Before You Go: How to Pack for Spring and Fall in Iceland

People in the rain on Skólavörðustígur street, Reykjavík.

If you‘re planning a trip to Iceland, you‘ve no doubt heard that the weather here is unpredictable. This is true for every season, but even more so for spring and fall. Both are pretty cold, with temperatures swinging from 0°C [32°F] to 7°C [44°F], and both have the potential for storms and precipitation. However, they are also the most erratic seasons. They frequently lean more into the lines of summer or winter, so check the weather forecast before finalising your packing list. The following are suggestions for what to bring on your fall or spring trip to Iceland that suits the typical circumstances. You might want to scale it up or down depending on which way the weather is expected to swing while you‘re here. 

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic spring and fall

Layering up is the best way to be prepared for the range of weather situations you might encounter in Iceland. Doing this allows you to quickly adapt to changing conditions. You‘ll want to bring:

  • Long trousers
  • Long sleeved tops
  • A thick sweater
  • A water resistant jacket and overtrousers of the same sort
  • Consider thermal underwear, particularly if the forecast is cold, windy and/or wet
  • A hat
  • Gloves
  • A scarf 

In terms of shoes, bring lighter shoes, like trainers, and more robust water resistant ones suitable for diverse terrain. If you don‘t have room for extra shoes in your suitcase, go for the water resistant ones. These will be better suited for any nature trips you might be taking. 

Adventure add-ins

If you’re going all in on the phenomenal Icelandic nature with higher energy outdoor activities, like climbing or hiking, the packing list will be similar to the above recommendations. The main difference is that you should pay more attention to the materials of your clothing. Go for:

  • Thermal underwear
  • Comfortable pants
  • Woollen socks
  • A woollen sweater
  • Proper hiking shoes
  • A breathable, water resistant jacket and overtrousers of the same sort 
  • Mittens
  • A hat or headband
  • A scarf or warm buff

We advise you to prioritise wool, which has the excellent quality of keeping you warm even when wet, and to avoid both non-breathable materials and cotton. Cotton gets cold when wet, and non-breathable materials trap moisture, lessening your chances of staying warm. 

Additional items 

Before You Go: How to Pack for Winter in Iceland

A person with two children walking in heavy snow.

Iceland in the wintertime is a marvellous experience. With its northern lights, stormy weather, snow-covered mountains and cosy darkness, it’s the perfect place to get the winter vibes. That being said, it can also be cold and wet, making appropriate clothing a critical part of your trip.  As the Icelanders say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong attire. So, before you go, here is our guide on what to pack for your winter trip to Iceland.

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic winter 

The first thing you should do before you start packing is check the weather forecast. While the average temperature during winter in Iceland is 0 °C [32 °F], the actual temperature may be anywhere from -10°C [14 °F] or lower to 5°C [41 °F]. Adding to that, the varying levels of wind change your perception of the cold. This means that a still day at -5 °C [23 °F] might feel perfectly lovely, but a windy one at 0 °C [32 °F] will feel bitterly cold. Due to this unpredictability, layering is the way to go here. Bring:

  • Long trousers
  • Long sleeved tops
  • A woollen sweater
  • A thick winter jacket
  • Thermal underwear, particularly if you‘re not used to the cold
  • A warm hat
  • Gloves
  • A scarf 
  • Water-resistant winter boots
  • Woollen socks
  • Overtrousers to fend off rain and snow – these can be either a thin shell or, if the forecast looks extremely frosty, ski pants.

For the adventurous spirit

Knowing what you‘ll be doing is crucial when dressing for outdoor activities in Iceland. Are you hiking a glacier or doing some other high-energy activity? Pack:

  • A thermal baselayer
  • Woollen socks
  • A woollen sweater
  • Comfortable pants 
  • A breathable, water-resistant jacket
  • Overtrousers of the same sort
  • Good hiking shoes
  • A warm hat
  • Mittens
  • A scarf or warm buff

Avoid heavy-duty and non-breathable jackets and overpants. Those will make you sweat more and trap moisture inside your clothes, lessening your chance of staying warm. If you‘re worried about getting cold, bring an extra sweater or fleece jacket in your backpack.

If you‘re primarily going to be standing/sitting still or moving very slowly, e.g. when looking for the northern lights, bundle up a bit more with a down jacket, parka or extra sweater, as well as ski pants. 

In both cases, prioritise wool and leave cotton at home. Wool will keep you warm even when wet, whereas cotton will not. 

Other items to consider

  • You‘ll want to bring your reusable water bottle along, as Icelandic tap water is drinkable and high quality wherever you are. There‘s no need to spend unnecessary money on bottled water from the store. 
  • Bringing sunglasses is extremely important for drivers! It might seem odd, considering the winter sun is only up for a few hours in Iceland, but with the sun’s lower position in the sky, it‘s more likely to be in line with your eyes. This can leave you half-blind to your surroundings, which is extremely hazardous when driving.
  • For those planning to ski, spend time on a glacier, or go on a boat trip, you should pack a bottle of sunscreen. The sun reflects in the snow and water, increasing exposure to UV radiation. 
  • Moisturisers and lip balms are lifesavers when cold and windy, as those conditions tend to dry out the skin.
  • Bring extra gloves, socks, and a hat if your luggage has room. It‘s nice to have something dry to put on if you get caught in a snowstorm or heavy rain.
  • Lastly, bring your bathing suit to enjoy Iceland’s geothermal baths and natural hot springs!

