Iceland, the land of ice and fire, is no short of surprises and wonders to enchant every single tourist that sets foot on the island. As if Icelandic summers were not enough magical on their own, the midnight sun adds even more weight to your plans of visiting the beautiful island in the summer season. A natural phenomenon that occurs in parts towards the north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle, the midnight sun is a sight to behold. You will feel drawn towards every little detail of the landscape when you gaze towards that massive ball of fire and gasses shining brightly as the clock strike 12 in the night. Iceland is one of the few countries to experience the midnight sun.
Pro tip from our local experts: If you want to explore Iceland without the crowds, you should visit Iceland during the summer time and visit all the popular locations during the night. It is still bright, you will have the place to yourself and you can rest during the day instead when all the places are crowded with travelers.
What is the Midnight Sun and why does it occur?
The midnight sun, as descriptive by the name, is a natural phenomenon much like rain, snowfall, and the changing of seasons throughout the year. The reason for the phenomenon known as the midnight sun is the same as the one that causes a change in the seasons. Earth rotates around the sun and its axis to create a “day” and “year”. Both these rotations combined make the earth a bit tilted towards the sun on an angle of 23.5°. So, the closer one is to the north pole, the longer is the daylight hours for them. South and North poles take a turn and experience this daylight phenomenon for 6 months each. While both south and the North pole experience this phenomenon, it is seen by humans only on the north pole as there are no settlements so far in the Antarctic circle. Countries like the Canadian Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories; Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark (Greenland), Russia; and the State of Alaska in the United States, experience the whole or some part of the midnight sun.
Technically, the midnight sun occurs from 16th to 29th June when sunsets are after midnight. Although, insanely long days lasts for about 3-4 months on average as the sun sets around 10 pm which is far beyond the standard sun setting time around the world which is 6 to 7 pm. The summer solstice is the day when Iceland sees the most amount of daylight with only about 4-hour long night. Summer solstice generally falls around 21st June (±1 or 2 days).
The opposite of the midnight sun phenomenon is known as the polar night that occurs in the winters. The sun does not rise from the horizon for six months bringing a nigh time lasting 6 months straight.
What to expect? Sleeping and Functioning
While you will have more hours to get the most out of your tours and travel plans in the country as the sun shines brightly till midnight, sleeping can be a bit off-putting. If you are not one of those folks around the world who can sleep with lights switched on in their rooms, you may have to look out for a few options to get a good night’s sleep. Icelanders use the good old magic of curtains and sleep masks to create an impression of darkness and night. A certain kind of curtains known as the ‘black-out’ curtains can be used to eradicate any possible hint of sunlight from your room so that you can peacefully retire to bed. A sleeping mask will do wonders that no curtain in the world can though so make sure that you pack one before you set out on your journey. Another expert tip to get quality sleep is creating a sleep-friendly environment 2-3 hours before your bedtime, draw the curtains, read a book or watch some tv in your room, whatever you generally do before you sleep.
Functioning is pretty much the same as normal days. On the brighter side, you will have more time to explore the sites in summer and get the most out of every destination as well.
Activities and Tours: Your To-Do List
Visit the Waterfalls
There are hundreds of gorgeous waterfalls that you can visit in Iceland and being in the country during midnight sun may give you enough time to visit many of them. Gullfoss waterfall, one of the three stops on the popular golden circle tour, is one spot to add to your list of the must-visit spots. Gullfoss waterfall is also known as the Golden waterfall – a name that it gets from the way the cascading water shines with the bright rays of the midnight sun. Sunrays and waterfall combined to make a beautiful rainbow which is worth spending time for. Apart from Gullfoss, Hengifoss in East Iceland, is another beautiful place to catch the ever-beautiful midnight sun. It is one of the highest waterfall in Iceland with a total height of 128 meters. The waterfall is surrounded by a colorful gorge that showcases the lingering effects of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago.
Glymur waterfall is another addition to the place that can provide you with an enchanting view of the midnight sun. The 198 meters high fall of the water reflects the beautiful shades of red and pink of the midnight sun twilight on it. A simple one and half hours walk and hike will have you reach your destination easily.
In the south of Iceland, the Seljalandsfoss waterfall is only 1 hour and 45 minutes away from the capital city. It is one of the top experiences to have when the midnight sun is at its peak. There is a cave behind the waterfall. You can walk behind the waterfall in the cave and enjoy the waterfall from a unique angle where you can stand behind the water and watch the bright midnight sun through it.
Take a Trip to the Glacier Lagoons
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is amazing in the summer season. The electric blue colored water coming from the melting glaciers glimmers brightly under the midnight sun as your boat sail through the humongous pieces of icebergs. The seasonal calving fluctuation in the summers brings even more icebergs to the lake and make the trip all the more fruitful. Jokulsarlon is the deepest natural lake in Iceland and is one of the top tourist spots for both summer and winter season tours.
When the icebergs from Jokulsarlon lagoon travel towards the ocean and hit the waves, they break into pieces and end up stranded on the shore. This phenomenon creates what is famously known as the diamond beach. The stranded pieces of icebergs refract the sunrays like and appear to be giant glittering diamonds on the black sand beach. The Diamond Beach is a beautiful place to visit and get some photography done is any season per se but it upholds a different kind of serene vibe to it.
