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Iceland in May

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TRAVELING TO ICELAND IN MAY

|March 6, 2024
Loves writing, food, runes, Reykjavík life, traveling in Iceland and being out in nature. Born in England but fell in love with Iceland in 2010 and moved here, been here since.

Visiting Iceland in May is very special. Nature is coming alive very rapidly now, spring and even early summer flowers are flourishing, and the trees and grass are becoming greener by the day.


When the sun shines, the long, bright days of May are so magnificent – everything just feels so vibrant and fully alive. No wonder many Icelanders say this is their favorite time of year!

Here, you'll find out all you need to know about May in Iceland, including how cold Iceland is in May and the best thing to do there.

Erupted geyser in Iceland

Geysir sightseeing place at Golden Circle in Iceland

IS MAY A GOOD TIME TO VISIT ICELAND?

May is surely the right time to visit Iceland if you’re looking for a fun and cheaper trip. During this month, the weather is getting warmer, and days are longer. This is also only the beginning of the peak season, so the sights shouldn’t be too overcrowded. May is also a good time to come to Iceland as its still cheaper, so you can find good deals on accommodation and transportation.

Facts about Iceland in May

  • Daybreak comes early, and the bright evenings are increasingly long.
  • Sightseeing is possible from early until late evening.
  • Less crowded than in June, July, or August.
  • Flowers, trees, and landscapes start to bloom. A great time for picnics and outdoor dining.
  • The puffins are back - a welcome sight on many of our wildlife tours.
  • The lambing season continues into May.
  • Many rental companies offer cheaper car hire before June.
  • Accommodation is often at a better price than during the peak season.

WEATHER IN ICELAND IN MAY

What makes Iceland so special during this time of the year is that even though the temperature is getting warmer, it tends to change rapidly. This means that you can undergo different temperatures and different weather conditions in a span of just a few days or experience contrasting weather in different parts of the country at the same time.

Temperature in Iceland in May

The average temperature in Iceland in May is 7 °C, the average at the warmest part of the day is a surprisingly comfortable 10 °C, with the average low being 4 °C. So, usually 40 °F to 50 °F. Rainfall varies from year to year, but the average number of days with rainfall is 11 days, just one more day than in June. Powerful storms are much rarer in May than they are in the wintertime.

Woman stands near Kerid crater lake

Kerid Volcano Crater in Iceland

Daylight in Iceland in May

On the 1st of May, the sun rises at 5:00 am and sets at 21:51 pm, nearly 17 hours of daylight from the outset! At the end of the month, sunrise comes at 3.25 am with sunset at 23:37, giving more than 20 daylight hours, so you can just enjoy the sights whenever the whim takes you. In North Iceland, it gets even better with between 17:15 and 21:07 hours of daylight in Akureyri. One tip – bring your sunglasses! Also, check out the Iceland weather forecast for the whole year.

WHAT TO DO IN ICELAND IN MAY

Looking for fun and unforgettable activities to try while traveling in Iceland in May? With longer daylight hours, spend them in nature, watching marine life, or enjoying Iceland’s diverse landscapes.

Group of puffins on the cliff

Watch puffins

May marks an exciting start – a time to watch puffins. There’s a reason why Iceland is called the capital of puffins, as this is the place where these birds love to reside during the summer season. The best way to see these fun creatures with your own eyes is by booking a puffin tour. If you’re interested to know more about the birds, check out everything you need to know about puffins.

Glacier hiking

Despite warmer weather, why not try glacier hiking if you’re looking for some chillier activities? The safest and most fun way to try this activity is by booking a glacier hiking tour, during which you’ll safely learn about glaciers and how they are formed, thanks to your guide.

Ring Road tours

Dreaming about a road trip around Iceland? Then your wishes are about to come true as Iceland in May means better road conditions and a perfect opportunity to go on one of the Ring Road tours. If you’re curious about the Ring Road, it’s a main route that goes around the whole country. On your way, you can see many beautiful attractions, such as waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs, cliffs, and so much more.

Aerial view of Icelandic road

Whale watching

Visiting Iceland in May also means a great time to watch marine life. During your whale-watching tour, you’ll have the opportunity to spot porpoises, Humpback whales, Minke whales, and even dolphins. It’s a fascinating experience you’ll get to enjoy from the boat.

Snorkeling and diving

For those who feel that they need more water activities, snorkeling or diving is a perfect choice as it's available all year round. Many can’t wait for the opportunity to snorkel or dive here because of how special the place where you’ll be doing it is – Silfra Fissure. It’s known to be the only place in the world where you can find yourself between two tectonic plates.

Can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland in May?

Northern Lights tours cease operating around mid-April, but the Aurora can still be seen in May. You need darkness to see the Northern Lights. In Iceland, from mid-April onwards, nightfall arrives very late, making it a bit difficult to operate tours. This is why the best time of the year to see the Northern Lights is from September to April. 

If you want to see the Northern Lights in May, you will need to stay up very late to do it. It helps to check the Aurora forecast. If the forecast is favorable, you need to go to a place with low artificial light pollution and very little or no cloud cover. Hopefully, your late-night Northern Lights vigil will be rewarded with a radiant display of dancing colors!

What to do in Reykjavik in May?

Reykjavik town from sea shore

If you’re looking for something fun to do during your stay in the capital, here are a few ideas:

  • Visit Víðey, the island which is just a short ferry ride away from Reykjavík. The ocean waves and squeals of the seabirds are the only sounds you will hear as you explore. Visit Viðey House, the first stone building in Iceland, and the Old School House, where you can catch up on the island's history. 

  • Enjoy a whale-watching tour from the harbor downtown in Reykjavík. Look out for whales, dolphins and all kinds of ocean wildlife – you get great coastal views of Faxaflói Bay. 

