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Midnight sun by Mount Kirkjufell

Midnight Sun in Iceland + How COVID-19 May Influence Your Chance to Experience It

Verified Expert

When does the midnight sun take place in Iceland? How long does a sunset or a sunrise last? How long is the period in which you can experience the midnight sun in Iceland? How do you sleep during the midnight sun? Will COVID-19 keep you from seeing the midnight sun? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Iceland’s glorious Midnight Sun.

You may have heard tales of the majestic midnight sun in Iceland. The sun never fully sets, and you can see a sky painted with gorgeous reds, pinks, and purples well into the early morning hours.

When the sun doesn’t fully set, there is no shortage of adventures you can have.

Will COVID-19 Impact My Chances To See the Midnight Sun?

The Midnight Sun is at its peak at the summer equinox - just around the time that Iceland was able to lift its national restrictions and loosen its entry requirements! Following an excellent vaccination rollout, mask-wearing and social distancing are no longer required, and the tour industry is eager to bring new guests to the country's wonderful landmarks during a spectacular summer night.

In order to maintain these hard earnt freedoms, unvaccinated travelers must continue to follow a five-day quarantine with tests - those who are vaccinated, however, are exempt from this, as are those who have proof of immunity from a recent infection they recovered from, and those from a select list of countries. All these passengers have to do is fill out a pre-registration form.

Of course, if you want to witness Iceland's nights illuminated by the light of the Midnight Sun, then you have to come between May and July. Keep updated on Iceland during COVID-19 here.

Facts About the Midnight Sun in Iceland

  • The peak of Iceland's Midnight Sun is around the summer solstice, usually the 21st of June.
  • From May to August, nighttime has daylight in Iceland, although the sun sets just before midnight.
  • You can experience the brightness of the Midnight Sun in Iceland between mid-May until mid-August.
  • Iceland's daylight hours on the longest days of the year are 24 hours per day (May-July).
  • Iceland's daylight hours on the shortest days of the year are 4-5 hours per day (December-January).
  • Iceland's daylight hours increase by 1-3 minutes every day between December 21 and June 21.
  • Iceland's daylight hours decrease by 1-3 minutes every day between June 21 and December 21.
  • You can see the Midnight Sun everywhere in Iceland.
  • You can see the Midnight Sun in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, Canada, Norway, Sweden,  Finland, Northern Russia, and, of course, at the North and South Poles.
  • The Midnight Sun occurs because the Earth's axis tilts towards the sun in summer.

When is the Midnight Sun in Iceland?

Midnight Sun over Sigöldugljúfur in Iceland's highlands

The days are long during the summertime in Iceland. Although the Midnight Sun peaks in June, Iceland’s nights are bright as early as May and as late as August.

This brightness is due to Iceland's proximity to the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle does cross over Iceland - just - incorporating Grímsey island at the northernmost tip of Iceland.

As the Arctic Circle’s latitude starts at around 66.5°N, and Reykjavik’s is located at 64.1°N, the sun will still set in Iceland throughout the summer.

However, this will only leave Iceland with a few hours of bright civil twilight in the height of summer until full daylight resumes once more.

‘Civil twilight’ is a scientific term given for the period of time the sun is only a few degrees below the horizon.

At the height of Iceland’s summer, it doesn’t get remotely dark across the island.

Iceland is not the only country in the world to experience this dazzling natural phenomenon.

All countries north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle will also experience the Midnight Sun during their summer months.

That includes Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the US state of Alaska.

What Causes the Midnight Sun?

Icelandic lava field covered in Moss.

The Midnight Sun is caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis towards the sun during summer.

This same tilt of the Earth's axis and the Earth revolving around the sun cause seasons to happen.

Each year the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun between April and September (and then the Earth’s Southern Hemisphere tilts away from the sun) and vice versa between September and April.

As a result, 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 remaining six months of the year.

As a result, both the North Pole and the South Pole have the Midnight Sun, sporting continuous daylight for six months.

It is bright at the North Pole and dark at the South Pole from late March to late September, while the other half of the year sees this reverse.

Gorgeous Midnight Sun display at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

The closer you are to the North or South Pole, the more drastic the change will be between the summer and winter.

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.

That is not the case in Iceland, where daylight hours are an all or (almost) nothing experience. 

Still, Iceland is far enough away from the North Pole so that the contrast is not as crazy as it could be.

Iceland's daylight in March and April (Spring) and September and October (Fall) resembles what most global standards consider to be 'normal,' with the sun rising between 06:00 - 08:00 and setting from 18:00 - 20:00. 

