October is the shoulder season in Iceland, but it’s still a great time to travel here! Yes, you’ll want to bring layers to stay warm, but you’ll be able to do a ton of cool stuff and the crowds will be thinner than in the high season. Here are the best things to do in Iceland in October, plus a travel guide with weather information, what to pack, where to stay, other great Iceland travel resources for your trip.
The Best Things to Do in Iceland in October
You can expect to be able to do each of these things in October (or most of October).
A lot of people come to Iceland and skip Reykjavik, but I think that’s a huge mistake. There’a so much to do here! It’s a hip city with great Scandinavian architecture and adorable coffee shops and bars. Plus it has some of my favorite museums in the world and a wonderful Old Harbor.
You can do everything on the first two days of my 3-day Reykjavik Itinerary, exploring the city on foot. Highlights include the Sun Voyager, Harpa, and going to the top of Hallgrímskirkja.
If you want to see the city, but you don’t want to walk in the autumn cold, you can go around Reykjavik on a Reykjavik Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. This way you can see the city from inside a cozy bus.
If you like the idea of exploring on foot, but you don’t want to follow my self-guided walking tour, then you can go on a Reykjavik City Walking Tour so you get the benefit of learning about what you’re seeing from your tour guide.
If you want to avoid being outside at all, you can get the Reykjavik City Card, which will give you free admission to a bunch of museums and discounts on other exhibitions and cinemas.
Try to keep up with Reykjavik nightlife
I’ll be the first to admit that I couldn’t keep up! After sightseeing all day, we were exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel to change. But we did spend some good evenings keeping warm in some cool Reykjavik bars.
If you just want to grab a drink, head to Islenskii Barinn (The Icelandic Bar) or Lebowski Bar for a signature White Russian. But if you really want to see if you can keep up with the Icelanders in Reykjavik’s famous clubs, go for it! You might even like that it doesn’t get to be light until around 9 am at the end of the month – more time to recover!
See the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights start to appear in September. While I missed them (so sad!), you don’t have to. You can schedule a Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik that will take you out to wherever they’re forecasted to be that night. There’s no guarantee you can see them during October, but you have a great chance!
Tour the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a series of important natural wonders near Reykjavik. Most people go on a guided Golden Circle Tour, but you can also choose to do it by renting a car and driving. During the tour, you see a gigantic, gorgeous waterfall (Gullfoss), a giant geyser (Geysir), and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Thingvellir. It’s a spectacular day full of some of the best that nature has to offer.
This is an especially great tour to do in the fall because Thingvellir has a great, mysterious vibe when the sky is overcast. I was absolutely enchanted.
Go whale watching
Some people might think that it’s too late in the year to see whales in Iceland, but that’s not true! Whale watching tours in Reykjavik, Husavik, Akureyri, and Dalvic still go out regularly.
We saw two blue whales playing for a while, flipping their tails, and using their blowholes. It was so cool! I wrote up a guide to things I wish I had known before going whale watching in Reykjavik that can help you know what to expect.
Relax at the Blue Lagoon
I was worried I would not like the Blue Lagoon because it was cold out, but it made the experience even better! The gloomy skies made the whole thing feel mystical, and the water kept us warm. Yes, there were moments when I was cold, but it is an Icelandic tradition to go to a hot spring or spa, even when it’s cold out. While some like other hot springs that aren’t as well known, this is still one of the best hot springs in Iceland!
To go to the Blue Lagoon, you need to book two parts of your trip separately. First, you need to make a Blue Lagoon Spa Appointment. Then once your spa appointment is confirmed, you need to book a Blue Lagoon Transfer so that you can get there and back. Transfers can be booked from Reykjavik or from Keflavik Airport.
Drive along the south coast on the Ring Road
Not every day in October is a day you can drive, but when the weather is good in October you can usually drive from Reykjavik to Vik on the south coast, seeing a portion of Iceland’s famous Ring Road. We found driving conditions were great when we were there, letting us see the amazing scenery as we drove.
