Visiting Iceland is always a good idea – with countless waterfalls, epic hiking, gorgeous glaciers, unique beaches, and let’s not forget, the crazy geothermal activity (hello volcanoes & hot springs)! But, autumn in Iceland is an extra special time. It has lots of bonus benefits you won’t find at other times. Just check out these four reasons to visit Iceland in fall:
Iceland’s shoulder season begins in September, which means prices drop significantly compared to the summer months. Just do a quick search on Icelandair, to see that the difference in round-trip flights from end of August to beginning of September is $200-$300! Plus, there are many special packages you can take advantage of during shoulder season. And it is just as gorgeous (if not more so) at this time of year!
We also saved about $40 per night on our Happy Campers van by picking it up in the beginning of September instead of August. And hotel prices drop too, plus many activities like the Blue Lagoon have lower prices beginning Sept. 1. However, if you are hoping to stay on farms or B&Bs, you will definitely want to check that they are still open since many places shut down after the busy summer season, but most camp sites are still available!
2. More wide open spaces, less crowds
Iceland is becoming more and more popular each month. According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, the number of foreign tourists has more than doubled since 2010, and “approximately 40% of travelers in 2015 came during the three summer months (June–August).”
Since summer can be so hectic with tourists, planning a trip in the shoulder season not only saves money, it saves you the frustration of having to push your way through hoards of other people at popular spots. You may not be the only person, especially at the most popular locations, but you will be way more likely to enjoy some solitude than in peak season.
If you are really craving some time alone in nature, get far away from the city. We went on many hikes and explored multiple waterfalls all by our lonesome because we were in the middle of nowhere. In spring & autumn of 2015, the tourism board reported that around 57% of guests stayed in the capital region/Reykjanes peninsula, compared to 8% in West Iceland/the Westfjords & 6.9% in East Iceland. If weather allows, the Westfjords are definitely your best bet for solitude – we had a hard time finding places to eat it was so empty!
3. Better chance to see Aurora Borealis
Iceland is just outside of the arctic circle – making it a fantastic place to view the northern lights! In the summer, the midnight sun prevents visitors from checking this amazing experience off of their bucket list, but if you’re lucky, you will get a great show during a fall visit.
Sightings often begin in mid-August and the official northern lights season starts in October. During our visit in early September we saw these gorgeous lights 3 times, plus a really short show on the airplane ride there! Of course, winter is the best time for viewing this wonder, but then you have to be cold, so I like fall best.
Dark, clear nights are the best for seeing the northern lights. And the aurora forecast can be helpful to determine your chances of seeing those colorful lights! Plus, patience is key – so don’t give up on your first try. We found that 11pm was the sweet spot, but this phenomenon is very unpredictable.
4. The weather is (usually) just right
Although the temperature begins to drop in September, it is still really comfortable most of the time – albeit a bit windy on occasion. (Full disclosure: the wind was actually kind of crazy during our trip in September, but nothing unbearable). However, Iceland’s weather is very unpredictable all year and there is always a chance of a freak storm as you get closer to winter – so keep that in mind and be flexible with your travel plans in case a road ends up closing (note: this usually doesn’t effect the main Ring Road), and check the weather regularly.
The average highs for September & October range from the mid-to-high 40s (Fahrenheit), with lows getting down to the mid-30s in October. Precipitation is also higher during this time than in summer, but in our experience, it was mostly in the form of fog and drizzle.
Plus, the beautiful Icelandic nature begins to change colors this time of year. And, let’s face it… the black sand beach looks pretty damn majestic on a foggy day.
Are you ready to plan your trip yet? Here are a few tips for making the most of your fall trip to Iceland:
- Always have a jacket & rain gear on hand (for your camera too)
- Don’t be afraid to go exploring on your own – the Ring Road is very drive-able, and most people speak English and are happy to help
- If you are driving the Ring Road, make sure your car rental has unlimited kilometers included (or enough to make it around without extra fees)
- For a better chance of seeing the aurora, get away from city lights (not a hard task in Iceland)
- Grab any alcohol at the duty-free store in the airport before starting on your adventure for even more savings
- If you don’t mind camping, every single campground we went to was very well-kept and beautiful – so this may be another great way to save some $
- You need a credit card with a pin number in order to use many of the gas stations
- If you want to go to the Westfjords, the ferry is a convenient option that gives you a break from driving
- MOST IMPORTANT: Watch out for the sheep! They will run into the road like little fluffy crazies and cause an accident if you aren’t paying attention!
Want more? Read our Iceland travel stories from our fall camper van road trip, including many more photos, details & tips.