20 Things to do in Iceland in May: Complete Guide to Visiting Iceland

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

So you’re looking for your next epic trip, and Iceland has come to mind as an option. What’s it like visiting Iceland? Why is there so much hype? What are the best things to do and see? I too had these questions before my epic trip to Southern Iceland. I’ve gathered my thoughts and experiences to share with you and to help you have the best Iceland trip possible. In this guide, I review the best 20 things to do in Iceland in May, as well as answer a bunch of questions that will help you on your adventure. Ready? Let’s go!

General Info About Visiting Iceland

Iceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, is renowned for its stunning landscapes, including glaciers, geysers, and hot springs. With a population of around 350,000 people, it’s one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries. Iceland is also known for its vibrant culture, rich history, and progressive attitudes towards sustainability and environmental conservation. It’s quite an interesting, beautiful, extreme place to visit! In this section, I review a lot of the general questions people have about visiting Iceland. Let’s jump in!

When is a Good Time to Visit Iceland?

There is really no bad time to visit Iceland, depending on your interests.

Summer

Summer is the most popular time to visit Iceland, where everything turns green and it’s warmer out. However, daylight lasts almost all night, so it can be weird for tourists who aren’t used to having little to no darkness at night.

Activities Available in the Summer: In summer, Iceland offers a plethora of outdoor adventures, from whale watching, hiking, hot springs, and glacier exploration to relaxing in geothermal hot springs and experiencing vibrant cultural festivals. 

Activities Not Available in the Summer: In summer, you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights in the summer because the sun sets very late and it doesn’t get dark enough at night. You also won’t be able to do ice caving as it’s too warm and dangerous to navigate the ever-changing ice caves.

Fall

Beginning in the Fall, some of Iceland’s most famous activities open up, such as the Northern Lights and ice caving.

Activities Available in the Fall: In the fall (starting in September), you’ll be able to start seeing the Northern Lights. Starting in middle of October, you’ll be able to start going into ice caves.

Activities Not Available in the Fall: Some F-roads may start closing in the fall, which are roads in the highlands, which may cut off some of the places you can visit throughout Iceland.

Winter

Iceland in winter offers unique adventures, but only for the brave who can deal with extreme weather, including cold and windy conditions. Travelers can marvel at the Northern Lights, explore ice caves, and enjoy cozy moments in the geothermal waters.

Activities Available in the Winter: Some of the most epic Iceland activities are available in the winter, such as viewing the Northern Lights, snowmobiling, and ice caving. Visiting geothermal pools is also popular in the winter, as they are most times of the year.

Activities Not Available in the Winter: While hiking is possible any time of the year, winter may make certain hikes less accessible. Also, some of the waterfall locations may be limited due to ice. Roads also may be sketchy to drive on, which is why I decided not to visit in the winter.

Spring

Visiting Iceland in spring provides a wonderful experience where travelers can witness the landscape awaken with as it emerges from winter’s embrace. I visited in May, and it seemed to be a great time to visit.

Activities Available in the Spring: Pretty much every activity opens up in the spring including: Hiking, glacier hiking, road trips, geothermal pools, and more.

Activities Not Available in the Spring: The Northern Lights most likely will not be available after middle of April, and Ice Caving is on a similar timeline.

Is May a Good Time to Visit Iceland?

May is when I visited Iceland, and I think it’s a fantastic time to visit. The key benefits for visiting Iceland in May are that:

  • It’s cheaper than in the prime months of summer
  • The scenery is starting to turn green
  • The roads don’t have ice on them anymore
  • There are fewer tourists visiting than in the summer
  • A lot of activities are available to do

Weather in May

When I visited Iceland in May, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I saw the weather forecasts of 40s and 50s and thought it would be pretty mild. I was wrong. The weather in Iceland is extreme. It may be sunny one moment, and 5 minutes later you’ll get hit by a hail storm with 50+ mile per hour winds. The wind made May feel colder. However, there were two or three days where the wind was minimal and it was sunny and 50 degrees.

How Is Driving in Iceland in May?

Driving in Iceland in May is great. I moved my Iceland trip from February to May because I feared driving around the southern portions of the country on icy roads. If you aren’t used to driving on ice, I’d recommend going to Iceland in May or later.

Can I See the Northern Lights in Iceland in May?

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights in Iceland in May. Every day, the day gets 6 minutes longer on average, which means there is increasingly less dark night skies as the month goes on.

