The midnight sun is the second-most famous natural phenomenon that Iceland is known for. (The first spot belongs to the Northern Lights). Many say that the most beautiful sunsets in the world take place during the midnight sun period. Photographers from all over the world flock to Iceland to capture the landscape under the breathtaking colors of the midnight sun.
Read on, if you would like to understand the causes of this unique occurrence and why locals and visitors love it so much. Find out when it takes place and where is the best place to watch it from and get tips on what to do if you visit Iceland during the time of the midnight sun.
What Is the Midnight Sun and What Causes It?
The midnight sun occurs when the Sun doesn’t set below the horizon at night but remains visible even at its lowest point of the night, resulting in a consecutive 24-hour span of daylight. This can only happen north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle. At extreme latitudes, the midnight sun can continuously be observed for six entire months, referred to as polar day.
The physical explanation of the midnight sun near the Earth’s poles is the same as the reason for the different seasons. Our planet is orbiting the sun while rotating at a tilted axis. It remains tilted in the same direction all year round, therefore, as we are orbiting the sun, its light shines on Earth differently at different times of the year.
When it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, the north pole tips towards the sun and sunlight strikes the northern hemisphere more directly. This also means that while it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, it’s winter in the southern hemisphere and around south to the Antarctic Circle, the sun doesn’t rise over the horizon.
Here is a video that illustrates this tilt very clearly. Observe how the sun shines on the North Pole when it’s summer.
Why Is the Midnight Sun so Special?
Since there is no human settlement on the Antarctic continent, the countries that can experience the midnight sun are limited to the regions north of the Arctic Circle. There are only a few places where sunshine and bright skies are visible during the entire night, making it a unique experience. Who wouldn’t want to watch the sunset at 1 AM?
What makes people admire the midnight sun is the colors. Although the sun doesn’t drop below the horizon, near the Arctic Circle, it does dip quite close to it and stays there very long until it starts to rise slowly again. This means that the sunset and the sunrise last hours long, painting the skies with incredible colors.
This is perfect not only for photographers but for anyone who likes sunsets and sunrises. Can you imagine something more romantic than an engagement or a wedding in a never-ending sunset? Well yes, the Northern Lights, you could say. But the midnight sun is much more predictable, easier to photograph and the weather is incomparably better.
What’s the Difference Between the White Nights and the Midnight Sun?
These terms are often used as synonyms, but they don’t have the exact same meaning. The midnight sun is when the sun is literally visible over the horizon all night long. In some places, the sun does drop fully below the horizon, but it doesn’t sink further than 6–7° before starting to rise again, so the night sky remains completely bright. To be able to see the midnight sun, you must travel to the Arctic Circle, reaching at least 66.5° latitude or even further north. The white nights can be enjoyed beginning at 59–60° latitude.
Is the Midnight Sun Visible From Reykjavík?
Yes and no. According to its strictest meaning, the midnight sun isn’t visible from Reykjavík because the sun will set every night during the summer, even on the shortest night of the year. Technically, though, there are nights when the sunset takes place after midnight, meaning that you can see the sun at midnight between June 16–27.
Even though the sun will disappear for a few short hours every night in the summer in Reykjavík, the period of bright nights is no less beautiful than the midnight sun itself. Full darkness disappears from the night sky around late April and even the twilight itself will vanish by the end of May. In June and July, the nights are filled with full daylight and sunset colors in Reykjavík, although the sun does set for a few hours even on the shortest day of the year.
Sunset and Sunrise Times in Reykjavík for Summer 2020
The last dark night: April 9
Sunrise: 6:15 a.m.
Sunset: 20:44 (8:44 p.m.)
The last semi-dark night: April 26
Sunrise: 5:15 a.m.
Sunset: 21:37 (9:37 p.m.)
The longest night: June 20
Sunrise: 2:55 a.m.
Sunset: 0:03 (12:03 a.m.)
The first semi-dark night: August 16
Sunrise: 5:23 a.m.
Sunset: 21:38 (9:38 p.m.)
The first dark night: September 2
Sunrise: 6:14 a.m.
Sunset: 20:38 (8:38 p.m.)
Where Is the Best Place to See the Midnight Sun in Iceland?
Iceland isn’t located entirely within the Arctic Circle. Only one small inhabited island, Grímsey, reaches up into the Arctic Circle, sitting at exactly 66.5423° latitude. The island is located 40 km (25 mi.) off of the north coast of Iceland. The northernmost regions of the mainland, however, lie only 0.5° to 1° below the Arctic Circle.