However, if you don’t want to rent a car and drive, or you’re worried about driving if the conditions aren’t ideal, you can go on a South of Iceland Full-Day Tour so you can still see this amazing part of the country. It’s really too beautiful to be believed!
Count the rainbows at Skogafoss
We saw not one, but two rainbows at Skogafoss. Because of how much water goes over the falls creating a mist, if the sun is out there will be at least one rainbow! But even if there were no rainbows, it’s still an absolutely amazing site to see in person!
Even though I saw a lot of beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, Skogafoss was one of my favorites. It’s one of the tallest waterfalls in the country. You can see it from the Ring Road, even though it’s more fun to walk up and see it from nearby.
If you don’t want to rent a car and drive, Skogafoss is included on the South of Iceland Full-Day Tour.
See Icelandic turf houses in Skogar
If you want to learn about what life in Iceland was like over the past few centuries, check out the Skogar Museum near Skogafoss. They have turf houses, a painted church, a historic sailboat, ice skates made from bones, and tons of other cool objects that help bring historic Iceland to life.
Though the museum isn’t on any of the tours, you can see it if you rent a car and choose to drive the South Coast yourself (weather permitting).
Walk on a glacier
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to walk on a glacier, now’s your chance. You can go on a guided Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike. You get picked up from your hotel and taken to the glacier, where a certified teacher shows you how to walk on Sólheimajökull Glacier. On the way back you get to see Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss as you drive on the Ring Road.
Ride and chill with Icelandic Horses
I got to meet some cool Icelandic horses, which was seriously over-the-top awesome. I love any kind of horse, but these guys were so cool.
While I just got to meet some, you can actually go horseback riding on Icelandic horses in October! I didn’t think about it at the time, but since I’ve gone horseback riding in Romania. Let me just say, riding horses in foreign countries is dope.
If you want to ride horses, pre-book an Icelandic Horse Riding Tour in Lava Fields. They still go out in October every day, but they have fewer sessions this time of year so don’t wait in case they sell out.
Walk behind a waterfall at Seljalandsfoss
Another amazing waterfall that you can see in October, Seljalandsfoss is extra special because you can actually walk behind it and see the cascade from behind the water! You can see this from the Ring Road (though you should definitely stop and get out of the car!), or you can see it on the South of Iceland Full-Day Tour.
See the magnificent Cliffs of Dyrhólaey
Dyrholaey is a beautiful peninsula near Vik, and October is a great time to see it! It’s actually closed for part of the late spring and early summer because it is an important spot for nesting birds. You can read all about this amazing peninsula here. I saw it when we drove around the south coast, but if you don’t want to rent a car you can see Dyrholaey on the South of Iceland Full-Day Tour.
See the red roofs of the churches of Vik and Reyniskirkja
You’ve probably seen photos of the beautifully red-roofed white Lutheran churches that dot the Icelandic countryside. These are another great place to visit if you choose to see the South Coast in October. While you won’t spend much time here, you should give yourself time to get out and take some pictures of them!
Have a beach picnic on the black sands of Reynisfjara
Probably the most famous beach in Iceland, Reynisfjara is a black sand beach with gorgeous basalt columns and a small cave to explore. We brought a picnic lunch and ate on the beach while a friendly local dog came and chilled with us. About ninety minutes was enough to really feel at home here, and we saw almost no other tourists while we were there!
The beach is windy in October, and you wouldn’t want to try and swim here. But a chilly October beach picnic is a magical experience. This is another spot that’s on the South of Iceland Full-Day Tour, though you don’t get to spend as much time here as we did since we could make our own schedule.
Be awestruck at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
We were advised that we shouldn’t try to drive all the way from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon on our own even if the weather was good, but that if you wanted to see it in October that you can go on a guided tour that goes all the way there and back in a day. I’m pretty bummed I missed going, and it’s high on my list for my next trip to Iceland!
