer a range of different twists to the journeys. Experience a taste of the past on a wooden sailboat, do some marine research with a marine biologist, or opt for a two-in-one that includes sailing around Puffin island to observe puffins in their natural habitat. For the eco-conscious, there’s even a carbon-neutral whale-watching option.

For those wanting a more laid-back day, you can track down a relaxing atmosphere in the Geosea sea baths. In 2019, they were named one of Time magazine’s 100 “World’s Greatest Places”. The baths have geothermally heated salt water, a spectacular view of Skjálfandaflói Bay and a pool bar where you can fetch beverages to enjoy while you’re in the water. 

 

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Alternatively, if you’re there with children or are on a budget, you might prefer the local swimming pool. It doesn’t have the great views or spa-like feel of Geosea, but it is considerably cheaper, offers two hot tubs and a children’s pool, and has two water slides that are open during the summer.

Natural attractions

If you’re going to Iceland to experience the country’s wonderful natural attractions, there’s a whole treasure trove of them in the North.

Hvítserkur

Starting our list in the northwest, Hvítserkur is a peculiar-looking 15 m [49 ft] rock sticking up from Húnaflói Bay. The name translates into ‘white shirt’, presumably because of the bird droppings covering the rock. With its distinct look, which reminds some of a sea monster or dragon, Hvítserkur is particularly popular with landscape photographers.

Grímsey

Grímsey Island is the northernmost lived-in place in Iceland. With a population of 55, it’s one of Iceland’s smallest inhabited communities. It’s a fantastic place to spot some puffins and have a romantic evening watching the sunset or northern lights, and it’s the only place in Iceland where you can step into the Arctic Circle. Explore the island on foot or order a ride with the sightseeing train. 

A puffin resting on a grassy cliff.
Photo: Golli. A puffin resting on a grassy cliff.

Goðafoss and Dettifoss

Goðafoss waterfall, or Waterfall of the Gods, is part of the fourth largest river in Iceland and a spectacular place to visit. Not only is it a beautiful sight, but it’s also deeply connected to Iceland’s religious history. In the year 1000, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, one of the country’s law speakers, decided that Christianity should replace the Old Norse religion as Iceland’s official religion. Following this decision, he threw his Old Norse religious idols into the waterfall.

There’s also Dettifoss waterfall, thought to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. If you place your palm on the surrounding rocks, you can feel them vibrate with the immense power of the waterfall. Both waterfalls are easily accessible by well-kept trails and require only about 10 minutes walking from the parking lot. 

Dettifoss waterfall.
Photo: Páll Kjartansson. Dettifoss waterfall.

Mývatn

Mývatn Lake and its surrounding area, situated midway between the two waterfalls, offer a range of attractions. Besides the lake and its many small islands, there is, for example, Krafla caldera, Grjótagjá underground lava cave, and Námaskarð geothermal area. For those travelling with children, a walk through Dimmuborgir lava field, also known as the Black Fortress due to its resemblance to a medieval castle, is a fun activity that provides an otherworldly experience full of fairy tales and folklore. This is particularly fun at Christmas time when the Icelandic Yulelads, who reside in Dimmuborgir, awaken. With a vibrant birdlife, Mývatn is also ideal for birdwatching, and if you’re in need of rejuvenation, Mývatn Nature Baths are right around the corner with its naturally warm and mineral-rich milky blue water. 

Dimmuborgir on a summer evening.
Photo: Morgunblaðið/Golli. Dimmuborgir on a summer evening.

Jökulsárgljúfur

Jökulsárgljúfur, a protected national park since 1973, is a paradise for hikers. With countless options of trails to follow, you could spend days exploring the area. Within the park is Ásbyrgi, a curiously shaped glacier valley. Like most places in Iceland, it has an alternative explanation for its existence. This one is tied to Old Norse Mythology, stating that the horseshoe-shaped canyon was formed by Sleipnir, Óðin‘s eight-legged horse. If you don’t have the ability or desire to walk around the area, you can drop by Gljúfrastofa Visitor Centre, where there’s an exhibition about Jökulsárgljúfur. 

Culture

Grettislaug

As most Icelanders, northerners love a hot bath. It’s deeply ingrained in our culture and has been for a long time. Among the many swimming pools and lagoons located across the north, there’s one in particular that bears witness to this: Grettislaug.

Although it’s been rebuilt at least once, its history goes all the way back to the Icelandic Sagas. Written in the medieval times and set in the 11th century, Grettis Saga tells the story of Grettir the Strong, an outlaw who spent his last years on Drangey island just off the coast of Grettislaug. In the story, he bathes in a pool in the same area where Grettislaug is located, hence the name.

The Arctic Henge

Then there’s the Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn, which might be of special interest to artists and art enthusiasts. It’s the largest outdoor artwork in Iceland—a fusion of Icelandic culture, literary history, and science that offers a unique experience of the sun and the expansive area surrounding Raufarhöfn. 

Museums

If you want to explore Icelandic history and culture in depth or need something to do on a rainy day, there are a myriad of niche museums to choose from. You could, for example, step into the Museum of Prophecies for a taste of fortune telling and palm reading. Although a bit off the beaten path, visitors love it, with one Tripadvisor reviewer naming it her “favourite thing in Iceland”. You could also visit the Icelandic Aviation Museum, a very family-friendly option that allows visitors to enter some of the planes and interact with them. Then there’s a blast from the past at Grenjaðarstaður Turf House, a traditional Icelandic house built in the late 19th century, and The Great White Plague Center, where you can discover the livelihood of those who battled tuberculosis in the 20th century. Make sure to look up the opening times of the museums, as some of them are closed or open by appointment only during winter. 

Inside the Icelandic Aviation Museum.
Photo: Golli. Inside the Icelandic Aviation Museum.

Camper Rental in Iceland

A camper parked on the side of a mountain road.

In the past few years, campers have become tremendously popular amongst tourists in Iceland, leading to an abundance of camper rental services popping up. They offer freedom and flexibility that you won’t get from your typical hotel trip and more comfort than regular camping. Both fit well with the unpredictable nature of Icelandic weather. If you get doused with rain or caught in a storm, the car will provide you with better shelter than a tent and allow you to quickly leave for greener pastures, should you desire. But how convenient is travelling in a camper van in Iceland, and is it a cheaper alternative to hotels? Is it suitable for families, winter travel and trips to the Highland? Here are the answers to all these questions and more.

Campers in Iceland – cost and convenience

Due to its high popularity, renting a camper in Iceland has never been easier. There are close to 20 camper rentals on the market, all of which provide similar baseline campers, as well as ones with more amenities and comfort.

Whether renting a camper is cheaper than the combined price of a regular car and hotel accommodation depends on several factors. Firstly, camper rentals don’t all have the same prices, which is, in part, due to varying levels of luxury. For a two-week trip in a two-person camper, the price can range anywhere from around ISK 150.000 to over ISK 450.000 [$1072-3216, €993-2980]. 

The same goes for hotel accommodations. Their prices will vary depending on location, level of service, amenities, and so on. The average nightly hotel rate in Iceland is around ISK 21.000 [$150, €139], which would get us well above the price of a camper on the cheaper end. However, by choosing the cheapest lodgings available, you might end up paying a price similar to that of renting the camper. This means that if price is an important factor in your decision to rent a camper, you should get some research in before booking. 

