When people first think of Iceland, they think of frozen waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and the glittering Northern Lights. Naturally, it’s easy to question whether it’s worth planning a trip during the summer. The answer is an emphatic yes – Iceland is beautiful and different depending on the time of year you visit. Here are some things to consider when you’re planning your first trip to Iceland in July/summer months:
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is July a good time to visit Iceland?
If you want to see lush, verdant landscapes, the summer months – especially June & July – are perfect. The weather is warm(er) and it’s perpetual daylight, meaning it’s feasible to plan to sightsee up until 10 or 11 PM without feeling unsafe (I took the picture below at 1:00 AM!). Iceland is one of the safest countries I’ve ever traveled to and the additional hours of daylight just made us feel that much more comfortable as two female travelers. If you want to see the Northern Lights, you’ll need to plan a visit in the fall or winter (I already know I want to come back).
2. How many days is enough time?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question as it depends on what you want to see.
Personally, I found 10 days was enough for us to see most of what we wanted. We planned for 10 full days to explore most of the highlights along the Ring Road while breaking up our days to account for highly active or driving-intensive ones. It was enough time for us to do some short day hikes and take a day trip to the Westfjords, which is only accessible during the summer months and quite a ways away off Highway 1.
If you’re aiming to hit the most popular Ring Road spots, I’d say 7-10 days is plenty. If you want to take longer hikes, overnight camping trips, or spend extra days in the Westfjords, I’d add an extra 2-4 days. Check out my 10 Days in Iceland guide to see if my itinerary will work for you!
3. How do I plan a self-guided Ring Road trip?
Below are some questions we asked ourselves to determine how to break up our days and plan our route (this includes adding time later in the day to take advantage of the extra daylight hours available in Iceland in July):
- What are we most excited to see?: One of the main draws of Iceland for me was to see the waterfalls and glaciers, which I definitely prioritized in our planning. While volcanoes and geysers are such cool natural phenomena, neither my friend nor I were super keen on spending a lot of time in those areas. If Icelandic’s geothermal or volcanic activity is what interests you the most, you’ll want more time to explore more of those areas or swap out some of our waterfall sightseeing.
- Should we travel clockwise or counterclockwise?: We chose to go counterclockwise (south → east → west → north → Reykjavik) because most of the major sights we wanted to see were on the South side. On the off-chance we couldn’t see something due to the weather or unforeseen delays, we wanted to have the option to be able to drive out from Reykjavik to do a day trip if we needed to.
- How packed do we want our days to be?: I like to maximize my time when I’m traveling, so I tend to pack in lots of activities and mix in some rest days. My friend and I have traveled together before so I know we have similar energy levels. I can imagine that this itinerary might be a little tight or faster pace for people who want to take things slower, in which case 14 days might be better.
Sightseeing & Activities in July
- Do I want to visit the Westfjords?: I definitely knew I wanted to see the Westfjords because we were going at the right time of year and I really really wanted to see puffins. While there are other places on the island where you can find puffin colonies, the Westfjords is home to the largest bird cliff colony in Europe. The only way for us to squeeze in the Westfjords was to make sure we were in Stykkishólmur- a small town on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula – from where we could take the ferry into the region. It turns out that 10 days is quite tight if you want to truly explore. There was a full-day hike I wanted to do that starts on the northernmost point of the Westfjords that takes you through Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, which is a protected habitat for arctic foxes but there was just no way we could squeeze that into our itinerary. Next time.
- What are our must-do activities?: The main activities that we wanted to do were snorkeling in Silfra, horseback riding, a zodiac tour through Jokulsarlon, whale-watching in Husavik, and seeing puffins! Some of these activities had limited operating hours, while some we wanted to make sure we did during a certain time of day or specific location.
- How fast are things booking up?: July is part of peak season for Iceland so hotels were booking fast. Once we realized that we were going to travel counterclockwise, we sketched a rough idea of where we might be and just booked hotels in those areas.
- What are the COVID-related requirements, if any?: While we were planning our trip, Iceland required all tourists to take a COVID test upon arrival and quarantine while awaiting test results, which could take up to 8 hours. While this requirement was waived the week before our trip, we had planned for our first day to be a wash so we didn’t plan any activities or lodging. Check the Icelandic government website to learn more about any COVID restrictions upon arrival from your country of departure. We also knew we needed to be back in Reykjavik the day before our flight so we could take our COVID test before flying back into the U.S.