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 the Icelandic Summer

Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.

Summer in Iceland can be the best thing ever, with beautiful, not-too-cold sunny days and endless bright nights. But it can also be quite rainy, somewhat foggy, a bit windy, or even all of those in the span of 24 hours. So, how do you know what to wear for your summer trip to Iceland? Well, it depends on where you‘re going and what you‘re doing. If glacier trips and hikes in the Highland are on the itinerary, the things in your suitcase will be slightly different from what you might pack for a city trip in Reykjavík. Let‘s take a look at some of our best packing advice.

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic summer

One might assume that it‘s always cold in Iceland, and while that is somewhat true, it‘s not freezing cold all year around. In the summer season, typically considered to last from late May/early June through August, temperatures will likely be in the 8-15°C [46-59°F] range. Depending on other weather factors, such as wind and sun, these might feel both warmer and cooler. This is why the key to dressing successfully here in Iceland is layers.

For the upper half, have something sleeveless or thin as your baselayer, add a thicker jumper or cardigan, and finally, a jacket or coat, ideally water and wind-resistant. This way, you can easily adjust to circumstances. For the lower half, bring pants or tights. If the forecast looks good, you might want to bring shorts, and if the forecast looks particularly rainy, water resistant overtrousers. For footwear, bring both lighter shoes, such as sandals or sneakers, and some that are slightly more waterproof. For those who tend to feel easily cold, pack a pair of thin mittens and something to cover your ears.

Adventure add-ins

If your plan is to venture far out into nature or up to the Highland, there are some additional things that you should or might want to pack. Thermal underwear is the first on that list, followed by a warm sweater, preferably made of wool, as that will keep you warm even if caught in a downpour. Stay away from cotton clothes, which will get very cold when wet. A water and wind-resistant jacket and overtrousers are essential, as well as waterproof hiking shoes. Throw in a pair of mittens, a hat or headband and some extra socks as well. 

Additional items that might come in handy

As you might have heard, the water in Iceland is exceptional and drinkable no matter where you are. Bring your refillable water bottle to avoid buying bottled water at the store. In terms of enjoying the water, pack your bathing suit to enjoy Iceland’s geothermal baths and natural hot springs! You should also pack sunscreen, particularly if you‘re going to spend time on a glacier or by the sea, as the sun reflects in the snow and water, increasing your exposure to UV radiation. Lastly, you might consider bringing insect repellent spray, as the Icelandic summer comes with midges, a tiny species of flies that bite. They tend to be in areas where trees or other things offer a shield from the wind. The midges are not dangerous, but you might experience slight swelling and itching if you’re sensitive.

Iceland 101: All the Basic Facts You Need to Know

Akureyri sign post.

Planning a trip to Iceland? Here are some interesting facts and essential information to read before you arrive.

How big is Iceland, and who lives there?

The surface area of Iceland is 103,001 square kilometres [39,769 square miles], and the total population is just under 400,000, with most people living in and around Reykjavík. For the longest time, most people living in Iceland were natives, but in the past two decades, the foreign-born population has grown immensely and is now about 18% of the total. The language spoken is Icelandic, but most people speak English relatively well. 

The Icelandic climate

The climate in Iceland is temperate, meaning that, for the most part, swings in temperature are not huge. In fact, the most reliable thing about the weather here is the cool temperatures. The lowest temperature in Reykjavík during winter is usually -10°C [14°F], and only on rare occasions does it go higher than 20°C [68°F] during summer. For other parts of the country, the average temperature is slightly lower.

In terms of other weather factors, Iceland has it all. If you’re lucky, you might even get the whole spectrum in the span of 24 hours. The weather patterns can be unpredictable, but you can expect to encounter strong winds and storms in fall and winter, along with any form of precipitation. From April and throughout August, storms are considerably less likely to occur, but rain is common. That’s not to say the sun never comes out or the wind never stops, but be prepared by bringing the right clothes!

The power of Icelandic water

Iceland is known for its exceptional quality of water, which you can drink from the tap everywhere you go. In most places, it’s even safe to drink straight from the country’s many springs and rivers. Bring your refillable bottle to avoid spending money on overly expensive bottled water. 

The vast amount of running water has also enabled us to generate significant amounts of electricity, powering the country with green energy all year round. There’s plenty of hot water going around as well, so much so that 90% of Icelandic houses are heated with geothermal energy. The energy is both cheap and renewable, which is why most Icelanders have their radiators on full blast when it’s cold.

