May in Iceland is not only a welcoming mid-spring month, but it also marks the arrival of some exciting and special “guests” to the island. So, if you are still sitting on the fence and trying to decide when to plan your trip to Iceland, read on to see if May may not be the month for you.
In this article, we give you the lowdown on the Iceland weather in May. What you need to pack, all the pros and cons you can expect of spending May on the island, and what makes for the perfect Iceland May itinerary.
The Pros and Cons of Spending May in Iceland
As with most things in life, visiting Iceland in May also has its pros and cons. We’ve created this neat summary to give you a general overview:
- Temperatures are increasing more and more every day as we creep closer to the Icelandic summer. May in Iceland is then the perfect time to take on that road trip and other outdoor activities.
- If you’re visiting Iceland in early May, the last of the winter snow and ice would’ve thawed. Except for certain places in the Westfjords and the Highlands, which is an entirely different story. But this means that you no longer have to be a nervous wreck regarding road conditions whenever you have to drive anywhere.
- Summer might be just around the corner, but it hasn’t arrived just yet, so you won’t have to worry about those peak season crowds.
- No peak season crowds also mean no peak season prices, and you’ll be able to stretch your budget for much longer.
- If you’re a nature-lover, you’ve picked the perfect time to visit the island. From May, we have a few esteemed guests gracing us with their presence; a variety of migratory whales as well as the famous Iceland Puffins.
- You’ll have more than enough daylight hours available each day to plan a pretty jam-packed itinerary.
- Temperatures have and will continue to rise. Still, those who generally struggle with a chill in the air won’t understand how we can call May in Iceland springtime.
- Because the peak season has still not quite arrived, you’ll find that certain attractions and activities might have limited operating hours. Certain roads and regions (such as the Westfjords and the Highlands) are still closed. That makes it hard for those who want to road trip all around the island.
- The increased daylight hours have many benefits. Yet, you’ve managed to get yourself into a sort of natural phenomenon purgatory or limbo when going to Iceland in May. You’re hanging between just missing a 22+ daylight hour Midnight Sun, and the fewer hours of darkness can’t guarantee you a Northern Lights sighting.
What You Can Expect From the Weather When Spending May in Iceland
The Iceland temperature in May varies between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius, with an average temperature in Iceland in May of about 6 degrees Celsius. That means that May is officially the first month of the year to see temperatures ranging and averaging above 0.
And even though you might encounter some wind and rain on your trip, you won’t need to worry about potential blizzards. Nor about those winter month Icelandic winds that can (and does!) rip off car doors. The weather in Iceland in May and June doesn’t differ that much, especially if you’re visiting Iceland in late May.
That means you’ll essentially get all the benefits of summer weather whilst still officially in spring. Some believe that the weather in Reykjavík, May in Iceland, is somehow better than on the rest of the island. This is merely an illusion created by the bigger cities on the island, where the buildings create a certain amount of protection against the external weather elements.
Daylight hours in Iceland in May have also increased to between 18 and 20 hours each day. So, you can look forward to early mornings and late evenings, with sunrises at about 5 am and sunsets at 10 pm.
Packing List When Traveling to Iceland in May
Some may find it confusing to pack for Iceland in May since it’s still technically springtime, yet so close to summertime. That’s why we created this handy packing list for Iceland in May that you can use as a guide:
- Warm, waterproof jacket
- Fleece/woolen sweater (please just bring one or two so you can get a few authentic Icelandic woolen sweaters here on the island)
- Waterproof pants
- Waterproof hiking boots (irrespective of whether you’re planning on taking a hike or not)
- Thermal vests
- Thermal leggings
- Warm, woolen socks
- T-shirts & long-sleeved shirts
- Casual pants (for the days you’ll be spending in the city)
- Warm hat (beanies have always worked well for us)
- Warm gloves
- Warm scarf
- Bathing suit (you’ll be taking plenty of dips in the hot springs)
- Quick-drying towel
- Flip flops (for at the hot springs and public changing rooms)
- Toiletries & medications (just keep flight restrictions in mind, so you don’t need to leave half your vanity case behind at the airport)
- Water bottle (Iceland has extremely high-quality water, so you just need to refill along your travels)
- Backpack (suitable for both day outings and hikes)
- Electronic devices: cables, chargers, an adaptor, a power bank, etc.
Camping in Iceland in May
May is the perfect time to go camping on the island. Not only do you have great weather, but you also have longer daylight hours to do all sorts of outdoor activities such as hiking around the campsite. But camping in Iceland is not just for recreation and fun.
Since accommodation is the biggest expense on an Iceland holiday, many opt to go the camping route to save on their vacay budget. And if you don’t consider yourself to be the next Indiana Jones and enjoy your luxuries, then you can always rent a campervan in Iceland. That way you can go camping in comfort. If you would like to save even more money, buy an Iceland Camping Card.