  • Elliðaárdalur – hike, jog, or cycle through this beautiful valley in Reykjavík, where you will discover a place that is seldom visited by tourists. An enchanting salmon river tumbles through this family recreation area, which is a great favorite of the local people. 

  • Árbæjarsafn – The Open Air Folk Museum is really close to Elliðaárdalur at Kistuhylur, 110 Reykjavík. See the old houses and how the Icelandic people used to live and work in the not-so-distant past. 

  • Reykjavík Botanic Garden (Grasagarðurinn) – learn about the surprising array of flowers that flourish in the garden. In May, the gardens come alive with colorful blooms. It has a Flóran Café where you can enjoy a meal or a drink.

  • Laugardalslaug swimming pool – relax in the hot tub and enjoy the lush green scenery – this pool is just a short walk from the Botanical Gardens and Flóran Café / Bistro – on a fine day, why not enjoy all three?

  • Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden and Museum – the garden, with its impressive sculptures, is incredibly lovely and serene. It’s a real peace haven in the heart of the city. The museum building was the home and studio of the sculptor. The gallery and garden are situated at Eiríksgata, just across the road from Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík´s iconic white church.

  • Enjoy Icelandic food at Café Loki (plenty to suit overseas taste buds), situated at Lokastígur 28 opposite Hallgrímskirkja. On fine days there is some outdoor seating, and the upstairs restaurant offers fine views. Good value dish of the day and a selection of “Icelandic plates” to choose from. Drinks, soups, cakes, and snacks are also served.

  • Seltjarnarnes peninsula is where you can enjoy the mountain views, coastline, nature, and beaches around this suburb of Reykjavík. The Bakkatjörn pond and the island of Grótta are both bird habitats and conservation areas. Arctic tern, eider ducks, and geese are all regular visitors. More than 100 bird species are short or long-term residents.

WHAT TO WEAR IN ICELAND IN MAY

Layers are the only way to stay comfortable when temperatures change a lot. One minute you can enjoy the sun and warmth, and the second you can be looking for a place to run away from wind and rain. To prepare for such changes, it’s best to bring a light jacket to make sure you have plenty of items to layer under it. You probably won't wear them all the time, but cozy hats, gloves, warm woolen socks, and scarves are as important as your bathing suit, towel, suncream, and sunglasses in May.

Woman in the basalt columns cave

Black Sand Beach in the South of Iceland

Start off with a wool or thermal base layer, then add your hiking trousers and fleece, a thermal top or wool sweater, and an outer rainproof shell. Dress for how it feels but bear in mind the weather can change a lot during the day and into the evening. So, in warm weather, skip some of the layers but carry extra clothing with you. A couple of light tops and regular underwear are useful if you get lucky with the weather, hiking trousers which zip-off to become shorts give great flexibility too. Lopapeysa, the Icelandic wool sweaters, can be very useful in May. Warm days can chill down into cool evenings. For more information on what to pack for your trip to Iceland in May, check what to wear in Iceland.

DRIVING IN ICELAND IN MAY

Thanks to better Icelandic weather, driving conditions in May are great. The roads are clean and visible, but it's always best to check web pages on driving conditions and weather before hitting the road. However, keep in mind that some of the roads, usually leading to more remote places, are still closed due to changing weather conditions. 

May is a perfect time to go on a Golden Circle road trip, but if you’re not feeling like driving, then enjoy the same beautiful scenery from a passenger seat during one of the Golden Circle tours.

Woman posing on Icelandic road

EVENTS AND HOLIDAYS IN ICELAND IN MAY

Interested in how Icelanders celebrate their holidays during May? Then you’re in luck, as there are many beautiful celebrations, events, and holidays during this time of the year.

Saga Fest

A cultural fiesta celebrating the Icelandic Sagas and Icelandic culture at Stokkseyrarsel, a farm at Stokkseyri, a gorgeous fishing village, around an hour by car from Reykjavík. Music, arts, poetry readings, Icelandic shamanism and shamanic drumming, and great celebrations. There is a strong emphasis on community, equality, sustainability, and nurturing the earth.

Mothers’ Day

The well known Mother’s day in Iceland is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. This day is usually celebrated by kids giving flowers to their mothers and families spending time together going on a celebratory lunch.

The Vaka Folk Festival

Listen to the old instruments being played and soulful songs being sung. Watch the joyful and vibrant traditional Icelandic dances being performed. There are art displays and various talks and mini-courses. Vaka is a very lively event, the packed schedule operates from lunchtime to late evening. The Icelandic people have lovingly preserved their traditional instruments and charming songs and dances.

People dancing in music festival

Labor Day / May Day

It’s held on the same day as May Day (1st of May) but in Iceland, it is the Labor Day aspect that received great emphasis. The workers’ rights that have been achieved are celebrated, and desired future rights are focused on. This is a big day for protest marches, the protests support all sorts of issues, not just workers’ rights. The banner-waving protest groups are often noisily supported by brass bands, making for quite an entertaining spectacle as they pour through Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík.

Ascension Day

The date can vary since this is held 40 days after Easter Sunday. Christian Churches hold services celebrating the ascension of Jesus. Not many Icelanders go to church, but services are held to honor Ascension Day. People like to make the most of their extra leisure time with family, friends, and outdoor activities.

Whit Monday

This is also sometimes known as Pentecost Monday. This marks the end of the 90-day Easter period, which commenced with Ash Wednesday (Öskudagur in Iceland) and the period of Lent. Again, most Icelanders enjoy the long weekend by spending time with family and friends, sometimes going to a summer house in the country. Church services are held, so if you want to celebrate the religious aspect, you will be able to do so in Iceland.

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