Though Iceland is famous for the spectacular Northern Lights, which are best viewed in the dark winter months, Iceland in the summer is also a fantastic time to visit the country. From the novelty of the midnight sun, to outdoor adventure free from the obstacles of snow and ice, to wildlife encounters with whale species and adorable puffins – Iceland in June, July and August have a lot to offer summer travelers.
Here, we’ve compiled some of the best things to do in Iceland in the summer, to give you some ideas of the various ways to explore the country when the weather is warm, clear and sunny, to help you better plan your summery Iceland trip.
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How to Prepare for Summer in Iceland
First of all, you need to know what Iceland is like in the summer months. Obviously, temperatures are warmer than winter, but you can still expect cooler temperatures than you may be used to for June to August, with averages of 10 degrees Celsius and highs of 20 degrees Celsius.
In terms of packing, you can likely leave your shorts and t-shirts at home and opt for warm layers that you can add or take away, depending on the weather conditions during your stay – after all, you may still encounter some cold and windy days too.
But, don’t forget your bathing suit – the toasty geothermal pools are where both visitors and locals love to spend their time in the summer.
Things to Do in Iceland in the Summer
1. Swim in a Geothermal Pool in Iceland in the Summer
Warm geothermal pools are a must-visit when in Iceland, no matter the season. There are many such pools in the capital city of Reykjavik alone, varying in size and age, so there’s plenty of choice. Here are just a few of the most recommended to enjoy:
- Sundhöllin – Opened in 1937, this is the capital’s most historic swimming pool. Most of Reykjavik’s swimming pools are al fresco, but Sundhöllin also has an indoor pool, along with diving boards (only open on weekends), a 25-meter lap pool for exercise, a hot tub with Jacuzzi jets, an outdoor sauna and some outdoor pools too.
- Árbæjarlaug – Possibly one of the most visually impressive of Reykjavik’s swimming pools, Árbæjarlaug offers sweeping views of the Elliðarárdalur Valley. The indoor and outdoor pools are connected via a solarium that opens to the outside. There’s also a water fountain, a hot tub area, a children’s pool and a slide too.
- Lágafellslaug – If you’re traveling with young children then Lágafellslaug is the swimming pool for you, located just outside of Reykjavik in a town called Mosfellsbær. The tiles are soft, which is ideal for kids running around, and there are also some slides, an indoor pool, shallow pools, a cold bath and a Finnish sauna.
- Vesturbæjarlaug – For a more local experience, try Vesturbæjarlaug, which is a favorite among Reykjavik residents. There’s a large outdoor pool, four hot tubs, a cold tub and a steam room too.
Swimming Pool Etiquette in Iceland
The amount of chlorine in swimming pools in Iceland is very low, so it is expected that bathers shower naked with soap before putting on their swimsuit (don’t worry – everyone is in the same boat and no one is looking at each other).
Swimming pools are actually open all year round, as locals do not limit themselves to just summer bathing. A dip in a warm heated pool is a national pastime and groups come here to relax, socialize and discuss anything from business to the weather.
Natural Hot Spring Pools in Iceland in the Summer
Of course, Iceland’s volcanic landscape also accounts for plenty of natural hot springs around the country, should you wish to take a dip in a more authentic setting – and many are at the perfect temperature for bathing all year long (between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius).
- Landbrotalaug – 90-minute drive from Reykyavik, free to visit, but limited space (best to visit very early or late, or in low season).
- Reykjadalur – A 30-minute drive from Reykjavik, then a scenic hour’s hike to get to the hot springs. Free to visit and the pools get hotter the higher up they are.
- Gamla Laugin – 90-minute drive from Reykjavik, the name of this pool is “The Old Swimming Pool” exactly because it’s believed to be the oldest swimming pool in the country (people reportedly started bathing here in 1891). Entrance fee is ISK2,800 and there’s also a river and some geysers nearby.
If you can’t make a choice, then there are options for hot springs tours, where you can visit some of the best in one loop with a guide.
2. Go Camping in Iceland in the Summer
Get out of the city and into Iceland’s famous countryside with a camping excursion.
During the summer months, there is very limited darkness as the country lies so high up in the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore, you can enjoy the peaceful surroundings at your leisure without having to worry about beating the sunset to get the tent up, or if things go bump in the dark night!
Here are a few of the most recommended campsites:
- Skaftafell – Located in Vatnajökull National Park, there’s a Visitor Centre, café, shop, showers, phone booth and computers with Internet access, plus free WiFi.
- Úlfljótsvatn – Not too far from Reykjavik, on the south banks of Lake Þingvallavatn, a stay here also includes fishing! There are boats available to rent on the weekends, as well as BBQ facilities.
- Húsafell – One of the country’s most popular camping sites, Húsafell is very social and a great place to meet and socialize with other travelers and camping locals too. The campsite has comprehensive facilities, including a swimming pool. Every Saturday night during summer there’s a camp fire and everyone camping can come to join.
3. Explore the Great Outdoors in Iceland in the Summer
Iceland’s wondrous natural landscapes are stunning when coated in glistening snow and ice during the winter months, but during the summer the mountains turn to rich greens, and there are colourful bursts of wild flowers too.