Technically, the proper midnight sun, where the center of the sun is visible all night long, can only be observed from Grímsey on one single night: the summer solstice. But because the sun isn’t a point but a rather large disk, some parts of it are visible for four weeks, from about early June to early July in Grímsey.
Sunset and Sunrise Times in Grímsey for Summer 2020
The last dark night: April 2
Sunrise: 6:19 a.m.
Sunset: 20:13 (8:13 p.m.)
The last semi-dark night: April 19
Sunrise: 5:11 a.m.
Sunset: 21:13 (9:13 p.m.)
The last full sunset: June 5
Sunrise: 1:26 a.m.
Sunset: 00:54 (12:54 a.m.)
The midnight sun visible at least partly: June 6–July 6
No sunsets or sunrises
The first full sunset: July 7
Sunrise: 1:37 a.m.
Sunset: 00:56 (12:56 a.m.)
The first semi-dark night: August 3
Sunrise: 4:00 a.m.
Sunset: 22:32 (10:32 p.m.)
The first dark night: September 9
Sunrise: 6:12 a.m.
Sunset: 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)
Luckily, due to a phenomenon called atmospheric refraction (a deviation of light), some parts of the midnight sun are also visible at latitudes 1° south of the Arctic Circle, which covers a large part of North Iceland and the Westfjords.
Places Where You Can See the Midnight Sun in Iceland:
Grímsey (June 6–July 6)
Kópasker (June 9–July 3)
Hofsós (June 14–27)
Húsavík (June 12–30)
Bolungarvík (June 10–July 1)
Sudureyri (June 11–July 1)
Flateyri (June 12–30)
Hornstrandir (June 8–July 4)
The long, bright nights and seemingly endless sunsets and sunrises can be enjoyed from all over the country, including Reykjavík and the southernmost regions. Even when the sun sets for a few hours, the sky remains lit up with vibrant colors for the entire night.
When Can I See the Midnight Sun in Iceland?
The best time to see the midnight sun in Iceland is on the longest day of the year, which is the night of the summer solstice or Sumarsólstöður in Icelandic.
2020: June 20.
2021: June 21.
2022: June 21.
2023: June 21.
In the northernmost parts of the country, you can see part of the midnight sun’s disk for about 1–2 weeks before the solstice, throughout the first week of July. In the entire country, you’ll be able to enjoy the long midnight sunsets, sunrises, and white nights from the beginning of May until the beginning of August!
What Events Are There to Celebrate the Summer Solstice in Iceland?
The midsummer night celebration is called Jónsmessa in Icelandic and is celebrated on June 24. The event was named after John the Baptist. In the 4th century, it was decided that the celebration for the birth of Jesus should take place on the winter solstice, and therefore, the birth of John the Baptist should be celebrated on the summer solstice. This was planned according to the Julian calendar, with the summer solstice occurring on June 24.
According to local folklore, all kinds of magical events happen on this night. The cows start to talk and the seals become human for the night while the elves attempt to seduce people with food and gifts. It’s also believed that rolling around naked (in your birthday suit!) in the dew-covered grass will bring health and cure you of all your ailments. Picking medicinal herbs this night will maximize their healing powers.
The Secret Solstice Festival
The Secret Solstice Festival is a four-day music festival that has been held annually since 2013. World-famous musicians and local celebrities join promising talent and perform on multiple stages over the long weekend, beginning on Thursday and ending Sunday night. Die Antwoord, Big Sean, Bonnie Tyler, Goldlink, Stormzy, Foo Fighters, Prodigy, Rick Ross, Clean Bandit, and Radiohead have played at the festival, among others.
There are food trucks, bars, and stands that sell all sorts of merchandise, so the festival location is like a small village. It’s held in a large green park in the heart of Reykjavík, surrounded by trees and nature. Partying during the midnight sun in Iceland is on many people’s bucket lists for a good reason!
What to Do During the Midnight Sun in Iceland
There’s a great variety of activities available in summer. Many companies offer specific midnight sun tours that are organized late in the evening so that you can enjoy the beautiful sunset colors.