This card will give a family of 2 adults and up to 4 children access to various campsites across the island for 28 nights. This could mean massive savings if you consider that the average price of camping is $10-$20 per person per night. If you intend to camp during May in Iceland, the following sites come highly recommended:
Driving in Iceland in May
As we’ve already touched on, challenging winter road conditions are in our rearview mirrors. During May in Iceland, you can finally start proper road-tripping again. Just keep in mind that certain regions and roads such as the F-roads in the Highlands will still be closed. So, you’ll need to plan your road trip route and itinerary accordingly.
Also, have a chat with your rental agency regarding your plan, since there are certain roads where it’s recommended that you use a 4x4 in Iceland. If you’re planning on making a road trip out of your visit to the island, the following are some of the favorite routes:
- The Golden Circle
- The Arctic Coast Way
- The Ring Road
- The South Coast Way
- The Westfjords Way
Other Things to Do in Iceland in May
You won’t just be camping and driving your entire trip. The following are some of the exciting things to do in Iceland in May that you can consider adding to your trip itinerary:
- Go on a hike. You can choose from a variety of day or multi-day hiking trails that varies in difficulty level.
- Visit Reykjavík in May and explore the capital city by doing the Reykjavik Food Walk.
- See one of the Iceland waterfalls (there are 10 000 of them!).
- Ride a snowmobile or a Super Jeep across an Iceland glacier.
- See if you can still explore an Iceland ice cave. Exploring the ice caves is an activity mostly preserved for the colder months. Still, if you’re around Katla Ice Cave, for example, you’ll be able to stop by all year around.
- Have a relaxing soak in one of Iceland’s hot springs.
- Dive or snorkel the Silfra Fissure.
- Discover the beautiful Thingvellir National Park.
- Attend events, festivals, or celebrations such as the Reykjavik Art Festival.
- Turn yourself into a Viking at Mink Studio.
- Go horse riding on one of the authentic Icelandic horses.
- Visit one of the many museums such as the Saga Museum or the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
Helpful Tips When You’re Spending May in Iceland
Everyone could do with a helping hand sometimes and if it’s your first time to the island or your first trip in May, the following tips can come in handy:
Don’t Waste Time Discovering the Northern Lights
Look, May in Iceland is not the best time to spot the Aurora Borealis. With just 5–6 hours of proper darkness, you don’t have much time to DIY your own Northern Lights search. Even if you know more or less nothing about the phenomenon and the island.
That’s why we highly recommend that you book yourself a spot on a Northern Lights Tour. That's if you want to stand any chance of seeing this spectacular display of lights. The local guides know exactly what makes the perfect conditions for the lights to appear. And, of course, they also know exactly where on the island they are most likely to appear.
You Need Layers
Shrek famously said that “Ogres are like onions; they have layers”. Well, in Iceland, humans are like onions, they have layers, layers of clothes that is.
Take the local saying regarding “four seasons in one day” seriously. With the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, it’s wise to layer up to always be prepared for whatever happens. By wearing layers, you’ll always be able to take something off or put something back on depending on the weather May in Iceland might bring.
Waterproof Clothing is a MUST
Many leave their waterproof clothing and gear at home, thinking that it’s not really necessary when they’re not planning on going hiking. But this is not the only time waterproof accessories prove to be useful on the island. When you’re walking on a muddy trail on your way to a hot spring, you’ll understand why waterproof hiking boots are an essential item.
And if you’re standing behind Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, nicely posing for a photo whilst other visitors are screeching next to you whilst being drenched by the mist and spray, you’ll get a new appreciation for your raincoat and waterproof clothing.
Stay on Top of the Weather and Road Conditions
The ever-changing weather conditions on the island can still create tricky situations on the road. They can even lead to the sudden closure of roads and attractions. So, before you head out and reach a closed door or a dead-end, watch the Iceland weather forecast. And don't forget about the latest news regarding Iceland road conditions.
Don’t Bring Cash
Unless you’re planning on tipping your guides hundreds or thousands, your cash is best left in the bank. Most of Iceland is cashless and if you have a card with a pin, you’ll be fine paying for things on the island.
Know When to Tip
Tipping in Iceland may work slightly differently from what you’re used to back home. For example, tipping your server in a restaurant is not necessary here on the island. Staff is paid well, and most bills already have service included. Whilst certain tours appreciate visitors tipping their guides, it’s also not considered a ‘must’ and you’ll need to “read the room” as they say.
May You Have an Ama(y)zing Time Traveling Iceland in May!
As you can see from our article, a trip during May in Iceland means exciting times are ahead. We hope that you enjoy your stay and feel welcomed by our locals, who always have a warm smile and a local tale or two to entertain you with. Happy travels!