May is a great time to visit Iceland. The snow is almost completely thawed, throngs of other tourists haven’t quite descended, and the days are getting longer and longer.
With so much to see across the Land of Fire and Ice in May, the best way to see it all is by renting a car. This is your ultimate guide to a self-driving trip of Iceland in May.
What is the weather in Iceland in May?
May is the start of summer months in Iceland. That being said, it’s not unheard of to get a surprise snow squall or freezing temperatures – especially at the beginning of the month.
In May, Iceland’s weather tends to be unpredictable, with a range of conditions from bright sunshine to hailstorms in a single day. Generally, by May, snowfall diminishes significantly. While Icelandic weather is renowned for its variability, the chance of encountering snow in May is minimal. However, some mountain peaks may still retain snow, offering opportunities for high-altitude climbing adventures.
For the capital city of Reykjavik, temperatures hover between 49°F and 39°F and rainfall is no more than 2 inches on average while snow is typically less than an inch. Daylight increases over the course of the month, topping out at 21 hours a day by the end of the month.
Iceland’s northern city of Akureyri is virtually the same as Reykjavik in terms of temperature. They will typically see a bit more snow and rain and daylight hours are just a bit longer than Reykjavik by about 30 minutes overall.
Hours of Daylight in Iceland in May
During early May, sunrise occurs around 5 AM, with sunset around 10 PM. As the month progresses, daylight hours lengthen significantly.
By late May, the sun rises as early as 3:30 AM and sets around 11:30 PM. This results in only four hours of darkness, with twilight persisting throughout the night. Consequently, it never truly gets dark during this period, making it impossible to witness the northern lights.
Viewing the Midnight Sun in Iceland in May
Towards the end of May, visitors to Iceland are on the brink of experiencing the phenomenon of the midnight sun. With daylight hours increasing as the month progresses, late May offers a glimpse into Iceland’s renowned midnight sun, where the sun remains visible even at midnight.
Can you see northern lights in iceland in May?
You CANNOT see the northern lights in Iceland in May. Daylight increases to an average of 18.5 hours a day and you need complete darkness to be able to witness this phenomenon. The typicaly cut off for seeing the auroras is mid-April.
What to bring when travel Iceland in May?
Preparing for a trip to Iceland in May means packing smart to enjoy all the adventures our beautiful country offers. Here’s a handy list of what to bring:
- Warm Clothes: Even though it’s getting warmer, Iceland’s weather can surprise you. Pack layers like a cozy sweater, waterproof jacket, thermal pants, jeans or joggers, a hat, gloves, and good socks.
- Waterproof Gear: Rain showers are common, so pack a rain jacket and water-resistant pants to stay dry during outdoor activities.
- Comfortable Shoes: Explore Iceland’s rugged terrain with sturdy, waterproof shoes to avoid soggy feet.
- Swimming Gear: Don’t miss out on Iceland’s hot springs and geothermal pools—pack swimwear and a towel for a relaxing soak.
- Camera Gear: Capture Iceland’s stunning landscapes with your camera, tripod, and wide-angle lens for the best shots.
- Power Adapters: Remember to bring the right power adapter for your electronics since Iceland uses EU sockets.
- Sunscreen: Even though it’s not hot, the sun can be strong, so pack sunscreen to protect your skin during outdoor excursions.
The Road Conditions of Iceland in May
Roads around Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and Iceland’s Southern Coast should be easy to drive in the month of May. Snow and ice becomes more and more scarce as the month of May marches on.
The North, Westfjords, and East Iceland are a bit of a different story. Drivers may encounter snow and ice throughout the month of May in these remote areas and should be prepared to drive in inclement weather conditions.
Most of Iceland’s F-roads that lead into the interior of the country will remain closed until mid-June.
Always be sure to check up to date road conditions on Iceland’s official roadway website road.is .
What car to rent in May?
For traveling around Iceland in May, it’s best to pick a tough and reliable car that can handle different kinds of roads and weather. A 4×4 cheap SUV is a good choice because it can go on both paved roads and rough tracks, which is handy if you want to explore remote places.
These cars have plenty of space for your stuff and are comfy, especially if you plan to camp or carry lots of gear. Also, it’s important to have a car that can handle bumpy roads and streams you might have to cross in some areas. Make sure the car has safety features, and it’s a good idea to get one with GPS and ways to call for help in case of an emergency.
Best Things to Do in Iceland in May
While you won’t be able to see Icelands famous northern lights in May, winter is finally almost over and there are so many places to explore! Here are some of the best things to do in Iceland in May.
