May is the first full month of summer in Iceland; the snow rapidly retreats up the mountains, wildflowers bloom amongst the grey moss, and by the end of the month, the days are so long that even at midnight the skies seem only dusky.
For travellers to Iceland, therefore, there are plenty of adventures to be had in May. Though a few highland locations may still be inaccessible, remote regions such as the East and Westfjords become easily within reach, and the vast majority of summer tours begin.
Not only that, but in May, Iceland incredible migratory wildlife returns to its shores; you’ll arrive just in time to see Humpback Whales breaching against a magnificent backdrop or puffins reuniting after a winter at sea.
The growing effects of the midnight sun and blossoming nature promise a fantastic holiday, so read ahead for our best tips for enjoying Iceland in May.
Go Sightseeing Around the Golden Circle at Night
The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route, close to Reykjavík and boasting three incredible sites. Þingvellir Natural Park is a beautiful valley between the tectonic plates, steeped with such deep history that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gullfoss, meanwhile, is a spectacularly powerful waterfall, and Geysir, as its name suggests, is a hot spring area with a dramatic geyser.
Most travellers to Iceland will see the Golden Circle, and in May, it is at its best, with the bleakness of winter being consumed by the colours of spring. The sites can, however, get quite busy, and at times, this can dampen the experience slightly by compromising the composition of your photos and the Icelandic atmosphere of serenity.
See also: Golden Circle Tours in Iceland
Why not, therefore, see the sites of the Golden Circle at a time few others would think to: at night? After all, the nights barely get dark in May due to the effect of the coming ‘Midnight Sun’, a phenomenon by which the sun does not set due to Iceland’s near arctic position on the globe.
Of course, it is possible to rent a car to see the sites themselves, but there are also tour operators who offer nighttime Golden Circle tours in May. By taking such a trip, you have the advantage of a friendly, knowledgeable local guide who can tell you about the science, history and folklore of the area while removing stresses such as driving and locating the sites.
Sightseeing is not the only tour you can enjoy in the light nights of May. There are also options for exciting activities such as snorkelling in the crystal clear spring water of the fissure Silfa between the tectonic plates; taking an ATV tour in the mountains just outside Reykjavík; riding a magnificent Icelandic horse; or snowmobiling on the glistening surface of an enormous glacier. All of these tours begin this month.
Go Whale Watching in the North
Iceland has over twenty species of whale, dolphin and porpoise that reside in or migrate to its coastal waters; whenever you are by the sea, therefore, there is always the chance you may see a column of mist blast from the water’s surface, or a fin break the waves. For the best chance to see these incredible animals at their most magnificent, however, it is best to take a whale-watching tour in north Iceland.
May is a fantastic time to arrive; the most gregarious whales of Iceland, the Humpbacks, will already have returned to the fertile, arctic waters for their summer feeding season, joining the year-round dolphin and porpoise residents. They do not come alone, however; you also have a chance of occasionally seeing natures two greatest giants, Blue and Fin Whales.
See also: Whale Watching & Puffin Tours
Húsavík is not only the whale-watching capital of Iceland, but of Europe; most operators boast 100% success rates in terms of sightings throughout summer, and the animals that are found here, in the waters of Skjálfandi Bay, are numerous and generally unafraid of boats. Tours from other northern towns, such as the capital of the north Akureyri and fishing village of Dalvík, are almost always as successful.
If you are not travelling to north Iceland, there are still whale-watching tours from Reykjavík which go into Faxaflói Bay. While you are slightly less likely to see Humpbacks, which are renowned for their acrobatic surface displays, there are still a wealth of dolphins and Minke Whales feeding in the waters.
Bask in the GeoSea Sea Baths in Husavik
Newly opened in the beautiful northern town of Húsavík are the GeoSea Sea Baths, saltwater hot springs perfect for the May traveller. If you have already come to Húsavík due to its reputation as the whale-watching capital of Europe, these are the ideal place to unwind after your adventure on the seas.
The water sits at around 38 to 39 degrees Celsius throughout the year and is said to have healing properties due to its wealth of minerals; no chemicals are added as there is a constant flow going through the pools. Furthermore, its views are incredible; the Sea Baths look out over the magnificent Skjálfandi Bay out towards the Arctic Circle.
A visit to the GeoSea Sea Baths will also allow you to visit some incredible nearby sites, such as Goðafoss Waterfall, the Lake Mývatn Area, and other locations on the Diamond Circle sightseeing route. Of course, as it is May, you can opt to visit these during the quiet and bright nights.
Find Puffins on Land or by Sea
Atlantic Puffins, without competition, are the most adorable birds in the world. With their minuscule stature, intricately and brightly painted beaks, expressive eyes and clumsy walk, it is impossible not to fall for them. To witness them up close, cosying up by their nests in their lifelong couples, is an experience none should miss.
Iceland is the best country in which to see these beautiful birds, as sixty percent of the world’s Atlantic Puffins live here from May to September. Luckily for visitors, they nest in across the country in many places that are easy to access.
By far the easiest way to witness them is by taking a boat tour from Reykjavík to the islands of Lundey or Akurey in Faxaflói Bay. On such excursions, you’ll have the company of an experienced, knowledgeable guide who can tell you all about their biology and behaviour, and most have binoculars on board to ensure a close-up view.
See also: Where to Find Puffins in Iceland
Similar excursions leave from other coastal towns such as Akureyri and Húsavík, and it is likely that you will spot puffins bobbing on the water on any whale-watch in these areas.
To see puffins from shore, the spectacular Dyrhólaey rock arch and cliffs on the South Coast are close to Reykjavík and easy to access. The Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords take much longer to reach, but have even more life, as they are the largest birdwatching cliffs in Europe; millions of birds from dozens of species nest across the rocks and soar in the skies above.
For the best puffin watching experience possible, however, it is recommended to take a ferry to the Westman Islands, the largest nesting site for puffins in the world. They can be seen on many hikes and an array of boat tours, and, like in the aforementioned locations, have little fear of people.
Explore Inside a Glacier or a Volcano
In May, it is possible to take two spectacular tours that cannot be experienced in any other part of the world: the opportunity to go inside a man-made ice tunnel carved into Langjökull glacier, and to descend into magma chamber of the volcano Þríhnúkagígur.
Though the natural ice caves in south-east Iceland are only open from November to March, the ice tunnel allows May visitors to enjoy a similar experience at a much more comfortable time of year. After taking a specially designed monster truck up the pristinely white slopes of Langjökull glacier – or a snowmobile on some excursions – you will discover a tunnel carved into its surface.
A friendly guide will them walk you through its gleaming, blue corridors, revealing what the world inside one of Iceland’s great ice caps looks like.
The Into the Volcano offers a similarly unique experience. Þríhnúkagígur’s magma chamber is incredibly vast, large enough to fit the Statue of Liberty inside. What few expect, however, is how brightly coloured it is; due to the elements of the magma that once swirled within it, the walls are vividly dyed all colours of the rainbow. On this excursion, you take an old mining lift to its depths and are welcome to explore its cavernous base.
May is the first month of the year that Þríhnúkagígur is open to guests, so make the most of the once-in-a-lifetime experience to marvel over its magnificent beauty.