Why Iceland in May is the best time to visit

15 Things to do in Iceland in May

Visiting Iceland in May – Iceland has been gaining in popularity as a tourist destination for the past few years, with more and more people visiting the country for the unique natural wonders, road trips, and ample things to see and do.

Iceland in May

So when should you plan your trip to Iceland?  This is your guide to May in Iceland – what the weather will be like and what to do.  Read everything you need to know about visiting this beautiful country and chasing the midnight sun.

Iceland Weather in May – what to expect from Iceland in May weather

Iceland weather in May is perfect as it is still “off-season” and the days are getting longer. Iceland in May weather is great for exploring Iceland’s outdoor and natural wonders, of countryside locations, hiking, seeing animals in their natural habitats or just walking around Reykjavik.

One of the most important things to buy for your trip to Iceland is a great pair of hiking boots.  Check out my post on the best hiking boots for Iceland.

Iceland Golden Circle landscape

Iceland Temperature in May

Iceland is a great destination to visit any time of the year, but May is one of the best times to visit with the temperature rising to a 5C (41F) and the high temperature has been known to reach anywhere between 12 (50F).

Don’t be put off by the temperature ranging from 41-50 degrees Fahrenheit.  It will be calm and there will not be any wind.  If camping is you’re thing, then from May onward it is warm enough to take around and camp overnight.

If driving, it is safer to be driving around Iceland in May than the winter months and many roads which are close during winter have reopened, allowing access to closed off areas again.

Can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland in May?

No, you are not about to see the Northern Lights in May.  If you want to see the Northern Lights, Iceland may have a few auroras early in the month.

What should you pack for Iceland May weather?

What to wear to Iceland in May?  Layers.  It ranges from 40-50 degrees.  I have worn everything from a t-shirt to a puffy winter jacket.  The idea with layers is that you are able to take something off if you are too hot or you are able to add something if you are too cold.  The weather in Iceland in May can be a bit all over the place.

16 Things to do in Iceland in May – What to do in Iceland in May

1) Visit Reykjavik in May

Reykjavik is Iceland’s largest and capital city. Reykjavik is also the most northern capital city in the world, is located just 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle. There is always something to do, but especially in May!

reykjavik weather april

Things to do in Reykjavik in May:

Food Tasting Tour: experience Icelandic food with a half-day 4-hour walking tourOpens in a new tab. through the capital with a local visiting 13 different local dishes.  Or you could check out this popular beer tourOpens in a new tab..

Puffin Season: over half of the world population of Puffins are located in Iceland, and Reykjavik is also known as the capital of puffins. April is the beginning of the puffin season where they come to land to breed and are most likely to be seen by tourists and locals!  

Hot Springs: hot springs are a very big tourist attraction for Iceland, so no surprise that there are many to choose from around Reykjavik. The most popular and widely known hot spring is the Blue Lagoon. Although not close to the Reykjavik city center, located just less than an hour out, it makes for a perfect day trip – and one you won’t forget!

Bike Riding: bike riding and bike tours are actually quite popular in Reykavik and due to the warmer weather and less rain and snow in May, this calls for a great time to hire a bike and tour the city.

Whale Watching Tour: Iceland is one of the best locations in the world to go whale watching. This is due to the large variety of marine life in the Icelandic oceans. The summer months are the best time to go whale watching as over 20 species of whales can be seen in the waters. May is the beginning of summer in Iceland, making it a great time to go on a whale watching tour!

2) Hiking To Waterfalls – This is one of the best things to do in Iceland in May

After all the snow from winter has begun to melt Iceland’s waterfalls come back to life, or flow a lot fast than they usually would in the winter months, allowing for better viewing and hiking to locations which cannot be accessed during the winter months, due to snowfall.

Kirkjufell Waterfall in Iceland
Kirkjufell Waterfall

Iceland’s tallest waterfall is Glymur, which stands at 198 m tall and is hidden a cave, just one hour northeast just outside Reykjavik. The hike to the waterfall can be reached from a dirt road which ends at a parking lot, and the hike is approximately 5.5 km round trip, passing by incredible views, a lava cave, a river, and a narrow canyon along the way.