In terms of convenience and comfort, campers strike a balance between good old-fashioned tent camping and a hotel. They provide better shelter than tents, a big plus considering the famously unpredictable weather of Iceland and the ever-looming possibility of cool temperatures and rain. Some of them even come with a heater and/or heated beds, a welcome luxury on cold nights. And if you would rather flee the bad weather, it’s a breeze to move unexpectedly to a different part of the country since you won’t have any pre-booked accommodations to get to. They also allow you to take unplanned detours to explore anything and everything that catches your eye or extend your stay if you get mesmerised by a black beach or highland wilderness

A black beach in Vík í Mýrdal, South Iceland.
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. A black beach in Vík í Mýrdal, South Iceland.

Regulations and insurance

To rent a camper, the basic Icelandic rules of car renting apply. You must be 20 years old or above, and you need to bring a valid driver’s license. In Iceland, all licenses issued in the USA, Canada, and the European Economic Area (EEA) are valid. Those with a license issued outside these areas have to ensure that their license is printed in Latin characters and has all three of the following: A license number, a photo of the license holder, and a valid date. If your license does not meet these requirements, you must acquire an international driver’s license before you can rent and drive cars and campers in Iceland. Usually, you’ll need to have a valid credit card as well.

On the insurance front, renting companies will offer several insurance options when you order your camper. They range from the most basic coverage, usually only covering collision damage, to a full one covering everything that might happen, such as various types of damages and theft. Seeing as car repairs are expensive in Iceland, buying extra insurance is always a good idea. This is especially true if your travel plans include gravel roads or Highland driving, where the risks of damage are higher than elsewhere. 

In terms of regulations, the same traffic and driving rules apply to campers as regular cars. The only addition is that when parking your camper for the night, you must do so at a designated campsite. It is prohibited to park your camper overnight in parking lots, on the side of the road, or in the wild. Breaking these rules can result in a high fine. 

Driving campers in the Icelandic Highland

For those planning on exploring the Highland, where the roads, called F-roads, are rough and unpaved, it’s imperative to rent a suitable camper. When browsing, look for campers with a four-wheel drive (4×4) or campers that are specifically marked as suitable for the Highland. Additionally, you should always follow the camper rental’s instructions on where you can and cannot drive. Not following these can impact your insurance should anything happen to the car. 

Mountain roads in the Highlands.
Photo: Golli. Mountain roads in the Highlands.

Many people have overestimated the ability of their two-wheel-drive (2WD) cars on these roads, leading to damaged vehicles and other car troubles. Do not attempt the F-roads on a two-wheel-drive camper. Even with the correct car, you need to be extremely careful, especially when crossing highland rivers. You don’t want to end up stuck in one of them! You should also note that not all campers are allowed to cross rivers unless you buy extra insurance.

In terms of finding places to park the camper overnight, the same restrictions apply in the Highland as in the rest of the country. You need to find a designated campsite. This is a bit more challenging in the Highland, as many of the

That being said, if you have the right camper, take caution when crossing rivers, and follow the camper rental’s instructions, campers are a wonderful way to experience the Highland. For more detailed information on how to drive safely in the Highlands, check out Safetravel’s Highland driving tips.

Can you travel in a camper during fall, winter, and spring

in Iceland?

It’s possible to rent and travel in a camper in Iceland throughout the year. However, doing so in fall, winter, and even spring will require careful consideration of the weather forecast and road conditions, as storms and cold weather are frequent during that time. During storms or heavy rain and snow, driving can be hazardous, and roads in the countryside sometimes get closed. Note that the majority of Highland roads are inaccessible from fall to spring due to snow, meaning that Highland travel is off-limits for campers during that time. 

Difficult driving conditions in the countryside during a snow storm.
Photo: Art Bicnick. Difficult driving conditions in the countryside during a snow storm.

For safety measures, keep a look out for weather alerts on the Icelandic Met Office website and road conditions on the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website. If the wind is expected to reach more than 18 metres per second [40 miles per hour], it’s advised that you keep driving to a minimum. Should it reach 22 metres per second [50 miles per hour], it’s advised not to drive at all. If you see in the forecast that a storm is expected, the best thing you can do is head to the nearest town and wait it out there. In case you unexpectedly need to wait out a storm in the countryside and can’t make it to the next town, it’s a good idea to always have extra food in the camper.

You’ll also need to bring some extra warm clothes with you, seeing as the average lowland temperature is around 3-7°C [37.4-44.6 °F] in fall and spring and 0 °C [32 °F] in winter. While some campers are equipped with a heater or even heated beds, not all of them are, so having the appropriate attire is crucial. Lastly, you should keep in mind that not all campsites are open during the wintertime, and campsites are the only place you’re allowed to park your camper overnight in Iceland. For an overview of campsites open all year round, have a look at the map in the ‘Campsites in Iceland’ section.

A campsite direction sign in Dalasýsla,
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. A campsite direction sign in Dalasýsla,

Campsites in Iceland

Even with the legal restrictions to where you can spend the night in your camper, we promise you won’t have any trouble finding a spot. Iceland is crawling with campsites, but some of the more popular include Húsafell in the west, Ásbyrgi in the north, Hallormsstaðarskógur forest in the east, and Laugardalur in Reykjavík (south). If you’re looking for something a bit more secluded, check out Fjalladýrð campsite in Möðruvellir (north-east), Raufarhöfn village in the north, or Urðartindur campsite in the Westfjords. Note that the last one requires driving on a gravel road where conditions can sometimes be less than ideal. You should always take caution when driving on gravel roads. 

The cost of camping in Iceland is usually between ISK 2000 and 5000 [$15-36, €13-33] per person for the night, not including electricity. If you plan to drive around Iceland in your camper for more than a week, you might want to consider purchasing the Camping Card. It gives you access to 35 campsites in Iceland for up to 28 nights and is valid for two adults and four children 16 years old or younger. It can be used from early/mid-May when participating campsites open for the summer to 15 September. Note that some campsites may close before that time. With the price of ISK 24.900 [$178, €165] it will quickly pay off, even for a couple with no children.

Above is a map of some of the most popular campsites in Iceland, some more secluded ones and ones that are open all year round. It was updated in 2024 and is not a full list of campsites in Iceland.

Are Campers suitable for family vacations in Iceland?

If you don’t mind the limited space, campers are a great way for families to travel in Iceland. The flexibility of the camper is ideal for those types of vacations, allowing for impromptu camp setup should anyone be too tired to keep going and eliminating the need to rush to get to your accommodation for the night. At the same time, they give you added comfort compared to sleeping in a tent, and as mentioned above, they can potentially save you money on the accommodation front.

Besides that, travelling in a camper means that the kids will have plenty of space to run around and play in when you set up camp. A lot of campsites in Iceland have playgrounds, areas for ball games and sometimes even mini-golf. Usually, they are also located close to swimming pools. That is to say, the kids will have plenty to do. Two particularly fun and popular campsites for families are Kjarnaskógur forest in the north and Úlfljótsvatn lake in the south. They both have expansive areas for various outdoor activities and playgrounds that are well above the average. 

A giant jumper, commonly found in playgrounds in Iceland.
A giant jumper, commonly found in playgrounds in Iceland.

