Travel to Iceland in September and you’ll be aware that autumn has arrived. It’s that time of year when days are getting shorter and there’s a slight chill in the air, but the relatively mild weather means outdoor pursuits aren’t totally off the table.
Iceland in the fall is also a great time to catch the Northern Lights, as solar activity tends to increase around the time of the Equinox.
Organizing a trip for this transitional month has plenty of advantages when it comes to your budget. Flights tend to be cheaper and fewer travelers lead to a decrease in demand for accommodation.
That means you’ll find cheaper prices and better availability for booking your campervan or motorhome rental.
The crowds of summer are a distant memory, especially as the month wears on. This is good news if you plan to visit some of the more touristy spots around the country – you won’t have too much trouble squeezing your campervan or motorhome into the car park.
So what else can you expect if you visit Iceland in September?
Best activities in Iceland in September
Putting together a road trip itinerary for Iceland in September can be a little tricky, particularly if you’re indecisive. The season is by no means over and there’s plenty of options when it comes to things to do, both indoors and outside.
If you’re in need of a little inspiration, we’ve come up with a few of our favorite seasonal activities to get you started:
Check out the autumnal colors at Hraunfossar
Autumnal color isn’t likely to be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about Iceland. At least not in the same way as New England in the fall or the spectacular reds, oranges and golds of Koyo season in Japan.
Some visitors to Iceland are surprised to hear that there are forests in Iceland at all. Spoiler alert: there are.
One of the best places in the country to see vegetation in pretty hues of russet red and burnt orange is at Hraunfossar. All it takes is less than a two-hour drive from Reykjavík to reach this waterfall. And even closer to the Ring Road or if you’ve been traveling around the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Hraunfossar translates to lava falls and is situated on the Hallmundarhraun lava field. Here water percolates through the lava and tumbles over a rock face in a plethora of small cascades that span a width of almost a kilometer.
Where it hasn’t been eroded by the force of the water, shrubs and small trees add a photogenic pop of color, making September in Iceland the perfect time for a visit.
Other popular spots for seeing leaves in all their fall glory are:
- Thingvellir National Park
Of course, Iceland isn’t blessed with endless forests. But the base color palette of grey lava and black sand means that when you do stumble upon autumnal vegetation, it really pops against this almost monochromatic background.
Join Réttir: the annual sheep roundup
There are an estimated 800,000 sheep in Iceland – that’s more than double the number of people that call the country home. If you’re keen to get a sense of how the Icelandic community functions, then try to get involved with one of the sheep roundups that happen around this time of year.
Farmers across the country need to herd their sheep down from the communal pastures in the mountains. They then graze them on lower ground for the winter, where they can be fed more easily if the ground becomes covered in snow.
It’s an ancient tradition known as the réttir and as you drive round the country you can’t fail to spot the circular pens that are integral to the process.
The annual roundup is a community event. Everyone, both young and old gets involved to bring the animals down and sort them in specially designed pens so that each farmer’s herd is separate.
Traditionally, this was done on horseback but you’ll also see people on foot or on ATVs. Check listings in the local paper to find an event near to where you plan to stay. Joining in with the réttir is one of the most fun – and tiring – things you can do if you’re visiting Iceland in September.
If you’re an experienced rider, you can book a horseback tour and saddle up to help drive the sheep down. However, even if you’ve never ridden a horse, you can still help sort, and join in the party – réttir is as much about food and music as it is about farming.
Head out on an Aurora Borealis hunt
Solar activity tends to increase at the time of the equinoxes. That makes this time of year the ideal season to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, so long as the skies are clear.
Iceland in late September is characterized by shorter days, which makes it more likely that it will be dark enough to spot the aurora in all its glory. Don’t book a tour; all you need is a set of wheels to go on a DIY Aurora camper hunt!
No matter where you’re hoping to catch them, keep in mind that a number of conditions need to be met in order to do so.
