A Complete Guide to the Midnight Sun in Iceland

The Summer Solstice - The Best Places to Visit - Summer in Iceland

Fully licensed travel agency & tour operator
January 23, 2019
author YS Lee

By YS Lee

A journalist, photographer and nature lover, YS finds inspiration in Iceland’s vast wilderness and wants to share with her audience everything about travelling in Iceland through words and visuals.

The Midnight sun - one thing all travelers find enchanting about June in Iceland. The days get so long that no dark, starry night is observed. The light evenings help people unwind from the long Icelandic days and it’s one of the best times to visit the land of fire and ice! Icelanders embrace this time of the year with endless outdoor activities, while nature’s majesty brings back to life the vivid colors of the mountains and the exquisite skyscape of the Midnight Sun. We have some helpful tips for you to travel during the beautiful season.

What is the Midnight Sun?

The term “Midnight Sun” refers to a natural phenomenon, which occurs north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle every summer, in each region. During summer and peaking in June, these areas experience a consecutive 24-hour span of sunlight. The sun is still visible from the Arctic Circle, as it hangs right above the horizon - even at its lowest point of the day.

If there’s fair weather during the Summer Solstice (approximately 21st June in Northern Hemisphere and 22 December in the Southern Hemisphere), the sun is visible for the entire day - not one minute less. In each region, the number of Midnight Sun days per year depends on the proximity to the nearest Pole - North or South. The closer to the pole, potentially the more days of the Midnight Sun you will get.

Since there is no permanent human settlement on the Antarctic continent (disregarding science and research stations) the regions that actually experience the midnight sun are limited to the territory crossed by the Arctic Circle. The list includes Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Greenland, Russia, Canada’s Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories, and Alaska of the United States.

Why Does the Midnight Sun Occur?

Kirkjufell under Sunset, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula of Iceland

Kirkjufell in during the Midnight Sun, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula of Iceland

It might be too simple to just say it’s because we are living on the amazing planet Earth! It takes 365 days or a “year” for the Earth to orbit the Sun, while simultaneously the Earth rotates on its own axis to create what we know as a “day.” The two trajectories from the Earth’s rotation (the Celestial Equator) and its orbiting (the Ecliptic) form a 23.5° angle, giving us the four seasons, the Polar Nights, and the Midnight Sun. From the human point of view, the more North you live, the longer the Sun will stay above the horizon in the lead up to Summer Solstice. The North Pole and the South Pole, demonstrate how this works, as both locations alternate between six months of the Midnight Sun and six months of the Polar Night. For example, on the North Pole, from late March to late September the sun is constantly visible above the horizon. Meanwhile, if you are in between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, you will have the Sun directly overhead on June Solstice.

Why does Iceland get the Midnight Sun?

Geographically speaking, Iceland is not located entirely inside the Arctic Circle. The mainland of Iceland is only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, with just its northernmost point straddling the Arctic Circle line. The line crosses the country's northernmost territory, Grímsey, a small but inhabited island that lies 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the north coast of Iceland.

Generally speaking, if you are within the Arctic Circle, during our summer or within March to September, the sun is always above the horizon - how amazing or terrifying does that sound! You can see the sun spend the days rolling in circles up above you, gradually spiraling higher and higher until it reaches the highest circuit of the sky on June 21, the day of the Summer Solstice.

The sun is not a fixed point, so because of atmospheric refractions of the sunlight, the Midnight Sun can be experienced at latitudes slightly south of the Arctic Circle, or north of the Antarctic Circle. The Arctic Polar Circle may be along the latitude of 66.56083° N, but in practice, the Midnight Sun can actually be seen in regions as far as 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the polar circle, which includes the northern part of Iceland. The southernmost point of Iceland is Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, located on 63.4377° N, which is about 346 kilometers away from the Arctic Circle. It’s still affected by the Midnight Sun, just to a lesser extent.

This is the science behind the incredible Midnight Sun, which we are lucky enough to experience every summer in Iceland. Considering how the majority of the island falls outside of the circle, it’s pretty spectacular!

Iceland is well connected to the rest of the world - especially to Europe and North America. If you want to experience the Midnight Sun, it’s easy to come and visit!

Travel Tips For Visiting Iceland During Midnight Sun and in Summerv

The Midnight sun - one thing all travelers find enchanting about June in Iceland.

The days get so long that no dark, starry night is observed. The temperature in June range between 5° and 13° C on average - warm enough for outdoor lovers to shed the thick winter clothing and dress light! June in Iceland is certainly magical! The light evenings help people unwind from the long Icelandic days and it’s one of the best times to visit the land of fire and ice! Icelanders embrace this time of the year with endless outdoor activities, while nature’s majesty brings back to life the vivid colors of the mountains and the exquisite skyscape of the Midnight Sun. We have some helpful tips for you to travel during the beautiful season.

What To Do and What To See During The Midnight Sun in Iceland

Midnight Sun | Iceland - 4K from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo.