If you are visiting Jokulsarlon and find that even though the view is gorgeous and everything you imagined it to be but the tours a little too much crowded for your taste then you can a detour and get to Fjallsárlón – Iceland’s second most popular glacier lagoon. The glacial lake of this lagoon contains water with a tad bit of brown shade and belongs to Fjallsjökull outlet glacier. This glacier lagoon is only about 15 minutes away from Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and can be visited in the same. Boat tours on this lagoon are offered only in summer and autumn season because of the weather conditions which makes it a spot exclusive to the summers hit list. Breiðárlón is the second glacier lagoon located nearby Jokulsarlon and Fjallsárlón. It shares Breiðamerkurjökull as its glacial outlet with Jokulsarlon lagoon. Another great option for the folks who would like to visit a less crowded site, Breiðárlón is slightly larger than Fjallsárlón and offers an added thrill of a place which is hard to reach. The time you invest in reaching the final point is well paid off when you lay your eyes upon the breathtaking view.
Soak in the Hot Springs
Known as the land of ice and fire, Iceland is filled with not only freezing white glaciers but also blazing volcanoes on the same terrain. This unique existence of the volcanic nature gives birth to several geothermal areas in the ground which in turn makes the groundwater of Iceland naturally hot. This fabulous phenomenon can be observed at popular hot springs like The Blue Lagoon, the Secret Lagoon, etc. The therapeutic water of the lagoon is soothing and the perfect way to end a long day of hustling in glaciers, taking boat tours, and riding a snowmobile. You can see the midnight sun blazing in the sky while you take a soothing dip in the milky blue warm water of the Blue Lagoon. Although the spring closes around 11 pm on normal days, it stays open till midnight from the 28th of June to the 18th of August so that you can easily get a view of the midnight sun.
Secret Lagoon, Krauma Geothermal Spa, and Reykjadalur Valley Natural Hot Spring are some other equally great options that you can explore. Secret Lagoon is situated near the Golden Circle of Iceland so you can make a stop at this point and get some moments of relaxation. Krauma Geothermal Spa is a stop on the Silver Circle of the country. So, depending on the destinations you have on your to-do list, you can pick one from any of the available options to catch the midnight sun as you take a leisurely soak.
Snowmobiling and Hiking
Activities like hiking and snowmobiling are already enough thrilling on their own. The feeling of accomplishment that you get when you finally reach the top of the glacier or the thrill and excitement you feel like the roaring engine of the Icelandic snowmobile powers up in between your legs can only be beaten if you feel all this as the mighty sun shine upon you. The sight is magnificent and grand. Top of a glacier is one of the best places to enjoy the midnight sun in its true glory. The extra hours of sunlight let you choose hikes which take a little longer to complete than a few hours. Not only glaciers, but you can also hike or go snowmobiling on the volcanoes as well. Landmannalaugar hiking tours, Vatnajökull hiking and snowmobiling tours, or Snæfellsjökull hiking expeditions are the perfect way to shape your time in Iceland.
Here is an extremely exclusive activity that you can get to enjoy only around the summer solstice when the midnight sun is actually at its peak. Pack a bottle of wine, some hot beverages like hot chocolate, fruits, and other treats that you like and go for a cute little retreat with your companions to the countryside. Midnight picnics are a huge hit in the summer season even among the citizens of the country. The wide, long-stretched plains of Iceland are the perfect place to spend the evening under the midnight.
Join the Midnight Run
Various races and runs are organized around the country during the days around the summer solstice. People join in and run long marathons to celebrate the bright nights. You can easily join any of these races. If you are staying in Reykjavik, Suzuki midnight sun run is worth checking out. The midnight sun half marathon, full marathon, the 10-kilometer, and the 5-kilometer run take place in Reykjavik in late June. They are scheduled for the 25th of June in the year 2020. The races will take you around Reykjavik and surrounding attractions and end with a dip in one of the many pools and hot springs of the capital city to soothe the muscles after the run.
Join in with the Traditional Celebrations
From the Secret Solstice music festival to Iceland’s version of the Midsomer, Jónsmessa, summer season and arrival of the midnight sun bring in bountiful traditions to the country. Jónsmessa is named in the honor of John the Baptist and is celebrated on the date of his birthday 24th of June. The night of the 24th of June is believed to be one of the four most magical night of Iceland as per the folklore. The story says that cows could talk on this night and the seals had the power to turn into humans. A very unique tradition of taking off your clothes and rolling around in the grass with fresh dew is observed in Iceland. You do not necessarily have to join in the same tradition but you can sure get on with the food and festivities that follow the course of the celebration.
Festivals to Enjoy
There are so many cool festivals that you can enjoy in the summer season in Iceland. The Secret Solstice is one of the biggest music festivals in Iceland. Artists like Clean Bandit, Big Sean, Bonnie Tyler, Prodigy, Stormzy, Foo Fighters, Goldlink, Rick Ross, Die Antwoord, and Radiohead make an appearance in the festivals and you cannot miss any of these fabulous give a live performance as the day goes on and on. The 4-day festival gives you enough time to enjoy everything from food trucks to the merchandise stands and dance all night (or day in this case). Reykjavik Art festival is another great attraction to check out. It takes place at the end of June and features various kinds of designs, arts, theater, and dance performances.
Weather Around the Summer Solstice
Summer Solstice, as well as the month surrounding it, sees an average temperature of about 5°C to 15°C. The weather remains mild and the cold, crisp winds are at rest in most of the areas. You will find people roaming around in shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the sunrays to the fullest on their porches and the parks. Although if you hail from a country further along the equator, you may still find the temperature to be a bit more on the chillier side. The summer still gets a lot of precipitation and that can come in any form including drizzle, hailstorm and heavy rainfall. The daylight hours in the summer season vary every month as well. June and July are the only months in the year to experience the legitimate midnight sun with over 21 hours of daylight. Here’s a list for all summer months daylight time:
- May: 17 to 20 hours
- June: 20 to 21 hours
- July: 21 to 18 hours
- August: 18 to 14.5 hours
Make sure that you pack accordingly for the trip and put enough warm layers in the suitcase. Weather can surprise you anytime so pack raincoats, waterproof boots, and jackets.