The Weather in Iceland: What to Expect and How to Read the Weather Report

A person walking a dog in a snowstorm.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you’ve probably heard that in addition to northern lights and the magical midnight sun, it’s also famous for unpredictable weather. Constantly keeping the Icelandic people on their toes, it can change directions in an instant, sometimes even going so far as to offer all four seasons in a single day. Despite this uncertainty, staying up to date with the forecast is an important part of keeping yourself safe and comfortable. It allows you to plan ahead for packing, and travel-wise prevents you from getting caught in potentially dangerous situations. The Icelandic Met Office forecast, available on their website and app, is the best place to check. It provides detailed and up-to-date information about the expected weather and alerts you to extreme conditions. Below, you will find everything you need to know about what you can expect from the weather in Iceland and how to read the weather report.

What’s the weather like in Iceland?

Generally, temperatures fluctuate between -10 °C [14 °F] and 20°C [68°F] over the year, with January being the coldest month and July the warmest. Storms, often accompanied by snow or rain, are frequent from September to March but far less common during summer. 

This is not to say that the weather in Iceland is all storms and rain that slaps you in the face. The fall and winter days can be quite beautiful, with clear skies and frosty ground or snow that falls calmly to the ground, and the spring and summer usually offer some exceptional days of sun and warmth as well. 

Given this unpredictability, it’s imperative for your safety and comfort that you check the weather forecast a few days before your trip and stay informed throughout it. The weather often catches people off guard, leaving them cold and uncomfortable, a situation that can easily be avoided by checking the forecast and dressing in the right clothes. Likewise, knowing when extreme weather is expected can spare you from getting yourself into a potentially dangerous situation, such as driving on a mountain road in a blinding snowstorm.

Weather alerts

The most important thing to know about the Icelandic weather report is how the colour-coded alert system works. Alerts are issued in cases of extreme weather and are a convenient way to quickly get the lay of the land. As mentioned above, snowstorms, rainstorms, and windstorms are common during fall and winter, and keeping an eye out for alerts is essential for your safety. They are less common during spring and summer, but we advise you to check for them nonetheless, especially if you’re driving around the country or going up to the Highland.

The alert system is simple and easy to understand. It has three colours, each representing a different severity level: yellow, orange, and red. You’ll see the warnings in the top right corner of the Icelandic Met Office homepage. There’s a small blue map of Iceland there which will display the different colours in correspondence with the weather in each part of the country – north, west, south, east, and the Highland. You can click on each section of the country to get more specific information about the issued warnings, what they entail and where they apply.

Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.
Screenshot of the weather alert map from the Icelandic MET Office, showing a yellow alert for wind.

A yellow alert is the least extreme, and although it probably won’t be pleasant to spend the day outside, you can usually go about your business uninterrupted. Just be mindful of wind gusts and things that might be blowing around. If you had a hike planned, you should postpone it to another day, as the weather is usually more extreme in the mountains. You should also be extra careful driving around, especially in the countryside. Wind gusts can easily catch you off guard if you’re not prepared for them, leading to accidents. 

An orange alert means that the weather can be dangerous, and people are advised not to take unnecessary trips outside. A red alert is the most extreme, indicating a level of emergency. It’s relatively uncommon that a red alert is issued, but in case you encounter one while you’re here, prepare to kick back and have a cosy day inside. You should only leave the house in case of emergencies.

For all stages of alerts, it’s important to be mindful of your surroundings and take caution when moving around, both on foot and in a car. If you’re staying in a home with a patio, balcony, or garden, and there is any furniture or other loose items, secure them so they won’t blow away. You could, for example, move the items inside or stack them in a sheltered corner. Any level of alert could result in cancelled trips, delays in transportation, and closed roads. 

If the map in the upper right corner is entirely blue, there is no warning, and you can proceed with your plans uninterrupted. 

The classic weather map

To get a closer look at the weather, you can check out the map labelled ‘whole country’. It’s a classic weather report map using sun and cloud symbols to display the expected weather – sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy. Temperature is shown in Celsius beside the symbols, with a red number if it’s above freezing and a blue one if it’s below. Wind predictions are displayed as meters per second, with an arrow indicating the wind direction. Both the number and the arrows are black.

Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the classic weather map from the Icelandic MET Office.

 

Use the sliding bar below the map to move back and forth in time, and click on the map to zoom in. Doing so will also give you more locations to look at. By hovering over a sun/cloud symbol, you’ll get basic written information about the weather in that location, and by clicking on it, a six-day forecast for the area will appear below the map.

In-depth weather report

In addition to the typical forecast map, you can find separate maps for temperature, wind, and precipitation predictions. These are colour-coded and more specific than the all-in-one map. 

The wind map shows the expected wind at 10 metres [33 feet] height. The arrows across the map indicate the direction of the wind, and the colours indicate speed. Green tones represent a wind speed of 0-8 metres per second, blue tones 8-16, purple tones 16-24, and red tones anything above that.

The temperature map shows the expected temperature at two metres [6.6 feet] height. The lowest temperatures are shown in green tones, each tone representing 2°C temperature intervals. As the heat increases, the colour tones will change to blue, yellow, orange, and red, with red representing the highest temperatures. 

 

Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.
Screenshot of the temperature map from the Icelandic MET Office.

The precipitation map shows the cumulative precipitation levels over a 1-hour, 3-hour or 6-hour period. The colours range from light yellow, indicating light precipitation of 0.1 mm [0.004 inches] per hour, to red, indicating heavy precipitation of 50 mm [2 inches] per hour. The map will also show you the direction and speed of the wind with wind barbs, the point of which will tell you the direction of the wind. Diagonal lines at the end of the barb symbolise wind speed. An increase in the length and number of lines means stronger winds. If the wind reaches 25 m/s, a triangle will be at the barb’s end. The lines across the map indicate mean sea level pressure.

 

The wind, temperature, and precipitation maps all have the same sliding bar function as the basic map, but you cannot zoom in on it or choose specific locations. 

A Guide to Reykjavík Airport

Reykjavík Airport.

Although Iceland is not the biggest country in terms of surface area, travelling between the south, west, north, and east can take a deceivingly long time. This is mostly due to the endless fjords and peninsulas you’ll weave through on the way. While these are quite often a sight for sore eyes, sometimes, you just don’t have the time or ability to make the journey. In these cases, domestic flights are a lifesaver, and, as luck would have it, there’s a domestic flight airport smack dab in the middle of Reykjavík: Reykjavík Airport. It’s been a topic of much debate due to its close proximity to residential areas, but for now, it’s here to help you explore Iceland in the quickest way possible. 

 

Airlines, destinations, and pricing

Three airlines fly from Reykjavík Airport, each to different towns and villages in Iceland. Icelandair flies to Akureyri in the north, Egilsstaðir in the east, Ísafjörður on the Westfjords, and Vestmannaeyjar islands in the south. Eagle Air (look for Flugfélagið Ernir on search engines) flies to Höfn in Hornafjörður in the southeast, and Norlandair flies to Bíldurdalur and Gjögur on the Westfjords, as well as Nerlerit Inaat in Greenland. Additionally, should none of the flight times or destinations meet your needs, Mýflug Air offers charter flights tailored to your plans.