The Icelandic currency

Iceland is one of the world’s smallest countries with its own currency: The Icelandic Króna, ISK. Businesses do not accept cash from other countries, but most accept card payments if you don’t want to carry cash. You could almost call that the Icelandic way, as many Icelanders pay solely with their cards, phones or smartwatches. 

Weather warnings and road conditions 

One of the most incredible things about Iceland is its marvellous nature, and we highly recommend exploring it. Whether it’s a trip to the Highland, a short hike, or a tour of one of our glaciers, be sure to bring all the essentials, such as good walking shoes, food, and fluids, as well as warm layers of clothing that you can take off or put on according to the situation. Circumstances, especially the weather, might not be what you’re used to. If travelling outside the capital area, check for weather warnings at the Icelandic Met Office, and the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (vegagerðin) for road conditions.

Medical assistance for tourists in Iceland

You can seek medical attention at the nearest health care centre (heilsugæsla). You can also call 1700, a 24/7 medical advice line, or use the Heilsuvera online chat, open 8am-10pm. In case of emergencies, the number to call is 112. Those with the European Health Insurance Card will be charged the same fee as persons insured in Iceland, but necessary documents must be presented. Others will be charged in full. 

Weather Warnings in Several Regions

The Icelandic Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning for four regions in the country: the Westfjords, the North West region, the Eastern coastal areas and the East fjords.

In all four areas, windy and snowy conditions are expected today. “It has snowed and will snow in cold air with light snow which blows easily and reduces visibility,” the Met Office warns. Road conditions in these regions are deteriorating and travellers are advised to show caution and keep on monitoring weather and avalanche forecasts. The severe weather conditions are expected to last until tonight.

The Met Office has also updated its avalanche bulletin, since considerable new snow has accumulated in Tröllaskagi peninsula in North Iceland, in the past hours. There is now “considerable danger” of avalanches in the area, which corresponds to an orange warning on the avalanche danger scale. RÚV has reported that the road through Víkurskarð has been closed due to danger of avalanches.

Temperatures are below zero in all regions, including the capital area. Warmer weather is expected on New Year’s Eve, with an increased chance of precipitation in the capital.

Risk Assessment to Be Conducted at Reynisfjara

The dangerous Reynisfjara beach will see a risk assessment conducted by the government. Reynisfjara is a popular travel destination nearby Vík in South Iceland. It has an immensely strong undertow, and waves that creep quickly upon travellers, threatening to snatch travellers out to sea. The risk evaluation will focus on both the strong tide as well as rockfall in the area. If the changes go through, the police will have the option to close the beach on dangerous days. A warning mast is also to be placed at the beach.

Three traveller deaths

Reynisfjara has claimed three lives since 2007, with many more close calls. The area is clearly marked with warning signs, and tour guides place great emphasis on safety in the area. This week, a number of travellers were swept into the water. The tide has also pinned travellers down in a small cave in the area.

Minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir leads the project, which will be performed by the police in South Iceland. The police intend to work alongside the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, The Icelandic Met Office and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

“It’s unacceptable that there’s a risk of a massive accident in one of the most popular tourist locations in the country, without the necessary arrangements in place. Certain improvements have been made, but the responsibility for the case is complicated as well as the fact that travellers often ignore warnings, putting themselves at great risk. This is why we recommend that a risk evaluation be performed and, based on that, the police can close the area when needed, which should in all likelihood not be more than five to seven days per year,” said Minister Þórdís Kolbrún.

Possible closures

The closures on the beach would prevent further accidents. It is expected that they would take place in extreme weather, with a strong tide, between November to March. A wave prediction system, as well as an alert system, will be placed in Reynisfjara, which has been in the works since 2017. The Icelandic Tourist Board sanctioned the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration to install the systems. The system is already available at the Icelandic Met Office’s website, and the information can be found on the Safe Travel websites. The project will be completed with the construction of a mast on the beach which will flash a warning light at times of danger. A permit from all of the landowners in the area, which number around 250 in total, is needed for the mast.

The beach is considered one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world, with clear black sand, basalt columns, and the view of the Reynisdrangar rock formation. The beach is a two and half hour drive away from Reykjavík. The sneaker waves in the area pose a danger to travellers, who are advised to stand at least 30 metres away from the waves.

Visit www.safetravel.is for further information regarding travel safety, as well as www.road.is for the newest updates on road conditions.