Due to its position close to the Gulf Stream, Iceland’s coastal climate, classified as sub-polar oceanic, is warmer than might be expected given its latitude. The coasts are ice-free in winter and climatic variations between the different regions depend more on altitude than latitude.
The southern regions are warmer but windier and wetter than the northern expanses, and the Central Highlands are coldest. The low-lying inland areas of the northern regions are the driest in the country, and heavy snowfalls are more common in the north and mountainous interior.
July and August are the warmest months in Iceland, with average highs in the south hovering around 56°F and average lows bottoming out at 46°F. In the north, highs are around the same despite the closeness to the Arctic Circle. Summer is short, usually falling between May and September, and the midnight sun is at its strongest in July and August with around 22 hours of daylight.
In winter, southern average daytime highs rarely fall below freezing between November and March, with lows of around 28°F at night. The northern regions are colder, with average lows of around 22°F between November and May. The long, dark days of winter after the sun drops below the horizon are the best times to view the Aurora Borealis in all its glory.
Iceland is a windy country, with the prevailing easterly gusts strengthened in lowland areas by its topography and with glacial winds in the mountainous regions. Storms are rare and mostly confined to the southern region. A favorite Icelandic saying, ‘if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes,’ exactly describes the changeability of the climate here.
Best Time to Visit Iceland
For the majority of visitors looking to explore the natural wonders of Iceland, the short summer months are the best times to arrive, as many of the attractions and service-providers close by mid-September and don’t reopen until May. Although the Polar Night precludes sightseeing in mid-winter, by February there’s more than three or four hours of daylight a day and flight and hotel room rates are still slashed. March is even better, with bargains still available, although visitors will miss out on the mid-winter splendor of the Northern Lights.