In addition to plenty of solar activity, you’re going to need to drive somewhere that’s unsullied by light pollution. So before it gets dark, build in time to find some countryside lay-bys that might be suitable.
The other crucial factor is cloud cover. You could have a magnificent aurora display going on across the sky, but if your view is blocked by clouds, then you won’t have a clue what’s happening above your head. Stay glued to the weather forecast as well as the aurora forecast to know when you’ve hit the jackpot.
Unless you’re under city street lights, pretty much anywhere that has an uninterrupted view of the northern sky will provide a possibility of aurora spotting.
If you’re hoping to share pictures, you’ll find it easier to manually focus your camera if you can check that there is something sharp in the foreground. That’s why so many aurora hunters prefer places such as Kirkjufell mountain in the Snæfellsnes peninsula or Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South Iceland.
Go berry picking
Several types of berries grow wild in Iceland, among them blueberries (aðalbláber), crowberries (krækiber), and bog bilberries (bláber). In August and September in Iceland, it’s customary to go berry picking.
As you drive around the country, keep a spare container in your campervan and an eye out for locals bent over close to the ground beside the road. So long as the berries are growing on public land – check if you’re unsure – then picking them is free game.
The exact dates when the berries are ripe and sweet enough to eat vary from year to year, depending on the weather. Broadly speaking, if it’s been sunny and warm in July and August, the berries will ripen earlier.
So to go berry picking in September, you’ll be relieved to hear it wasn’t a great summer. Ask a local if you forgot to keep an eye on the weather reports.
These days, the practice, known as berjamór or berry picking, is a good excuse to get outdoors in the fresh air. In the past, it would have been essential to supplement a basic diet with berries, as they are an important source of vitamin C.
Leftovers that couldn’t be eaten straightaway would be turned into jam. Nowadays, you can still find jars on sale in village stores and roadside farms.
Attend a seasonal festival
There are a number of seasonal events which usually take place in Iceland in September. Among them are:
Ljósanótt, whose name translates as Night of Lights, has taken place in Reykjanesbær on the first weekend of the month for about twenty years.
A gorgeous spectacle to be seen, lights illuminate the hills behind the town and art galleries put on special exhibitions. Melodies can be heard from near and far, as bands gather to play music to supportive crowds. The whole thing wraps up with a dazzling fireworks display- the ultimate cherry on top.
Reykjavik International Literary Festival
In 2011, Reykjavík became the fifth UNESCO City of Literature thanks to Iceland’s contribution to the written word and reading’s importance to the Icelandic identity.
The Reykjavik International Literary Festival is a biennial event that celebrates the richness of the literary world, inviting publishers, editors and agents from all over to attend. If your trip falls on an “odd” year, then it’s worth checking out this September festival while you’re in the capital.
Reykjavik International Film Festival
Iceland’s answer to Cannes and Sundance, the Reykjavik International Film Festival is held in the capital at the end of September. If you love cinema, plan to be in town to grab tickets for the movie premieres and film showings, which take place over 11 days.
As many as one hundred movies showcase home-grown talent and the work of overseas directors, so there’s sure to be something that represents your favorite genre.
Reykjavik Jazz Festival
Held each year at the start of September in Iceland, the Reykjavik Jazz Festival has been an eagerly anticipated event for more than 30 years. It’s the second-longest-running music festival in Iceland (the oldest is Dark Music Days) and showcases jazz in all its forms.
Contemporary, Big Band, Latin and gospel are all represented here. Grab tickets to a concert or two and let your hair down as you soak in live music in the Land of Fire and Ice.
Time to plan your trip to Iceland in September!
As you can see, visiting Iceland in September means you could have the holiday of a lifetime. Get your fill of Icelandic culture and experience its unforgettable landscapes up close and personal.
See why traveling during this shoulder season month might even be better than a trip in the height of summer. Get those bags packed: your campervan rental is right here waiting for you to pick up the keys!