If you want to visit, you can go on a South Coast & Jökulsarlon Tour, which includes the Glacier, Diamond Beach, Skogafoss, and Vik.
Go shopping for Icelandic souvenirs
If you want an activity that will keep you out of the cold, go shopping for Icelandic souvenirs! I have a guide of local Iceland gift and souvenir ideas, plus tons of shopping tips for where to go shopping in Reykjavik.
Explore Iceland’s Viking history
There are so many cool places to learn about Viking history in Iceland. In Reykjavik, you can go to the Settlement Exhibition which is a museum built around a traditional Viking longhouse that was unearthed. Another great museum in Iceland that focuses on the Viking period is the Hofsstaðir Historic Park.
One of my favorite Viking sites in Iceland is Thingvellir, where the Vikings held their parliament for hundreds of years. Thingvellir is included on the popular Golden Circle Tour.
A Travel Guide for Iceland in October
Want to know what to expect when you get to Iceland? Here’s what you need to know about October in Iceland before you leave.
Where to Stay in Iceland
Some of the guesthouses and smaller hotels outside of Reykjavik close after the high season ends, so book your accommodations early to ensure you get a spot.
I use Booking to book my hotel rooms because they have a pretty flexible cancelation policy (unless you pick the no-cancellation rooms). They have a large selection from hotels to hostels to private apartment rentals (similar to Airbnb). If you’ll be staying outside of Reykjavik, there aren’t too many options, to begin with, so don’t put off booking a room!
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Most travelers to Iceland will spend at least one night in Reykjavik. Here are my hotel picks for Reykjavik for the following budget categories:
- Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $35-50 USD per night for a dorm bed.
- Mid-range: Around $75-100 USD per night
- Luxury: Around $150 per night or more
Budget: Iceland is no budget destination, but the hostel dorms at Reykjavik Downtown HI Hostel are affordable and in a great location. You can stay in the mixed dormitory or women can book a room in the female-only dorm. Includes free wifi and the option to add breakfast. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: For our trip to Reykjavik, we stayed at the self-catering Stay Apartments Einholt. We loved having a self-catering room since we actually cooked half of our dinners and all of our breakfasts in our apartment to save money on the trip overall. We also loved the location. It’s close to downtown within easy walking distance to the main sites. The price was right in our budget for two people, too. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: For a real luxury experience in Reykjavik, stay at the four-star Exeter Hotel by Keahotels which is located right near the city’s most important sites. Rooms are super modern and beautifully done, with a cozy take on industrial chic. You can come back and relax in the hotel’s sauna and enjoy the on-site restaurant. Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Know How to Get to Your Hotel
Since you’ll most likely arrive in Reykjavik when it’s dark outside, it’s a good idea to already know exactly how you’ll get to your hotel. Most people take an airport transfer (taxis are crazy expensive). You can pre-book a Keflavik Airport: Reykjavik City Bus Transfer (just make sure to book both directions). Note there’s a difference in price if you want to get dropped off at your hotel instead of at a central location.
5 Things to Pack for Iceland in October
If you’re using my Iceland packing list, make sure to pay attention to the winter packing tips. Even though October is technically autumn, you need to bring layers.
Women’s Packing Recommendations for October
- A Winter Coat: You need that can handle the cold like this North Face parka. It’s a bit of an investment, but you’ll be so happy to have it.
- Thermal Layers: This ultra lightweight down layer is my new #packinggoals. I don’t own one, but my friend Allison does and she wore hers while we were stuck at a Serbian bus stop in the cold early morning. I was so jealous, and this is on my future packing lists for anywhere I go that’s cold. It’s great because you can wear it on its own when you need a quick layer of warmth, but you can also wear it under your coat when it’s really cold outside. This is great for Iceland year-round and better than the longjohns I was constantly wearing under my clothes.
- Gloves: This was my biggest packing mistake. I didn’t realize I would need gloves in early October. Bring tech-friendly gloves like these.
