We’re Laurence and Jessica, and we’re the travel blogging couple behind the travel blogs Finding the Universe and Independent Travel Cats. Last year we wrote about our experiences travelling in Iceland in Winter with Iceland Travel, which you can see here.
We loved our experience travelling in Iceland in winter, however we also wanted to experience the magic of Iceland in summer. As such, we decided to work with Iceland Travel again, and we put together a summer road trip that covered much more of the country, taking us all the way around the Ring Road, as well as up into the highlands.
In this post, we’re going to share with you our experiences travelling in Iceland in summer, and compare them with our experiences in winter. Hopefully this will give you some idea as to which time of year might be best for you!
Iceland Grand Discovery
The tour we took was the Iceland Grand Discovery tour, which is a 19 day / 18 night self drive tour of Iceland, and also, at time of writing, the longest tour that Iceland Travel offers.
We chose this tour because it covered pretty much the entirety of the country, largely following the Iceland Ring road. This meant we were going to be able to visit nearly everywhere that we wanted to in Iceland. This included the Westfjords, east Iceland, and north Iceland. We were also able to revisit some of the locations from our winter trip, to see how they differed in summer.
Of course, you don’t have to commit to a 19 day trip to see a lot of Iceland! Iceland Travel have a wide variety of trips, both self-drive road-trips and guided group tours. For summer in particular, there’s a great choice of tours that span the whole country, such as this 9 day express tour of the Ring Road. If you have less time than that, our suggestion would be to focus on a region, taking a tour like this 5 day tour of the south coast.
As mentioned, Iceland Travel offer a variety of styles of tour, including group tours, day trips, and self-drive road trips like the one we took.
We opted again for a self-drive trip because we love the flexibility of this kind of tour – we get to stop where and when we want to take photos and we could add and remove things from the itinerary. We also appreciated that Iceland Travel handled all the logistics for us, like booking our car hire and hotels.
There were some other advantages to travelling with Iceland Travel. We loved the fact that our tour came with a tablet which was preloaded with the Iceland Travel companion app. This had a detailed day by day break down of our itinerary, a GPS for navigation, our hotel details, as well as a map that was loaded with all the attractions we might want to see along the route – perfect for finding adventures as we went!
Now, let’s take a look at some of the advantages of travelling in Iceland in summer
Reasons We Wanted to Travel in Summer with Iceland Travel
To see more of the country
One of the main reasons we wanted to visit Iceland in summer was to see more of the country. Travelling in summer offered us two major advantages over travelling in winter – first, there is a lot more light in summer, so you can cover more ground and pack more into each day.
Second, much more of the country is actually accessible. In winter, many of the roads, especially in the highland areas, are closed due to snow. So if you want to see some of the wilder interior of Iceland without taking a specialist tour, summer is the time to come.
To experience a different season in Iceland
On our trip to Iceland in winter the country was largely blanketed in snow. The scenery was spectacular, with white landscapes and frozen waterfalls.
However, we wanted to know what the same landscapes would look like without their winter coats on. Iceland can be a lush green place in the summer, and we wanted to see what those spectacular landscapes looked like with some sunshine and greenery!
Summer Specific Activities
Just as there are some activities that you can only do in winter in Iceland, like seeing the Northern Lights, there are other activities that you can only do in summer. This makes visiting the country at different times of year interesting as you are always going to have new experiences.
One of the things we loved about visiting Iceland in summer was all the options it gave us for wildlife viewing in particular. Did you know for example there there are millions of breeding pairs of Puffins in Iceland? You can find them in a number of locations all around the country, with May to August being the best time to see them.
We also saw arctic foxes in the wild, went on a whale watching tour where we saw a whale breach right by our boat, and saw lots of other bird species that you would not otherwise see.
There are lots of other activities that are specific to summer in Iceland, including hikes and activities like horse riding that are either dangerous or not available in the winter months.
For the midnight sun
One of the popular reasons to visit Iceland in summer is to experience the midnight sun. This is the phenomenon where it never gets fully dark, and is most apparent during the time of the summer solstice, on June 21st. However, you can experience very long days and almost continuous sunlight from around the end of May until the end of July.