This wide range of destinations allows a full and free exploration of Iceland for those who don’t have the time, desire, or capability to drive between the different parts of the country. Keep in mind that, as with most things in Iceland, airline tickets are probably quite a bit more expensive than what you’re used to. Prices for a one-way ticket range anywhere from ISK 14,000 [$99, €92] to 60,000 [$424, €395], depending on demand and location. To avoid the highest prices, book your tickets well in advance.

A group of people coming off an aeroplane at Akureyri Airport.
Photo: Golli. A group of people coming off an aeroplane at Akureyri Airport.

How to get to Reykjavík Airport

There are several ways to get to the airport. Firstly, with a walking distance of about 30 minutes from the city centre, there’s the option of going on foot. On a nice day, it’s a beautiful walk that will take you past Vatnsmýrin Nature Reserve, a small, protected moorland with 83 different plant species and plenty of birds. It’s equally pretty in winter as it is in summer, with the colder temperatures luring mystical-looking steam from the water.

If you don’t have a lot of luggage, you could also rent an e-scooter from Hopp. This is a great way to travel quickly and easily between locations while also enjoying the city. They have a pay-per-minute system, so depending on how far away you are, it might even be cheaper than taking the bus. Simply download the Hopp app, rent a scooter, and ride to the airport. Once you get there, you can park the scooter on the edge of the sidewalk and leave it for somebody else. 

A third option is to use Strætó, the public transport system which will take you almost to the door of the airport. Bus number 15 stops in a one-minute walking distance from the airport. If you haven’t been using Strætó, the best thing to do is download Klappið app, where you can purchase a single fair. For up-to-date pricing, see Strætó’s official pricing page. It is also possible to pay with cash, but as the drivers don’t have any change, you’ll have to have the exact amount to avoid paying more than you’re supposed to. 

Buses number 6, 4, and 15 at Hlemmur bus stop.
Buses number 6, 4, and 15 at Hlemmur bus stop.

If you have a rental car that you’re not dropping off before your flight, you can park it by the airport for a fee. The parking system uses automatic number plate recognition, which means that the system will calculate how much you owe based on the time you entered and exited the parking lot. To pay, you’ll need to create an account with Autopay. You should do this within 48 hours of exiting, or a late fee of ISK 1.490 [$10, €10] will be added to your charge. 

Lastly, there’s the option of taking a taxi. This is the most hassle-free way, allowing you to enjoy your journey without having to make any additional transportation plans, but note that taking a taxi in Iceland is very expensive. A 5 km trip within the city during the daytime will likely cost at least ISK 2,666 [$19, €18], or about four times the amount you would pay for a bus ticket.

How much luggage can you bring?

As for many international flights, on domestic flights in Iceland, 20 kg is a common maximum weight for checked-in bags and 6 kg for handbags. This will, of course, depend on the airline you’re flying with, so make sure to familiarize yourself with their rules. Security restrictions on what is allowed in hand luggage are similar to international flights, meaning that firearms, clubs, sharp tools, and anything else that could be considered a weapon are not allowed. However, you are allowed to travel with liquids. For a full list of restricted items, visit Isavia’s baggage information page

How long before departure should you arrive?

Seeing that the airport is a fraction of the size of Keflavík Airport, arriving to check in about 60 minutes before your departure is sufficient. The aeroplanes used to fly domestic flights are smaller than those used for international flights, and the amount of flights taking off and landing is far smaller than at Keflavík. This means that there are fewer people going through, leading to a less busy airport. There are also just two terminals, so you there’s no chance of getting lost and missing your flight. 

Reykjavík Airport from above.
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík Airport from above.

Are there food and beverages at Reykjavík Airport?

At the time of writing, the airport’s cafeteria is temporarily closed. However, there are a few vending machines where you can purchase food and coffee. Domestic flights generally do not offer food and beverages aboard, but if you think you might get hungry on the way, bringing your own refreshments – food and drink – is perfectly fine.  

Special assistance and hidden disabilities

Should you require a wheelchair or special assistance, please contact the airline you’re travelling with beforehand. This will allow them to plan ahead and make any necessary arrangements for your arrival. 

If you have a hidden disability, you can opt to wear the sunflower lanyard to make the journey as comfortable as possible. Airport staff are aware that passengers wearing them might need more time, patience, and understanding, and they will be happy to help you make your journey easier. If you don’t already have one, lanyards are available at the check-in desks in the departure hall and at the information desk in the arrival hall. 

Private flights

In addition to domestic flights flights and flights to Greenland, Reykjavík Airport is a common stopover for private jets. Due to Iceland’s convenient location in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s the ideal place to refuel your plane or divide up the journey between Europe and the United States. With its close proximity to Reykjavík city centre, it’s easy to hop off for a few hours to explore the attractions of the city or grab a bite at one of its exceptional restaurants before heading off again. 

Where to Stay in North Iceland

With dramatic landscapes, lush farmlands, and charming villages, North Iceland has much to offer travellers. It’s fantastic for outdoor activities, culinary experiences, and cultural exploration and in terms of lodgings, it’s most definitely not lacking. But with a myriad of enticing options, finding a place to stay in North Iceland can be a challenging quest. But don’t worry – whether you’re after the cottagecore vibe or a city stay, family-friendly, luxury or budget, we’ve got you covered. 

In Akureyri

Staying in Akureyri is a great option for those who want a city break or are going skiing in Hlíðarfjall mountain. Due to how easy it is to get there without a car, it’s also excellent for those who want to explore the North without having to drive. You can simply take the bus or go by plane, and book North Iceland day-trips that leave from Akureyri. Northern lights, geothermal baths, whale watching and major attractions are all on the table. You can even book a tour tailor-made for you!

For a classic city stay, Hótel Akureyri ($$ – $$$) has three fabulous central locations in town. First, there’s Dynheimar, housed in what used to be Iceland’s firts movie theatre. It’s a quaint hotel on Akureyri’s main street, perfect for those who want something modern and eclectic. For a more classic and sophisticated design, go for Skjaldborg (use Hótel Akureyri when searching). The house was built in 1924 by the sobrietry social group Good Templars and later transformed into a printing factory. Lastly, there’s Akurinn Residence, a stately villa with the same classic design as Skjaldborg that can house up to 17 people. 

Ideal for skiers, Hótel Hálönd ($$) is situated at the base of Hlíðarfjall mountain, only a five-minute drive – or a 40-minute walk if you want a warm-up – from Akureyri’s skiing area. You’ll have access to a hot tub after your adventures on the slopes and a chic, modern room to rest up in. There’s no restaurant at the hotel, but the city centre is only an eight-minute drive away.

People skiing on a sunny day in Hlíðarfjall, Akureyri.
Photo: Golli. People skiing on a sunny day in Hlíðarfjall, Akureyri.

On a budget

It must be said that finding cheap accommodation in Iceland is not an easy task. With a high cost of living, hotels and guesthouses tend to be on the more expensive side. On the bright side, the standard of accommodations in Iceland is relatively high, so in most cases, you’ll be getting your money’s worth. Even so, some lodgings have a below-average price tag whilst also keeping up the good ratings. 

Guesthouse Svínavatn ($) by Svínavatn lake is a small and friendly shoreside accommodation offering rooms with shared or private bathrooms. The lake is popular for fishing, an activity guests can enjoy free of charge. The guesthouse is also conveniently located within an hour’s drive from popular attractions such as Kolufossar waterfalls in Kolugljúfur, Kattarauga pond, and the historic Glaumbær turf house.