Dettifoss referred to as Europe’s most powerful waterfall and from the visitor’s center, you can take a short hike to another equally as beautiful waterfall called Selfoss. If you wish to extend this hike further you can also experience the countryside trails and another waterfall called Hafragilsfoss, which extends the hike to 12 km in each direction. This can be a great day out excursion from the city, to experience the nature and wonder of the country.

Skogafoss is Iceland’s largest waterfall reaching 60 m tall and 25 m wide. A slight detour off Route 1 will place you in a carpark where you can see the falls and for those who want to get a better view you can climb the steps to the left side of the falls a climb to the top. From this carpark, you can also start the Fimmvörðuhálshike, which is a 25 km trail stretching to Thórsmörk, for those experienced hikers as parts of the trail can be challenging. The trail passes by 26 waterfalls on a section of the trail named “waterfall way”.

Hengifoss is Iceland’s third largest waterfall at 128 m high. The waterfall is located just off Route 1 close to Egilsstaðir, from here you can take a 5 km hike both there and back to see the falls.

Other waterfalls in Iceland which are worth visiting are Kirkjufellsfoss, which is best visited during the midnight sun to experience the beautiful colors against the nearby mountains in the background.

The Bruarfoss falls are a series of small waterfalls (over 1,000) which join together to make runlets and are often a bright blue color. Aldeyjarfoss is a waterfall which is a contrast in colors between whites and blues.

3) The Golden Circle – a top thing to do in Iceland in May

The Golden Circle Iceland is a road trip route around the southern part of the island, making it an ideal day trip or weekend slow trip from Reykjavik.

Iceland in June

Not to be confused with the Ring Road around Iceland, the golden circle route is 237 km long and covers dynamic and beautiful landscapes, including Gullfoss waterfall, Geycir Geothermal Field, and the Thinguellir National Park.

But if it’s your first trip to Iceland, you may be wondering, “What is the Golden Circle in Iceland?”  This iconic Iceland itinerary is one of the most popular routes used to experience the magnificent beauty of this enchanting island. This is the one I took around the Golden CircleOpens in a new tab..  

4) Go Horseback Riding

Icelandic Horses are a breed of horse developed in Iceland.  They are a small horse and often referred to as Icelandic ponies.  You can see them along the roadside throughout Iceland.

Icelandic Horses

Horseback riding is a popular activity in Iceland, especially as Iceland’s horses are well known for being reliable, intelligent, and friendly. Horseback riding in Iceland is an animal lovers dream activity, with a large number of companies offering tours and trips all over the country.

Horseback riding is a perfect way to experience and explore the Icelandic countryside. The lush ambiance and being close to nature, while exploring and discovering places many people will not see in cars or will just pass by without realizing.

Horseback ring tours or trails can be taken all over the country depending on what you want to explore and experience, in a specific area. The longer hours of daylight also allow for more time to go horseback riding without worrying about getting back before nightfall.

horse riding tourOpens in a new tab. will take you through fields with beautiful landscapes on these truly magnificent creatures unique to anywhere else on what will truly be a wonderful and unique experience to Iceland. 

5) Snorkeling or Diving In Silfra Fissure

Snorkeling or diving in Silfra Fissure is a must do for any trip to Iceland, if you can already dive it is a great way to explore, if not you can still get a feel for the water and area by snorkeling.

Snorkelling Silfra Fissure in Iceland in June

Silfra Fissure is one of the most unique diving and bodies of water in the world. It is located across both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, this is the only area where you can dive, swim or snorkel anywhere like this.

Silfra Fissure has the clearest and purest water in the world, with visibility of up to 120 m, giving you ample things to see and explore including rock formations, and caves. Beware that even during summer months the water is very cold (2C) and diving is predominantly done wearing a dry suit.

I went with this companyOpens in a new tab. and loved it.  You can also check out my post on the best snorkel masksOpens in a new tab. for travel.

6) Visit The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon might be one of the most famous geothermal spas in the world, with large numbers of visitors getting in the waters each year.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

While you can visit the Blue Lagoon all year round the opening hours are extended in the summer months and it is less crowded the closer you get to closing time.

The Blue Lagoon has become so popular that you now have to book online in advance to visit.  You can no longer just show up and go in.

The Blue Lagoon is full of a white mud called Silica that you can use to put on your skin.  The minerals are known to be great for your skin and even make you look rejuvenated – perfect for that jet lagged skin!

