Iceland in September is a special time of year when the sheep come home, the berries are ripe, and the Northern Lights begin to rage spectacularly in the sky. With reasonable temperatures and daylight hours that feel more “normal” to visiting tourists, September is the perfect time to get out and explore the land of fire and ice.
From participating in deeply engrained Icelandic traditions to relaxing after a long day of adventures in a natural hot pot surrounded by Iceland’s spectacular natural surroundings, there are plenty of activities to partake in that will leave you speechless and anxious to return to the country.
September in Iceland is a transitional period from summer to fall, and the country begins to enter what’s considered the offseason. There will still be plenty of tourists, but the crowds aren’t as fierce as in the summer. Take advantage of this decline to explore and soak in all the experiences in relative peace and quiet.
So pack your bags, bring plenty of warm clothes, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
7 Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland In September
#1. Visitors Are Welcome To Participate In Réttir, The Annual Sheep Roundup
There are over twice as many sheep as humans in Iceland so you’re bound to spot more than a few fluff balls roaming the hills during your trip. But September in Iceland is an especially perfect time of year for seeing an abundance of sheep, as it marks the time for Réttir, the annual sheep roundup from the highlands.
Though the sheep you spot as you hike or road trip through Iceland have owners, sheep in Iceland have the unique luxury of being able to roam the country freely in the summer, wandering the mountains and valleys. The sheep certainly take advantage of this freedom munching to their heart’s content on the grassy hillsides and even sun tanning on the wood partitions alongside tourists at the Reykjadalur Hot Springs.
Though it’s hard to think of the sheep as food when you see them alongside the road or up in the mountains, lamb is actually a huge part of the Icelandic diet, and this freedom to roam and eat the grass and herbs in the highlands makes them particularly tasty. Beyond being used for their meat, their incredible wool that has developed a sturdy yet soft quality as a result of braving the harsh Icelandic weather is woven into the most beautiful sweaters. We definitely suggest buying an Icelandic sweater from a local vendor if you have the chance.
As the daylight hours lessen and winter creeps in, the sheep must be rounded up and here’s where Réttir begins. Réttir is a longstanding Icelandic tradition and one you’ll feel fortunate to witness.
The event is met with joy, celebration, and a true feeling of community. Families, neighbors, and volunteers join together to round up the sheep who by this time very well could have ventured tremendous distances away.
The sheep are gathered by a combination of skilled riders on horseback, people on foot, and nowadays ATV’s. Once the sheep are found, they are corralled into large circular pens and returned to their correct owner. As the farmers sort through their sheep (they’re distinguishable by unique earmarks), singing, dancing, eating and drinking ensues, and good times are had by all.
Visitors to the country are more than welcome to help. With so many sheep to gather, help is always appreciated, and it gives you a fun way to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture. If you’d rather just observe from the outside, that’s more than welcome too. One of the most well known roundups happens on Eyjafjordur, and if you ask around, the locals can tell you where to go to take part in this annual tradition. It’s also a possibility that you might happen upon one as you travel around the country.
#2. September In Iceland Is Often An Ideal Time For Berry Picking Throughout The Countryside
If you’re met with decent weather during your trip to Iceland in September, you should consider spending a portion of the day berry picking (though if you’re willing to brave the rain there’s nothing wrong with a little rainy day berry picking too). There’s something so satisfying about picking fresh berries and snacking on them or turning them into a delicious, steaming pie, delectable jam, or fine wine. If your trip lands during the first half of September you might just find yourself stumbling upon some perfectly ripe berries.
Berry picking is one of the most peaceful things to do in Iceland in September, wandering the countryside just listening to the sounds of nature. Being in the middle of Iceland’s captivating nature is already a uniquely wonderful experience, and now you get a juicy snack too. What more could you want?
There are two different types of berries you’ll likely come across while berry picking, crowberries and blueberries (bláber). Technically the blue berry is actually a bilberry, a berry very much like the blueberries you are familiar with, just slightly smaller in size. Both crowberries and bilberries are delicious, and both look remarkably similar. Crowberries are smaller in size, darker in color, and more bitter than the bilberry (and will probably be the more abundant of the two in your berry search). Though wild strawberries do grow in Iceland, they are much more rare and hard to find.
One of the great things about Iceland is that it takes just a short drive out of the capital region for you to be in the middle of nature. One of the best berry picking spots, Heiðmörk is just outside of Reykjavik. Thingvellir National Park and the area right in front of the Gerðuberg basalt columns on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula are also great berry picking spots. You can always ask the locals or the hotel concierge for more location suggestions.
As long as you’re on public land, the berries are fair game. Remember that the availability and ripeness of the berries varies every year depending on the weather so you’re not guaranteed to have success, but it’s certainly worth a try. Worst case scenario you spend a couple of hours just soaking in the beauty of Iceland’s nature. So grab a bucket, put on your rain gear in case the weather turns nasty, and venture out in hopes of bringing back your own berry filled pail!
#3. The Saturday Firework Display Is The Best Part of The Ljosanótt Festival
September marks the end of summer as Iceland transitions to longer nights. The festival Ljosanótt takes place over the course of 5 days (Wednesday-Sunday of the first weekend in September) in Reykjanesbær to celebrate this transition to darkness. Days are packed with cultural events from art gallery viewings and pop-up shops to concerts and dance parties. There are a ton of activities for kids as well. The full schedule of events can be found on the Ljosanótt website.
If there’s one event you’ll want to attend however it’s the firework display on Saturday. It’s a spectacular display that is preceded by an outdoor concert and is followed by the town turning on the lights that illuminate Bergið, the cliffs overlooking the town. The lights will stay lit to light up the town in the approaching darkest days of the year.
You’ll definitely want to take a look at the event schedule to find which of the activities interest you the most so you can plan out your days accordingly. And don’t forget to stake out a spot to watch the fantastic firework display lighting up the dark sky while highlighting Iceland’s beautiful nature below.
#4. The Reykjavik International Film Festival Is A Fascinating Cultural Experience
The Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF) stretches from the end of September to the beginning of October giving moviegoers the unique opportunity to view some of the most fascinating and moving international films. The festival is designed to promote up and coming directors with only first and second-time directors being eligible to win the festival’s big prize, The Golden Puffin.
Films are split into a number of different categories such as International Shorts, Documentaries, and Icelandic Panorama. With submissions from nearly 40 countries, the RIFF is able to bring a taste of the world to Iceland. Don’t worry though, all non-English movies have English subtitles, so you can easily follow along.
All this is done while still showcasing Iceland itself and its phenomenal filmmakers. Icelandic filmmakers are fortunate to have the most stunning natural backdrops when shooting, and as a result, Iceland’s remarkable natural beauty continues to shine bright on the big screen.
The hope in creating such a huge international film event was to give both Icelanders and foreigners a thrilling cultural experience. If you choose to visit Iceland in September you might just get to be one of the lucky tourists that get swept up and inspired by these cinematic masterpieces.
Watching the films can be a particularly unusual experience as sometimes the viewing spots are public swimming pools or director’s houses, taking you out of the typical cinema environment. Beyond watching the films, the festival holds panels and workshops among other events allowing you to interact and speak with directors in attendance.
Whether you’re just looking for a unique movie-going experience or you’re a true cinema aficionado, there’s sure to be something to lure you in at the festival. Be sure to check the RIFF website for the event schedule and ticket information.
#5. If Conditions Are Favorable, You Might Catch The Elusive Northern Lights
If you’ve chosen to visit Iceland in September, you might just have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The brilliant, natural light show is largely a winter phenomenon and is one that people from all over the world flock to Iceland to see. As summer transitions to fall in September, the daylight hours become shorter making it possible to spot the elusive lights.
September is the start of the Northern Lights season. Because it’s not yet the dead of winter when darkness is ever-present, you’ll likely have to wait until late in the night for the sky to be dark enough to see the lights.
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights in person, you know that they are remarkable. They make your heart want to leap out of your chest with excitement. Your eyes widen, your mouth opens, and you can’t imagine how it’s possible that the sky seems to be dancing around you.
Nature can produce the most wonderful things, but it’s also fickle. One minute you’re surrounded by the most brilliant hues of green and purple, and the next, clouds are obscuring anything and everything in the sky. September is a transitional period in Iceland that comes with varying weather conditions. Though there’s bound to be days when the weather cooperates, you should also expect rain and wind, conditions that do not bode particularly well for Northern Lights viewing.
More often than not, at least part of the night will be overcast and cloudy. You may know there’s solar activity, and yet sometimes you won’t be able to see a thing.
Patience is key, and perhaps if you wait long enough, you’ll be rewarded with a brilliantly colored night sky. Though it’s cold in September in Iceland, the temperatures are more bearable than in the winter meaning you can last longer outside waiting for the lights to appear. Understand though that you’re equally likely to be among the many tourists that leave the country having never even caught a glimpse of the faintest hint of green.
If you’re visiting Iceland in September and are trying to maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, here are two options. Your first option is paying to take a guided Northern Lights tour. This is a popular option because the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and chase the lights for a living.
They know the go-to places to wait and watch. Despite their extensive knowledge and their desire to give you the best possible shot of seeing the lights, they do not control the lights.
Nature may decide for itself to hide its spectacular display, and at that point you’re really just out of luck. However, most tour companies do allow you to rebook a second trip at no extra charge if the lights were not visible during your tour.
You can also take your own rental car and drive away from the city to search for the lights yourself. The farther you are from the city light pollution, the darker the skies and the better chance you have of seeing anything.
We suggest you track the aurora strength and visibility and continue checking it throughout the night. The forecasts change frequently, sometimes by the hour or minute. Though Northern Lights viewing takes some preparation and a whole lot of luck, it’s a remarkable sight and one worth taking a chance on!
#6. Iceland In September Is The Perfect Time For Hot Pots and Hot Tubs
Bring your swimsuit! We cannot stress this enough. Any time of year in Iceland is always a good time of year for hot pots and hot tubs. Imagine visiting Iceland in September, sitting in a steaming hot tub or hot pot, and defrosting while reflecting on the adventures of your day. Sounds pretty perfect, doesn’t it?
Understandably, it does seem counterintuitive to bring a swimsuit to a country called Iceland, especially when it’s not even the summer, and yet there are so many opportunities to wear it. Every town in Iceland has at least one swimming pool complex (Reykjavik has many).
These complexes often include a heated lap swimming pool, a heated kiddie pool, and multiple hot tubs of differing temperatures. Laugardalslaug, the main pool in Reykjavik, even has a salt-water hot tub.
Soaking after a long day doesn’t have to be reserved for man-made pool complexes. If bathing in the middle of nature while gazing at glaciers, snow-capped mountains, or waterfalls is more your style, Iceland has a remarkable number of hot pots (pool/river of geothermally heated spring water mixed with cold spring water) throughout the country for your enjoyment.
The views from these hot pots are always stunning. Though some of the more popular hot pots like Seljavallalaug, Hrunalaug, or the Reykjadalur Hot Springs have the potential to be congested with visitors (unless you visit in the early morning or late evening), you’ll often find the hot pots offer more peace and solitude than the swimming pool complexes. They often take more commitment and energy to get to therefore deterring certain crowds.
You should be aware that the natural geothermal heated water of the hot pots is less regulated than the swimming pools, so the water temperature varies and may not always be at a desirable temperature. Again, nature works wonders, but it’s not always keeping your best wishes and interests in mind.
Places like Seljavallalaug tend to remain closer to the temperature of a heated pool rather than a Jacuzzi. And higher upriver, the Reykjadalur Hot Springs can get scalding hot. However, many of the hot pots remain at comfortable temperatures, and if you’ve ever wanted to bathe among Iceland’s most impressive natural features, why not give it a go!
If you’ve begun planning a trip to Iceland in September, you’ve no doubt heard of the extremely popular Blue Lagoon, or its northern counterpart, the Myvatn Nature Baths. Both of these are great alternatives to the hot tubs and hot pots albeit much more expensive.
They are both impressive, relaxing and often healing experiences, however the increase in tourism has made them overcrowded. Even in a month like September where tourist crowds are lessening as the offseason approaches, the Blue Lagoon requires advanced booking in order to guarantee a time slot, and it’s encouraged to arrive at the Myvatn Nature Baths right when they open. Despite their crowds and hefty prices, both experiences are worthy of a visit at least once.
#7. Always Check The Road Conditions Before Driving In Iceland In September
September is a strange transitional period between summer and fall with winter fast approaching, so the September weather in Iceland is sometimes hard to predict, but it’s Iceland, so always expect rain and be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t come. Temperatures usually stay above the freezing point hovering between 43 and 52°F. It’s unlikely you’ll see snow during your trip, but in the north and east, you just never know.
If you plan to stay around Reykjavik, you’ll likely have fewer issues with the road conditions because the roads around the capital region are very well maintained and the weather is typically milder there as well. Many if not all of the tourist attractions should also be accessible through September. No matter where you’re driving though, it’s important to at least keep an eye on the road conditions as they’re constantly changing. Use common sense when deciding whether it’s safe to be out driving, and if you don’t have experience with driving in harsh weather conditions, be extra careful and err on the side of caution.
Though you hope you’ll never be in a situation to use them, Iceland has search and rescue teams that will come to your aid if you find yourself in a bind. Please use them only as a last resort, and don’t enter into a risky situation purely because you think you have the search and rescue team as a crutch to fall back on. It’s usually tourists they have to rescue who get themselves into dangerous situations as a result of overconfidence and/or a lack of preparation.
If you choose to rent a car in Iceland in September your car will most likely still be equipped with summer tires. Winter tires are usually not used until the beginning of November. This means if you happen to find yourself on icy roads you’ll have to be extra careful because you won’t have spiked tires to assist in your driving.
You should always be careful when driving the highland roads (F roads). These roads require a 4-wheel drive car and a healthy dose of caution at any time of year. They are gravel roads and usually result in a rough driving experience. They are definitely not designed for fast driving.
On rough F roads, it’s often difficult to tell what kind of ice is lying on these unpaved roads, and water puddles may be deeper than you initially think. If you’re ever unsure whether a section of road is safe of not, don’t chance it and turn around. It’s not worth risking your life to see a waterfall. At least through the beginning of September the highland roads should be open. After that they’ll begin to shut down as the weather worsens and the driving conditions become more precarious.
Though it would be a rare occurrence, if you happen to encounter snow or ice on your trip, they are particularly reflective surfaces that on a sunny day can blind a driver. September in Iceland will still bring you glimpses of summer weather so if you’re fortunate enough to be exploring the country on a sunny day, wear sunglasses and spray antifreeze liquid (which can always be picked up at a gas station if you run out) on your windshield to keep it clean and keep your vision as sharp as possible.
The sun also tends to be low in the sky in September in Iceland, which has the potential to make driving towards the sun a difficult task. These are warnings but are not meant to scare you. Common sense goes a long way, and so much of Iceland can be explored safely in September.
We’re thrilled you’ve chosen to plan a trip to Iceland in September. It’s a wonderful time of year with plenty to offer. Though rain is an ever-present factor to contend with in Iceland, September brings reasonable temperatures that are perfectly satisfactory for adventuring. And boy are you in for some of the best adventures! From sheep roundups, to berry picking and everything in between it’s hard not to fall in love with the country when being immersed in its beauty and culture. Let us know if you have any questions or stories of your own to tell in the comments section below.