The Best Places to Visit During the Midnight Sun Season

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall in South Iceland is the first attraction on our list of top 4 places to visit during the Midnight Sun.  Accessible via a 1-hour 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, Seljalandsfoss waterfall is with a drop of 60 meters beautifully falling down to the pond at the bottom. To add to the excitement, you can walk behind the waterfall into a cave, to see the fall from a unique angle, with the vibrant sunlight radiating through the cascade. Many tours will take you to the spectacular South Coast of Iceland, and are likely to stop at this waterfall on the way! If you are driving by yourself, be sure to check out the comprehensive guide to Seljalandsfoss waterfall and experience many hidden-gems nearby.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall in the Midnight Sun, South Iceland

Glymur waterfall in Hvalfjörður is not far from Reykjavik and is another awesome spot to experience the Midnight Sun in action. It can be found amongst the backdrop of an insanely beautiful fjord, where a large, serene ocean inlet shapes the landscape. The waterfall hides behind the top of a beautiful mountain before it drops 198 meters straight down to the bottom of the gorge. The higher advantage viewpoint you have from the top of the mountain, the better the view! From the peak you can see Glymur waterfall stumbling down against the twilight of the Midnight Sun. To reach the highest point, you will take a moderate hike for about an hour and a half, up a steep, hilly area, passing a cave and stream, until finally achieving an awesome view of the canyon and mountain below. Hiking to Glymur waterfall is a fantastic activity to add to your summer trip itinerary in Iceland!

Glymur Waterfall under Icelandic summer's sunset

Whale watching during the Midnight Sun season is one of the best experiences you can have in Iceland - you have the opportunity to get really close to those beautiful marine mammals! The increased daylight also increases the successful sighting rate! No matter where you are in Iceland, you are never too far from a whale watching tour company. There are multiple whale watching tours from Reykjavik Harbor, and we highly recommend taking the RIB boat to whale watching as it’s more personal as you get so much closer to whales!

If you are in Akureyri, you are half an hour away from Dalvik, the whale watching capital in the north, and the chances of spotting a whale from there in the summer are as high as 99.5%!

If you are traveling to West Iceland, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula has several fabulous spots for you to go whale watching! Olafsvik is on your way from Kirkjufell to Snaefellsjokull glacier and whale watching here can be a worthy detour in the middle of your trip. Whale watching from Grundarfjordur is another option. When you are in the Westfjords region, make sure to visit Holmavik as it’s the most famous town for whale watching in the Northwest.

Whale Watching in the Midnight Sun from Dalvik on a RIB boat for Personal Experience

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon during the Midnight Sun is absolutely stunning. The bright night sky mirrored in the glacier meltwater depicts an even more heavenly scenery. The deepest natural lake in Iceland, Jokulsarlon, is a must-visit destination in summer, as there will be even more icebergs floating on the lake due to its seasonal calving fluctuation from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier tongue. If you are based in Reykjavik, it’s best to take a two-day trip to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and its vicinity. It’s at least a 5 hour journey and there are so many attraction stops in between, that you’d otherwise miss! A two-day trip packs out the perfect itinerary, and you can visit Jokulsarlon in the late afternoon or evening hours to truly appreciate the Midnight Sun.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in the Midnight Sun Summer Night

Iceland’s Midnight Sun During Events

Music is a key component of life in Iceland. Over the years, the island nation has cultivated many big stars like Bjork, and rising talents like Of Monsters and Men. Not surprisingly, Iceland also hosts several musical festivals that offer unparalleled experiences powered by the near-arctic-circle geographics. The Secret Solstice Music Festival, for example, is held from June 21st, billed as “the bucket-list event held during 96 hours of straight sunlight.” It’s the best opportunity to immerse yourself into live music, with drinks, food, and partying on into the bright nights of the Icelandic summer, with international and local festival goers-alike. Every year, the fantastic line-up includes a set list of both established and emerging musicians.

Summertime nightlife in Iceland is equally entertaining as well. In previous summers, the success of the national Icelandic football team captivated the country in the Euro Cup and the World Cup, making every bar in Reykjavik an awesome, if not lively experience! There are plenty of venues recommended to make use of the summer nights: Bíó Paradís is an independent cinema where you can also watch some Icelandic documentaries and short films. If you fancy a drink, the best place for a burger or an ice cold beer is Lebowski Bar, and you can check the complete guide to Reykjavik to find more places of interest.

Going For A Run

If you want to experience Iceland in a unique way and with the locals together, going for a run can be an awesome option. There are several running events held in June.

  • Mýrdalshlaupið - The Mýrdals race: it's based in Vík, a photogenic town in South Iceland, where the runner will be accompanied with beautiful views across the entire trail.
  • Reykjavik Color Run: as fun and entertaining as it sounds, the exciting 5 km race contains a lot of rainbow-colored powder paint! First introduced to Iceland in 2015, Color Run is one of the trendy activities both Icelanders and global travelers aspire to take part in.
  • SUZUKI Midnight Sun Run: is a tradition which began in 1993, starting in Laugardalur in Reykjavik on the Summer Solstice, it offers half marathon (21.1 km), 10 km and 5 km races for enthusiastic runners.