The Blue Lagoon is one of the biggest tourist attractions, hence, it is a highly recommended activity to do on any trip to Iceland.  I also recommend buying your ticketOpens in a new tab. in advance so you do not miss out!

7) Visit The Puffins

During the spring and summer months and specifically between mid-May and mid-August, puffins migrate to the coastal regions of Iceland.  Iceland has the largest population of puffins and you can see them in quite a few places.

Puffins can be seen in Iceland in June
Puffins can be seen in Iceland in June

The best spots to see puffins are Vestmannaeyjar, Luney-Akurey, Látrabjarg, VigurIsland, Dyrhólaey, Papey, Tjörnes, and Grímsey. Puffins are not limited to these locations but these are some of the best places to see them.

May is the perfect time to see Puffins nesting in their natural habitat, and you can take a tour to explore and watch the puffins live their daily lives.

READ MORE: Where to see Puffins in Iceland

8) Chase The Midnight Sun

Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle gives it a winter and summer solstice. During the winter months on the shortest day, the sun rises at 11:30am and sets at 3:30pm. In the summer solstice the sunsets after midnight and rises before 3am.

During May, the sun will set around 11pm with it getting later and later throughout the month (approximately 6 minutes later each day).

Visiting Iceland during this period of time will give you more time in the day to take part in activities, such as midnight sun tours, mountain biking, the Golden Circle Road trip, a sun tour or just driving between destinations with less traffic.

Although sleeping with the light shining can be difficult, most places have good blinds and it is a different experience. Many photographers enjoy this time of year because the sun offers unique light or shadows on the landscapes and a different perspective and colors when seeing places.

9) Have a Picnic in Austurvöllur Park and explore Reykjavik

Many consider the food to be expensive in Iceland, so a good way to have a nice meal and socialize is by having a picnic in Austurvöllur Park. The park is located in downtown Reykjavik, in central 101. It is a public park and an ideal place to relax in the sunshine during a visit downtown.

Not many tourists visit the park, but it is popular with locals. A picnic is a great way to have a meal without breaking the bank, by purchasing snacks, beer, and picnic food you can find a place on the grass and spend a few hours relaxing and socializing.

Since a meal in a cheap restaurant is $18-30 USD, it is best to visit the supermarket and grab a few things for a picnic.  A loaf of bread ranges from $2.50-4.50 USD with apples, oranges and bananas ranges from $2-5 per kilo (2.2 pounds).

You could do as the locals do and get a hot dog from Bæjarins beztu pylsur which translates to The Best Hot Dog in town.  At $2.50 this is the best deal in town.

10) Go Whale Watching

There are lots of places around the world where you can go whale watching but not many are close to what Iceland has to offer.

Whale Watching in Iceland

During May and July in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans you can see up to 20 species of whale including; humpbacks, minke whales, blue whales, orcas and many more, depending on the area of Iceland you choose to go.

Iceland has been considered by many to be the whale watching center of Europe, with a large number of daily boat tours and occasionally you can even see whales from the shoreline looking out into the ocean.

There are lots of whale watching tours on offer starting at 71 euros but you can also combine these tours with caving, seeing the puffins, or snorkeling Silfra Fissure.  I recommend booking in advance as May is a popular month to visit Iceland. This is the tourOpens in a new tab. I took while I was there.  

11) Visit The Hot Springs

Iceland has an abundance of geothermic energy, located all over the island, which has created a large number of hot springs. The most famous being the Blue Lagoon, but there are lots more, many are only known by a small number of people.

Some of the other popular ones include The Secret Lagoon and Reykjadalut geo baths in Mývatn on the north of Iceland, Hverfjall volcano, Hverir mud baths, and Námafjall. Some of these you can bathe in but others are just interesting to experience and look at.

As you can see Iceland has multiple things for everyone to enjoy throughout the month of May and with extended hours of sunlight, national celebrations and very little rainfall, May is the perfect time to visit and explore what Iceland has to offer, with something wonderful and unique for everyone to enjoy and experience.

12)  Glacier Hiking Tours

Iceland is a land of many frozen landscapes, icebergs and many, many glaciers. The glaciers are one of the biggest attractions in Iceland, bringing in many tourists from all over the world each year.