A 15-minute ferry ride or a short flight away from the mainland, you’ll find Syðstibær Guesthouse ($) on Hrísey Island, also known as the Pearl of Eyjafjörður. It has a retro vibe and a fantastic location, which allows you to experience the island life. You can take a stroll around the island on four different trails or book a sightseeing tour by tractor. Hrísey also has a bring-you-own-discs disc golf course, a sport that has taken Iceland by storm in the past few years, a small swimming pool and a museum (open by appointment; email [email protected] for inquiries).

The Hrísey lighthouse during summer.
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. The Hrísey lighthouse during summer.

Salt Guesthouse ($) in Siglufjörður is simple, comfy, central, and has historical roots. The house was built as a hotel during the boom of the herring era, and the name ‘Salt’ pays tribute to that history. It’s within five minutes’ walk from the bakery, grocery shop, pharmacy, information centre, and several bars and restaurants. Guests on Booking have noted that the guesthouse is not clearly marked on the outside. Look for a flag hanging above the entrance and the marking ‘Hvanneyri 1935’. This is the name of the house and the year it was built.

Right in the centre of Akureyri, there’s Hafnarstræti Hostel ($-$$), which offers a unique, spaceship-like capsule experience, and Akureyri Backpackers ($), a more typical hostel with a slightly cheaper nightly rate and a sauna. These are great if you want a budget accomodation in the town centre, or if you just really enjoy the more social hostel life. 

For families and groups

With tons of family-friendly adventures, North Iceland is a fantastic place to bring your family! From horseback riding and nature exploring to interesting museums and swimming pools, there’s a lot to discover. Finding suitable lodgings for the whole family might be the hardest part, but following are some that accommodate up to seven people and have nearby activities for kids. These are also ideal for groups that don’t want to split themselves up in hotel rooms. 

Brimnes Bungalows ($-$$$), located by Lake Ólafsfjörður, are classic family cottages that sleep up to seven people. They are fully equipped with a kitchen and bathroom, as well as a hot tub on the veranda. Guests also have access to boats to row on the lake, a great activity for the whole family. Ólafsfjörður Swimming Pool, which has a waterslide, is only a six-minute walk away. The price per person depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the cottages.

Stóra-Ásgeirsá Horse Farm Stay ($-$$$) offers guests a true Icelandic farm experience. As Brimnes, it accommodates up to seven people, making it perfect for family vacations. The kids can run around the fields, interact with the friendly farm animals, and even take part in farm chores. It’s also possible to book horseback riding, an activity that most children love. At Mjólkurhúsið pub, you can buy drinks and traditional Icelandic meat soup, a hearty dish that will fuel you up after a long day. The price per person for this accommodation depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the rooms.

Hotel Kjarnalundur ($) in Kjarnaskógur forest, one of the relatively few in Iceland, offers accommodation for up to six and is located in an area that is immensely popular with families. It stretches across 800 hectares of land and is filled with fun trails, playgrounds, volleyball courts, covered grill areas, sledge slopes (during winter), and more. You might even spot some rabbits hopping around. It’s a superb area for family adventures and picnics.

Cottagecore

If hotel rooms and apartments are not your vibe, and you want something a bit more country, perhaps the numerous cottages available in North Iceland sound more attractive.

For nature lovers, Hestasport Cottages ($-$$$) in Varmahlíð, surrounded by fields of grass and mountainscapes, perfectly capture the countryside feeling. They offer a serene atmosphere and an excellent opportunity to experience both the magnificent winter sky and bright summer nights. The price per person depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the cottages.

There is also Vegamót Cottages ($-$$) in Dalvík, which has an old-fashioned village feel to it. You can choose between a small cottage with a private toilet (no shower) and kitchenette or a slightly bigger cottage with a private bathroom, full kitchen and living room. It does have a three-night minimum stay, but if you’re not in a hurry, it’s a good base location for day trips to Siglufjörður, Akureyri, Grímsey, Húsavík, and more. The price per person depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the cottages.

Romantic and luxurious

There’s also plenty to pick from on the other end of the spectrum. If you’re on the hunt for romance or luxury, North Iceland will certainly not disappoint you. Whether it’s to get the ultimate relaxation, celebrate an anniversary, pop the question, or just to treat yourself, you won’t have any trouble finding the right accommodation. 

Brimslóð Atelier ($$) is situated in the oldest part of Blönduós village. A small, farmhouse-style hotel right by the sea, it’s well suited for a couple’s getaway. Breakfast is included, and those interested in a Nordic culinary experience can dine at the in-house restaurant, which serves “Icelandic heritage food with a modern twist” from locally sourced and natural ingredients. They also offer a cooking workshop where participants learn about Nordic nature and cuisine.

For something striking a balance between nature and city, try Sigló Hótel ($$$), an outstanding hotel located by Siglufjörður’s harbour. Its classy, romantic design, paired with the marina hot tub and sauna, is perfect for a romantic stay or relaxing after a tiring day. A continental breakfast is included in the price. The hotel also runs three restaurants, offering guests dinner and lunch options ranging from fine dining to burgers and pizza. 

Three people enjoying the view of a snow-covered Siglufjörður from the marina hot tub at Sigló Hotel.
Photo: Golli. Three people enjoying the view of a snow-covered Siglufjörður from the marina hot tub at Sigló Hotel.

For those wanting the best of the best, Deplar Farm ($$$$$) is a remote hideout that offers a highly luxurious experience of the Icelandic wilderness. Surrounded by mountains, fields, and rivers, with nothing else in sight for miles, it’s ideal for recharging. It has a Nordic and minimalist style and offers a range of activities, both in summer and winter. With nightly rates starting at around ISK 600.000 [$ 4.500, €4.100] and a minimum stay of three nights, it is one of the most – if not the most – expensive hotels you can book in Iceland. However, it’s also one of the most exquisite, making the 2023 Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List as one of the “Best Hotels in the World”. 

One with nature

If you’re going to North Iceland to breathe in the exquisite nature, you can enhance your experience by choosing the right place to stay. Although a great deal of the available accommodations in North Iceland are, in fact, surrounded by nature , there are several that really stand out from the crowd in regards to location or design.

Fosshótel at Lake Mývatn ($$$), designed with nature in mind and in perfect harmony with its surroundings, is an excellent choice for those wanting to immerse themselves in Iceland’s beautiful landscapes. Sitting in the magnificent lava fields of Mývatn and facing the lake, the enormous dining hall windows offer an unobstructed view of nature. The hotel has a first-class continental breakfast and an in-house restaurant perfect for those wanting to try the famous Icelandic lamb or fish

Sky sighting Iglúhús ($$) takes the closeness to nature one step further. With cosy and rustic, dome-style cabins that have windows across the roof, you’ll have an unrestricted view of the night sky while you lie in bed. This is a unique way to experience the midnight sun of summer and the northern lights of winter. Located in Árskógarsandur, it’s in the same area as The Beer Spa, quite literally offering their guests to bathe in beer whilst also drinking beer. A cheaper alternative is Hauganes beach baths, where you can refresh yourself with some sea swimming and relax in the ocean-view tubs. If you’re easily disturbed by light while you sleep, this is a place you should visit in fall, winter, or early spring while the sun isn’t up half the night. Note that there are no showers at the accommodation.

