You’ve made the right decision to organize a trip to Iceland and see the captivating Land of Fire and Ice. There are plenty of wonders to enjoy as you tour this fascinating country. The best method of travel, by far, is to rent a car, campervan, or motorhome because Iceland does not have a train system and there are few buses. Thus, renting a vehicle in Iceland is the most efficient way to traverse this mystical island. Added bonus, you can create your own route with the flexibility of traveling at your own pace and leisure. While driving in Iceland in the fall, you will surely capture moments that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Driving in Iceland in the Fall
Visiting Iceland in the fall is considered off-season but it is still a great time to explore. The landscape is filled with vibrant colors such as reds, oranges, and hues of yellow. Daylight will also last long enough to do most summer activities like enjoying a dip in the natural hot springs. If you can brave the cooler temperatures, you will be rewarded with fewer crowds and cheaper prices during your trip.
That being said, it’s still important to know things like road conditions, tips and tricks, as well as what should drivers expect in this season. You’re probably wondering when is fall in Iceland and what are the road conditions in Iceland in autumn. Let’s guide you through what it’s like to drive in Iceland during this time of the year.
Road Conditions in Iceland in Autumn
Preparing for your journey to explore Iceland in autumn or fall requires careful planning and expecting the unexpected. The weather can fluctuate and depending on where you travel will determine what kind of vehicle you should rent. The presence of ice and snow on the roads are also essential factors to consider when renting a car or camper. If it is very snowy and icy you need a four-wheel drive. F-roads (the rugged roads in the Highlands) always require a four-wheel drive car or camper van. But the majority close at the end of August.
If you plan on driving along scenic routes like the Golden Circle for a short day trip, a small car should work fine. However, if you plan on driving the Ring Road, depending on the weather you might need to rent a four-wheel drive. The weather can vary in the mountains and be different than the lower ground. Make a habit of checking the weather forecast to see if the roads are icy and snowy. If you are not confident you can make the drive, you should stop at a local gas station near your destination. The patrons inside will gladly give you advice on when to proceed and you can even make new friends.
The road conditions in Iceland in autumn vary per month and location. Fall and winter starts earlier in the North, East, and some parts of the West. Therefore, if you plan on driving to these areas rent a four-wheel drive. The South and West of Iceland will experience the weather change later, which means the roads are more likely to be clear of ice and snow.
Weather Throughout the Fall
In the early part of September the weather is generally pleasant in the entire country. The temperature is usually 10 to 20 degrees Celsius (50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit) with no snow sticking to the ground yet. And if it does snow heavily, it usually melts before it becomes a problem. But as always, be prepared for any change in weather because it can get as low as 0 degrees. In the Highlands and North Iceland it can quickly become surprisingly cold. Sound advice is to dress warmly and wear waterproof clothing so you can enjoy your adventure without shivering.
In mid-September and October the weather can be quite pleasant with tranquil winds and a low sun. Be mindful of the low sun by having strong sunglasses because it can enter your line of sight when driving. But it is usually cold, rainy, and very windy. So windy it could cause damage to your rental car because of sandstorms. This damage includes scratches to paint, matted surface from sand friction, window scratches and bumps. More information on sandstorms and how to avoid them will be in a later section.
October is considered the rainiest month in Iceland and temperatures are about 3 to 7 degrees Celsius, which is 37 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The rain can range from a light drizzle to about 80 to 86 mm (about 3 inches) of rain. The level of rain is of course dependent on where you go in Iceland, it can get as high as 178mm (7 inches). Traveling in Iceland is an adventure, so don’t let a little rain scare you away from these epic autumn views. Throw on warm, waterproof clothes and bring an umbrella because there are several hours of daylight and a sunrise photo shoot waiting for you.
When Things Take a Turn Toward Winter
In November the weather ranges from negative 1.5 degrees Celsius to 3.5 degrees Celsius (29 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit). Because of the temperature drop you can start using special winter tires or year-round tires. The most pivotal factors for choosing what car to drive is the location you are driving through and the weather conditions. The most important weather conditions are the amount of snow and ice on the ground. If it is low and you are on paved roads then you don’t need a four-wheel drive.
Pro tip: Dress warmly, check the weather using a search engine before your journey, and ask questions from the locals.
Sandstorms in Iceland
Sandstorms typically occur in the spring or fall seasons but can happen in the winter as well. These sandstorms are also known as ashstorms and duststorms. They are caused by extreme winds, which kick up dry earth or ash on the ground. The average wind speed required to create a sandstorm is roughly 10 m/sec. If there is no rainfall in that location and the earth is very dry, then lower wind speeds can also start a sandstorm. This is an occasion when you want to stay put. Sandstorms typically occur in the south and southeast areas of Iceland such as Landeyjarsandur and Rangársandur.
However, sandstorms can be easily avoided by two methods. The first is to check the weather forecast, which provides useful warnings for high winds and other conditions. The second, is to stay away from places ending in sandur or very dry locations. Sandur means sand in Icelandic and places with this ending are basically deserts. Fortunately, wind and rain do not determine if you should drive a four-wheel drive or a small car. It only requires for you to drive safely and cautiously.
When is Fall in Iceland?
Fall can start at the end of August and lasts until early November, but typically it’s September, October, and early November. Fall is part of the low season but it might be the best time to visit depending on traveler preferences. During this time, there are smaller crowds, cheaper accommodations, discounted car rental services, and the sheer beauty of vibrant autumn colors.
The already captivating landscape is transformed by the falling leaves and creates perfect photo opportunities. Visit a national park like Thingellir (Þingvellir) to see these colors. There you’ll find beautiful reds, oranges, and hues of yellow mixed with green from moss before they are covered by snow. At other popular locations such as relaxing hot springs like the Blue Lagoon, due to the season there are fewer people. You are guaranteed to capture the perfect shot of you and these gorgeous wonders with no one in the background.
September and October are the best times to see the stunning Northern Lights on one of your day trips. Many travelers highly recommend going to the South Coast for an ice cave tour and glacier hike in Skaftafell National Park. There you will see the wondrous natural blue ice cave and walk on Vatnajökull, which is the largest glacier in Europe. Then you should go whale watching in Faxaflói Bay to see humpback and minke whales. Snaefellsnes Peninsula is another must see because it encompasses so many wonders such as a giant volcano and beautiful black sand beaches.
One of the best times to visit Iceland
Iceland in the fall is a wonderful adventure and with proper preparation you are guaranteed to have a grand time!