Iceland in May

Luckily for tourists, these glaciers are accessible all year round even in the warmer summer months. The glaciers are much more impressive during the winter months – unsurprisingly. Due to May being on the cusp of winter and summer, it makes for a great time to visit the glaciers.

There are many glaciers around the country, all accessible year round, all uniquely beautiful and all available for hiking. One of the more popular glaciers to visit and hike is Sólheimajökull. This is for a few reasons, including it is perfect for those beginners who aren’t as experienced in hiking, it is located just outside of Reykjavik which is perfect for those staying in the capital and it has absolutely beautiful landscapes which would make the hike well worth your while. 

Here is a great tour to visit the glaciersOpens in a new tab. in Iceland.

13)  Go Caving

Ice caves are on the biggest attractions in Iceland, bringing in many tourists from all over the world each year. Water runs beneath or through the glaciers which form the famous caves. This happens each year, meaning new and different caves are formed each year, making every year different from the previous and every experience new and unique to any other time.

iceland winter travel Iceland in January

Because the caves are formed during the colder months the last opportunity to view the cave is in mid-May, due to the warmer weather causing the ice caves to melt away and become too dangerous for exploration.

If you are visiting Iceland in May, the first few weeks before summer has hit is the only time the caves are accessible. Due to the many potential hazards and dangers that come along with ice caves, you can only visit the caves by being accompanied by an experienced tour guide, to make the experience as safe as possible.   I really enjoyed this tourOpens in a new tab..

14)  Drive the Ring Road

The ring road is a single route that travels all around Iceland visiting many of the great attractions that Iceland has to offer. The road is the longest road in Iceland coming in at over 1,300km.

Golden Circle Iceland Self Drive Tour

The road is primarily paved, making it a relatively safe road to drive.  During the winter months there could be potential road hazards due to snow and blizzards. Due to May being right towards the end of winter and the beginning of summer, this is less likely to be an issue.

Because of the many beautiful attractions along the way it is recommended to do the trip over the course of a week although, even longer would probably be even better! Attractions that are along the ring road include the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, the Skogafoss Waterfall, JokulsarlonGlacier Lagoon, Dettifoss Waterfall, HvitserkurBasalt Stack, many beautiful small towns and villages and much more.

If you are considering renting a car in Iceland I highly recommend Discover Car for the cheapest option.

If you are considering renting a car in Iceland I highly recommend Discover CarOpens in a new tab. for the cheapest option.

15)  Visit Snæfellsjökull National Park

Snæfellsjökull is located near Hellnar, northwest of Reykjavik.  This is where you go if you want to see the geothermal activity of Iceland.

Snæfellsjökull is one of three national parks in Iceland and named after the volcano here.  This is one of the most photographed sites in Iceland.

The drive and the landscape make it one of my favorite places in Iceland.  Plus you can find gold sand beaches here which are picture perfect.

This is a beautiful part of north Iceland.

Festivals in Iceland in May

1. Labor Day – this day is to commemorate the first protect in Iceland in 1932.  Protesters march through town with a marching band.  This is a very peaceful protest so you will not encounter any problems.  This is best observed in Reykjavik.

2. Saga fest is a two day festival celebrating the connection to nature and storytelling.  It is a charming festival held at a farm near Selfoss which is also close to Reykjavik.  Artists perform many types of stories and also tell the Icelandic sagas.

3.  Vaka Folk Festival is held at the end of May in Akureyri.  It is a four day festival playing the best traditional Icelandic music.  There are workshops and Icelandic instruments that you can learn about along with traditional art.

Conclusion – Visiting Iceland in May Ultimate Guide

If you ask me, anytime is the perfect time to visit Iceland.  With tourism numbers increasing, it is best to get there now!

Iceland in May

Out of the summer months, May sees fewer tourists than July or August.  I still recommend booking your accommodation and tours in advance.  You do not want to waste one minute of your trip.  I hope you do get to visit Iceland in May

I hope you enjoyed this guide to visiting Iceland in May.  There is so much to do in Iceland you will not be disappointed.  Let me know in the comments what are your favorite things to do in Iceland?

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Visiting Iceland in May

Nicole

Nicole LaBarge is a travel expert who has been traveling internationally for over 25 years and she has visited over 115 countries all while working a 9-5. She has lived in England, Scotland, Japan and New Zealand. Check out her detailed destination guides and travel product guides.

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