Going For a Soak

Iceland has unlimited geothermal power bestowed by its unique volcanic nature and you will find many locations with natural hot springs and geothermal swimming pools. The summertime is evidently the perfect season to go for a soak in one of these geothermal hot spring spas.

Blue Lagoon in stunning colors under the Midnight Sun in the Summer of Iceland

(Photo credit to Kristjánsson)

  • Blue Lagoon: one of the wonders of the world, where the therapeutic milky blue hot spring runs endlessly amidst a beautiful landscape. Its summer opening hours are very accommodating: from May 31st to June 27th  it remains open until 11:00 p.m. and from June 28th to Aug 18th it closes at midnight. It’s one of the best places to experience the Midnight Sun in Iceland and the Blue Lagoon to Reykjavik round-trip transfer is available to make your life easier!
  • Other geothermal hot spring spas and swimming pools include the Secret Lagoon near the famous Golden Circle, Krauma Geothermal Spa near the fabulous Silver Circle of Iceland and Reykjadalur Valley Natural Hot Spring.  The one and only Bjorbodin Bear Spa is found near Akureyri and there are many, many more. Just check out the most comprehensive selection of natural hot spring packages here.

How Do You Sleep During the Midnight Sun in Iceland

Many tourists travel to Iceland in the summertime and are amazed by the fact that there is daylight all through the night. As a result of the 24-hour daylight, the production of melatonin, (a hormone released to make you tired), is delayed, and your body doesn’t get the ‘time for bed’ signal it would if it was dark. We have a few tips for you to cope with this during the Midnight Sun in Iceland.

Tips For Sleeping During the Midnight Sun in Summer of Iceland

(Photo Credit to Justin Schuler / Unsplash)

  • Wear a sleeping mask that covers your eyes while you sleep, it’s the most obvious but possibly the most effective way.
  • At least two hours before your bedtime, imitate a dark, sleep-friendly environment by closing your curtains and reducing the brightness in your room as much as possible. Icelanders use blackout curtains a lot to help them deal with the outside light.
  • Try to have a pillow propped up alongside your head to block out some light, but make sure you have room to breathe through!
  • While you are outdoors in Iceland during summer, be sure to wear sunglasses, even though you might feel the sun is not really shining.
  • We can’t officially condone or deny this, but it’s been rumored that a sip of beer or brandy before going to bed is a big help!  A tiny amount of alcohol reduces the initial amount of time needed to fall asleep. (Note that this is not a long term solution especially if you suffer from insomnia).

We hope you find these tips useful -the better the sleep, the happier the travelers!

The Happy Icelandic Horses are Basking in the Midnight Sun of Iceland

The Happy Icelandic Horses are Basking in the Midnight Sun of Iceland

Iceland’s Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice

Summer Solstice in Iceland

The Summer Solstice in Iceland is also called Jónsmessa and originated from the birth of John the Baptist. It’s also known as Midsummer's Night. In Iceland, the official day for Iceland to celebrate the Summer Solstice falls on June 24th, although according to history it was on June 21. Icelandic folklore tells a vivid depiction of this day, describing how cows gain the ability to talk, seals transform into human, and rolling naked on the dewy grass in the Midnight Sun is encouraged for the good of your health!  It’s also said that if you sit all night at a road intersection, with all four roads leading to respective churches, elves will attempt to seduce you with food and gifts!

On the day of the Summer Solstice in Iceland, the Sun sets at 12:03 a.m. and rises at 2:56 a.m. - only a couple of hours later. The sky won’t get dark but produce a few enchanting hours of mesmerizing twilight on the longest day of a year.

Looking at Midnight Sun at Solfar Sun Voyager Reykjavik

People are mesmerized by the Midnight Sun seen along the coast of Reykjavik at Solfar Sun Voyager (Photo credit to Yanshu Li)

Winter Solstice in Iceland

Winter Solstice marks the shortest day in a year in Iceland, as the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere positions further from the Sun. In Reykjavik on December 21st, the Sun rises at 11:22 a.m. and sets at 3:29 p.m, with only a few hours of dim daylight in between. In the northernmost point of Iceland, Grimsey, the daylight is even shorter, as the sunrises at 12:04 and sets  at 2:16 p.m., with a little bit more than 2 hours of weak daylight.

Although the daylight is short, the color of the sky is completely enchanting and visiting Iceland in winter is fantastic, because you get to hunt for Northern Lights!  

The Best Tours to See the Midnight Sun in Iceland

Because June is one of the best months to visit Iceland, we have compiled a list of tours for you to make the most of your stay in this amazing country.

Strandir Drangavik in the Midnight Sun of Icelandic Summer

Sightseeing tours

Hiking Tours

Hiking and Camping on Landmannalaugar Iceland Highlands in Summer

Hiking and Camping on Landmannalaugar Highlands in Summer of Iceland

Glacier Tours

The Summer Solstice - The Best Places to Visit - Summer in Iceland

The Midnight Sun in Iceland  | Complete Guide  | Extreme Iceland