Iceland in May is pretty special. The temperatures are starting to climb – you might even get lucky with some double-digit days – which means nature is beginning to wake from her winter slumber. Hardy spring flowers add a much loved injection of color to the landscape and as the days lengthen, there’s a general feeling of optimism for the summer ahead. So why not load your stuff into a campervan rental and hit the road?
What to expect in May
Iceland in May is what’s known in the trade as the ‘shoulder season’. Visitor numbers haven’t yet reached their summer peak, but if you’re keen to park up the campervan for a day and book a tour, there’s enough people around to share it with. There's plenty to do in Iceland by this time! Oh and that’s not all: accommodation’s cheaper at this time of year than in July or August and the roads are quieter. What’s not to love?
Though nothing’s a guarantee in Iceland, the worst of the wintry weather should also be behind you. Make sure you are aware of Iceland's climate before traveling. If you’re wondering what to pack for Iceland in May, it’s still wise to bring some winter gear as well as lighter layers. Factor in those lighter evenings and it’s not hard to see why this time of year is great for maximizing sightseeing time, indoors and out – it really is the best time to travel.
Here are our suggestions for eight things you should do if your holiday in Iceland in May:
Our Top 8 Best things to do in Iceland in may
1. Hike to a volcano
In March 2021, a hitherto unknown volcano called Fagradalsfjall made the world sit up and take notice. For six months, it spewed fiery red molten magma from multiple craters and fissures, transforming the landscape and captivating those who hiked up to take a closer look. As the eruption slowed, steaming vents and sulfur-stained lava rock stepped up to become the attention-grabbers.
Although the Fagradalsfjall eruption is over, at least for now, lava fields such as this one in Reykjanes are a reminder of how raw, unpredictable and downright compelling the Icelandic landscape is. If you hike, you can choose from several trails that offer various views of the crater and lava field. Who knows when the volcano will burst into life again – last time there was a gap of more than 800 years between activity. So, do add this one to the list of things to do in May!
2. Find out about Siglufjörður’s herring heritage
In the 1950s, the North Iceland town of Siglufjörður was a busy port which made its fortune from a single type of fish: the humble herring. Hundreds of fishing boats set off in search of the herring that migrated to nearby waters. The waterfront was lined with wharves and jetties that would have buzzed with activity as the fish were unloaded. For a time, it was the largest port in the country.
Across the road from the harbor, in colorful buildings housing what’s now Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum, you can learn about how the fish were processed and how these small factories turned out thousands of barrels of smoked and pickled herring.
It was a cosmopolitan place and the money flowed freely until one day, in the 1960s, the herring simply disappeared. Why? You’ll just have to drive up in Iceland in May and find out!
3. Scoff waffles in the Westfjords
The owners of Simbahöllin café in Þingeyri make a bold claim: to serve the best waffles in Iceland. It’s quite a trek to reach this out of the way place deep in the Westfjords, but many do, particularly from May onwards when the weather of Iceland in May often improves. The waffles here are light and fluffy; topped with homemade rhubarb jam and heaps of cream they are utterly delicious.
Even if there appears to be no one around for miles, somehow you find yourself waiting in line for a table at Simbahöllin café unless you get there right on opening time. As the access to the Westfjords improves, road traffic’s likely to increase and, we’re guessing, so too will the queue for this place. It’ll still be worth it, but we reckon it’s best to get there sooner rather than later.
4. Hike to the wreck of a plane
Once upon a time, it was possible to drive across a unique black sand beach until you reached a wrecked plane. The US Navy DC-3, carrying a small crew and cargo, crashed at Sólheimasandur in South Iceland in 1973. Fortunately, no lives were lost but given its location, no one ever thought to recover the plane. Over the years, it succumbed to the elements – wind, snow and rain took its toll and the shell was a mess.
It’s still possible to get out to Sólheimasandur and take a closer look at the crashed plane but you’ll need to hike – it’s no longer permitted to drive along the barely-there track.
It’s not Iceland’s most scenic hike, though, so prepare yourself for a fairly monotonous landscape once you’ve parked up and set off on foot. But don't rule this out of your list of Iceland in May just yet. The end result is worth it. It’s a surreal sight, particularly if you head out there at night under the Northern Lights.
5. Shop at Iceland’s oldest book store in the Westfjords
The Old Bookstore in Flateyri opened in 1914 and has been trading ever since. The sign above the shop doorway reads Bræðurnir Eyjólfsson and today it’s run by Eyþór Jóvinsson who’s the great-grandson of the original owner.
As you step through the door, there’s plenty to remind you of how it might have looked in the old days. Faded ledgers line the back wall of the store and even now, secondhand books are sold by weight.
Bræðurnir Eyjólfsson is a functioning bookstore. In fact one honest Icelander visited in 2019 to pay an outstanding debt of 1500ISK racked up by his grandfather, a farmer in Önundarfjörður, exactly 100 years earlier. For visitors, there’s also a small museum to take a nose around. Eyþór’s great grandparents lived beside the shop for decades and the family have kept their home as it was when they passed on.
6. Take a mountain bike for a spin
The weather in Iceland in May is likely to be much milder by late spring and perhaps even sunny, so perhaps this is the month to try mountain biking. Cut your teeth on the trails within Heiðmörk Nature Reserve. There are plenty of graded trails suitable for beginners which get you among the area’s red pseudo craters. It’s not far from Reykjavik which makes it really convenient.
A much more challenging mountain biking route might lure you to East Iceland. Begin beside the Atlantic Ocean at Dalatangi lighthouse and follow route 953 along Mjóifjörður. Just beyond the head of the fjord, take a break to admire a pretty stepped waterfall called Klifbrekku. Follow the road north to Egilsstaðir before looping back to follow the road south to Hallormsstaðaskógur, Iceland’s biggest forest, beside Lagarfljót lake.
7. Learn about Icelandic history at the Saga Museum in Reykjavik
Iceland’s history is brought to life at the Saga Museum. If you’re interested to find out what brought the early settlers to Iceland and, more importantly, what made them stay, this is a good place to start. Don't underestimate it, as it's on our list of the best things to do in Iceland!
Take a journey through hundreds of years of history, reliving volcanic eruptions, the ravages of diseases such as the Black Death, and violent battles between warring chieftains.
At the Saga Museum, meet the people that shaped a nation, such as the adventurous Leifur Eiríksson (he’s the one whose statue is in front of Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik) and Sister Katrin, a 14th-century nun who was burned at the stake for selling her soul to the devil. You’ll also hear the story of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first Norseman who liked Iceland enough to stay – Ingólfshöfði on the South Coast is named in his honor.
8. Visit Glaumbær in Skagafjörður
One of the most curious forms of architecture you’ll come across while in Iceland is the humble turf house. There are plenty of examples to see as you drive around the country, such as at Árbær Open Air Museum on the edge of Reykjavik or at Keldur in South Iceland, thought to be the oldest in the country. Up in North Iceland, you won’t want to miss Glaumbær.
The last inhabitants didn’t leave Glaumbær until 1947 and the place is now preserved as a museum, so you can see what it would have been like in the 18th or 19th centuries. Once you get inside, you’ll see that they built this farmhouse from turf, stones and timber. Like all turf houses, when it rained, Glaumbær would have been damp and leaky, the exact opposite of your current home on wheels, which will be snug and cozy no matter what the weather.
MAY the force take you to Iceland!
No matter where your travels take you, Iceland in May is a special place indeed. Whether you choose to rent a campervan or a motorhome, you’ll have a great time. From the open road to fascinating stops such as these, we know you’ll have a fabulous time whatever you’re doing.