And winter is not completely dark either, although December and January only experience 4-5 hours of daylight each day.

How Do You Sleep During the Midnight Sun?

Midnight sun by Mount Kirkjufell

Naturally, many people find the concept of the Midnight Sun incomprehensible and can hardly contain their questions about it.

Amusingly, the most common one is: “How do you sleep?”

If you must sleep in total darkness, do not despair! Thankfully, there is a clever invention called “curtains” that Icelanders utilize throughout their homes.

You can even use blackout curtains to eradicate any hint of sunlight (preferable for vampires or those with sun allergies). 

Another common question is: “Isn’t it weird for it to be bright all night long?”

Well, the short answer to that is yes; after experiencing such a dark winter, endless days of sunlight do make a striking difference.

The long days become part of your daily life, feeding your energy with 24/7 light. 

And it’s great for sightseeing too! No more worrying about time restraints, needing to get somewhere, or getting home or getting to bed "before it gets dark."

With endless days come endless possibilities for activities, events, get-togethers, and exploration.

What Is There to Do During the Midnight Sun in Iceland?

Dettifoss waterfall during the twilight of the Midnight Sun

Some tours take advantage of these late nights. Plenty of midnight sun tours are available to you, like the Golden Circle, whale watching, or mountain hiking.

Taking a midnight sun tour provides you with an opportunity to experience some of Iceland's best attractions in a truly unique way, thus maximizing your time on the island.

If you rent a car and are traveling late at night, there will be fewer people around, so you can see gorgeous destinations in stunning twilight colors and be entirely on your own.

This solitude is just one reason why traveling beneath the midnight sun is so often memorable, exhilarating, and meaningful.

Icelandic highlands in the Midnight Sun.

It is possible to travel everywhere in Iceland during the summer, whereas some areas are not accessible during the winter months.

The Icelandic Highlands is one example of a region that is only accessible from late June or early July until September.

It may be difficult to access the Westfjords and even some parts of North and East Iceland at the height of winter due to 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 doubtful that there will be any snowstorms 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 midnight.

There is also a plethora of exciting tours available during this more agreeable part of the year, such as:

And with the long days, you can fit in more 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 the summer and winter solstices affect daylight.

Iceland’s longest day of the year (the summer solstice) is around the 21st of June.

On that day in Reykjavík, the sun sets just after midnight and rises again right before 3 AM, with the sky never going completely dark.

The further north you go in the country - such as to Akureyri or Ísafjörður - the longer you will find the days.

The effect makes experiencing time in Iceland a truly unique concept, unlike anywhere else on the planet. 

The shortest day of the year (the 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, the shorter the day.

Winter sun in Iceland

Between the shortest and longest days of the year, the days either grow or shorten by anywhere from a few seconds up to several minutes per day.

An equinox occurs twice a year, around the 21st of March and September, when there’s roughly an equal amount of daylight and darkness.

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 end of that time. Sunlight will also depend on which location in Iceland you plan to visit.

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

You can’t see the sun for around two months in the town of Ísafjörður in the Westfjords of Iceland.

Tall mountains surround the town, and it is situated so far north in the country that the sun doesn't rise high enough for its beams to reach over the mountaintops in wintertime.

It is a well-known tradition that the people in Ísafjörður celebrate the first day they see the sun after two months of darkness by baking pancakes and having 'sun coffee.’

The absence of sunlight is not nearly as drastic in Reykjavík, which is not surrounded by mountains and is in the south of 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 realize that even though the sun isn’t up, it is still bright. Indeed, it only dips marginally below the horizon during the civil twilight hours.

The bright nights last for around three months (one and a half months before and after the 21st of June).

So, while the height of Iceland’s Midnight Sun is in the last two weeks of June, you will also get to experience it if you visit Iceland in May, early June, July, or early August.

The midnight sun in Reykavík can be very nice

The slow sunsets and sunrises make for incredibly picturesque displays of colorful twilight skies that last for hours.

At the beginning of August, a couple of hours per night can get quite dark, though not more than dusk.

Towards the end of August or the beginning of September, there will be a couple of hours of the pitch-black night, so the Northern Lights will start appearing 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 visit during the summertime where you can get more hours out of the day (without impacting the crazy nightlife), Iceland is the place to go!

Iceland’s Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon that draws people from all across the world. Have you seen the Midnight Sun in Iceland? Was it one of the reasons you chose to visit Iceland in the summer months? Tell us your experiences in the comments below!