Yellow Weather Warning Across South Iceland

yellow weather warning Feb 1 2024

Heavy rain and extreme thawing are expected across the Reykjavík capital area, as well as the western, southern, and southwest regions of Iceland tonight. The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow weather alerts for the regions between 8:00 PM this evening and 6:00 AM tomorrow morning.

Rain and rapidly rising temperatures are expected to cause higher water levels in rivers and streams as well as an increased risk of flooding. Locals are advised to clear grates to prevent flood damage from rain and meltwater. Conditions are also expected to be slippery, due to rainfall on ice and compressed snow. Travellers are encouraged to exercise caution and monitor weather forecasts and road conditions regularly.

Sun While It Lasted: May Among “Gloomiest” Months on Record

Rain in Reykjavík

This year’s month of May is in contention to break a more than 70-year-old record for the fewest hours of recorded sunlight in Reykjavík. The rainfall record for the month could also fall, Mbl.is reports.

A month of gloom and rain

The Icelandic weather Gods have been in a rather punishing mood this May. With nearly two weeks of continuous cloud cover in the capital area, water-cooler conversations in the various offices around Reykjavík have frequently been punctuated by weather-related grumblings. This morning, an article published on Mbl.is appeared to substantiate such pessimism scientifically, noting that our current month of May was in contention to break a more than 70-year-old “sunless” record in Reykjavík.

“Sure, we still have a chance of hitting solar rock bottom,” meteorologist Trausti Jónsson told the outlet. Trausti pointed out that, to date, the fewest number of “sunshine hours” in Reykjavík were recorded in May 1951, or 102.2 hours. When Trausti reviewed the data on Monday evening, the number of sunshine hours in May had reached a meagre 93.5 hours – with only three days remaining of the month. As noted by Mbl.is, this means that if fewer than 8.8 hours of sunshine hours are recorded over those three days, May 2023 would become the “least sunniest” fifth month of the year since measurements began.

Mbl.is further noted that this year’s May compared unfavourably with May of last year, when the number of sunshine hours in Reykjavík totalled 259.3 – exceeding the May average between 1991 and 2020 by 50 hours. Hours of sunshine have been measured in Reykjavík and the surrounding area since 1911, although measurements prior to May 1921 have gone missing.

Rain, rain, and more rain

On Monday evening, a total of 118.3 millimetres of rain had been recorded in Reykjavík in May. The rainiest May on record came in 2018 when the total rainfall was recorded at 128.8 millimetres. As noted by Mbl.is, it would, therefore, only take an additional 10.6 millimetres of rain during the final days of May to be recorded by the Met Office’s precipitation gauge to break the previous record. Such a thing is not beyond the realm of possibility, Trausti told Mbl.is.

Again, this year’s May compares unfavourably to last year’s, when the total recorded rainfall in Reykjavík was 44 millimetres or approximately 84% of the average rainfall for the years 1991 to 2020. Continuous rainfall measurements began in Reykjavík in 1920. On a slightly more upbeat note, the average temperature in the capital area in May has been close to the average.

Update (June 2): On June 1, Vísir reported that this year’s month of May had broken the record for fewest hours of recorded sunlight in May since measurements began. “The sun shone for 96 hours and the month was the third rainiest since the measurements began.”

Heavy Rains and Risk of Flooding in North Iceland Today

weather warning north iceland

Considerable rainfall is forecasted for North Iceland today, particularly in the eastern part of the region and on the Tröllaskagi peninsula. Elevated water levels are expected in rivers, and localised flooding may occur. There is also increased risk of rock falls and landslides in the area due to the wet and windy weather. A yellow weather alert has been issued for the region.

Outdoor activities such as hiking are not advised in North Iceland today due to the combination of wet weather, strong wind, and low temperatures. Travellers in the area can monitor weather conditions on the Icelandic Met Office website and road conditions at road.is.

Conditions are expected to improve by 6:00 PM in Northwest Iceland and by 9:00 PM in the northeast region. Mild weather is in the forecast for other regions of the country today.

Record Precipitation in Reykjavík Last Month

extreme weather storm Sundlaugavegur

March was unusually wet and snowy across South, Southeast, and West Iceland this year, with record amounts of precipitation in several locations. Precipitation in Reykjavík last month measured three times the monthly average between 1991 and 2020, and was more than has ever been recorded for the month of March. The data is from the Icelandic Met Office’s monthly weather review.