Iceland Yurt ($$ – $$$) takes camping to the next level, offering guests a traditional Mongolian wool-insulated and wood-fired yurt. Wake up to the birds singing or the sound of raindrops on the tent and connect with nature in a new way. Five minutes from camp is the Gaia god/dess temple, where you can book conscious movement and dance sessions, as well as deep relaxation. The tents accommodate up to five people, and included in the price is a yummy breakfast stored in cute little cooler boxes.

Camping and campervans

Should you be travelling in a camper van or with a tent, you need to find an established campsite ($) or get a landowner’s written permission to camp on their property. You should be able to locate a campsite easily, as plenty of them are around, but here are some of our favourites. 

People setting up camp.
Photo: Golli/Morgunblaðið. People setting up camp.

Hamrar in Kjarnaskógur, the same one mentioned above, is one of the most family-friendly campsites in Iceland. The campsite, situated in a woodland area just outside the city, is large and offers amenities such as picnic tables, playgrounds, volleyball courts, a bring-you-own-discs disc golf court, mountain bike trails, and covered barbecue facilities. There are also 12 km [7.5 miles] of gravel tracks to walk on, as well as ungravelled trails and tracks.

Ásbyrgi, located in one of Iceland’s national parks, is a curiously shaped glacier valley and a popular attraction. It has strong ties to Old Norse Mythology, which states that the horseshoe-shaped canyon was formed by Sleipnir, Óðin‘s eight-legged horse. The campsite is an ideal base for nature exploring, as there are several trails of various lengths in the area, which will lead you to a handful of natural attractions. If you have the time, you can even plan a multi-day hiking adventure. On the campsite, you’ll have access to electricity, a washing machine and dryer, toilets, showers, and a playground.

Situated in a small forest, Hólar in Hjaltadal has plenty of quiet and secluded corners and beautiful meadows, described by a Google reviewer as “one of the best campsites”. If you want a true old-school camping experience, this might be the place for you. At the Hólar campsite, there is no electricity, bad internet connection, and limited amenities, all of which are part of the attraction for those wanting a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There are bathrooms and sinks with (mostly) cold water but no showers. 

Mánárbakki is the ideal place for a romantic camping experience. Situated on the Tjörnes peninsula, right by the sea, you’ll have an amazing view of the sunset right from your tent. The campsite, which offers washing and cooking facilities, toilets, showers, and electricity, has an exceptionally good rating of 4.8, based on 791 reviews.

Although it is possible to book some campsites in advance, you generally don’t need to. Most campsites are open from sometime in May into September, but this is different for each place, so be sure to look into that beforehand. If you need help finding a campsite or general information about them, Tjalda.is has a list and map of all campsites in Iceland. 

 

Fimmvörðuháls: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide

A group of people by Skógafoss.

If you’re planning on a hike in the Highland while you’re in Iceland, Fimmvörðuháls is a great option. It’s one of the most popular day hikes in Iceland and for a good reason. Taking you past more than 20 waterfalls, through barren landscape, between two glaciers, and down into the lush natural paradise of Þórsmörk, it’s one of the most diverse routes you can take in the Icelandic wilderness within a day. This guide to hiking Fimmvörðuháls will tell you everything you need to know about how to get there, what to expect on the way, whether it’s suitable for children, and much more.

When can you make the Fimmvörðuháls hike?

Technically, Fimmvörðuháls is open all year round, but mid-June to the end of August is the ideal time, especially if you’re going without a guide. It’s the time you’ll be most likely to get decent weather and good trail conditions, which will make your journey both more enjoyable and safe. During the off-season, conditions can be difficult due to storms and heavy snow on the ground, and planning transportation to and from the trail will be hard. You should only hike Fimmvörðuháls during the off-season if you’re an experienced hiker or with a guide. The video below will give you an idea of what the conditions are like during the hiking season.

Guided or unguided

During the hiking season, the Fimmvörðuháls hike can be done on your own. This might be the better option for photographers wanting to capture the unique Icelandic landscape or those who just want to take some extra time to enjoy the Highland, as it allows you complete freedom of speed. If you choose to go unguided, make sure to familiarize yourself with the trail beforehand and bring a GPS device and/or a map and a compass.

For less experienced hikers, those who don’t feel confident making the trip on their own, or social butterflies who want to hike with a larger group, there are plenty of guided tours available from May to September.

What to wear on your hike

Don’t underestimate the weather. Even if the forecast is great for Skógar and Þórsmörk, your starting and ending points, the conditions can be completely different and rapidly changing once you’re higher up.

To maximize your safety and comfort, it’s recommended to wear three layers on your journey:

  • A base layer of wool or synthetic thermal underwear.
  • A middle layer for insulation, wool or synthetics.
  • A wind and water-resistant, but breathable, outer layer.

Leave your cotton clothes at home. They won’t keep you warm when they get moist from sweat or wet from snow and rain. If you tend to get easily cold, or if the forecast is particularly grim, an extra sweater in the backpack is a good idea.

Additionally, you should have thermal gloves and headwear, socks made from wool or synthetics, and waterproof hiking boots, such as those on the image below. These are crucial, as there will be snow on the way. If you don’t have the proper equipment or space in your luggage to bring it, you can make use of a hiking and camping equipment rental.

Sturdy hiking boots.
Photo: Matti Blume, Wikimedia. Sturdy hiking boots.

What to bring – and what to leave on the bus

Although Iceland is known for its many rivers, there are none for a good deal of the Fimmvörðuháls trail. This means that you’ll have to bring water for the whole day in your backpack. It’s also a good idea to have hot water, hot chocolate, coffee or tea.

Assuming you’ve already had breakfast, you should bring lunch, dinner and plenty of snacks. An example of food for the day would be as follows:

  • Snacks – a pack of biscuits, a bag of nuts, raisins and chocolate, a granola bar, an apple, and a package of Icelandic fish jerky.
  • Lunch – a sandwich or two with hummus and vegetables or ham and cheese, a package of instant soup, and a snack.
  • Dinner – pasta with cream sauce or a package of freeze-dried food, a hot drink, and a snack.

Other than food, you should bring:

  • A first-aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • An extra pair of socks
  • Blister plasters or tape
  • A GPS and/or map and compass.

Those planning to stay the night in Þórsmörk do not have to carry additional things with them on the hike. You can leave your tents, sleeping bags and anything else you won’t need during the day on the bus, and the driver will drop them off at your accommodations. To do this, you’ll just have to make sure that the bus you choose is actually going there, have your things clearly labelled, and let the driver know.

Which direction to hike in

Since the hike is a point-to-point, there are, of course, two ways to do it. The most popular way is to start from Skógar and make your way into Þórsmörk. That means you’ll be facing the 20-plus waterfalls of the hike on the way up, have a slow but long inclination and the beautiful sight of Þórsmörk coming down. However, it’s entirely possible to do it the other way around. Many mountain runners prefer that, for example, as starting from Þórsmörk gives you a steeper but shorter inclination.

A group of people by Skógafoss waterfall in Skógar.
A group of people by Skógafoss waterfall in Skógar.

What to expect on the hike

While the hike is not the most difficult you can take, it is challenging and not suitable for those with poor physical health. Be sure to get some training in if you’re not used to hiking.