- Winter Scarf: You want a thick knit scarf that you can pull up and cover your face when necessary in the winter. For summer, still bring a scarf but it can be thinner.
- Hat: A fleece-lined knit cap will keep you warm, even when the wind starts thrashing.
Men’s Packing Recommendations for October
- A Winter Coat: You need one that can handle the cold like this North Face parka. Prepare to spend a lot of time outdoors, since almost everything worth doing in Iceland will have you outside for at least part of the activity.
- Wool Baselayer: You’ll want an extra boost of warmth under your shirt as a wool baselayer.
- Gloves: I actually forgot to bring gloves on my first trip to Iceland, and I paid dearly for it in the form of having to buy overpriced gloves my first day. Grab some tech-friendly gloves like these.
- Winter Scarf: You want a thick knit scarf that you can pull up and cover your face when necessary. If going in the summer, you can downgrade to a thinner scarf.
- Hat: A fleece-lined knit cap will keep you warm, especially from the frigid winds.
If you want more Iceland packing tips, check out my guide: Definitive Iceland Packing List: What to Pack for Iceland for Women & Men
What is the Weather Like in Iceland in October?
The weather in Iceland is definitely colder than what many parts of the world consider to be autumn. The average high temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celcius) and the average low temperature is 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celcius).
However, it’s not as straightforward as looking at the temperature. Iceland is windy, and the wind made our trip feel significantly colder than the thermometer would have you believe. Further, tourists almost always spend a lot more time outside when traveling than at home. A few degrees above freezing might seem fine going from your office to your car, but you won’t like walking around in it all day unless you dress properly!
It doesn’t rain much (though it can). The skies can vary from full cloud cover to beautiful blue skies. Like many places in autumn, Iceland weather can be a bit fickle.
Driving in October in Iceland
We rented a car and drove on the Ring Road from Reykjavik to Vik. The weather was great, there wasn’t too much traffic (almost none actually), and the roads we wanted to be on were open.
However, not all roads are open in Iceland year-round. Additionally, driving conditions can change at a moment’s notice. Read this excellent guide to driving in Iceland in the fall so that you’re prepared for what the road conditions will be like and you can decide if you need to rent a car with 4-wheel drive.
How Much Daylight Will There Be?
The amount of daylight in Iceland in October changes dramatically from the beginning to the end of the month. On October 1st, there are nearly twelve hours of daylight, while there are only eight hours of daylight at the end of the month. Keep this in mind as you decide what activities you want to do.
Sunrise & Sunset Times in Iceland for October 2019
October 1: 7:35 am & 6:58 pm
October 10: 8:02 am & 6:26 pm
October 20: 8:32 am & 5:52 pm
October 31: 9:06 am & 5:15 pm
Is it Crowded in Iceland in Autumn?
While Iceland gets more and more popular every year, October is a great time to travel if you want to avoid the crowds. Yes, there will be people at the most popular places and on your tours, but we were able to get some truly blissful moments standing alone on beaches with just local dogs to keep us company. Or driving down a road with no cars on the road, just a few sheep.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan your trip in advance. You should still book accommodations and activities early since they do have fewer spots when demand is low. For example, some tours which go three times a day in the summer only go twice a day in October.
FAQ about Iceland in October
Here are the questions most commonly asked about visiting Iceland in October.
Is October a good time to go to Iceland?
Yes! While some activities are closed and the weather is colder, the lack of crowds really makes it easier to travel around. I also found the weather, while cold, to be really beautiful and added an air of mystery to the landscape.
Is Iceland green in October?
Yes! The green color you see in the country is not grass, but actually moss. It is still green in October, though it will also be mixed with brown.
Can you see the northern lights in October in Iceland?
Sometimes. We didn’t get to see them while we were there, unfortunately, but Northern Lights tours go out every night to hunt them. The tour guides are professionals and take you to the places with the best forecasts to see the lights.
What should I pack for Iceland in October?