1. Go Lava Caving
Make like Jules Verne and head towards the center of the earth in Iceland! The lava caves are open for exploration in May and are one of the most unique experiences you can have here in the Land of Fire and Ice.
Several different tour operators offer lava cave expeditions where avid adventurers will quite literally descend into the heart of a volcano cave. Molten magma once flowed through these tunnels, carving out the rock where you’ll be standing and walking. The caves come alive in beautiful colors like red, orange, and purple.
Most tours visit either the Raufarholshellir or Vidgelmir cave systems. Grab your headlamps, hiking boots, and helmets, and your local guide will lead you through these pathways carved by lava. How many places in the world can you do that?
2. See Puffins
May is one of the first months of the year when you can see puffins in Iceland! The puffin colonies here are the largest in the entire world and you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see this colorful birds in their natural habitat.
Several tours leave from both Reykjavik and Husavik to see puffins by boat, but these aren’t the largest colonies. To see millions of these little guys nesting, you’ll have to go out to the Westman Islands, located off of Iceland’s Southern Coast, by boat. The best places to see puffins from land in Iceland are in the Westfjords and the Dyrholaey Peninsula. Renting a car is a great way to connect the dots and see multiple puffin colonies.
3. Road Trip Around Iceland
May is a great month to rent a car in Iceland. The summer price hike hasn’t started yet and the roads and parking lots are mostly free of any tourist-related traffic and congestion. The most popular road trip is to circumnavigate the island via Iceland’s Ring Road.
Also known as Route 1, this highway is a perfect loop around the country with many of the natural highlights just off the road itself. Other popular road trips are the Golden Circle, just outside of Reykjavik, or the Westfjords although it can be snowy in May.
Traveling by bus long distances in Iceland can take much longer than you might be anticipating. On the other hand, jumping on a tour doesn’t give you much freedom to explore. These are two of the top reasons that we highly recommend that you get your own set of wheels while traveling around Iceland.
4. Ride an Icelandic horse
horseback riding in Iceland offers a delightful experience amidst the breathtaking landscapes and the opportunity to encounter the iconic Icelandic horses.
Icelandic horses are cherished for their diverse colors and sizes, reflecting the country’s rich equestrian heritage. Originating from the settlement era in the 9th century, these horses embody Iceland’s pride and resilience.
Despite their smaller stature, Icelandic horses are renowned for their amiable disposition, sturdy build, intelligence, and reliability. They warmly welcome riders of all levels, ensuring a pleasant and secure journey through Iceland’s enchanting terrains.
Embarking on a horseback riding tour in May provides an ideal balance of warmer temperatures and picturesque surroundings. As you saddle up and set forth into the Icelandic wilderness, you’ll traverse farmlands, serene rivers, and tranquil countryside, immersing yourself in the historic and natural wonders of Iceland.
5. Visit hot springs or Icelandic local swimming pools
Iceland’s hot springs and swimming pools offer a delightful blend of relaxation and natural beauty. Unlike the winter chill, May’s milder weather makes it the perfect time to indulge in these geothermal wonders.
From luxurious spas with modern amenities to hidden natural pools, there’s something for everyone.Reykjavik alone boasts over 17 public swimming pools, each offering more than just swimming facilities, with saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs.
Laugardalslaug stands out with its array of amenities, including water slides, steam rooms, and Olympic-sized pools. Just remember to adhere to local customs, like showering naked before entering the water, for a clean and enjoyable experience.
Cultural Events in Iceland
For travelers visiting Iceland in May, there’s a vibrant array of festivals and celebrations to explore, highlighting music, arts, religion, and local traditions.
Ascension Day: Celebrated 40 days after Easter, Ascension Day is a public holiday in Iceland. Families gather to enjoy traditional cuisine and visit iconic churches like Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik.
RAFLOST: The Icelandic Festival of Electronic Arts showcases cutting-edge electronic artistry, attracting global talents for a collaborative experience in Reykjavik.
International Day of the Icelandic Horse: A celebration of Iceland’s iconic horse breed, marked by open days at stables across the country for visitors to meet these majestic creatures.
May First (Labor Day): Also known as “May First” in Iceland, this public holiday often sees protests advocating for workers’ rights, with gatherings in downtown Reykjavik culminating in speeches and communal gatherings at Austurvollur Square.
Traveling Iceland with a cheap car in May
May is one of the best times to drive around Iceland and there’s no better way to combine budget and freedom than renting an inexpensive car with Firefly Iceland Car Rentals. Start planning your self-drive around Iceland today!