Getting started

When leaving Berlin in late March to road trip Island, the first reaction of most friends was „Why would you leave to the cold again after 8 months of Siberian climate?“ Understandable question after a long time of hibernation in the German capital. But also one that could be answered easily „Because the flights were really cheap I want to go to experience Iceland as soon as possible.“ Said and done. Without any preparation except five kilos of pasta, rice and nuts we flew off into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Why to travel in spring

Depending on the kind of activities you want to undertake, the weather and hours of daylight you want to experience, the choice of season is an essential one. While the average temperature in Reykjavík is around -2 degrees in December it can go up to 14 degrees in July. Winter offers various sports possibilities, a high chance to see the northern lights plus long long winter nights. Of course summer offers lush green landscapes, easy accessibility of roads and hike paths plus a vibrant flora and fauna. No wonder it is also the season most tourists come to Iceland.

When coming to Iceland in springtime you can look forward to days that are already pretty long, which means sunrise happens around 5am while the last beams can be seen around 10pm. So you have one entire day to venture out. For us that meant driving around 200 – 300 kilometres per day and enjoying one of the most amazing landscapes I ever saw. As soon as you drive out of Reykjavík volcanic landscapes with geysers, loads of waterfalls and amazing coastlines await you.

The roads

Be sure to check the condition of the road before you go. Not only the evening before but right before you start the engine. The weather in Iceland changes very quickly due to its location with the Gulf stream floating along the south and west coast while cold Artic air is coming in from the north. In spring, when the snow is melting, most of the main roads are accessible. For route 1, the ring route, this means that we had no problems at all driving our sardines can aka car around the island. Luckily many sights are next to the ring road or only a short hike away. So even if some of the smaller gravel roads are still closed you can get to most of the main sights. However, if you want to explore the inland, you should definitely come back in summer and save some money for that four-wheel drive.

The accommodation

Towards the main season which starts in June, Iceland becomes more and more busy. In April you can still be pretty spontaneous about accommodation. Just go where you want to go and check in. If you want to be on the safe side, check one day in advance where you will spend your next night. For us that meant that we checked what we felt like doing and booked our accommodation for the coming day. In the low season, that is no problem at all. There was never any problem with overbooking and from small wooden huts to beautiful privates rooms and hostels we always immediately found a nice place to stay. Simply check out the known accommodation websites and find a variety of offers for every budget. If you are price-senstive you should check out the site of Hostelling International. Here you can find all the hostels along route 1. Make sure you find an place to stay that offers a shared kitchen, so you can prepare your own meals. Also farm houses offer accommodation, check their websites or simply try to ring the bell. In summer it is definitely necessary to prebook or take a tent with you as a backup plan.

The Aurora

Probably one of the most popular reasons for many people to come to Iceland is to see the Aurora Borealis. Sun storms that hit the the earth’s atmosphere, and paint amazing green, sometimes red and even purple forms into the sky. In Iceland the polar lights can be seen between the end of September and April. When you don´t want to deep freeze in December, you can still experience the Aurora in the spring months. And we did, twice the heaven in the east and north of the Iceland kept us up for a long time.

If you prefer not to spend your night with your nose pushed against the window, there are handy websites to check out how likely it is to see the Aurora at a certain time. Check out the site of the Icelandic Met Office or this site which uses data from the NASAs ACE spacecraft to predict sun storms to find out if it is worth it to stay up late. If so, make sure to get out of town, grab your thermos and some blankets to get comfy.

The Wild Life

If you like birds, Iceland will be your thing. However, when driving around the island in spring, many of them may not have arrived yet from their winter lodging. That said, you probably already spot some whales up North. Quite a compensation! We drove up to the whale watching town of Húsavík, not getting our hopes up too high. Even when booking the tour we were told that whale season has just started and it was not certain how many of them already found their way North traveling from the Caribbean. But at least one of the minke whales did and swam next to our boat for forty minutes, not only showing its fin but also doing the move I only knew from documentaries: the spout.

In summer you can see humpback whales, orkas and even blue whales in this area. Make sure to book your trip in advance. Two of the main operators in Husavik are Gentle Giants and North Sailing. They will take you into the bay that hosts loads of whales every year. There are also plenty of other animals you can see all around the year including birds, reindeers and snow foxes, if you are lucky.

The downside of travelling in spring

Alright, let’s be honest about this. When there are upsides there will probably also be some downsides. Actually there are not so many but be ready for the following:

The weather

As mentioned before the weather can be very unpredictable. That counts for all seasons. When talking to Icelanders they will maybe tell you that sun might be predicted for the next hours but they would never ever believe the weather forecast for the following days. Thus, be prepared, bring enough clothes to perform the onion look. Still don´t forget your bathing suit as one of the many hot springs heats you up even when the north winds let the whole country shiver. Even though it never gets really hot in Iceland summer offers milder temperatures and blooming landscapes. That’s why you can also hit all the amazing hiking trails and get to many more places by car at that time of the year.

Availability & Opening Times

Some museums, restaurants and activities might still be closed or not available yet. In case you are not sure, call them in advance, so you avoid disappointments and long hours on gravel roads without any rewards.

Handy tips for your road trip

Groceries: It is not a secret that Iceland does not belong to the most affordable destinations. But if you consider some things you can save some money. Take staple foods from your home country: cereal, pasta, rice, nuts, sweets. If you want to warm up with some whiskey in your tea while watching the Northern lights, also buy that in advance.

Playlists: Even our little racer offered the possibility to connect our mobiles via Bluetooth. Put your road trip playlists together in advance. As you will spend quite a lot of time in your car, music, podcasts and audiobooks for every mood are essential.

Security: Iceland is a really safe country. You just have to be aware that there are a few things you need to consider when being in the great outdoors. Quick weather changes, active volcanoes and icy walking paths are some of them. Loads of handy tips can be found here. You can log in your plans for your trip so in case of emergency people are aware that you are on the island. Also be careful when you want to dive into unknown water holes and hot springs. The water can be really hot, so never just jump in, if you do not want to get out blanched.

Pack-list: A warm, wind-proof jacket, hiking boots, a cap and a good camera are the essentials. Don´t pack too much, gor for the onion look. Bring a refillable bottle as the tab water in Iceland is delicious and you can drink it anytime. Don´t get irritated by the smell of rotten eggs, you will get used to it.

Iceland is definitely worth a trip at any time of the year. Still spring has to offer a lot and is great for road trips. The weather and road conditions allow you to complete the ring road without any problems. It is not that busy yet and you can find yourself with only few or even no other people at the natural sights. Thumbs up for Iceland in spring!

About the author:

After studying in the Netherlands, Spain and Finland Berlin became Rebecca’s home turf where she writes for a living as a freelance editor. She cures the symptoms of travel fever by always having a next trip planned.
In the meantime the capital offers so many people, stories and places that it can feel like an adventurous place far far away. Current challenges are: trying to learn the cello, finding out all about the possibilities of sustainable lifestyle and riding her bike everywhere. Her work is available here.