You can go whale watching on the sea. Even if you’re not lucky with the whales, watching the sunset over the sea will definitely be unforgettable. If you’re more adventurous, you can join a buggy or an ATV tour, or paddle a kayak across the calm waters of a fjord. Does going horseback riding on a black sand beach under the midnight sun sound like something you’d like to try?
Hiking and camping among the colorful geothermal valleys of the Icelandic Highlands can also make memories that will last a lifetime. Taking a road trip at night comes with the benefits of avoiding the crowds and having the most popular natural attractions to yourself while most people are sleeping.
A simple walk on the bird-filled coast outside of Reykjavík isn’t a bad option, either. Iceland’s most famous geothermal hot spring, the Blue Lagoon, remains open until 23:00 (11:00 p.m.) every day during the summer, so you can enjoy the milky blue geothermal seawater while admiring the spectacular sunset. Pub crawls are popular in downtown Reykjavík and many people will be on the streets partying in the bright night. With such a great array of options, you’re sure to find the one that’s best for you.
Can You Guarantee That I Will See the Midnight Sun?
Unfortunately, no. Although you definitely won’t see any darkness if you come to Iceland during the summer, the sunset colors we’ve described above can’t be guaranteed. Sometimes the weather is simply bad and the thick layer of clouds block the direct sunlight and its beautiful colors. If this happens, you’ll experience the white nights, but you won’t be able to see the midnight sun.
If you’re a photographer chasing the best possible light conditions to capture the vibrant colors of the low-lying sun, we recommend checking out the cloud cover forecast from the Icelandic Met Office to find places where the clouds won’t block the sunshine.
How Do Locals Sleep in the Summer?
űMany people react differently to the midnight sun. Some experience difficulties falling asleep and need to use sleeping masks. Many of those who are more sensitive to the brightness at night have dark-colored bedrooms and use curtains or blinds to keep the room dark.
Due to the long days, some people have more energy and a reduced need for sleep during the summer, including most kids. The opposite happens in winter, when many people will use the so-called “wake up lights” or sunrise simulators to be able to get up in the morning. They may also experience tiredness and sleep more in winter. This is just how it is as our bodies try to adapt to the seasonal conditions with more or less success.
As for visitors, we recommend bringing a sleep mask or buying one in a local store if you think that the light might bother you. Try to follow a daily schedule, waking up early every day and going to bed at around the same time, not waiting until you feel sleepy. Limit your light exposure closer to bedtime by shutting the curtains at least an hour before you plan to sleep. Most hotels and guesthouses have dark curtains or window blinds. If you want to be sure, check with your accommodation before arriving in Iceland to find out if this will be provided.
Can I See the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights at the Same Time?
No, you can’t. Even though the physical reactions that cause the Northern Lights don’t stop in summer, the result of these collisions isn’t visible when the sky is bright. During the midnight sun period, the sky is completely lit by the sun, so there’s no chance of detecting the aurora borealis. These two phenomena simply can’t exist together in the same hemisphere.
The darkness returns to the summer nights around mid-August, giving you the chance to witness the late-night aurora show, if you’re lucky. In the second half of August, the nights begin to get darker every day. The sunset is still very late, however, which means that you’ll need to stay awake late (up to or past midnight) if you want to catch the aurora.
Here’s an article we wrote about the Northern Lights and how to find them in Iceland.
How Long Are the Daylight Periods in Iceland?
The daylight periods change drastically every month in Iceland. If you’re not traveling to Iceland in summer, it’s important to check the sunset and sunrise times and adjust your travel itinerary, especially if you’re planning on hiking or traveling in winter.
There are also great differences between the northern and southern regions in Iceland. Due to the change in latitude, there could be a difference of 1–1.5 hours in the length of the daylight period.
Sunset and Sunrise Times Throughout the Year
|Sunrise||Sunset||Day Length||Sunrise||Sunset||Day Length|
|January 1||11:19 a.m.||15:42
|February 1||10:09 a.m.||17:13
|March 1||8:33 a.m.||18:47
|April 1||6:44 a.m.||20:20
|May 1||4:58 a.m.||21:53
|June 1||3:21 a.m.||23:31
|June 21 (Summer Solstice)||2:55 a.m.||00:03
|July 1||3:06 a.m.||23:55
|August 1||4:35 a.m.||22:29
|September 1||6:11 a.m.||20:41
|October 1||7:37 a.m.||18:55
|November 1||9:12 a.m.||17:09
|December 1||10:47 a.m.||15:46