Precipitation in Reykjavík last month measured 209.5 mm, making it the wettest/snowiest March since weather monitoring began. March 1923 is in second place, with 183.2 mm. March 2022 had heavy precipitation even compared to other months of the year. Monthly precipitation has only been measured higher four times in Reykjavík: in November 1993, February 1921, January 1907, and November 1958. January 1842 and December 1843 were also exceptionally rainy, but the measurements for those months are unconfirmed.

Considering the amount of rain and snow, it’s not surprising that March was not particularly sunny in the nation’s capital. Reykjavík only had 68.5 hours of sunshine last month, which is 41.8 hours below the March average between 1991 and 2020. Akureyri, North Iceland, on the other hand, had 112.1 sunshine hours in March, which is 34.3 hours more than the average for that month between the same time frame. Akureyri has not experienced a March with as much sunshine since 1996.

Reykjavík had 14 snowy days last month, five more than average; while Akureyri experienced 11, which is five fewer than average between the years 1991 and 2020.

Weather Alerts Issued Across the Country Today

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow and orange weather alerts across the country today, February 25. An orange weather alert will be in effect for the capital region from 11 AM to 5 PM today.

A season of storms

Two powerful lows have swept across Iceland in relatively quick succession: one in late January and another last Monday. In keeping with this theme, the Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow and orange weather alerts for all of Iceland today.

An orange weather alert will be in effect for the capital region from 11 AM to 5 PM. Reykjavík is expected to be bombarded with heavy wind and precipitation.

As noted on the Met Office’s website: “SE 18-25 m/s with sleet and later rain. Damages due to flying debris are likely and construction workers are encouraged to secure construction sites. Important to clear grates and remove snow from building entrances to prevent flood damage or injury.”

An orange weather alert will also be in effect for Faxaflói Bay, the Westfjords, and the Central Highlands. Yellow weather alerts will apply to the rest of the country.

Route One closed between Reykjavík and South Iceland

In the lead up to the storm, the Icelandic Road Administration has announced that it has closed Route One from Reykjavík to South Iceland (the Hellisheiði segment). Mosfellsheiði toward Þingvallavatn has also be closed. The Road Administration advises that this is no weather for travelling.

For more information on road conditions, visit safetravel.is.

Seyðisfjörður Residents May Return Home

The evacuation order in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland has been lifted and the alert phase due to landslide risk has been lowered to an uncertainty phase, the Civil Protection Department announced in a notice sent to media yesterday afternoon. According to calculations presented on October 11, the deflecting and catching dams above the town should divert any landslides toward the sea and prevent damage to buildings in the town. Residents living in the defined risk area have thus been permitted to return to their homes.

A series of landslides destroyed 14 buildings, including residential homes, in Seyðisfjörður last December. Around 20 residents were evacuated earlier this month after movement was detected in a mountain ridge above the town. That movement has slowed in recent days, according to the Civil Protection Department. However, fissures have formed in the ridge, increasing the likelihood it will break apart. “If it falls, it will probably do so in a few sections,” the notice states. “This can be expected during a rainy period sometime in the near future.”

Even if the ridge falls all at once, calculations showed the existing barriers should divert the resulting landslide away from the town. In light of that information, East Iceland Police has lifted the evacuation order on the remaining five houses that were still evacuated and lowered the alert phase placed on the area to an uncertainty phase. Hikers are reminded to exercise caution on the paths near Búðará and other locations where the barriers divert potential landslides.

The Icelandic Met Office provides regular updates on data collected in the area.

Over 20 Landslides in North Iceland Last Weekend

landslides suður þingeyjarsýsla

Over 20 landslides fell in North Iceland last weekend, in the Suður-Þingeyjarsýsla district, RÚV reports. Two of them occurred just last night and while the mountains remain saturated with water, others may yet follow. An uncertainty phase remains in effect in the Tröllaskagi region in North Iceland due to continued rainfall.

Around 30 people have been evacuated from their homes in the region due to the landslide risk. The residents of the farmstead Björg were evacuated by helicopter after landslides cut off the roads. The heavy rain also flooded some 18 houses in Ólafsfjörður, where Search and Rescue crews were at work throughout the weekend pumping water out of basements. The water formed a large lagoon in the town which crews were working to empty yesterday.

Gale-Force Winds, Rain, and Snow Across Iceland Tomorrow

yellow weather warning Icelandic Met Office

While in some countries yellow leaves are a sure sign of autumn, in Iceland the same can be said of yellow weather alerts. A low front will sweep in to the country tomorrow, hitting all regions with strong or even gale-force winds. South and Southeast Iceland, as well as the Faxaflói bay area, will also experience heavy rain tomorrow, while other regions may see precipitation in the form of rain or snow.

Strong gusts of wind are expected across the country tomorrow reaching speeds of up to 25 metres per second in several regions. Gusts will be particularly strong below mountains, making travel hazardous. Precipitation will likely be in the form of snow or sleet on mountain roads.

Residents are advised to secure outdoor furniture and avoid travel if possible. Road conditions are updated regularly on road.is and weather information is available on the Icelandic Met Office website. Weather should improve by Tuesday evening in the west and Wednesday morning in the east of the country.