Iceland Weather, climate and geography
Weather & climate
Best time to visit
Iceland’s climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream. Summers are mild and winters rather cold. The colourful Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are best seen between November and February. In June and July, there are nearly 24 hours of daylight in Reykjavík, while in the northern part of the country the sun barely sets at all.
Winds can be strong and gusty at times and there is the occasional dust storm in the interior. Snow is not as common as the name of the country would seem to suggest and, in any case, does not lie for long in Reykjavík; it is only in northern Iceland that skiing conditions are reasonably certain. However, the weather is very changeable at all times of the year, and in Reykjavík there may be rain, sunshine, drizzle and snow in the same day. The air is clean and free of pollution.
Iceland, one of the most volcanically active countries in the world, is a large island in the North Atlantic close to the Arctic Circle.
The most significant of its seismic features is found at Þingvellir National Park along the Almannagja fault. This rift in the rock shows the direct point on the earth where the Mid-Atlantic Rift runs through the island, where the North American and European tectonic plates are moving apart at an average of 2cm per year. The dramatic valley is clear on the land here, and is also visible in nearby Þingvellir Lake where divers visit the Silfra rift to see the crack between the tectonic plates in more detail.
Equally, volcano tourism is big business, with walking routes near the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, helitours over it and scenic trips to nearby Hekla, its hitherto most famous volcano, all popular.
Five-sixths of Iceland is uninhabited, the population being concentrated on the coast, in the valleys and in the plains of the southwest and southeast of the country. More than half the population lives in or around Reykjavík, the capital. Akureyri in the north is the country’s second city.
The whole of the central highland plateau of the island is a beautiful but barren and uninhabitable moonscape – so much so that the first American astronauts were sent there for pre-mission training.
Eleven percent of the island is covered by three large glaciers. Iceland’s highest and most extensive glacier is Vatnajökull; at 8,500 sq km (3,280 sq miles), it is the largest in Europe, although it is now reported to be melting. Vatnajökull National Park, established in 2008, is Europe’s largest national park, encompassing its namesake glacier as well as volcanoes, waterfalls and wetlands.
There are several smaller glaciers in the country, including Snaefellsjokull, visible from Reykjavík, which sits atop an ancient cone volcano and was the setting for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Only 1% of the land in Iceland is cultivated, with 20% used for grazing sheep, Icelandic horses and cattle.