The trail itself is 24 km [15 miles] from Skógar to Básar (or the other way around) and has about 1000 metres [0.6 miles] ascent. On average, it takes eight to ten hours to complete. However, this is highly dependent on your physical form, how often and long you stop to admire the surrounding nature, and whether you struggle with heights. Some people take less than seven hours, while others take 14. Where you’re going to sleep once you get down to Þórsmörk is also a factor, but we’ll get to that further down in the guide.

There are several places where you’ll need to swallow your fear of heights if you have it. There are a couple of steep hills to climb up and down and some places where the path gets very narrow. For a few meters, you’ll have to hold on to a rope to get across a ledge.

There will be snow – maybe even a lot – and the importance of wearing proper hiking boots cannot be stressed enough. Don’t head off wearing sandals or trainers. You’ll end up with wet shoes, cold feet, and a far less enjoyable journey.

Fimmvörðuháls during summer, covered in snow.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. Fimmvörðuháls during summer, covered in snow.

If you’re starting from Skógar, you’ll head into the barren landscape after you pass the last stretch of the waterfalls and river. This part can feel rather tedious compared to the first, but we promise it will all be well and truly worth it. The views coming down into Þórsmörk in the last leg of the journey are beyond this world.

Should you spend the night in Þórsmörk?

Many people drive out, do the hike, and head back on the same day, but if you have time, Þórsmörk is an amazing place to spend it in. You should also keep in mind that you’re most likely dependent on the highland bus to get out of Þórsmörk. This means that if you don’t spend the night, the bus schedule will restrict your time for things going wrong on the way or exploring the area once you’re down. The last bus usually leaves at 8 PM, and assuming you took the bus to Skógar, you will have started the hike around 11 AM, giving you just about nine hours to complete it. Having sleeping arrangements allows you to take your time on the hike without having to worry about missing the bus.

You can book a sleeping space in a cabin in Básar, Langidalur or Húsadalur, or you could bring a tent. For those wanting a bit of luxury or romance after a long and tiring day, there’s also glamping available, but beware that this is located in Húsadalur. Of the three places you can sleep in, Húsadalur is the furthest away from the end of the hiking trail and getting there will add about 2-3 hours to your journey. Básar is the nearest and, thus, the most popular amongst hikers. Langidalur lies in between the two, adding two kilometres [1.2 miles] to your trip. These all have their unique characteristics, and should you want to experience all of them, you can always plan to stay a few days. Keep in mind that there are limited sleeping spaces, so book yours in advance!

The view from Valahnúkur mountain in Þórsmörk, a popular hike amongst those staying there.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. The view from Valahnúkur mountain in Þórsmörk, a popular hike amongst those staying there.

If 24 km [15 miles] in a day is not your jam, you can make the hike into a two-day trip and stay a night in either Fimmvörðuskáli or Baldvinsskáli. They are conveniently situated about midway through. You can also choose to hike the trail for a few kilometres and turn back the same way, making it a round-trip of any length you desire. From either end of it, you’ll have epic scenery along the way: the long trail of waterfalls alongside the path from Skógar or the breathtaking view of Þórsmörk below as you hike up the trail and back down again. You could even bring a blanket and some food and set up a picnic along the way. Lastly, there’s the option of seeing Fimmvörðuháls from above on a helecopter tour, in case you’re not able to or don’t want to hike.

Is Fimmvörðuháls suitable for children?

It depends on their hiking experience, physical capability, and enthusiasm. Most companies offering guided tours require a minimum age of 12 or 13 years. This is also a good guideline for families going on their own, but of course, you know your child/children best and will be able to assess their ability based on previous experiences. If you’ve never hiked with them before, doing a test hike is a good idea, and keep in mind that Fimmvörðuháls will probably be a bit more challenging. If you’re worried about it being too hard for them, the suggestions above, making it a two-day hike or only doing part of it, are excellent options.

On the last stretch of the waterfall part of Fimmvörðuháls.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. On the last stretch of the waterfall part of Fimmvörðuháls.

Getting to and from Fimmvörðuháls

Since the Fimmvörðuháls trail is a point-to-point hike, not a circle, and because of how the highland buses are scheduled, this will probably be the trickiest part of your planning. The fact that you need a 4×4 and experience with river crossing to get in and out of Þórsmörk also restricts your options somewhat. There are several ways you can do this.

  • The most hassle-free option is to book a guided tour that includes transportation. You will need to make no other arrangements than getting to the meeting point. This might be particularly enticing for families with children, but it is also one of the more expensive ways.
  • If you don’t want a guided tour, the next best option would be to have a designated driver who drops you off at the starting point and picks you up at the end. This is a great solution if only part of the group you’re travelling with is doing the hike, and it’s by far the cheapest one. You’ll only need to buy a ticket to or from Þórsmörk to Brú Base Camp, Seljalandsfoss, or Hvolsvöllur, depending on the bus company.
  • A similar situation can be worked out if you have two cars. This will allow you to leave one car at Skógar and one at whichever bus stop you choose to get on/off the bus to or from Þórsmörk. This means that you can drive all the way to Skógar in the morning, hike to Þórsmörk, take the bus to a chosen bus stop and drive back to Skógar to pick up the second car (or the other way around).
  • A fourth option is to get a ticket with one of the highland buses from Reykjavík: A one-way ticket to your starting point, Skógar or Básar (if you’re starting in Þórsmörk, don’t choose Langidalur or Húsadalur!), and a one-way ticket back to Reykjavík from your ending point. Make sure that if your ending point is Þórsmörk, you pick the correct hut for pick-up: Básar, Langidalur or Húsadalur. Each bus company only goes to one or two of the three. If your ticket just says ‘Þórsmörk’, check with the company you bought it from. Those staying the night in Þórsmörk don’t have to worry too much about the timetable, but if you’re planning a one-day trip, make sure that a) you book your ticket back from Básar and b) you know the time you have to be down by.
  • Similarly, if you’re already on the South Coast and got there by car, you can hop on the bus somewhere along the way between Reykjavík and your starting point. This could be in Selfoss, Hella, or Hvolsvöllur, but the stops will be slightly different between bus companies. Just make sure that the bus you take on your way back stops at the same place you left your car. Note that there is no bus that runs from Þórsmörk to Skógar, so leaving your car there at the start of your hike is not a great option. If you do this, you’ll have to take a taxi once you’re out of Þórsmörk to get back to it, which will be very expensive.

Below is the trail on Google Maps with some of its waterfalls and landmarks marked in. The estimated travel time is quite optimistic, so don’t use it as a benchmark!

A Quick Guide to Hiking in Iceland

A group of people hiking in Landmannalaugar.

With endless mountains, natural wonders, and out-of-this-world sceneries, Iceland was made for hiking. No matter where in the country you are, a great hike is waiting for you just around the corner. Some are short and sweet, others are long and adventurous, but they all offer a serene experience of the magnificent Icelandic nature. If you’re headed to the mountains or Highland for an adventure, our guide to hiking in Iceland is here to help make the journey as safe and enjoyable as possible. 

Before you go

Never leave for a hike without telling someone where you’re going and for how long. Submit your travel plans to Safe Travel so that authorities can provide you with assistance as quickly as possible in emergencies. Make sure to have the Icelandic emergency service number written down and a phone to call them. To minimize the chances of getting caught in extreme weather, check the forecast on vedur.is before you leave for your hike and be on the lookout for weather warnings.