Neither Jess or I had ever experienced anything like this before, and we were excited for our first time!
The Tour We Took
Our summer tour was the Iceland Grand Discovery tour. This is a self-drive road trip with an itinerary that spans the whole country, from the Golden Circle and south coast, through to the Westfjords, Lake Myvatn area in the north, and the east coast.
There were many highlights on this trip – far too many to go into (it was nearly three weeks of amazing adventures!).
Some of our favourite experiences though were seeing puffins in Borgarfjordur, whale watching off the north coast, exploring some of Iceland’s Game of Thrones filming locations around Lake Myvatn, and having the chance to explore the incredible Westfjords.
The Westfjords are the oldest part of Iceland, and the landscape here is truly different to the rest of the country, more reminiscent of Norway’s coastline in fact that what you will have experience elsewhere in Iceland. It’s also home to the massive multi-tiered Dynjandi, one of our favourite waterfalls in Iceland, as well as the largest sea cliffs in Europe.
Suffice to say, we certainly filled our time exploring Iceland on our summer road trip.
Alternatives to Self-Drive Travel in Iceland
In summer, driving in Iceland is definitely easier than in winter – there’s much reduced chance of snow and ice, and there’s much more daylight so you don’t have to worry so much about driving in the dark.
Of course, we appreciate that not everyone will want to drive in Iceland anyway – don’t worry, there are a few options for you!
The easiest option if you want to see the whole country is to take a guided tour. Iceland Travel has a number of these.
If you want to cover the ring road, the best tour would be the 9 day Iceland Complete tour. Two other options you might also consider, which get a bit more off the beaten track and up into the highland wilderness are the Across the Wilderness tour and the Highlands and Hidden Gems tour.
Another option is to base yourself in one or more of Iceland’s cities and towns, and take day trips from these. Our suggestion would be to start in Reykjavik, from which there are many day trips. You can then easily fly to Akureyri, from where there are also day tours. If you want to explore the Westfjords as well, there’s an airport in Ísafjörður, and from here you can do activities like sea kayaking.
Did we enjoy our Summer self-drive trip in Iceland?
As should hopefully be apparent from this post so far, the answer to this question is a firm yes.
Let me elaborate why we enjoyed travelling in summer, and compare that experience to our winter trip.
When we first starting planning our trips to Iceland, one of the reasons we chose to visit Iceland in winter was because this time of year is generally said to be a bit less busy with visitors.
However, whilst there might be less visitors overall in winter, this isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
You see, there are far fewer hours of daylight in winter. In addition, much less of the country is accessible, meaning the majority of visitors in winter will be visiting the south coast area, specifically the stretch from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, including the golden circle.
When you combine the shorter hours of daylight and the higher concentration of visitors in this smaller area, our actual experience was that visiting Iceland in summer wasn’t significantly busier than visiting Iceland in winter.
Yes, the major sights along the south coast and golden circle were busier – however, we could often offset this by planning our schedule to visit these attractions either later or earlier due to the extended daylight hours.
In addition, once we left the south coast and started to head up the east coast, there were far fewer people. Even in summer, there are huge areas of Iceland where it’s easy to get off the beaten track and have locations all to yourself, or with just a few other people. East Iceland and the Westfjords in particular are perfect if you’re searching for a quieter travel experience.
Weather during summer
In terms of the weather, certainly, summer was a lot better than winter in terms of temperatures. However, Iceland is a northerly country, and it never gets exactly hot. Rain is also possible at any time of year, and we did experience a lot of rainy, grey days. This didn’t put us off, but it’s important to plan what to pack for Iceland accordingly, whether you are visiting in summer or winter.
We also appreciated seeing some of the attractions we’d seen before in summer scenery. Landscapes were green rather than snow covered, and seeing places like Kirkjufellsfoss and Gullfoss in summer was a completely different experience to winter.
So which should you choose? To be honest, I think you will have a fantastic time whenever you visit Iceland. If you want to see more of the country, as well as see specific wildlife like puffins, then you should probably plan to visit in summer. If it’s the northern lights you’re after, you’ll want to visit between late September and early March.
But whenever you visit, we’re sure you’ll have a memorable trip, like we did!