Iceland is not as cold as it sounds. Thanks to the warm Gulf Stream that flows
along the southern and western coast and the prevailing southwesterly winds from
the Atlantic, the average temperature in July is 51 F (11 C) and in January 31 F
(-1 C), making an average winter day in Reykjavík often times warmer than one in
However, as this incoming warmth from the south combines with the cold polar
seas and hits the mountains on the coastline, it forms condensation, resulting in
plenty of rain on the southern and western parts of the island. Because of the Gulf
Stream, these areas have milder winter temperatures and snow is rare.
In general, the further you move north and east, the chances of pleasant weather
because these areas lie in the rain shadow of the ice caps in the island’s interior.
The annual rainfall on Iceland’s southern coast is about 3,000 mm, whereas the highlands
north of Vatnajökull receive about 400 mm. Fall and winter are the wettest seasons.
Iceland’s weather can change quickly and it can become very cold in both summer
and winter when the polar winds blow. There may be sunshine, rain and snow in the
same day any time of the year. July and August are the warmest months. But even
then, the sky is often times cloudy and the sun doesn’t warm the air too much. There
are some days in the summer, however, where temperatures reach around 77 F (25 C).
The island’s mountain peaks are covered with snow year-round. But only the northern
part of the island has relatively certain skiing conditions.
Why the name Iceland?
It is not known where Iceland got its name from. However, legend has it that
the first Viking, who discovered this island, wanted to keep it all to himself.
So he came up with a name that wouldn’t sound inviting for future settlers. He named
this rather green country “Iceland” and the ice-covered, large island to the north
“Greenland” hoping that new settlers would make their home there.
The Northern Lights
A spectacular natural phenomenon occurs every year from the end of August. This
is when the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, can be seen, a bright, colorful
spectacle of lights on the night skies. For two months in the summer, from the end
of May to the beginning of August, you can experience a fascinating midnight sun,
as there is almost continuous daylight. And in early spring and late fall, there
are long periods of twilight. In the winter, from mid-November to the end of January,
Iceland only gets around four hours of daylight. However, the silence of the falling
snow and the colorful skies make up for it.