When does the midnight sun in Iceland take place? How long does a sunset or a sunrise last? How long is the period you can experience the midnight sun in Iceland? How do you sleep during the midnight sun?

The Land of the Midnight Sun

Gorgeous Midnight Sun display at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

The days are long during the summertime in Iceland. As early as May and as late as August, Iceland’s nights are bright because of the Midnight Sun. This is due to Iceland's proximity to the Arctic Circle (the Arctic Circle actually just merely crosses Iceland, as it goes through Grímsey island, the northernmost tip of Iceland).

Iceland is not the only country in the world to have this natural phenomenon of bright sunlight at midnight, all countries north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle also experience the Midnight Sun. That includes Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the state of Alaska in the USA.

Icelandic lava field covered in moss and the Midnight Sun

Both the North Pole and the South Pole have the Midnight Sun, or continuous daylight for 6 months. They also both have continuous darkness for 6 months. From late March to late September it is bright on the North Pole, and dark on the South Pole. And the opposite from late September until late March.

The closer you are to the North or South Pole, the more drastic the change is between the summer and winter season. Most people in the world live far enough away from these poles, so the daylight hours and nighttime hours more or less stay the same all year round. That is not the case in Iceland.

However, Iceland barely touches the Arctic Circle, so it's far enough away for there to be some daylight throughout the year, unless you're situated deep down in a valley in a northern part of the country.

How Do You Sleep During the Midnight Sun?

Midnight sun by Mount Kirkjufell

Some people find the concept of the Midnight Sun incomprehensible and have various questions about it.

Amusingly, the most common one is: “How do you sleep?” My answer to that is simply that many people around the world can sleep with lights on, or during the day when they like a little siesta – and if you simply have to sleep in total darkness, do not despair, this clever invention called “curtains” is used in Iceland. You can even use black-out curtains to eradicate any hint of sunlight if you are a vampire or for some other reason can't handle the daylight at all.

Another common question is: “Isn’t it weird for it to be bright all night long?” Yes, after a dark winter it can be a bit weird having endless days (and vice versa when you have endless darkness in winter) but in fact, the long days become a part of your daily life and people get more energy with 24/7 daylight.

And it’s great for sightseeing – you never need to ‘get somewhere before it gets dark’ – because it doesn’t get dark!

What to Do During the Midnight Sun in Iceland

Dettifoss waterfall during the twilight of the Midnight Sun

Indeed, some tours take advantage of these late nights and you can go on midnight sun tours, like the Golden Circle, whale watching or hiking a mountain during the midnight sun.

If you are travelling late at night there will even be fewer people around, so you can see gorgeous destinations in gorgeous twilight colours and be completely on your own.

Icelandic highlands in the Midnight Sun

During summer it is possible to travel everywhere in Iceland, whereas during winter some areas of the country are not accessible. The Icelandic Highlands are for example only accessible from late June or early July until September.

And at the height of winter it may be difficult to access the Westfjords, and even some parts of North and East Iceland due to heavy snow and bad weather.

This is not a problem during summertime, although it may sometimes be windy, rainy or foggy, there will not be any snowstorms (except maybe on top of glaciers!) hindering your travel plans around the country.

Go horse riding in Iceland during the Midnight Sun

We recommend renting a car and exploring the country at your own pace. There's a variety of summer self drive tours available, where it's up to you to choose if you want to visit some of Iceland's attractions at noon or at midnight.

There is also a plethora of exciting tours available during this more agreeable part of the year, such as whale watching, glacier hiking, dog sledding, snorkelling, snowmobiling, horseback riding, helicopter sightseeing, river rafting, ATV biking, caving or even paragliding!

And with the long days, you can fit in hours of sightseeing, driving around and doing activities to max out your holiday time in Iceland.

Summer and Winter Solstices in Iceland

The midnight sun in iceland can be seen during summertime

The further north or south you go on the planet, the more effect there is by the summer and winter solstices. Iceland’s longest day of the year, the summer solstice, is around the 21st of June. On that day the sun sets just after midnight and rises again just before 3 o'clock in the morning, in Reykjavík.

The further north you go in the country, such as to Akureyri or Ísafjörður – the day will be even longer.

The shortest day of the year, winter solstice, is around the 21st of December. In Reykjavík, that means the sunrise is around 11:30 and sunset is around 15:30. Again, the further north you go in the country, this day will be even shorter.

Winter sun in Iceland

In between the shortest and the longest day of the year, the days are either getting longer or shorter, from just a few seconds up to several minutes per day. Equinox occurs twice a year, around the 21st of March and September, when there’s roughly an equal amount of daylight and darkness.

So if you want to know how much daylight there is in a particular month, note that there can be a drastic difference from the beginning and the end of the month, and which location you are planning on visiting in Iceland.

Red Midnight Sun glow on the mountains in Iceland's Westfjords

The sun isn't seen at all for around 2 months in the town of Ísafjörður in the Westfjords of Iceland. The town is surrounded by tall mountains and is situated so far north in the country that the sun doesn't rise high enough for its beams to reach over the mountaintops. It is a well known tradition that the people in Ísafjörður celebrate the first day they see the sun after 2 months of darkness by baking pancakes and having 'sun coffee'.

The absence of the sunlight is not nearly as drastic in Reykjavík, that isn't surrounded by any mountains and is situated south in the country.

What about the time in between sunset and sunrise?

Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík bathed in the Midnight Sun

Technically speaking, the midnight sun only occurs in Reykjavík between the 16th and the 29th of June, since these are the only days of the year when the sun sets after midnight.

But if you take into consideration that the sunrise will only be a couple of hours later, then you’ll realise that even though the sun isn’t up, it is still bright. The bright nights last for around 3 months (1,5 month before and after the 21st of June).

So the height of the Midnight Sun in Iceland is in the last two weeks of June, but if you are visiting Iceland in May, early June, July or early August then you will also get to experience the Midnight Sun.

The midnight sun in Reykavík can be very nice

The slow sunsets and sunrises make for incredibly picturesque displays of colourful twilight skies that last for hours. In the beginning of August, a couple of hours per night can get quite dark, not more than dusk though.

Towards the end of August or beginning of September there will be a couple of hours of pitch black night, so the Northern Lights will start making an appearance in the sky as well. Late August or early September is the perfect time of 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.

So if you’re looking for a place to go during summertime where you get more hours out of the day (without affecting the crazy nightlife), Iceland is the place to go!