Though October is considered the start of winter according to the old Norse calendar (there are only two seasons, summer and winter), don’t let that dissuade you from visiting. Offering the best of both seasons, the days are long enough to fill with outdoor activities and the nights are dark enough and mostly cloud-free to enjoy the Northern Lights (over 11 hours of daylight versus 8 at the end of the month), and most roads are still accessible to stellar locations.
In the south, the temperatures usually fall between 36-44 degrees Fahrenheit, while the northern reaches of the country can be colder and snowier. Always bear in mind, Iceland has highly changeable weather, so you’ll want to pack warm layers and waterproof outer gear, and comfortable walking shoes with good grip for all sorts of terrain and potential snow.
Crowds & Costs
One of the least busy months of the year, the summer tourist rush is over and the festivities of early winter are yet to occur, making a visit to Iceland’s popular attractions certainly more peaceful. Airlines and hotels will have introduced shoulder-season rates that offer significant savings, making October an ideal time to visit if you’re in want of avoiding crowds and looking for a bargain.
Where to Go
October offers the best of both seasons with the added bonus of no tourists making this a great time to hire a car and explore the island at your own pace. Most travelers will either start or end their trip with a few days in the capital of Reykjavík. A classic next stop from here is to discover popular attractions along the Golden Circle and Southern shore, beginning with Thingvellir National Park and ending at the rugged coastline of Vík and Dyrhólaey.
If time is on your side, continue to circumnavigate the small island as you follow the Ring Road east (being mindful of poor driving conditions and in some cases road closures). Some highlights include: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach, the rugged fjord coastline of the eastern coast (Höfn, Vestrahorn mountain, wild reindeer, and the stunning village of Seyðisfjörður), the hot springs and craters of the northern coast ( Mývatn, Dimmuborgir, Goðafoss, Akureyri), and a detour to the Westfjords, Snæfellsnes peninsula, and Reykholt.
For alternate travel itinerary options read 7 Unique Self-Drive Itineraries.
What to Do
Take advantage of the changing foliage, few tourists, and reasonable daylight, with day-long hikes into the interior of the country (most multi-day options aren’t available).
Trek through forested Þórsmörk in the south, amid rhyolite mountains in Landmannalagaur in the Highlands, Mount Snæfell in the west, and Dyrfjöll in the east or choose between a number of trails in and around the eastern fjords—some of the country’s best hiking. Consider a combined Super Jeep and hiking tour to access some of the harder to reach locations as well as to move into light pollution-free skies to witness the flashes of color of the Northern Lights.
Other outdoor activities include riding an Icelandic horse into the Reykjadalur Valley to warming hot springs and a geothermal river or joining a whale-watching tour to Skjálfandi Bay outside of Húsavík or Faxaflói Bay from Reykjavík. Another tour worth considering is a boat tour to explore Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon where you will cruise across the lake amid icebergs calved from a distant glacier. Snowmobiling across the Vatnajökull and Langjökull glaciers is a fun winter activity as well as glacier hiking—many opportunities exist around the country, where Sólheimajokull is the most popular.
Though available year-round, diving or snorkeling the Silfra fissure in Þingvellir National Park in October is ideal as the air temperature remains above freezing. Put on a drysuit and slip into the Lángjökull glacial waters between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Events in October
Lighting of Imagine Peace Tower. Every October 9, Icelanders gather around Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower monument, in the form of a wishing well, to light the beacon of peace in honor of John Lennon’s birthday and the couple’s legacy for world peace.
Iceland Airwaves. Perhaps Iceland’s most famous music concert, this mid-October annual event attracts crowds from across the world who come to hear Iceland’s best indie and alternative bands.