What Should I Pack for Iceland in May?

Besides the essentials you need for any trip, here are 3 things I’d recommend bringing in Iceland in May if you intend to spend time out in nature:

  • Waterproof / wind breaker jacket
  • Thermal pants / shirt
  • Hiking shoes (waterproof)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I found these items to be most useful on a few of the days I got rocked hiking in a storm next to a glacier.

How Much Can I Expect to Spend?

I can only speak to May when I went to Iceland. Here is what I spent:

Hotels

Hotels varied in price depending on location. Here are a few of the cities I stayed at with prices:

  • Reykjavik – $180 per night on average
  • Skaftafell – $225 per night on average
  • Vik – $200 per night on average
  • Höfn – $125 per night on average

After doing a little research, these prices are 40-50% of what you can expect to pay in the summer (2024).

Car Rental

My car rental was super cheap. I used Sixt car rentals and paid around $35 per day. Make sure you check the credit card that you use to purchase your car rental, you may be able to vouch out of the premium insurance they try to charge you.

Food

Food is expensive in Iceland. My meals cost at least $25 USD each, and usually closer to $50 USD. A few of the more expensive meals cost me closer to $80 USD. To save some money, I packed some snacks and I only ate big breakfasts and big dinners.

Plane Ticket

Okay, this one is extremely subjective. But I flew from Charlotte, NC and my ticket was around $450.00 USD, which I thought was a great deal.

Parking Passes and other Passes

It seems like parking fees are a big thing in Iceland. While there are a few free lots, usually they charge around 1000 ISK, or about $7 to park at any scenic spot.

In Reykjavik, the parking was super confusing because they use a zone system. The first night I landed in Iceland, I stayed in Reykjavik. I could not find parking and was so confused that I ended up just choosing a parking garage. In the morning my parking bill was over $50 USD. Pretty insane!

How Can I Travel Around Iceland?

So how can you travel around Iceland? Here are a few of the most common options:

Bus: Iceland’s bus networks are a good way for budget travelers to get around Iceland, however, they usually run just in the summer. I did not see them available when I visited.

RV / Camper: I totally wanted to rent a RV but I couldn’t find an automatic transmission.

Car Rental: This is the option I’d recommend for more freedom to go as you please. It’s not difficult to drive in Iceland, so a rental car is a great choice.

How Long Should I Stay in Iceland?

I ended up staying 10 nights. I felt it was a good amount of time, but I’d recommend adding a few more days so that you can make the journey around the entire Island via Route 1. My recommendation is around 14 days if you can. For a shorter trip on the Southern side of Iceland, 7 to 10 days would suffice.

Are People in Iceland Nice?

In my experience, the people seemed pretty helpful. There were numerous occasions I was not sure what to do, how to pay for parking, or the normal customs of Iceland where I asked a local and was pleasantly surprised by their willingness to help. Of course some locals gave me a look like I was stupid, but that’s okay, I was not used to some of the ways they do things.

Things to Do and See In Iceland in October

There are so many things to do in Iceland, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities! If you visit Iceland in early to middle May like I did, some things are available and some aren’t. Keep reading, I highlight 20 things to do and see in Iceland in May below, in no particular order of greatness:

1) Explore Laugavegur Street in Reykjavik

Laugavegur Street is the most popular section of Reykjavik due to its colorful buildings, charming boutiques, cozy cafes, and eclectic shops, offering visitors a lively and captivating taste of Iceland’s capital city. Whether you’re staying in Reykjavik or looking for a dinner spot, Laugavegur is the place to be.

2) Drop By the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is perhaps Iceland’s most famous destination. Anytime I ask someone if they know about the Blue Lagoon, 90% of the time they have heard of it. The Blue lagoon is a great spot to unwind in a luxurious and rejuvenating experience as you soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters surrounded by stunning black volcanic landscapes.

Read about my full visiting blue lagoon adventure

3) Hike Múlagljúfur Canyon

Múlagljúfur Canyon was one of my favorite hikes ever. The views on this hike are absolutely insane.

Read about my full Múlagljúfur Canyon hike

4) Hike Reykjadalur Hot Spring

Rekjadalur Hot spring hike was the very first hike I did. It’s close to Reykjavik and is famous for its natural geothermal pools. Definitely a cool experience to see on my first day in Iceland.

