The Midnight Sun in Iceland
As Iceland is located far, far, far in the north we have a pretty unique change in seasons, especially when it comes to light. In winter it’s dark, dark, dark and in summer, well, it just doesn’t get dark.
Starting in May and ending late July the midnight sun is the queen of the day and night providing you with stunning vibrant colors and epic views. This makes falling asleep a little more challenging but the queen sure makes up for it by creating visual art pieces in the sky.
Icelanders celebrate the Solstice quite a lot. I mean we have been waiting all winter for a glimpse of light so we better right?
But what is this solstice all about? How does the solstice affect Iceland? When does this happen? How do Icelanders celebrate solstice?
I will try my absolute best to answer all the questions you might have regarding this phenomenon we love so much and if you think I missed out on anything feel free to leave a comment below and I will look into adding it to the blog.
Iceland Summer Solstice – Iceland Winter Solstice
Solstice is that day out of the year that the sun is the furthest away from the earth’s equator.
The name solstice comes from the sun standing still, right before it starts to go faster or slowing down. The further you go north or south the more you are affected by the winter and summer solstice.
Solstice takes place two times during the year here in Iceland. The Summer Solstice in Iceland takes place on the 21st of June and is the longest day of the year and the Winter Solstice in Iceland takes place on the 21st of December and is the shortest day of the year.
Photo from Sanna Nordahl
Like mentioned before, the further north, the more you are affected. This also has to do with where you are in Iceland. In Reykjavík, for example, the Summer Solstice has the sun going down around midnight and back up only about 3 hours later but if you are located in Ísafjörður of Akureyri the day or should we say night will be even shorter.
Like you might have realized by now Winter Solstice means the complete opposite. Almost no light and the sun is riding about 11:30 am in Reykjavík and going down about 4 hours later.
Winter Solstice – Photo by Hafsteinn Robertsson
In the Westfjords, where Ísafjörður is located, the winter solstice isn’t the only darkness factor. The high mountains make it impossible for the light to reach down into the fjords so for the inhabitants this means no light at all during some winter days. This can be quite challenging but Icelanders have fully mastered cozy by now. When the time comes of complete darkness it’s all about the hot chocolate, wool blankets, and good books.
How do you sleep during the midnight sun?
This is one of the most common questions we get during summers in Iceland and truth to be told this can be a bit challenging to explain. Especially because we just tend to forget to sleep.
Photo from Norbert von Niman
Icelanders are kind of like bears in this way, we sleep a lot during winter and in the summertime, I can get away with only 4 hours of sleep. The darkness doesn’t show up to tell your body and mind to get tired so it kind of just doesn’t.
But I am not here to talk about my sleeping habits. I am here to try to help you sleep, so,
here is the best advice for you to sleep during the midnight sun in Iceland.
- Many wear those sleep masks, they help a lot.
- Others have put up the thickest curtains often in dark colors to make it more difficult to get in.
- My favorite is two pillows, one below and one on top of your head. Note that you will need to sleep on the side to have room to breath.
- Also, beer is known to help, the more the better results.
The Icelandic Tradition of Jónsmessa 24th of June
Jónsmessa also known as the midsummer night is an Icelandic tradition that has been celebrated since the Viking times. The Jónsmessa or the Mass of Jón is named after John the Baptist but this is thought to be his day of birth.
This night, the night after the 24th of June has long been thought to be one of the four most powerful and magical nights in Iceland. According to Icelandic folklore, Jónsmessa was this one night a year that cows would gain the ability to speak, seals would take the form of humans and it was part of the tradition to take off all of your clothes and roll around butt-naked in the dew covered grass.
The Icelandic Folklore also states that if you find yourself at a crossroads where four different roads lead to separate churches and you sit there for a while elves will come to you, attempting to seduce you with food and gifts.
The Icelandic Jónsmessa has a close relation to the Scandinavian Midsummer celebration which is celebrated in Sweden and Denmark.
The Secret Solstice Festival
It isn’t long since no one really knew about our little island here in the north. I remember having to correct people that “no, I am not from IRELAND” and “no, Iceland isn’t a city in Utah”. For this recognition, we have the crazy glacier volcano Eyjafjallajökull to thank and a couple of businessmen that caused quite a scene in the international financial world.
Photo by Signý Ásta Guðmundsdóttir
But now, everyone knows about Iceland and many are longing to visit. A couple of Icelanders took this opportunity with open arms and decided to try out having a HUGE music festival here during summer. Iceland already had big stars in the international music scene such as Björk, Sigurrós and recently Of Monsters and Men and Kaleo. People connected music with Iceland and were in need to visit.
The festival is held in the botanical garden in Laugardalur center Reykjavík and is growing every year. Actually sitting here, writing this, I am still recovering from the 4-day music euphoria that took place over the weekend. You can find all the info needed one the Secret Solstice Website but for now, I have the photos from their site speak for it.
Photos by Birta Rán
Photo by Lilja Draumland
Photo by Lilja Draumland
Photo by Lilja Draumland
Things to do during the time of the Midnight Sun
Stay up late and walk around Reykjavík
It’s bright outside, why go to sleep. Take a stroll down to Grandi on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula out of Reykjavík. Enjoy dipping your toes in the little tub of hot water there, the birdlife and the sound of the ocean waves breaking. Walk around Ægissíða, find the hammocks and complete serenity or walk down to Sæbraut which during the day is busy with traffic, visit the famous Sólfarið – Sun Voyager, have it all to yourself.
Check out the nightlife
The nightlife in Reykjavík is always buzzing but during summer there is something different about the atmosphere. People are less dressed up, more chilled. It’s more common that people just happen to go for a drink after work and then end up staying until 03:00 am. Try sitting outside with a drink, many bars offer outdoor area and they put out blankets and heaters to help. This is such a nice thing to do!
Take a rental and leave Reykjavík. Stay up all night reading near a river, waterfall or just staring out into the endless light. There is no real way to explain this but it’s amazing.
There are a lot of hiking trails to do in Iceland and just as many right out from Reykjavík.
Mt. Esja is a stunning summit to see the sunset/sunrise from and so is Mt. Úlfarfells. These mountains are easy to find and the trails are well marked. The epic Laugavegur trail is also only accessible during summer and can be done in 1-8 days. All depends on how much you sleep 😉
Be alone with the most popular sites
During night fewer people will obviously be around but since there is light why not take the time to visit Gullfoss or Geysir. Who knows, you might even have it all to yourself!
Drive during night
One of the ultimate best things about the midnight sun is that you have a lot more time to explore. Use your days doing activities and spend the evening/night to drive to the next stop or location. This is especially good for those who are looking to do the Ring Road.
What are the pros and cons to traveling to Iceland during summer? What is there to see, to know and to do? Inga takes on the Icelandic summer in an excellent way.