Iceland is largely shaped by natural phenomena, including the weather. Everything you lay your eyes on, you know that wind, rain, ice and sun have played a part in what you see.
Weather is also important to Icelandic culture and behaviours. Before most modern conveniences, you had to be prepared to adjust any plans and activities to fit the weather. For example, do you have to visit someone? Well, there’s a snowstorm, so they’ll have to wait for you to be able to leave the house.
This has left Icelanders with a relaxed attitude towards time and a popular saying, þetta reddast, “things will be fine”, which encapsulates the attitude perfectly.
So naturally, the weather is something you need to consider on your trip. And keeping a þetta reddast attitude will help in case you run into bad weather.
Average Weather in Iceland
What kind of weather does Iceland have? The most accurate answer is “a bit of everything”.
There is no easy way of explaining when Icelandic weather is at its best or worst or what the average weather is like in Iceland. It is ever-changing.
Iceland technically has four seasons, though weather-wise, it all gets a bit blurry. It’s not unusual to have a summer that never really gets warm and where the sun keeps hiding behind clouds. Followed by a winter with an abundance of sunlight in the few hours a day that it is out, making even the coldest days absolutely fantastic.
For this reason, it is hard to say what the ideal month to visit Iceland is. However, I can tell you that, on average, the rainiest month is September and June is the driest month. January and February are the coldest months, while July and August are the warmest, making them also the busiest months.
A well-known joke in Iceland goes, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes” —and it resonates for a reason. The weather here is temperamental and moody but quite wonderful most of the time.
What to Wear in Bad Weather in Iceland
According to a Danish idiom: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. It applies very much to Iceland as well. There is no wrong time to visit Iceland, you just need to prepare for a bit of everything, and you should be able to enjoy the country no matter the weather.
Regarding what sort of clothes to pack, layers are essential! Wear warm clothes underneath and a wind and water resistant outer layer. That way, the outer layer will protect you from strong winds and heavy rain, but you can always take it off if the sun decides to show up..
It is Raining. Will my Tour be Cancelled?
The main attraction of Iceland is nature, but unfortunately, nature can’t be tamed. There is a chance that during your tour, you will encounter a bit of rain, some wind, or even snow. And for a country of extremes like this one, the chance of rain is not enough to cancel your tour. Just have your rain gear ready, and you’ll be fine.
This is, of course, notwithstanding extreme weather conditions such as hurricane-force winds, snow storms and icy roads that could actually cause a lot of damage.
When planning your activities, make sure you check Icelandic Met Office website for the weather forecast and safetravel.is and road.is for current road conditions and road closures. If the officials say you’re good to go, you’re good to go. If you’ve already booked a tour, check your email since the tour provider will cancel if they believe the conditions are unsafe.
What to do in Iceland when the Weather is Bad?
As stated, you’ll likely encounter at least one grey, wet, uninspiring day. On these days, you might want to sample the indoor activities and save nature watching for another time (or later that same day, to be honest).
Here are our top suggestions for things to do on those days when the weather is working against you:
Aside from gorgeous landscapes, incredible structures and stunning natural phenomena, Iceland is also full of history. Not only that, it is a nation of special interests. All over the country, you’ll find local and natural history, as well as a vast range of exciting collections to dive into:
In North Iceland, you can find museums and collections exploring prophecies, vintage cars, horses, herring, or the Great White Plague (I hadn’t heard of that one, either).
East Iceland can teach you about stones, French sailors, mediaeval monasteries or geology.
Visit Southern Iceland to expand your knowledge on earthquakes, geothermal energy, caves and cave people, lava or American chess champions. And here’s one from me to you: not listed on the official tourist website under museums, but definitely worth a visit, is the Ghost Centre in Stokkseyri.
Go West if you’re interested in toys, water, fermented shark or early Viking explorers.
In Reykjavík and the greater capital area, you’ll find anything from penises to punk, the home of a Nobel prize winner to medical history, and so many art galleries and museums.
If I were lucky enough to spend more time in Reykjanes, I would participate in a historic war in Virtual Reality. Or learn about the history of rock and roll, science, or turf houses.
The Westfjords offers tales of sea monsters, sheep farming, arctic foxes, sorcery and witchcraft, and even everyday life.
If you book with Traveo, your local travel agent will be more than happy to include any of the museums you find interesting in your travel itinerary. You can also explore museum tours here.
Lagoons and Spas
Yes, they are open in all weather, including the Blue Lagoon. And they are no less magical in rain, wind or snow.
Thermal baths and spas, such as the Blue Lagoon, Sky Lagoon or Mývatn Nature Baths, can be found all over the country. And we’ve surmised a handy overview of some of our favourites around the country.
But if you are looking for a cheaper alternative, try a local swimming pool. Every town has at least one, and they are geothermally heated and open year-round.
