I ended up in Iceland in September not necessarily because that’s when I wanted to go, but because that’s when I could go. I was travelling from Vancouver to Ireland for a travel blogging conference and I figured Iceland was on the way. The conference was the first week of October, ergo, I ended up in Iceland in September.
In my mind, as long as I wasn’t trudging through 2 metres of snow and eating reindeer carcass the whole time, I would be thrilled. Neither of those two things happened, though I did eat a reindeer pizza! It was excellent. Take that Rudolf.
But there are three things about travelling to Iceland that are the front of any visitors mind: 1) It’s crazy expensive, 2) Isn’t it winter a good portion of the year and 3) Will there be anything to do in a country that has definite high and low seasons?
The quick answers are: Indeed, Not true, and YES! Let me explain…
Why Travel to Iceland in September?
Iceland is much like the rest of the region, in that off-season travel in Europe is loaded with potential. Admittedly, I was bit sceptical. I love blue sunny skies and warm weather as much as anybody. Actually, probably more than most people, but don’t tell Vancouver…
I was definitely worried Iceland would be crazy cold after the end of summer, but the Viking Gods, the Elves, and the Trolls would never let that happen! Thank you Icelandic and Norse mythology!
1. There are Less Crowds in September
Don’t get me wrong, there are 2.5 million tourists flooding into Iceland every year, and they are not only coming in the summer. That said, after mid-September the rate of tourists roaming the country dives considerably, especially once you get off the beaten South track, aka the Golden Circle.
The roads outside of the south were verging on empty, which made driving our rental 4×4 even more fun! Nothing better than open roads, and not getting stuck behind nervous tourists who probably shouldn’t be driving…
Additionally, Dana and I never had a problem getting into the accommodation we wanted (aka. The cheapest we could find which was still not what I could honestly call cheap, but that’s next). There is a ton of excellent, and sometimes unusual places to stay in Iceland, and in September, it’s far more likely you can get into those places!
2. Travel in Iceland is Slightly Cheaper in September
Due to the decrease in crowds, costs are marginally relieved out of high season. That is not to say that Iceland magically becomes Thailand or Bali once September 15th hits, but what may have been a $70 bed becomes a $55 bed. Which means over the course of the trip I ended up saving some cash.
Which I promptly spent on an Icelandic wool blanket. In which I am curled up right now drinking tea.
Some of the Icelandic tour operators offer special deals when you book out of season, or maybe they are just nicer when it is colder. Back to their roots kind of thing.
But regardless of when you plan your trip for, make sure you get a good idea of how much it costs to travel to Iceland well before you buy that ticket.
More abstractly, there are quite a number of attractions (caving, glacier walking etc) that close after a certain date in August or September, which can be depressing if you have your heart set on that specific experience. That said, September is still a beautiful month and most of the natural attractions that make Iceland what it is are still totally accessible, and FREE!!!
Even still, different activities open up during the fall and winter months and alternative experiences can be found. Arctic whale watching and boat trips in Jokusarlon Glacier Lagoon get better after the summer, and Northern Lights tours are only available after the middle of September!
3. Four Words: See the Northern Lights in Iceland!
All of the guidebooks say that after mid-September, with tons of LUCK you can PERHAPS see the Northern Lights MAYBE on a clear night IF the lights are active and only when you stand on one leg with your tongue out.
Ok, I added the last part. You get the picture.
But then again, we saw the Northern Lights a total of four times, in 12 days, before October 1. That’s right, we defied the odds!!!
So either the guidebooks don’t want to get your hopes up, or we were really that lucky. I did recently win $100 cash, hmmmm.
Anyways, folks can see the lights from all over Iceland, though there are very certain conditions that make them more or less visible. Obviously, time of year is the big one. The Northern Light season is between mid-September and mid-April, so this gives a pretty solid nod to travelling to Iceland in the fall.
On the more detailed condition checklist are clear nights, lack of surrounding light pollution, and the degree to which the lights are ‘active’. Seeing as we mere humans can only really control one of those things (the light pollution, unless you know something I don’t…), the Northern Lights are a pretty high maintenance date night. Especially when you take into account that weather changes in Iceland constantly, so while it may be clear in one town, 20 minutes away it’s pouring. Seriously, that happens constantly.
As for the activity of the lights, the weather folks of Iceland actually put out an excellent Aurora forecast site that can tells us the expected activity for the next few days.
To be real though, in my opinion, seeing the Northern Lights was a total crap shoot, and whenever Dana and I put very little effort into seeing them was when we saw them the best. If we got all bundled up and went out to a specific place at a specific time to see them, we did not.
One of our last nights in Iceland we were watching Vikings (because Iceland inspired us and it’s an awesome show) in our beds and thought ‘Hey, lets go see if the lights are out’. 5 minutes later we were standing just out of reach of the hostel lights, watching a light show of whites, greens, and pinks dancing across the sky.
We screamed and danced in circles like we were extras on Vikings. It was very exciting!
(In my defence: Photographing the Northern Lights with anything less than a multi-million dollar camera and a tripod is next to impossible, I did what I could 🙂
4. See the Fall Colours in Iceland
What I did not expect at all in Iceland were the amazing colours that painted the landscape at every turn and constantly changed the scenery as we drove. Everyone talks about the fall leaves of New England, but they haven’t been to Iceland I tell you what.
The wild shrubs and foliage growing aside the road vary with brilliant reds, oranges, greens, and even purples. Many of the bushes in the fall are sprouting tiny berries that can be harvested at leisure (or as the wind permits) right beside the road.
As much as I often compared Iceland to BC or to New Zealand, the big difference is the lack of trees in Iceland. But fortunately that lack of tree life is absolutely made up for in the crazy colours exploding from the ground.
If Dana and I had have paid each other a dollar every time one of us said “Ohhh, look at the colours!” we would have both been able to afford at least one beer. Even beer was expensive…
5. The Weather was Actually not Unbearable
These are high words coming from a sun seeker like myself, but I wasn’t dying in Iceland in September. Yes, I was dressed warmly, but not crazy. Most of our days, the thermometer sat at around 11 to 13 degrees, and then would dip at night. The wind could make the day pretty blustery, but hey, wearing some clothes and rock the wool earflaps. Not infrequently did I actually tie my toque straps together under my chin. Which on a chin like mine is oh-so-flattering!
Taking it all into account, we were pretty lucky with the weather. Yes, we definitely drove through some substantial rain and by the end of trip our 4×4 SUV looked like it was made of mud more than metal, but that just means we had a great time.
To be fair, we had rough weather at one point, unfortunately timed for the exact day we were supposed to go glacier kayaking (boo!). We hit torrential rain, the day trip was cancelled, and then the next day the Ring Road was washed out in an area we had literally just passed through. Again, THANK YOU VIKING GODS!!!
Because there is only one road that goes around Iceland, and when it’s closed, people are shit out of luck. Again, back to the luck on our side.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Iceland
All in, Dana and I had an absolutely epic time travelling in Iceland in September. We were a bit nervous about the weather, but it was a wicked trip. Plus, since we both hate crowds, I really don’t think high season would have done us very well.
We travelled for 12 days, road tripped the whole island, walked on glaciers, climbed mountains, bathed in beer, chased elves and trolls, ate fish and chips, spotted a wild reindeer, stood beside stunning waterfalls, and licked icebergs. Hard to beat that kind of a trip, all of which I will be posting about in the coming weeks, so stay tuned travel lovers!
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