If you want to dance under the midnight sun, summer is the time to visit Reykjavík — that’s when the majority of people descend upon this relatively compact city, the jumping-off point for all the country’s attractions. Don’t miss a tour of the Golden Circle, which will take you to Þingvellir, site of the founding of Iceland’s parliament around 930 and the spot between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia; Gullfoss, a spectacular waterfall; and big geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Even though it’s considered summer, temperatures still average in the low to mid-40s in June, July, and August.
During the spring and fall, you’ll get a more normal distribution of light and not nearly as many tourists. It’s quiet during these times, but one event worth putting on your list is the fall sheep roundup, or réttir, an important time for farmers and a buoyant weekend for everyone, with horseback riding, sing-alongs, and plenty of revelry. From April to May and then again in September and October, temps linger in the 40s.
Winter in Iceland isn’t as cold as you might imagine a country with “ice” in its name to be, with temperatures typically in the 30s. It is dark most of the day, but cheaper prices and a good shot at seeing the northern lights can make it a worthwhile time to visit, especially for winter sports enthusiasts. If you find the lack of sunlight depressing, do as the locals do and participate in rúntur, Reykjavík’s version of a weekend pub crawl. Nightlife is taken quite seriously in the city, and with rock clubs to upscale pubs to sports bars, there are plenty of places to visit all night long. (A word of warning, though, alcohol here is not cheap.) Cap off the night with a visit to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a famous hot dog stand downtown where the likes of Bill Clinton have noshed on the popular Icelandic food.