Culture and Events
A safe bet for a gloomy day is a visit to the cinema. To find a cinema, you’ll want to try and find the nearest semi-big town, as not all small villages will have one. In Iceland, all films shown in cinemas are in the original language with Icelandic subtitles, the only exception being children’s films. And here’s a curiosity: For most screenings, there’s a break right in the middle of the film. This allows you to stretch your legs or fill up on snacks.
Icelanders love their nightlife. There is a thriving performance scene with something for everyone. For non-native speakers, you might want to let go of the idea of seeing a theatre piece – unless you don’t mind not understanding the dialogue.
However, as you might know, Iceland has a vibrant music scene. Therefore, your local bar or venue is likely to have regular performances.
If you are into comedy, burlesque or drag, you want to find yourself in Reykjavík. While there might be occasional performances all over the country, your safest bet for these performances in English is the capital.
Find Comedy in Iceland on Facebook or Instagram for an updated comedy schedule, from the raw new talent to the best of the local and visiting comedians. For the burlesque and drag scene (and karaoke), you might want to look to the venues Gaukurinn or Kiki.
So, the weather is keeping you from going on your expedition of ultimate exploration. Or, you just fancy a quiet day. Now is the time to look for a homemade Icelandic lopapeysa, a woollen jumper. You can go straight to the many chain stores or handicraft cooperatives that sell them or try your luck in a second-hand store, where you’ll find them at a much lower price.
A little tip: Generally, the local, small-town second-hand stores are packed with gems. I make sure to stop by the Red Cross in Dalvík, North Iceland, whenever I’m in the area. I have found several items that are key to my wardrobe and some gorgeous trinkets for the house.
Or maybe this is the perfect time to try and find the right souvenir or gift for loved ones at home or just browse the local gift shops for fun. Take the time to support local artists or businesses. With few exceptions, every town, everywhere, will have an opportunity for you to do so.
Unless the country is experiencing extreme weather conditions with aggressive winds and snow storms, you could use the dark skies and dark light to your advantage.
Iceland’s beautiful mountains are the perfect subjects for any photographer. Using the soft light from grey days gives any photograph more drama, especially when it is of the rugged Arctic landscapes of Iceland.
Festivals in Iceland
Lastly, Iceland has more indoor festivals than you think.
If you visit in February, you could check out Reykjavík’s Dark Music Days festival or the acclaimed Reykjavík Food and Fun Festival. In March, you could head to the small town of Akranes in West Iceland for the chilling Frostbiter Horror Film Festival.
Around Easter, you can visit Aldrei fór ég Suður (I never went South) festival in Ísafjörður Town in the Westfjords. If you’re visiting in late June/early July, why not swing by the Reykjavík Fringe Festival with a variety of performances from stand-up to storytelling, theatre to burlesque and drag?
If your visit is in late September/early October, Reykjavík International Film Festival has got you sorted for your indoor experiences. And November is the time for the famous Iceland Airwaves music festival.
What to do in Reykjavík when the Weather is Bad?
I have tried to keep this article as general to all of Iceland as possible. Still, there is no getting around it: Reykjavík does have a lot to offer!
When looking for indoor activities, head to the Grandi area of Reykjavík near the city center. Here, you’ll find the much-hyped FlyOver Iceland (just to be clear, it is worth the hype) and the Whales of Iceland Exhibition. The latter showcases the whales and other sea creatures in this country’s waters.
You’ll also find the newly opened Lava Show, allowing you to see real lava up close. And the Aurora centre showcases the Northern Lights. It is perfect if you want to catch a glimpse of this stunning natural phenomenon.
The area is packed with great food options and a handful of ice cream shops. And yes, we love our ice cream all year round and in all types of weather! So be like a local and treat yourself to a scoop or two!
Another favourite with visitors and locals alike is Perlan, the former water storage silos turned exhibition centre. It boasts Iceland’s only indoor ice cave, a northern lights show, a revolving café that gives you a 360-degree view of the city, and much more.
Bad Weather in Iceland – Summary
Don’t let dramatic weather with strong winds, bad rain, and lots of snow ruin your trip to Iceland! Instead, adopt the local’s laid-back attitude and think þetta reddast (“things will be fine”). You’ll still be able to enjoy the beautiful Icelandic landscape, bask in the midnight sun or hunt for the northern lights…just at a later date.
In the meantime, you can check out museums or spas such as the Blue Lagoon. You can visit a festival, go to a drag show or find the perfect souvenir to take home. You could even capture the bad weather on film. Just remember your rain gear.
Hopefully, you’ll now see that there really is no such thing as bad weather in Iceland and that you shouldn’t have to wait to find something worthwhile to do on your visit. Enjoy!