Read about my full Rekjadalur Hot Spring Hike

5) Hike Waterfall Way on the Skógá River

Waterfall way is an epic hike highlighted by perhaps the best waterfall in all of Iceland, Skógafoss. However, the hike itself is quite the adventure as you ascend up into the highlands with up to 26 waterfalls along the way.

Read about my full Waterfall Way Hike

6) Wander Vestrahorn

Vestrahorn was perhaps my favorite spot in Iceland for several reasons. The giant Vestrahorn mountain is perfectly placed next to a super shallow body of water that makes it appear like you’re walking on water. Super epic spot, don’t miss this one!

Read about my Vestrahorn adventure

7) Jump in a Geothermal Pool

There are geothermal pools all across Iceland, whether you go to Blue Lagoon, Sky Lagoon, or a more natural option like Rekjadalur Hot Spring. Either way, it’s really cool to experience such hot water in cold weather.

8) Hike Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier

Hiking Hijallanes Loop next to Skálafellsjökull Glacier is one of my favorite hikes ever also. I got to hike this one with the local farm dog, which was extra special. Who knows, you may get the chance to do the same!

Read about my Skálafellsjökull Glacier hike

9) Swing By Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach is just so unique. How many times do you get to go on a black sand beach with chunks of ice as big as a car on it? Your mind will definitely be blown the first time you see this one.

Read about my adventure at Diamond Beach, Iceland

10) Go to Reynisfjara Beach and Hálsanefshellir Cave

Perhaps one of the most dangerous beaches in Iceland, Reynisfjara Beach has gotten quite the reputation. As long as you stay out of the water, you’ll be fine. This is a really beautiful beach to see in person.

Read about my adventure at Reynisfjara Beach

11) Do a Guided Glacier Hiking Tour

If you want to actually walk out on a glacier while you’re in Iceland, it is highly recommended that you hire a glacier hiking tour company. My hiking group was less than 10 people, and my glacier guide was really knowledgeable and cool.

Read about my glacier hiking tour

12) Experience Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall is maybe the most unique waterfall I saw in Iceland. I loved the canyon you have to walk into to see the full awesomeness of this waterfall. It sets quite the surreal scene.

Read about my full experience at Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

13) Discover Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall might be one of the most waterfalls on social media, and for good reason. One of the cool things about this waterfall is the ability to walk completely around it and capture some awesome photos.

Read about my visit to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

14) Experience Kvernufoss Waterfall

Kvernufoss Waterfall is one of the lesser known waterfalls, but it’s still pretty awesome. It’s also super close to the above 2 waterfalls, making it an easy place to go see.

Read about my experience at Kvernufoss Waterfall

15) Travel to Skógafoss Waterfall

Skógafoss Waterfall is perhaps THE most famous waterfall in Iceland. It’s big, it’s powerful, it’s epic, and you get to walk straight up to it head on.

Read about my experience at Skógafoss Waterfall

16) Hike Svínafellsjökull Glacier

Unless you do lots of research, you probably won’t know much about this one. Svínafellsjökull Glacier is a beautiful spot where lots of TV shows and movies have been filmed, including Batman Begins, Game of Thrones, and more.

Read about my full hike at Svínafellsjökull Glacier

17) Hike Skálakot Manor to Canyon Waterfall

Skálakot Manor to Canyon Waterfall was the least populated place I visited on this list. Translation, I did not see 1 other person on this entire hike. I enjoyed the solitude, and you will too (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Read about my Skálakot Manor to Canyon Waterfall hike

18) Hike Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is super popular with tourists. While it wasn’t my all time favorite canyon in Iceland, it’s still a beautiful place that is easy to access. If you’re with small children or elderly, this is a great option.

Read about my hike at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

19) Search for an Active Volcano

If you’re lucky, there will be an active volcano going off while you’re in Iceland. On my trip, a volcano had been going off for several months. The day before I started looking for one, it stopped! I did not know this at the time until I arrived at a checkpoint police had set up to stop drivers from further proceeding. They told me that the volcano had just stopped. Darn! Oh well, it was still super fun looking for an active volcano.

20) Venture to Dyrhólaey Lighthouse

Dyrhólaey is such as unique natural ridge shape in the ocean. I’d recommend driving up to the lighthouse for the best views of Dyrhólaey, and also some awesome views on the other side of the mountain across the vast beaches.

On the other side of the lighthouse, you’ll gave great views of Dyrhólaey from above:

Where to Stay in Iceland

I will highlight places I stayed across Iceland, which turned out to be some great spots. Before I chose these spots, I researched them pretty extensively.