Get the lay of the land. How long is the hike? What’s the expected elevation? What’s the terrain like? Do some basic research online or get yourself a book about hiking routes in Iceland. That way, you’ll know what to expect and whether the hike is suitable for you. To ensure safety and protect the ecosystem, always follow a marked trail.

If you want to go glacier hiking, book a tour. While incredible places to hike, the glaciers can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know your way around them, so having a guide is imperative. The tour office will also provide you with the necessary equipment.

Hikers getting ready for Sólheimajökull glacier hike.
Photo: Golli. Hikers getting ready for Sólheimajökull glacier hike.

How to dress for hiking in Iceland

Dressing for hiking in Iceland can be tricky, as you never really know what the weather has in store for you. It’s always ready to catch you off guard with strong gusts of wind and unexpected rain, especially up in the mountains. The combined power of precipitation, wind, and cold temperatures is frequently underestimated, which can lead to hypothermia. 

In the Icelandic climate, layers are your best friend. They will allow you to adapt to changing conditions and be prepared for the unexpected. Wear:

  • A base layer of wool or synthetic thermal underwear.
  • A middle layer for insulation, wool or synthetics. 
  • A wind and water-resistant, but breathable, outer layer.

Leave your cotton clothes at home. They won’t keep you warm when they get moist from sweat or wet from snow and rain. Additionally, you should have thermal gloves, headwear, and hiking socks made from wool or synthetics. Even when the weather is great, bring the layers along in your backpack. 

On a good summer day, short hikes on well-kept trails, such as trails leading up to popular waterfalls, can be made in your average trainers. For longer hikes or hikes made in cold or wet conditions, sturdy hiking boots are essential. 

A person looking over a valley on Laugavegur trail, one of the longer hikes in Iceland.
Photo: Berglind. A person looking over a valley on Laugavegur trail, one of the longer hikes in Iceland.

What to have in your backpack

In addition to having the appropriate attire, there are several things you should have in your backpack:

  • Should there be snow, bring crampons. 
  • A GPS device, map, and compass. Even on well-marked trails, you might get caught in a snowstorm or heavy fog and lose your sense of direction. If you get lost and can’t situate yourself with the help of your equipment, call for help, sit down and wait. When using a map on your phone, make sure to download it.
  • A charging bank so the phone won’t run out of battery.
  • A first aid kit for minor accidents and emergencies.
  • Liquids and food, even for short hikes – you never know what might happen. 
  • If you’re headed out on a multi-day hike, don’t forget your camping equipment and extra clothes!

If you don’t have all the equipment you need or the luggage space to bring it, you can rent anything you might need, from gloves and boots to tents and GPS devices.

People hiking in fog on Hornstrandir.
Photo: Golli. People hiking in fog on Hornstrandir.

Crossing rivers

Having to cross rivers while hiking is common in Iceland. They vary hugely in size and current strength, so it‘s important to assess each river carefully before crossing. If your trail has a large river that you can‘t wade without getting your hiking shoes soaked, bring wading shoes, sandals or trainers. These will be better for crossing than going barefoot. 

Make sure that you don‘t have anything tied tightly to you, and loosen the straps on your backpack. If you fall into a river that is deep or has a strong current, it‘s better to be able to quickly let go of your things. 

The best place to cross is often where the water is more spread out, as narrower parts are usually deeper and have a stronger current. Don‘t follow the same path as a jeep without making sure it‘s a good place to cross on foot – it might not be. After finding a suitable path, it‘s advised to make the crossing three or four together, with arms clasped at the elbows. 

RIFF – Reykjavík International Film Festival

Swim-in screening of The Truman Show.

The Reykjavík International Film Festival, or RIFF for short, is an 11-day annual film festival that has been running since 2004. It was founded by a mixed group of film professionals and enthusiasts who wanted to present fresh and progressive cinematic experiences to the Icelandic cultural scene. Each year, they offer a wide range of international and independent films as well as highly unique screenings and special events. Taking place all over Reykjavík, with an occasional event even happening out in nature, RIFF might just be the perfect way for film lovers to get to know Iceland. 

When and where does RIFF take place?

The festival takes place in the fall, but the dates vary somewhat between years. This year, 2024, it takes off on 26 September and ends on 6 October. The main venues will be Háskólabíó cinema and The Nordic House, both located within walking distance from Reykjavík city centre. However, other festival venues are usually spread out across the city, with past locations including the Reykjavík City Hall, Bíó Paradís cinema, city libraries, nursing homes and prisons. The festival is also known for screenings in curious and unexpected locations, offering a completely new view of the films being shown. At previous festivals, guests could, for example, enjoy Life of Pi in a swimming pool, horror movies in a cave, and a documentary about Greenland’s melting ice sheet inside Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjökull.

Films and other events

During the festival, you’ll be able to see a diverse collection of international dramas and non-fiction films, where independent and up-and-coming filmmakers take centre stage. The films are divided into several categories, including New Visions, Documentaries, and A Different Tomorrow. The screenings are often followed by a director Q&A where festival guests get a chance to chat with directors about the film and gain a unique insight into their work. 

The festival also offers special events, such as the aforementioned swimming pool and cave screenings, virtual reality experiences, cinematic culinary experiences, pub quizzes, and scavenger hunts. Additionally, guests can attend panels, lectures, and workshops, concerts, and exhibitions. Programme brochures for upcoming festivals can be accessed here when they have been made available.

How to get tickets for RIFF

Tickets to individual screenings, special events, and other events usually go on sale a week or two before the festival starts, but 8 ticket clip cards and full festival passes can be bought in advance online. These are valid for all films shown at the festival but not special events. Up-to-date information about ticket sales and prices can be found on the official RIFF website.

How to Book a Mountain Cabin

A person sitting in the snow outside a mountain hut in Kerlingafjöll.

The Icelandic Highland is the place to go if you’re looking for an escape from reality. With no paved roads or lampposts, serene wilderness that goes on forever, and dramatic scenery that will give you the feel of a movie-worthy adventure, it’s perfect for leaving the outside world behind for a bit. While truly magical, the Highlands are no exception to the typical Icelandic weather conditions, so if you’re spending the night there, you might want to opt for a mountain cabin rather than a tent.

Finding and booking mountain cabins

You can book guided tours in the Highland where cabin accommodations are included, but they’re also fairly easy to book on your own. The highland cabins are run by several companies, each with its own website. On ferdalag.is, you can find a comprehensive list of nearly all available cabins. You can browse through the list or use their map to view them by location. By clicking on each cabin, you’ll get some practical information and images, as well as contact details and a link to the service provider’s official website or Facebook page. 

Some huts have a booking system you can book through, but others require sending an email inquiry or call. In some cases, it’s possible to arrive without a booking, but we strongly recommend avoiding that unless you have a tent with you as a backup. You never know how many people will be in the area. 

What to expect

Much like in a hostel, what you’ll usually get when staying in a mountain cabin is a bed in a shared sleeping space and access to a kitchen and bathroom. However, facilities will be different in each hut. For instance, they don’t all have running water throughout the year, and sometimes, you’ll have to bring your own toilet paper. Details about this will be available on the service provider’s official webpage. The types of sleeping arrangements vary between locations as well. There are cabins with regular single bunk beds or freestanding beds, and there are cabins with large mattresses where you’ll be sleeping beside others. Usually, you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag.