Icelandic Summer Solstice
You may have heard tales of Iceland’s 24 hours of daylight when the sun never fully sets. And when there is light outside, there's endless adventures you can have. Iceland’s longest day of the year (the summer solstice) is around June 21. On this day in Reykjavik, the sun sets just after midnight and rises again right before 3 a.m., with the sky never going completely dark.
The days are extremely long during summertime in Iceland. Although the midnight sun peaks around the summer solstice in June, Iceland’s nights are bright long into the night.
Technically speaking, the midnight sun only occurs in Reykjavik between June 16-29 since these are the only days of the year when the sun sets after midnight. But if you consider that the sunrise will only be a couple of hours later, you’ll realize that even though the sun isn’t up, it's still bright. The bright nights last for around three months. So, while the height of Iceland’s midnight sun is in the last two weeks of June, you'll also get to experience it if you visit Iceland in May, early June, July, or early August.
Late August or early September is the perfect time of the year to experience the long days and milder weather, but still with a few hours of darkness during the night to catch some auroras dancing in the sky. If you’re looking for a place to visit during the summertime where you can get more hours out of the day and travel with no limitations, Iceland is the place to go!
Midnight sun reflection in the glass facade of Harpa.
What causes this phenomenon?
The midnight sun is caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis towards the sun during summer. Each year the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun from April to August and vice versa from September to March. This means that summer occurs in the Northern Hemisphere in June, July, and August. Summer occurs in the Southern Hemisphere in December, January, and February.
The Earth’s poles get the most contrast, both being exposed to the sun's rays continuously for six months and then experiencing total darkness, or “polar” nights, for the other six months. Most of the world’s population lives far enough away from these poles, so the daylight hours and nighttime hours more or less stay the same all year round. Still, Iceland is far enough away from the North Pole so the contrast is not as extreme as it could be. As the Arctic Circle’s latitude starts at around 66.5°N, and Reykjavik is located at 64.1°N, the sun will still set in Iceland throughout the summer. This will only leave Iceland with a few hours of bright civil twilight until full daylight starts again. “Civil twilight” is a scientific term given for the period of time the sun is only a few degrees below the horizon.
Iceland's day and night hours in spring (March and April) and fall (September and October) resemble what most global standards consider to be “normal,” with the sun rising between 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM, and setting from 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM.
What is the opposite of the midnight sun?
In contrast to the almost constant daylight of Iceland’s midnight sun, during the winter months, the country experiences extended darkness and very little daylight. Winter is not completely dark, though. The sun still rises and lightens Iceland for a short period every day. At its peak, December and January only experience 4-5 hours of daylight each day. When the days are the shortest, the sun rises around 11 AM and sits at around 4 PM, meaning Icelanders working regular 9-5 jobs don't get to see the sun at all!
Hallgrimskirkja window reflecting the midnight sun.
“How do you sleep?”
This is one of the most common questions asked. Naturally, many people find the concept of the midnight sun incomprehensible and can’t imagine how to get any sleep during Iceland’s summer daylight hours.
If you must sleep in total darkness, do not despair! Thankfully, there's a clever invention called "curtains" that Icelanders use throughout their homes. You can even use blackout curtains to eradicate any hint of sunlight or you can purchase some eye masks to wear while sleeping, it will guarantee to make it dark for your eyes, no matter how bright the room is.
Another common question is: “Isn’t it weird for it to be bright all night long?”. Well, yes! After experiencing such dark winter, the endless days of daylight hours in Iceland do make a dramatic difference. The long days become part of your daily life, feeding your energy with 24/7 brightness.
But it’s great for sightseeing! No more need for worrying about time restraints, needing to get somewhere, getting home or getting to bed "before it gets dark."
What can you do during the midnight sun?
There are plenty of things to do in Iceland that take advantage of the late, light nights and warmer weather. And remember that if you travel late at night, fewer people will be around, so you can see destinations in stunning twilight colors and with much smaller crowds.
One great thing is that it’s possible to travel everywhere in Iceland during the summer, while some areas are inaccessible during the winter months. The Icelandic Highlands is one example of a region only accessible from late June or early July until September. Also, you don´t need to worry about travelling East and North or even to the Westfjords that in winter time suffer a lot with heavy snow and bad weather. This type of inconvenience is not a problem during the summertime. Although it may sometimes be windy, rainy, or foggy, it’s very unlikely that there will be any snowstorms delaying your travel plans around the country.
And according to professional photographers, it´s also the perfect time for landscape photography. It’s called the Golden Hour, and it occurs during that period just before the sun sets in the evening and before it rises in the morning. Photographers call this the Golden Hour because it appears like the world is bathed in a warm, golden light, it´s generally considered the best time for landscape photography because the softened light accentuates natural tones, and the sky fills with beautiful pastel colors. During the summer months, when Iceland’s midnight sun gives you a longer day, you get almost seven hours of Golden Hour each day. That’s a lot of photo opportunities that you don´t want to miss.
What about summer festivities?
If you’re looking for other activities or events that happen during the time of the midnight sun, you’re in luck, there are a few!
The Midnight Sun Run occurs yearly in June in the Laugardalur valley. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run through the night while bathing in sunlight. You can choose to participate in a 5-kilometers or a 10-kilometer run or dare go for a half marathon.
The Secret Solstice Festival is another event that happens in the summer, as the name might suggest. This unique music and cultural festival include special events like a rave in a glacier cave!
And what about celebrating the summer solstice in Iceland´s northernmost inhabited island and the only part of the country that lies above the Artic Circle? Yes, you can. The Grimsey Island hosts a family festival with live music, fishing and sailing competitions and campfire gatherings from June 23 to 25. Here you can also experience watching thousands of puffins and other seabirds along with the midnight sun.
For visitors who would rather enjoy some quiet and relaxation in nature, experiencing the beauty of Iceland during this time is easy. Head to one of the many thermal swimming pools or hot springs to take a dip at any time of day.
And after all, why not experience Iceland’s midnight sun for yourself? Nothing says magical like watching the sun setting at a time when you’re used to complete darkness. And with endless daylight comes endless possibilities for activities, events, get-togethers and exploration.