May is a real spring month in Iceland and can even feel a bit like summer. It is the brightest month of the year with the least precipitation, and temperatures can sore up to the high teens (that’s pretty good for Iceland). There are a few things to have in mind when you visit Iceland in May
Holidays in Iceland in May
When you visit Iceland in May, it is good to know there are at least two holidays in May, usually three. The first of the month is International Worker’s Day. Then we have Ascension Day, when Jesus went to heaven, and then Pentecost. It usually falls in May but can also be at the beginning of June.
Labour Day in Iceland
International Worker’s Day can be dated back to the late 19th century, but Iceland’s first worker’s demonstration was held in 1923. It was made a legal holiday in 1966. Parades composed of trade unions and other groups march through towns and cities, and speeches are delivered.
Despite it being International Worker’s Day, some businesses remain open, mainly in the capital area, when workers should have the day off. But many will be closed.
Ascension Day in Iceland
Ascension Day happens on a Thursday 40 days after Easter and happens 10 days before Whitsun. It commemorates the Christian belief in the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven.
The day was one of very few Church holidays not abolished during the Reformation in 1550. This day has been one of the main holidays of the Church in Iceland since the year 1200.
You might find many shops closed on this day, but museums, restaurants and supermarkets will be open like Sundays.
Pentecost in Iceland
Pentecost is on a Sunday, 50 days after Easter and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus.
It is called Whitsun (hvítasunna) in Icelandic, and Whit Monday is also a holiday. This weekend is one of the first significant travel weekends of the year for Icelanders.
Many shops and businesses (like shopping malls) are closed on Whit Sunday. Opening hours on Whit Monday are generally like on a Sunday. Companies which are closed on Sundays will not be open on Whit Monday.
Midnight Sun in May
May is the brightest month of the year, despite the longest day being in June. When it comes to May, it is bright enough for it to never become completely dark. It starts getting bright at 3:20 at the beginning of the month, with sunrise at 4:30. The sun will set at 22:10, with it being reasonably dark (but not complete darkness) at 23:30.
By the end of the month, it does not get dark. The sun rises at 3 in the morning and sets at 23:20.
When you visit Iceland in May, you won’t experience the real midnight sun, but the days are very long.
The Icelandic Highlands in May
Some highland roads will open from about the middle of the month (if the season is good). The first to open is usually Þórsmörk. We recommend checking The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s website for road conditions before heading out.
Þórsmörk is a mountain ridge named after the Norse thunder god Thor. The ridge is between the Tindajökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers. Please note that you have to drive a 4×4 to access the ridge, and you will have to cross a few rivers. If you are not experienced in driving in difficult areas, we recommend taking a coach to Þórsmörk.
Many beautiful hiking routes are in Þórsmörk, with one of the more popular ones is the Fimmvörðuháls hike. It is a 24km long hike from Skógarfoss to Þórsmörk (or vice versa) and takes about 8-12 hours. Fimmvörðuháls gained some notoriety in 2010 when it was the precursor for the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The Fimmvörðuháls eruption was called a “tourist eruption” due to its beauty.
Þórsmörk is also the beginning (or end) of the famous Laugavegur hike over to Landmannalaugar. That route will not be open in May and takes much planning. It is 54km long and generally takes a few days.
Best things to do in Iceland in May
Apart from most of the highlands, all routes are generally open in May, so you will be able to do almost whatever your heart desire.
The days are long, but the nights are still cold, so pack accordingly if you want to go camping. You can check the available camping grounds here.
Hiking up Mt Esja or Úlfarsfell for great views over the city is a great way to spend the day.
Design March is Iceland’s largest design festival which usually takes place over four days in the beginning of May. Yes, it is weird that a festival that is called Design MARCH is held in May. It used to be held in March, but due to Covid, it was delayed one year, and they just kept holding it then. The weather is better, after all.
The festival brings together participants and guests with progressive design and innovation. It emphasises new and surprising approaches and is a dynamic platform for ideas and diverse perspectives that enriches and enhances our society.
It was first held in 2009 and is the foremost introduction to art and design in Iceland and internationally. Design March has hundreds of events, exhibitions, lectures, and happenings planned and performed by artists, designers, architects, companies, and institutions.
Weather in Iceland in May
On average, May is the brightest month of the year in Reykjavík, with the most sunshine hours or 201. On average, there is a slight chance of snowfall or 0.6” (1.6cm). It is also the month with the fewest precipitation days on average, or 9.8.
The average temperatures range from 39°F (3.9°C) to 49.6°F (9.8°C). The weather can be great in May, and the record temperature in Reykjavik was 69.1°F (20.6). You may see Icelanders shed their winter/spring clothes and dress in shorts and summer dresses, even if you don’t think it is nearly warm enough for that!
What to pack to visit Iceland in May
Depending on where you come from, you might not feel it is warm enough for t-shirts, shorts, and summer dresses in May. It still wouldn’t go amiss to pack some lighter clothes and your layers.
We recommend layering up if you are going hiking, especially if it’ll be windy (and let’s be honest here, it is often windy in Iceland). Lighter scarves, hats and gloves are also good to pack. You will not need your winter boots unless you’re going glacier hiking.
Spring in Iceland is notorious for its gluggaveður or window weather. Where the sun is shining, and it looks warm and inviting outside. Don’t let it fool you; check the temperature and wind chill.
Your Friend in Reykjavik tours
We have many great walking tours for you to choose from. Depending on your interests, we recommend the Walk with a Viking Tour, which is the perfect introduction to Iceland’s capital. The Reykjavik Food Lovers tour will be right up your alley if you are interested in food. You will taste ten different traditional foods and learn about local traditions. After a long day of sightseeing, the Reykjavik Beer and Booze tour might be more what you want. You will get to taste Icelandic craft beers from around the country or taste a few snaps.
For whole day experiences, we highly recommend the People and Puffin Watching combo tour. It has a Reykjavik walking tour combined with an enjoyable Puffing Watching tour. You might also be interested in the Reykjavik City Walk and Whales watching combo.
Now you are all set to visit Iceland in May!