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? Read on to find out everything you need to know about the glorious Midnight Sun in Iceland!
Iceland: The Land of the Midnight Sun
- The peak of Iceland's Midnight Sun is around the summer solstice, normally the 21st of June
- From May to August midnight 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 hours of daylight on the longest days of the year is 24 hours per day (May-July)
- Iceland's hours of daylight on the shortest days of the year is 4-5 hours per day (December-January)
- Iceland's hours of daylight increase by 1-3 minutes every day between December 21 and June 21
- Iceland's hours of daylight decrease by 1-3 minutes every day between June 21 and December 21
- The Midnight Sun can be seen everywhere in Iceland
- The Midnight Sun can be seen in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Northern Russia and of course at the North Pole and South Pole
- The Midnight Sun occurs because the Earth's axis tilts towards the sun in summer
The days are long during the summertime in Iceland. Although the Midnight Sun peaks in June, then Iceland’s nights are bright as early as May and as late as August. This is due to Iceland's proximity to the Arctic Circle; in actual fact, the Arctic Circle does cross over Iceland, just, incorporating Grímsey island at the northernmost tip of Iceland.
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.
- See also: Iceland in June
What Brings About the Midnight Sun?
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, along with the Earth revolving around the sun, is what causes seasons to happen.
Each year the north part of the Earth tilts towards the sun between April and September (and then the south part tilting away from the sun) and vice versa between September and April. As a result summer occurs in the Northern Hemisphere in the months of June, July and August, but summer occurs in the Southern Hemisphere in the months of December, January and February.
The poles of the Earth get the most contrast, both being exposed to the sun's rays continuously for 6 months, and then experiencing total darkness, or Polar Nights, for the remaining 6 months of the year.
As a result, both the North Pole and the South Pole have the Midnight Sun, sporting continuous daylight for 6 months. From late March to late September it is bright at the North Pole, and dark at the South Pole, whilst the other half of the year sees this switch.
The closer you are to the North or South Pole, the more drastic the change is going to be 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; here, when it comes to daylight hours, it is an all or (barely) nothing experience.
Still, Iceland is far away enough from the North Pole to not experience such a crazy contrast. March and April (Spring) and September and October (Fall) see Iceland's daylight resemble what is mostly considered to be 'normal' by global standards, 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.
- See also: Iceland's Seasonal Contrasts
How Do You Sleep During the Midnight Sun?
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?”
My answer to that is, simply, many people around the world can sleep with the lights on, or during the day for a little siesta.
If you have to sleep in total darkness, do not despair! Thankfully, there is a clever invention called “curtains” that can be utilised throughout Icelandic homes. You can even use black-out 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.
Yes, after a dark winter it can be a bit weird having endless days (and vice versa when you have endless darkness) 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 too! No more worrying about time restraints, needing to get somewhere or get home or get to bed "before it gets dark." With endless days come endless possibilities.
- See also: Weather in Iceland & Best Time to Visit
What to Do During the Midnight Sun in Iceland?
Some tours take advantage of these late nights; available to you are midnight sun tours, 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 maximising your time on the island.
If you rent a car and are travelling late at night, there will even be fewer people around, so you can see gorgeous destinations in stunning twilight colours and be completely on your own. This is just one of the reasons why travelling during the hours of the midnight sun is so often memorable, exhilarating and heartfelt.
During summer, it is possible to travel everywhere in Iceland, whereas during the winter months, some areas of the country are not accessible. The Icelandic Highlands is one example of a region that is only accessible from late June or early July until September. 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.
- See also: The Ultimate Guide to Driving in Iceland
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 more hours of sightseeing, driving around and doing activities to max out your holiday time in Iceland.
Summer and Winter Solstices in Iceland
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 in Reykjavík, the sun sets just after midnight and rises again just before 3 o'clock in the morning.
The further north you go in the country—such as to Akureyri or Ísafjörður—the longer you will find the days. This 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, this day will be even shorter.
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. An 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.
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 in wintertime.
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, a city that is not surrounded by any mountains and is situated south in the country.
What About the Time in Between Sunset and Sunrise?
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 three months (one and a half 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.
- See also: Iceland in July
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!