We had the pleasure of travelling around Iceland in May for two weeks, back in 2013. It was amazing and I would attribute it to the month of May, definitely one of the best times to visit Iceland. Springtime in general is great for travelling. In fact, it’s my most favourite time for a road trip. The temperature is getting warmer, the day is getting longer, and I just love seeing nature arising from its deep, winter slumber everywhere I go. A road trip in Iceland in the springtime is indeed my idea of a perfect vacation!
We didn’t really know what to expect from Iceland, let alone Iceland in May, before our trip. Iceland wasn’t as popular a destination in 2013 as it is now. There weren’t really that many resources online the we could use to plan our trip. We pretty much just booked our flights, picked an itinerary we found online, booked our accommodations based on the itinerary, rented a car, threw caution to the wind, and did it. I wrote this article based on our findings from the trip, which I hope you’ll find helpful in your own trip-planning.
Why You Should Visit Iceland in May:
(Note: We were in Iceland from May 18 to June 2.)
Flights to Iceland are more affordable, especially if you book months in advance. We booked about 6 months in advance and saved a couple hundred dollars that way. Airline Christmas sales usually include May dates so watch out for those. You might find some great deals. We flew with Icelandair, direct from Toronto. It was nice enough. They gave each passenger a bottle of pure Icelandic water upon boarding. In-flight entertainment was pretty good. In-flight food was mediocre. Mother Nature, however, was being very generous to me and showed me the Northern Lights through the airplane window for at least three-quarter of the length of the flight. Pretty cool, especially since the Northern Light season in Iceland was already over by then.
Car rental costs less. Iceland is best explored by car. At the peak of summer, car rental practically costs twice as much as any other seasons, including springtime. We rented a small, compact car because we weren’t planning on driving to the highlands (or as they like to call it, the Interior) as the mountain roads would still be closed for the season anyway (they’re usually only open in the summer months). It served us well. We rented our car from Blue Car Rental because it had decent reviews and a little less expensive than the competitors. We had no problems with them.
Accommodations are less expensive. This is another thing that will cost twice as much in the summer. We stayed mostly within the Hey Iceland‘s network of guesthouses. (If you’re interested, they’re currently offering a 10% discount on May tour packages, some include car rental and accommodations, which is not a bad deal.) To save money, we alternated between a room with a shared bathroom and one with a private bathroom. The price difference could be up to $50, which is like one dinner for two! The rooms at the guesthouses were basic but nice, warm and clean. A continental breakfast buffet was included, which was another money-saver for us.
In Reykjavik, however, we stayed at an Airbnb apartment downtown because it was cheaper than a hotel room. We had a lovely stay in a top-floor apartment very close to the big church, Hallgrimskirkja. If you’re not an Airbnb member yet, sign up using our referral link and you’ll get a $45 CAD credit for your first stay! We’ll get some credit too so it’s a win-win situation. :-)
Tourist attractions are less crowded. The Golden Circle will still be busy as it is one of the major tourist attractions that every tour bus operator will take their customers to visit, but I would imagine it would be multiple times busier during the high season. In some places, we were still able to find ourselves alone with nature and no hordes of tourists around. It was lovely. It also helps that we went to many lesser known tourist attractions in addition to the major ones.
Longer days than if you visit in the winter or autumn. It never really gets completely dark in Iceland in May. At midnight, it still looks like sunset and it stayed that way until dawn. Longer days means more hours to explore and more things you can see, and there is a lot to see in Iceland! The day will only keep getting longer and longer up until the summer solstice.
Friendlier weather, at least compared to winter weather. Temperatures in Iceland in May would be generally above 5° Celsius (41°F). I think the highest temperature we had during our stay was around 11° Celsius (51° F). We only experienced a bit of snowfall once in the two weeks we spent in Iceland, and it was right in a valley surrounded by mountains by an old, mostly forgotten swimming pool called Seljavallalaug that we hiked to one morning. Even that didn’t last very long. Anyway, the weather would still be wet and windy, but that’s Icelandic weather in general, any time of year. Do pack a good rain coat/windbreaker and be sure to check the weather and road conditions before you head out for the day!
Lambing season is in progress, and it means cute overload at every turn! Baby sheep are super cute and you’ll see them everywhere when you visit Iceland in May, but especially in South Iceland near the town of Vik. You better watch out, though, because baby sheep have zero understanding of where they should and should not be so you’ll occasionally find them hanging out in the middle of the road. Please keep your eyes on the road to prevent any accidents.
Last but not least, puffins! Puffin season is usually between mid-April to mid-August. They’ll definitely be out and about in May if you know where to look. We didn’t get to see them in South Iceland where they were supposed to be abundant, but we did see them at a bird-viewing area in Borgarfjörður Eystri, East Iceland. They are very entertaining to watch. You should see them at least once!
If you need any recommendations on places to visit or have any questions about travelling in Iceland, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer the best I can with what I know from experience. (Having done the road trip around Iceland twice now, I like to think I know a thing or two about it.)
Addendum: Be sure to check out our itinerary! It might help you make your own. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, don’t miss my post about our visit to several Game of Thrones shooting locations in North Iceland! Trying to figure out your way around Iceland? This post might help!
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