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Iceland in May

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TRAVELING TO ICELAND IN MAY

|April 20, 2022
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 increasingly flourishing, and the trees and grass are usually turning greener by the day.


Temperatures are warmer, particularly in South Iceland, although the mercury can still drop sharply and snow can fall, this is less likely than it is in April. Early in the month snow still decorates the tops of the mountains around Reykjavík.

Geysir Golden Circle in Iceland

Geysir sightseeing place at Golden Circle in Iceland

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 is Iceland in May and the best thing to do there.

Fun facts about Iceland in May

  • Daybreak comes early and the bright evenings are increasingly long.
  • See the sights from early until late evening.
  • Less crowded than in June, July, or August.
  • The early flowers make the gardens look so delightful.
  • Trees get their leaves the landscapes are green and lush.
  • The puffins are well and truly back.
  • The lambing season continues into May.
  • Picnics, outdoor drinks and dining.A great time for whale watching.
  • Traveling conditions should be better.
  • Many rental companies offer cheaper car hire before June.
  • Accommodation is often at a better price than in June, July and August.

WEATHER IN ICELAND IN MAY

If you come to Iceland in May the nature is changing so rapidly, you would very likely feel you have entered a different season even after just two or three days. Traveling to different parts of the county you would discover far greater changes, spring doesn’t arrive in all parts of the country at the same time.

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.

Kerid Volcano Crater

Kerid Volcano Crater in Iceland

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 tipbring your sunglasses! Also, check out the Iceland weather forecast for the whole year.

What to wear in Iceland in May

Layers! No, seriously, following the three-layer principle is always important in Iceland, but layers are the only way to stay comfortable when temperatures change a lot. You could experience warm and sunny, warm and wet, cold and wet, or cold, crisp and dry, maybe with a strong refreshing wind. To manage these the best answer is 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.

Man on the beach

Black Sand Beach in South of Iceland

Start off with wool or thermal base layer, then add your hiking trousers and fleece, 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.

Pictures from May in Iceland

Waterfall in Iceland

Skógafoss waterfall in South Coast of Iceland

Icelandic horses

Icelandic horses in lava field, Iceland

Valley and waterfall

Háifoss - a waterfall situated near the volcano Hekla in southern Iceland

Volcano in Iceland

Icelandic horses by the mountain in Iceland

Can I see the Northern Lights in May in Iceland?

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 awkward to operate tours.

If you want to see the Northern Lights in May you will need to stay up very late to do it. You can check out the Aurora forecast here. 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!

Northern Lights view

Bright Northern Lights in Iceland

GREAT THINGS TO DO AROUND REYKJAVÍK IN MAY

  • 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. See the Yoko Ono Peace Tower and leave your own peace wish. 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 the café or take a picnic. Until 14th May the ferry from Reykjavík’s new harbor at Skarfabakki operates only at weekends, from 15th May it goes every day.
Videy island in iceland

Videy island near Reykjavik in Iceland

  • Ride a WOWcitybike. This great city bike service starts running again in May. Pick up a bike from one of the eight ‘stations’ around Reykjavík, ride wherever you want to go, then return it to the ‘station’ of your choice.

  • 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. Check out the details about a whale-watching tour from Reyjavík here. Seeing your first whale in the wild is so exciting!
Whale watching from Rib boat

Whale watching tour from Reykjavik

  • Elliðaárdalur – hike, jog or cycle through this beautiful valley in Reykjavík and 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. Get active or relax with a picnic. Hire a bike, drive or even travel by bus to get there, Strætó number 5 to Hraunbær will take you closest, but buses 15 and 6 to Ártún will also take you quite close. See the Strætó timetable here.

  • 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. The museum is open in May from 13:00 to 17:00, a guided tour takes place at 13:00 every day. The adult admission fee is 1,650 ISK or 1,100 ISK with a student card.
Árbæjarsafn

Árbæjarsafn Open Air Folk Museum in Iceland

  • The Botanical Gardens (Grasagarðurinn) – learn about the surprising array of flowers that flourish in the garden. In May the gardens come alive with colorful blooms. Flóran Café / Bistro in the Botanical Gardens – enjoy a meal, or a drink and a cake.

  • Swim at Laugardalslaug – 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?

  • See the sculptures at the Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden and Museum. The garden with its impressive sculptures and mature trees is incredibly lovely and serene – a real peace haven in the heart of the city. There is no charge to visit the garden but there is a fee for the museum. The museum building was the home and studio of the sculptor, for me, this is the best sculpture gallery in Iceland – the 1000 ISK admission fee is totally worth it. The gallery and garden are situated at Eiríksgata, just across the road from Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík´s iconic white church. More info here.
Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden

Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden and Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland

  • Enjoy Icelandic food at Café Loki (plenty to suit overseas tastebuds), 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 hiking and enjoying the unique nature around this amazing peninsula. The mountain views, coastline, nature, and beaches around this suburb of Reykjavík are sensational. 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 – the flora here is unique – and more than 100 bird species are short or long-term residents. Strætó number 11 will take you to Seltjarnarnes – see the timetable here.
Lighthouse in Iceland

Lighthouse in Iceland. Photo: Ron Kroetz

BEST THINGS TO DO IN ICELAND IN MAY

What to do in Iceland in May? Here are some ideas:

HIKING THE FIMMVORDUHALS TRAIL

Hiking the famous Fimmvörðuháls trail is an experience to be remembered. Fimmvorduhals is on the South Coast of Iceland, situated between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. This wonderful area provides a number of scenic hiking and trekking trails overlooking the amazing Icelandic landscape. Hike through the site of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption that occurred in 2010!

Fimmvörðuháls trail

Fimmvörðuháls trail view in Iceland

RAFTING ON ICELANDIC RIVERS

May is a perfect time for this adventurous activity since it's when the rafting season begins! Try out the Gullfoss Canyon Rafting trip on the Hvítá river and see nature from a different perspective!

Rafting tour at Gullfoss Canyon in Iceland

Events in May in Reykjavík

Saga Fest is 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. Around 750 people come together each year over two days in the latter part of May.

13th May – Mothers’ Day. This isn’t really celebrated much in Iceland so restaurants don´t put on special lunches and the florist won’t run out of flowers. Of course, if you are a mother who is in Iceland with her children or your mother is with you, you can enjoy a nice meal at any restaurant – without paying the hiked-up Mothers’ Day prices you get in other lands. Florists in Iceland are often open on Sundays too!

30th May – 2nd June – The Vaka Folk Festival. This is held in Akureyri, the capital of North Iceland. Most events take place at Hof Cultural and Conference Center, but several are held at various charming venues around the town. 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 – making this an exciting time to be in Akureyri. The Icelandic people have lovingly preserved their traditional instruments and charming songs and dances.

Akureyri whale watching

Akureyri town view from the sea shore

Public holidays in May in Iceland

1st May – Labor Day / May Day. This is held on the same day as May Day 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.

Olafsvik

Hallgrímskirkja - a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland

10th May – 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.

21st May – 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.

Services and opening hours on public holidays. Strætó, the scheduled bus service, runs on a Sunday timetable, swimming pools, grocery stores and museums sometimes have reduced opening hours, as do some cafés and restaurants. A few places may be closed on some of the days but not so many.

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