Iceland seems to be on everyone’s bucket list, and the first question is always: summer or winter? My short answer is that it is well worth it to go twice, in summer and in winter. I’ve been three times, twice in winter months and once in the summer. However, if you are only planning to go once, the decision is fairly simple.
Northern Lights or Summer Light
If you want to see the Northern Lights, your time window is November to March. I’ve been in late November and mid-February, and was lucky enough to see the Lights both times. It was much colder in February than it was in November, but I would recommend the colder months as it was also quite rainy in November, and you need clear skies for any chance to spot the Aurora.
If you don’t care about the Lights, go in summer. When we were there in late June/early July 2021, the weather was cold but clear — great for hiking — and there was so much light every day, we could pack a lot into the day. In fact, you will want to pack an eye mask, as it never gets really dark.
Whenever you go, don’t miss…
No trip to Iceland would be complete without a trip to the Golden Circle. Thingvellir National Park, where the continents meet, and Gulfoss are worth the trip at any time of year.
Geysir. Eh. It was lovely the first time I saw it on a crisp winter day. Every other time, it has been kinda meh. It’s on the way to Gulfoss from the National Park, so by all means stop (if only to use the facilities and visit its most excellent gift shop), but temper your expectations.
The drive to the South Coast from Reykjavik is long but well worth it, and if you are doing the Ring Road you won’t have the return trip as we did. If I were to go again (and I probably will) I’d stay overnight so I could see more in the area.
We stopped at Seljalandsfoss (where you can walk behind the waterfall) and Skogafoss but had nowhere near enough time at the black sand beach at Reynisfjara before we had to head back to Reykjavik for our dinner reservations.
Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon?
Honestly, I like them both.
Blue Lagoon is a GREAT stop on the day you land in Iceland since you can’t check in until afternoon in most places, even Air BNB, and it is literally on the way to Reykjavik from the airport. We did this on our Nov 2016 trip and it was a great way to decompress from the flight.
We could not do it last time due to the quarantine requirements that were still in place, but that is no longer an issue, so I highly recommend this strategy. I would not however bother with lunch at the Lava Restaurant. We did it in 2016 and enjoyed it very much, but on our last trip, not so much. I think they are putting all their energies into the new restaurant Moss and the hotel. Save your money for a meal at some of the other very fine establishments in Reykjavik.
The new Sky Lagoon is quite close to the city, and a bit more chic and upscale in tone. I loved that the bar had nice non-alcoholic options, not just water. It also has more of the flavor of traditional Icelandic bathing culture than Blue Lagoon, with a 7-step bathing ritual that is far more relaxing than the Blue Lagoon. Note that its dining options are more upscale cafe than full meal. It was perfect for us but you might need to eat again if you have an appetite.
Do both — the Blue Lagoon when you land and the Sky Lagoon in early evening on another day.
Final note on Blue Lagoon — stop in the gift shop and try their skincare products. I’ve used the Mineral Moisturizing Cream as my daily moisturizer since 2016, and added the BL+ Serum and Eye Serum to my routine on the last trip in 2021. Pricey yes. Also worth every penny. They ship to the US.
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