Things to do in Iceland in May
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
The merry month of May might just be the best time of year for visiting Iceland. Much of the country is just beginning to immerge from winter. Spring is in the air and the people are in good spirits anticipating warm days ahead. Spring flowers begin to blossom in May, dotting the countryside and gardens with splashes of colour. People also start to venture outdoors more, with some tentative BBQs and picnics being held on warmer days. Another big bonus to travel at this time of year is that everything is a little cheaper. Good news in a country known for its relatively high prices. Peak season in Iceland is June to August, so a visit in May means you are getting in just before it. You’ll have lots of the benefits of peak season travel, but with great offers on camper rentals and accommodation. You’ll also have fewer other travellers to share it all with. Read on for our ultimate guide to things to do in Iceland in May.
Rent a Campervan and explore
May is a great time to explore Iceland by Campervan for several reasons. As mentioned, camper rentals in May will be far more reasonable than in peak season and the roads will be quieter too. Also, milder conditions mean that the roads will be far less treacherous and you won’t need to worry too much about ice and snow. Although northern, central and more isolated areas might still require 4x4 vehicles. Many more of the roads will be passable by regular two-wheel drive cars or campers though, and the entire ring road should be easy to explore. If you are considering hiring a campervan or taking a tent, then you’ll find many of the campsites begin to open their gates in May too. In recent years campsites have been extending their seasons. On the Ring Road route you are certain to find plenty of campsites with their facilities fully open in May.
Whale watching tours
Wildlife enthusiasts will be pleased to know that May is the beginning of whale watching season in Iceland. All around the country from late April to around September you’ll have the opportunity to see many types of whales in Iceland’s waters. This island nation welcomes Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales and Minke Whales to its bays and coastline in abundance. There is also plenty more marine wildlife to enjoy, including dolphins. Boat tours set off frequently from many parts of the country, including Reykjavik and Dalvik in the north.
As well as seeing the giants of the ocean, May is also a great time of year for puffin watching. From April onwards our feathered friends return from the sea to nest. If you’re visiting Iceland by car be sure to head to the South Coast puffin colonies of Dyrhólaey or Reynisfjall. Even if you are not a dedicated birder, puffins are fascinating creatures to observe. They are also quite confident around humans, so it’s possible to see them and their habits up close.
The spring melt
At this time of year the landscapes in Iceland are simply magical. The mountains still have a dusting of snow adding an edge to the epic vistas. But the spring melt is well underway too, feeding the vegetation with life-giving water. The countryside is lush and green and the wild flowers are raising their blossoms to the warmth of the sun. All this water means that the many rivers and waterfalls in Iceland are in full flow too. The immense Gullfoss Waterfall will be all the more dramatic at this time of year. Waterfalls abound in Iceland and there’s nothing more thrilling than seeing these thundering falls is full flow.
The Golden Circle tour in all its glory
This classic tour of Iceland takes you to three of the country’s most iconic destinations. The Golden Circle, sometimes known as the Golden Triangle, includes the beautiful Thingvellir National Park, the mighty Gullfoss Waterfall and the otherworldly Geysir Geothermal Area. The advantage to visiting these sights in May is that there will be fewer people there to share them with. These are some of the most well visited places in Iceland, so in peak season they can feel a little crowded. The month of May also provides plenty of daylight hours (from about 5am to 10pm) so there are fewer people and more daylight hours to play with. All this daylight means you’ll have plenty of time for detours to other sights on the route too, from black sand beaches with bizarre rock formations to waterfalls and hot springs. The list of natural attractions in Iceland is endless.
The Northern Lights
Although May is not the best time to visit to see the Northern Lights, it is still a slim possibility. Full darkness is only for a brief time right in the middle of the night. So you will need to stay up late and cross your fingers! For your best chance of seeing the dancing lights, you should head into the countryside away from any form of light pollution. City lights will spoil your chances. Tent camping or hiring a campervan with a specially fitted sunroof is a great way to maximise your chances. If the weather forecast indicates clear skies, then get an early night and set the alarm clock for midnight! You never know, you might just get lucky.
The beauty of the Blue Lagoon
Iceland is home to many a wonderful hot spring, but the Blue Lagoon is the most famous of all. Taking a dip in its thermal waters is a must, so don’t forget to pack your swim suit. The milky-blue waters are naturally heated to a balmy 38 degrees Celsius or so, and contain healing properties for the skin. Even though May is a quieter time of year, play it safe and book your spot in advance. You can visit the Blue Lagoon official website for detailed information on opening hours and booking slots. As well as the healing and relaxing qualities of the waters, the volcanic scenery surrounding the lake is stunning. Really, don’t miss it!
Winter in North Iceland
Although May is officially springtime, different parts of the country feel the effects of the changing season at varying rates. This time of year in North Iceland can still feel quite wintery. This is great news for travellers, as you will be able to experience both seasons to a certain degree. The wild and dramatic landscapes of the north offer a taste of a real winter wonderland. There will be snow, ice caps and glaciers to enjoy. In fact you can still take part in many winter activities at this time of year, such as ice caving or guided glacier hikes. The ski season in Iceland also runs until the end of May in most resorts. So you will have the full benefit of taking to the slopes under the midnight sun! Hiring gear is easy but it’s a good idea to take warm winter layers. Even if you don’t plan on hitting the slopes merino and microfiber layers should be on your packing list. Add to that water and wind proof jackets, sturdy hiking boots, gloves, socks and a snood to minimise wind chill.
Hang out in Reykjavik
Iceland’s capital, the wonderful city of Reykjavik, is a great place to visit at any time of year. But in May the capital has that buoyant springtime vibe in abundance. This is where the majority of the population lives after all. Residents are emerging from their winter hibernation and heading out to enjoy the city’s many bars, restaurants and galleries. The nightlife will be heating up in May, with live music and other events and a buzzing atmosphere. Again it’s low season, so you’ll find more availability on accommodation and you’re more likely to get that hot restaurant reservation!