What to Do in Iceland in August: Festivals, Events and Other Things You Cannot Miss

August is, in my opinion, one of the best months to visit Iceland. The weather is pretty mild and if you’re extremely lucky, you might even see some Northern Lights in late August. Also, the biggest festival in Reykjavik takes place during this month.

Nína Þorkelsdóttir
26. December 2018

Festivals

Verslunarmannahelgi

Frídagur Verslunarmanna (which translates into “Merchants’ Holiday”) is a national bank holiday that takes place on the first Monday of August. Most people in Iceland see this three day weekend (called “Verslunarmannahelgi”) as an ideal opportunity to travel around the country or take part in local festivals.

In almost every corner of the country, you’ll find parties or festivals during the “Verslunarmannahelgi”, but the most popular one is called “Þjóðhátíð”.

“Þjóðhátíð” takes place in Vestmannaeyjar Islands, off the south shore of Iceland. During this weekend, the valley of Heimaey is filled with party animals and Icelandic troubadours. I'm sure it can be great fun, especially if you like partying and sleeping in wet tents. If you think this is something you want to experience, you can buy tickets for the festival here.

It is also worth mentioning that the traffic during this particular weekend is heavier than usually. Most people head out of Reykjavik after work on Friday, so I would try to avoid driving out of the city on the Friday afternoon/Friday evening before “Verslunarmannahelgi”.

The Great Fish Day

A fisherman cutting up a shark. A large crowd of kids standing around him, watching him closely. A fisherman cutting shark. Travelade/Nína. 

The Great Fish Day takes part in Dalvík, in the northern region of Iceland. The festival attracts hundreds, or even thousands, of Icelanders each year. The Great Fish Day is basically a celebration of seafood and the fishing industry, combining live music, dance, art and last but not least – there's a huge buffet of fresh seafood for everyone to graze on, completely free of charge.

Read more about the Great Fish Day: Feasting on Fresh Fish with Locals: The Great Fish Day

 

The Reykjavik Marathon

Runner crossing the finishing line in Reykjavik (Reykjavik Marathon). Runner Hlynur Andrésson, crossing the finishing line last year. Photo: Reykjavíkurmaraþon Íslandsbanka@Facebook. 

The Reykjavik Marathon is the biggest running event in Iceland. It takes place each year around the 18th of August (in 2019 it will take place on the 24th of August).

If you like running, you shouldn’t think twice about joining. You can choose from different distances and kids can sign up for 600m run or the 3k fun run.

The Reykjavik Culture Night takes place on the same day as the Reykjavik Marathon, so there’s a lot going on all over the city.

The Reykjavik Culture Night

Fireworks over Reykjavik. Photo: Menningarnótt@Facebook (photographer: Ragnar Th.)

The Reykjavik Culture Night is a huge festival in the capital, celebrating culture and art. Events take place from 1pm–11pm, and they are all free of charge. In the evening, there’s a big outdoor concert at Arnarhóll Hill and the program then ends with fireworks.

It is probably impossible to show up for every event that occurs during the Culture Night, so you better check out the schedule beforehand and select carefully the events and concerts that interest you the most.
 
You can check out the website for the festival here.

Tours and activities

Whale watching

A humpback whale jumping from the sea.

August is an ideal month for whale watching. During the summer, the chances of spotting whales are generally higher, the weather is slightly better and bright evenings provide the opportunity to go on whale watching tours any time of the day. Here's a list of whale watching tours I recommend:

Sightseeing tours

Strokkur geyser erupting. Strokkur is located at the Golden Circle Route. The gorgeous Geyser erupting on a bright summer's day. Photo: Pexels. 

The unique landscapes in Iceland never look as good as in the summer. In my opinion, June, July and August are the best months for a rural getaway here in Iceland. There are various day tours from Reykjavik you can select from, here are some of my favourite ones: 

Northern lights

In Iceland, the Northern lights season starts in September and lasts until April. However, the Aurora Boralis sometimes make an appearance in August – so be on the lookout!

The Weather in August

By the harbour in Reykjavik. The weather in Iceland is unpredictable all year round. Flickr/Ray Swi-hymn. 

The average temperature in Reykjavik in August is around 51°F (just under 11°C). It tends to rain quite a bit during the summer in Iceland, on average, there are 21 rainy days in August. 

Snow usually doesn't start to fall in Iceland until in the fall and August is actually the month were there's the least amount of snow. If you're headed to the mountains, you can still expect some snowy terrain. 

Although the weather might be a bit more gentle in August than during autumn, winter and spring, you should always be prepared for bad weather while in Iceland. Always check out the forecast before you go hiking, camping or road tripping. 

What to pack for an August trip?

Having said all that, I've created a basic packing list for a summer trip to Reykjavik (should work for June, July and August):

  • Fleece/wool sweater
  • Buff/scarf
  • A warm hat
  • Gloves/mittens
  • Warm socks, preferably wool
  • Trainers/sneakers
  • Swimwear
  • Sunglasses (especially if you will be driving)
  • Sunscreen
  • A refillable water bottle (you should always drink tap water in Iceland)
  • Light footwear, such as sandals, ballerinas or loafers
  • A light summer coat/jacket (for the city)
  • Jeans/pants
  • A t-shirt/tank top (in case you’ll get some sun)
  • A sleeping mask (for the bright summer nights)
  • Pyjamas
  • Adapter (if you're from the US or UK)

And in case you’re going hiking or doing other outdoorsy stuff:

  • Thermal base layers (I prefer wool, but synthetic fabrics could also work)
  • Waterproof hiking pants
  • Waterproof/windproof jacket
  • A light down jacket (not a must, but if you have one you should definitely bring it)
  • Hiking boots
  • A backpack

Things you probably don't have to bring with you:

  • Midge repellent is unnecessary unless you’re very sensitive to midge bites (midges are not a huge problem in Iceland and they generally do not bite)
  • Summer dresses/shorts/mini skirts
  • Umbrella (it sure does rain a lot during the summer, but the wind makes it impossible to use an umbrella)