Visiting Iceland is a good idea no matter the season or the weather, but summer is arguably the brightest and best time to visit. Sure, we do have ice caves, glacier hiking, dog sledding and the Northern Lights during winter time, but we do summer even better with longer days, warmer nights and an endless list of things to do around the country.
Icelanders are so excited about summer that we celebrate 'The First Day of Summer' or Sumardagurinn fyrsti in April, even though it may be snowing and freezing cold that day. According to the old Icelandic calendar, the year was divided into only two seasons, summer and winter, with the first Thursday after 18 April marking the point where summer begins. This day is still a public holiday, celebrated with colourful parades and a loud 'Gleðilegt sumar!' (Happy summer!) greeting.
So get excited for the season with our comprehensive roundup of fun activities for the summer in Iceland, including the midnight sun, puffins, natural pools and hidden gems.
This is a list of our top 10 things to do in Iceland in summer in celebration of brighter days.
1. Make the most of the midnight sun
The long days and nights make it easier to stay up late, see more and do more! Due to Iceland’s northerly latitude, the sun doesn’t really set during the height of summer, especially in the north. Imagine walking along a fjord and watching the sun merely touch the surface of the water before rising up again – a moment not soon forgotten.
2. Explore the highlands
Iceland's rugged interior is only open for traffic during the summer months with some areas not opening until July. The stark landscape can seem almost otherworldly and is certainly worth the detour. Some of our favourite Highland locations include the colourful mountains of Landmannalaugar in the south and Kerlingarfjöll in the central highlands, the geothermal crater lake Víti in Askja Caldera in the northeast (pictured), Lakagígar craters in the southeast and the natural hot river at Hveravellir on the ancient highland route Kjölur - which once helped outlaws to stay warm!
Remember to check road and weather conditions before heading into the highlands and note that some areas require a 4x4 vehicle.
3. See puffins
Iceland is home to one of the world's largest puffin colonies and these charismatic creatures are certainly worth looking out for. The puffins arrive in April and depart in August and can be seen around the coast during this period. Some of the best places for bird watching are Cape Dyrhólaey in the south, Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) off the South Coast and Látrabjarg Cliff in the Westfjords.
4. Celebrate with the locals
Summer is a festival season and not a week goes by without some kind of village festival going on. Some of our favourites are the National Day celebrated all around Iceland (17 June), The Great Fish Day in Dalvík (August), Bræðslan music festival in East Iceland (July), Bank Holiday weekend in Vestmannaeyjar (August) and Gay Pride and Culture Night in Reykjavík (August). See the Visit Iceland website for more details on each region's events and attractions.
5. Get off the beaten track
Escape the crowds and explore remoter areas such as the Westfjords in summer, when the sometimes craggy roads are easier to navigate and villages spring to life. Some of our favourite spots in the Westfjords are the beach at Rauðasandur, Dynjandi Waterfall, Hornstrandir for hiking, the island of Vigur and the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík. We also recommend a hot spring pool hunt!
6. Pick berries
Berry-picking (Icelandic: berjamór) is a popular past-time amongst Icelanders in late summer (August-mid-September). If you stay in the Icelandic countryside chances are that you will come across some good berry-picking grounds – ask the hosts at your accommodation for tips.
The most common types of wild Icelandic berries are crowberries and the more flavourful bilberries (small blueberries). They are rich in vitamin C and anti-oxidants, pure and healthy, straight from nature. Enjoy eating them as you pick them fresh or later on with some Icelandic skyr (a traditional dairy product), ice-cream (see below) or even bake a blueberry cake like many Icelanders do at this time of year!
7. Swim in the ocean
Who would have thought you could swim in the ocean around Iceland? Well, you can! At the geothermal beach in Nauthólsvík, Reykjavík, hot water is pumped into an enclosed bay keeping it at a comfortable 20°c. There is also a golden beach with a hot tub and playground making this an ideal spot for families with children.
For the more adventurous, sea swimming (in the cold sea) has become a popular past-time in recent years and Iceland is becoming a popular surfing destination as well!
8. Take a hike
Iceland is a paradise for hikers and summer is the best time to explore the country on foot. We are big fans of slow travel and think there is no better way to truly experience the Icelandic landscape.
The opportunities are endless but classic trails to consider if you enjoy some serious hiking include the Laugavegur trail from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk in South Iceland, the shorter Fimmvörðuháls hike between Skógar and Þórsmörk passing the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, the Víknaslóðir (Deserted inlets) trail in the east and Hornstrandir in the Westfjords.
If you prefer something less strenuous we recommend asking the hosts at your accommodation about walking trails in the neighbourhood – you can often find hidden gems such as canyons and waterfalls right behind where you are staying!
9. Stay in a cottage
Travel like the locals do and stay in a self-catering cottage for a few nights. It’s a great, flexible option for those who want to relax and explore an area in more depth and for families with children. Most cottages have a hot tub and barbeque facilities to make the most of the long summer evenings.
10. Eat ice-cream
It may seem odd but Icelanders are crazy about ice-cream! Going on an ‘ice-cream drive’ (Icelandic: ísbíltúr) to the neighbourhood ice-cream shop is a family tradition practiced all year round - but particularly in summer. You can find ice-cream in almost every little shop and petrol station there is, all around the country - the most popular choice being a vanilla flavoured soft-ice cone with a chocolate dip and perhaps some sprinkles.
We also recommend the home-made farmhouse ice-cream which you have to look a bit further for. Make sure to drop by for example, Efstidalur in the south (pictured) and Brunnhóll in the southeast– ice-cream doesn’t get any creamier!
Iceland is a destination for all seasons. However, it is still most popular in summer and for good reason. Convinced yet?
Contact us to create your perfect summer vacation in Iceland or browse our tours, day tours and accommodation for ideas!
Prefer visiting in winter? Check out our top 10 things to do in Iceland in winter.