1) Reykjavik

If you’re staying in Reykjavik, I highly recommend staying along Laugavegur, the main street full of shopping and restaurants. This area seemed extremely safe and had tons of options.

I stayed at two different hotels:

Alda Hotel

Alda Hotel was probably my favorite hotel in Iceland due to how nice the room was, the heated towel rack, and the absolutely fantastic location on Laugavegur. There is also a parking deck right down the street that was much more affordable than the one I parked at when I stayed at City Center Hotel.

Alda Hotel In Reykjavik, Iceland

City Center Hotel Reykjavik

I also stayed at City Center Hotel Reykjavik. The hotel is not bad at all, but parking was tough. The parking deck I parked at ended up costing me over $50 USD overnight, which is crazy. The location, while not bad at all, was not as good Alda Hotel’s on Laugavegur.

2) Vik

Vik is a beautiful city. Driving to Vik is special as you wind down mountain roads and get your first glimpse of the small city by the water.

Hótel Kría

Hótel Kría was a nice little hotel right in the center of Vik. My room was on the more expensive side while being pretty average. You’re really paying for close proximity they Vik is to many beautiful places nearby. I particularly liked Vik as well.

Hótel Kría in Iceland

The interior looked like this:

Hótel Kría in Iceland Interior of Room

3) Skaftafell

Skaftafell is an interesting spot in Iceland. I wouldn’t really call it a city, because there’s nothing really there! However, I needed a spot to stay after my guided glacier hiking tour nearby.

Hotel Skaftafell

I stayed in Hotel Skaftafell, I think it’s the only hotel in the area? The price was very expensive, and it’s quite outdated inside. I had dinner there, because I couldn’t find any other dinner locations nearby! Having said all that, the private walking path behind the hotel is awesome. It leads to the famous Svínafellsjökull Glacier, where famous movies and TV shows were shot.

Hotel Skaftafell in Iceland

4) Höfn

Höfn is such a beautiful, small fishing city located on the East side of Iceland. While there was not much to do in the immediate city other than a few restaurants, I thoroughly enjoyed slowing down and taking in the quiet lifestyle Höfn offered. I stayed in 1 hotel in Höfn:

Höfn: Berjaya Iceland Hotels

Berjaya Iceland Hotels in Höfn was a great spot. It’s located in the best part of the city where the restaurants are, and sits on the ocean water with glacier views off in the distance. Parking is fantastic, there were tons of free spots, and you could walk around to the breakfast and dinner spots as well as a few nature spots. The hotel room itself had a ocean view, but wasn’t anything too fancy.

Höfn - Berjaya Iceland Hotels

The interior looked like this, with great views of the water and faraway glaciers:

Höfn - Berjaya Iceland Hotels Interior of Room

Where to Eat In Iceland

There are a ton of food options throughout Iceland. I’m going to list my top 5 food options from places I visited:

1) Pakkhús Restaurant

I was staying in Höfn, so I decided to get a little fancy and try Pakkhús Restaurant right downtown near my hotel. I ordered the “Rjómahumar – Cream Langoustines” menu item for 9500 ISK (around $70 USD), which is pretty expensive! But I had to try Iceland’s sweeter version of lobster, the langoustine, while I was here.

Eating at Pakkhús Restaurant in Höfn, Iceland

This meal consisted of “Langoustine tails and whole langoustine baked in a creamy white wine sauce Served with a side salad, potatoes and bread.” While it’s not particularly a big or calorie dense meal, I asked for more bread and they served a large portion of extra bread to me at no cost to dip into the butter sauce, which was delicious. I also ordered a red wine to wind down after the hike, which hit the spot.

Eating Cream Langoustines at Pakkhús Restaurant in Höfn, Iceland

All in all, this was a good spot to eat and I’d recommend it if you want to splurge a little while in Höfn. You deserve it!

2) Black Crust Pizzeria

I was staying in the wonderful city of Vik that night, so I decided to go try Black Crust Pizzeria. I ordered the black crust pizza with Icelandic langoustine, truffle-infused cream cheese, red onions, rucola, and herbs. It was pretty awesome, and I destroyed the entire thing.

black crust pizza with Icelandic langoustine in Iceland

If you’re looking for a good spot to eat in Vik, Black Crust Pizzeria fits the bill, and it won’t break the bank.