What better way to traverse the country’s magnificent outback than on foot, as there are limitless hikes that you can do, depending on fitness level, what sights you’d like to see, and how long you’d like to hike for. Here are just a few of the most famous:
- Laugavegur – One of the country’s most beloved hikes, the 55-kilometer Laugavegur trek takes around four days to complete (if hiking for around four to seven hours each day). The name means “Hot Spring Route” and the route winds through the geothermally active Landmannalaugar Valley, so there’s plenty of opportunities to stop for a dip to rest weary muscles.
- Fimmvörduháls – Another of Iceland’s best-known hiking trails, the 25-kilometer Fimmvörduháls trek takes one or two days to complete, depending on your fitness level. The route starts at the top of the Skógafoss waterfall and meets many other cascades as it meanders through the mountains.
- Laugavegur & Fimmvörduháls – If you’re feeling very fit and up for a challenge, then these two hikes can be combined (National Geographic has listed this combo as one of the world’s best hiking trails). With a length of 77 kilometers, there’s a lot of climbing, with a maximum ascent of 800 meters – which equates to approximately six days with four to seven hours of hiking each day, but the views and the experience are completely worth it.
Other Outdoor Activities in Iceland in the Summer
Of course, Iceland’s endless natural beauty can be experienced in a multitude of ways and if you’re not much of a hiker, then are plenty of other adventurous activities to choose from. Go caving through caverns made of lava and ice, ride on horseback – a unique experience as Icelandic horses are a completely unique breed, river raft down the rapids of Iceland’s inland waterways, snorkel or dive between two tectonic plates, or sail on the iceberg-strewn waters of Lake Jökulsárlón.
4. Take a Road Trip in Iceland in the Summer
Summer is the best time to take a road trip around the country, as the roads are clear and in great condition – without the challenges of snow blocks or ice. This also offers a great opportunity to see more off-the-beaten track places such as the Highlands and with so much natural beauty to offer, you’ll have the freedom to enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes when you have your own set of wheels.
Some of the most popular road trips to take in Iceland in the summer are the Golden Circle (Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss waterfall – all three of which can be comfortably visited within a day trip from Reykjavik) and around the south coast of the country.
5. Go Whale Watching in Iceland in the Summer
Various species of whale and dolphin can be seen in the waters around Iceland, roughly between April and October, though the summer months of June, July and August offer the best sightings. Here are a few types of whales you can encounter on a whale-watching excursion:
- Minke whales – Measure up to 11 meters and weigh up to 10 tons. This is the most common whale found in Icelandic waters (and also the most abundant whale species on the planet), so you’re most likely to encounter these creatures on your whale-watching tour, whether you depart from the north or south of the country. Minke whales linger past the summer months, so they can be seen on whale-watching tours all year round. They can be a little shy though.
- Humpback whales – Measure up to 18.5 meters and weigh up to 40 tons. Humpbacks are considered the attention-seekers of the whale world, which means they can be one of the most exciting whale species to encounter. They love to breach, slap their tails and flukes in diva-esque acrobatic behavior. (Note that humpbacks are more often seen on whale-watching tours from the north, rather than Reykjavik.)
- Blue whales – The largest known animal on the planet, blue whales are the giants of the sea and encountering one is a humbling experience. A fully-grown adult can measure to 33 meters and weigh up to 200 tons. Though blue whales are not as commonly spotted around Iceland as minke or humpback whales, among other whale and dolphin species, there is still a chance.
- Killer whales (orcas) – Killer whales are actually part of the dolphin family; they measure up to 10 meters and weigh up to 9 tons. An orca sighting is not guaranteed on a whale watching tour, but they are most likely to be seen from Snaefellsnes in the west of Iceland.
The above list is by no means extensive as there are reportedly more than 85 different whale and dolphin species that have been found in the waves surrounding Iceland, including sperm whales, pilot whales, harbour porpoise, white-beaked dolphin, and many more.
There is no “best time of day” to see whales and it’s highly unlikely that you won’t spot any during a whale watching tour. If you are unfortunate, however, you will often be offered a second tour for free – so make sure to schedule in whale-watching during the first half of your trip, just in case.
Whaling in Iceland in the Summer
Whales were traditionally hunted in Icelandic culture, with whaling in the region dating back to 875 AD. However, in recent times whaling is seen as unnecessary (though still takes place) and the cetaceans are prized more for the income they provide in tourism.
Other Wildlife Encounters in Iceland in the Summer
Another great animal-watching activity in Iceland is birdwatching for adorable puffins! Puffins are the national bird of Iceland and, like whales, the best months to see them are between April and September, though the summer months are the peak times.
You might be able to spot nesting puffins along Iceland’s coastline, but be sure to act responsibly if you do meet a puffin colony and don’t disturb the animals. There are puffin-watching boat tours available, but one of the best areas to birdwatch on land is at Látrabjarg in the Westfjords, where you can also spot other bird species, such as guillemots, northern gannets, auks and razorbills.
More Things to Do in Iceland in the Summer
So, what do you make of this list of ideas for activities in Iceland during June, July, and August? Have you traveled to Iceland during the summer and have some recommendations or suggestions? Let us know in the comments and we hope this guide has helped you plan your summertime trip to Iceland.