With it being Iceland’s official first day of summer today, I thought it would be a good time to talk about seasons and weather…the trickiest topic of all in Iceland.
The Old Norse people didn’t have such extravagances as spring and autumn. Their year was two-halved: the dark and cold winter, and the bright and not-so-cold summer. That’s why to this day we celebrate the start of summer now, before everyone else, despite the fact that we are at the gateway to the Arctic.
Nobody is surprised or particularly bothered if the first day of summer is snowy – if anything it makes people laugh. Ironically, this year the weather today is warm and relatively pleasant, and was even more so yesterday. The cold weather is forecast for early next week.
Surprisingly though, meteorologists confirm that the Vikings got it pretty much right. The North Atlantic weather systems around Iceland do swap quite abruptly between turbulent, cold and stormy winter patterns and the gentler, warmer summer ones. What’s more, they do it on the first day of summer and the first day of winter every year – give or take about a week.
Just for the record, the first day of summer is on a Thursday in late April and the first day of winter is on a Saturday in late October. Weirdly enough, only one of them is a national holiday.
This brings me to the most controversial part of my column today. The most common question those of us in any way connected to the tourism industry are asked is (quite understandably) ‘when is the best time of year to visit Iceland?’
The stock answer given – especially on more marketing based websites than this one – is that they are all equally good and that it depends on what you like and what you want to do. I agree with this to a point. All the seasons are beautiful and offer a wide variety of things to do.
What no-one ever seems to ask, however, is what the worst time of year to visit Iceland is. In my humble opinion the answer to that is March and April.
March and April are the dullest months in Iceland because they are the very tail end of winter. And not the glinting frost, crispy snow, bracing air in your lungs kind of winter, but rather in the muddy, gray, dead brown grass, people reeeeaally looking forward to summer kind of way. And all this while most other parts of Europe and North America are bursting into bloom. It’s frankly a bit depressing.
Back to the abruptly changing weather systems again: maybe the Vikings weren’t so crazy after all, omitting spring and autumn. You’ll be shocked how short they both are in Iceland.
Every year is different of course, but you might just find that the weather decides one day that snow, sleet, gales and frost are getting boring and that it’s now summer’s turn. At that point everything starts growing like crazy in the lengthening daylight and spring will give way to summer in a few short weeks.
The time for all this to happen is, well, pretty much now, actually.