The Midnight Sun in Iceland

Iceland faces extreme changes in daylight throughout the year. The Midnight Sun, also known as ‘polar day’, is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the summer months, where the sun remains visible 24 hours a day, meaning the sun never fully sets. Read on to learn more about the Midnight Sun and daylight hours in Iceland. 

Why does the Midnight Sun occur?

The midnight sun happens due to the manner in which the earth circles the sun in an elliptical orbit. The earth’s axis is tilted away from the sun for 6 months during winter, and towards the sun for 6 months during summer. This results in long seasons and Summer and Winter Solstice.

It occurs in locations north and south of the Arctic Circle. Reykjavik, in Iceland, is the northernmost capital on earth, therefore it experiences both the shortest (Winter Solstice) and longest (Summer Solstice) hours of daylight with the change of seasons.

When does the Midnight Sun occur?

The Sumarsólstöður (Summer Solstice) is the highest peak of the daylight period, where the sun is up for about 24 hours. However, from May the nights start to get bright in Iceland This peak is reached around 20-22nd of June. During the month of June, you are unlikely to really experience any darkness, even though direct daylight is only measured for 21 hours. The sun never completely sets and rises again before the light has left. Below you will find the annual Sumarsólstöður projections for the next few years:

  • June 2019 – 21st
  • June 2020 – 20th
  • June 2021 – 21st
  • June 2022 – 21st
  • June 2023 – 21st

What are Iceland’s Daylight Hours?

Iceland’s and Reykjavik’s daylight hours change throughout the year, and the differences are quite extreme. During the Midnight Sun, the sun sets around midnight in Reykjavik and rises again at just after 3am. However, between the setting and rising of the sun, the sky never goes totally dark and you can still see perfectly well. It’s almost like an extended period of dusk. Throughout the rest of the summer, Reykjavik’s daylight hours are about 21 hours, where the sun almost doesn’t set between the end of May and the end of July. 

Throughout other parts of the year, Reykjavik’s daylight hours are far less than 24 hours! Throughout the winter, Reykjavik’s daylight hours are as little as 4 hours, from about 11am to 3pm. 

How do you sleep during the Midnight Sun?

During the midnight sun period, and summer in general in Iceland there is a lot of light exposure, this might make it hard for some to sleep. If your body isn’t equipped for all-nighters, you have light-sensitive eyes or daylight disturbs your sleep, then thick curtains and eye masks may be a good solution for you. 

Icelandic Traditions around the Midnight Sun

There are a number of events, activities and traditions surrounding the summer solstice, such as Jónsmessa and the Secret Solstice Festival.

The Icelandic holiday Jónsmessa (Midsummer Night), is celebrated on the 24th of June. It is shaped by both pagan and Catholic beliefs. According to local folklore, it is believed that luck can be procured by rolling around on dew-covered grass in the nude!

The Secret Solstice Festival after its inception in 2014 has boomed in popularity and is considered a major annual event in the Icelandic music scene. The festival takes place in the capital city of Reykjavík and is free for children under 13. There are a number of accommodation options available near the festival site, from hotels to hostels to glamping tents.

Things to do during the Midnight Sun period

In terms of activities, there is a range of fun things to do during the Midnight Sun period.  Make the most of the long days with sunlight. If you are into photography, the Midnight Sun period allows for more ‘golden hour’ and ‘blue hour’ opportunities. During the height of the Midnight Sun, ‘golden hour’ can last up to 7 hours - perfect light conditions for photographers. If you are stuck for activity ideas, see below for a helpful starting point.

Click here to watch time-lapse of the Midnight sun Iceland.  This short time-lapse film was shot during the Icelandic Midnight Sun in June of 2011.