Black Crust Pizzeria in Vik, Iceland

3) Hotel Skaftafell

Hotel Skaftafell is pretty much the only option for food in the Skaftafell area. I ordered the Lamb, and it was actually super good. I sweet-talked the waitress into give me more bread (for free), as the meal wasn’t all that large, and quite expensive.

Lamb for Dinner at Hotel Skaftafell in Iceland

4) Arabian Taste

On this day, I was staying in downtown Reykjavik, so I decided to give Arabian Taste a try because it had high reviews.

Arabian Taste Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

The food was relatively inexpensive (for Iceland), and pretty tasty:

Arabian Taste Restaurant Food in Reykjavik, Iceland

I ordered a few items including the chicken shawarma wrap and the lamb kabob plate. The chicken shawarma wrap was especially good, I wasn’t a huge fan of the lamb kabobs. I crushed both meals. Overall, a good option for lots of food at a lower price.

5) Loo.Koo.Mas

While not a food place, I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the owner from Greece and eating their delicious Greek donuts. They are dangerously good. If you find yourself in Reykjavik, I highly recommend you stop at LooKooMass:

Lookoomas Greek Donuts in Reykjavik, Iceland

I met one of the owners named Spiros, he was so friendly and enjoyable to speak with:

Inside Lookoomas Greek Donuts in Reykjavik, Iceland

Did I mention the location is great?

Top Spots to Go Hiking in Iceland

There are certainly some epic places to hike in Iceland. Here are my top 3 hikes:

1) Múlagljúfur Canyon

Múlagljúfur Canyon was one of my top 3 hikes of all time. Located between Vik and Hofn in Southeast Iceland, Múlagljúfur Canyon is one of the hidden gems of Iceland. This hike alone made my travels to Iceland worth it.

Múlagljúfur Canyon may just be one of the top 3 views I’ve ever seen. In my mind, the only view that rivals this one so far that I’ve seen is on the Kalepa Ridge hike in Hawaii. The sheer depth, size, and detail in the canyon is mind-blowing. There are so many great spots to view the canyon along this hike, but probably the best is right around where you stand across from Hangandifoss Waterfall. Take a look at this view, which faces Múlafoss waterfall (a waterfall over 300 feet tall!) at the end of the canyon head on:

Read about my Múlagljúfur Canyon hike

2) Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier

Truly one of the less hiked hikes, the Hijallanes Loop next to Skálafellsjökull glacier is a treasure you need to experience. Compared to more popular hikes in Iceland like Múlagljúfur Canyon or Waterfall Way, which each have thousands of reviews on alltrails.com, the Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull hike is relatively unknown in Iceland. But this hike was truly one of my favorite hikes I’ve ever been on for unforeseen circumstances that happened on the hike: I met a new dog friend that hiked with me almost the entire ~6 miles. It was such a special memory:

Read about my Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier hike

3) Waterfall Way on the Skógá River

Located near the city of Skógar, Waterfall Way (also called Skógafoss Waterfall hike and the Skógá Trail) is one of the most epic hiking trails in all of Iceland. This scenic hiking route takes you on a journey alongside the powerful Skógá River, offering mesmerizing views of 26 cascading waterfalls, lush greenery, and rugged terrain. You’ll see one of the most epic waterfalls in Iceland right at the start of the hike:

Read about my Waterfall Way on the Skógá River hike

Tips for Visiting Iceland After the Fact

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  • I recommend getting a hotel not located in Reykjavik the first night. I was jetlagged and trying to adjust to Iceland’s driving and city, so trying to navigate Reykjavik was not a great idea on the first day. I’d recommend somewhere with easy access.
  • I recommend staying for around 2 weeks if possible. I would have stayed a few more days (from 10 to around 14 days total) to make a complete ring around Route 1.
  • The Blue Lagoon is a great experience, but I’ve heard Sky Lagoon in Reykjavik is even better. Blue Lagoon happens to be more famous though so you may still have to go if you’re into geothermal spas.

Final Thoughts on Things to do in Iceland

Thank you for joining me on my wild adventure visiting Iceland. I hope this guide with the best 20 things to do in Iceland was helpful for you. Iceland is an epic adventure waiting to unfold, with its otherworldly landscapes boasting rugged volcanic terrain, cascading waterfalls, and geothermal wonders. If you’re looking for one of the wildest nature trips possible, I highly recommend experiencing Iceland first hand.

Happy wandering!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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