I mentioned a few specific items above, but use my Iceland packing list and make sure to follow all the winter weather recommendations. Even though October is technically autumn, you need to pack for it to feel like winter.
What is the weather like in October in Iceland?
The average temperatures are between 36-45 degrees Fahrenheit (2-7 degrees Celcius). However, you’ll be spending a lot of your time outdoors. Prepare for it to feel a lot colder since you’ll be outside so much. In addition, Iceland can be very windy this time of year, which will also make you feel colder than the listed temperature.
Can you see whales in Iceland in October?
Yes! I saw Blue Whales on a whale watching tour. While there aren’t as many whales during this time of year, experienced whale watching tours will work to find them. Read my guide on things to know before you go whale watching in Reykjavik for tips, most of the tips apply to whale watching anywhere in Iceland.
Where can you see whales in October?
You can go on whale watching tours in October from Reykjavik, Husavik, Akureyri, and Dalvic.
Can you see puffins in Iceland in October?
While you might get lucky and see one of the last ones of the season, there are typically no puffins in Iceland in October.
Is it safe to drive in Iceland in October?
Road conditions vary so much that it is hard to know ahead of time. While we drove from Reykjavik to Vik without any problems, there are times when the weather changes and makes driving in Iceland in October more like traditional winter weather driving. Read this excellent guide for more information.
Do you have to rent a 4×4 in October?
It depends on where you’ll be driving. Consult your car rental company about the best kind of car for your trip. We did not rent a 4×4, but there are days and places in Iceland when a 4×4 is necessary for October.
How many hours of daylight are there in Iceland in October?
This changes throughout the month. At the beginning of October, there are over eleven hours of daylight, while there are about eight hours of daylight per day by the end of the month.
Is Iceland nice in October?
Provided you have dressed appropriately, it’s a beautiful place to be!
Can you hike Asbyrgi in October?
It depends on the weather conditions and if the roads to that part of the country are still open for the season. Many hikes, especially multi-day hikes, are not open in the fall. You might be better off going on single day hikes near Iceland.
Are you still able to see the Golden Circle and Skogafoss in October?
Yes! You can self-drive or go on guided tours to both the Golden Circle and Skogafoss in October. If you do not want to drive yourself, you can go on guided tours that leave from Reykjavik. Check out the Golden Circle Tour and the South of Iceland Full-Day Tour.
Are there guided tours in autumn?
Yes, but not as many. Some tours are not available after September, while others may go fewer times each day. This is why it’s important to plan your activities before you leave so you know what’s available this time of year and they don’t sell out before you book.
Recommended Tours for Iceland in October
Here are all the tours mentioned in this post in an easy-to-reference list. Note that no one would do all of these tours, but here’s a convenient list so you can mix and match the ones you want.
Airport Transfer from Keflavik
Reykjavik City Tours
Visiting the Blue Lagoon
Day Trips from Reykjavik
Northern Lights Bus Tour from Reykjavik (technically a night tour)
More Iceland Travel Resources
Here are my resources to help you plan your trip. Start with my Iceland packing list so you know what to bring with you year-round. If this will be one of your first trips abroad, you may want to read my common-sense travel safety tips for staying safe in Reykjavik. It’s a super safe city, but there are smart things every traveler should know.
Next check out my guide to planning a trip to Iceland, which covers the entire trip-planning process step-by-step.
You’ll also want to check out my guide to Icelandic souvenirs, which also includes more awesome Reykjavik shopping tips, plus this guide to the best Reykjavik Instagram spots and how to go whale watching in Reykjavik. If you’ll be based in the city for at least a few days, you can follow my 3-day Reykjavik Itinerary.
If you’re looking to get inspired before your trip, check out my post on beautiful quotes about Iceland and 30 Reykjavik Pictures that Prove It’s Time to Visit Iceland.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Never travel without a valid travel insurance policy, because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when you’ll be doing any outdoor activities…like most of the things that you do in Iceland!
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for three years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities or driving in foreign countries. Even in the cities, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.