During the summer months in Iceland, the weather turns balmy, and the island become verdant and green. And, most notably, the Midnight Sun emerges casting nearly 24 hours of sunlight across the country.
One of the best places to experience the Midnight Sun is at Sky Lagoon, overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. The geothermal water rejuvenates the body and soul, so you can emerge refreshed and relaxed after a midnight soak.
As the name suggests, Iceland’s Midnight Sun is when the sun doesn’t set until after midnight. Even in the depths of night, sunshine illuminates the landscape. In fact, the sun barely dips below the horizon, so the few hours of “nighttime” are bright as evening twilight.
After the short days of the Winter Solstice when the country sees as little as four hours of daylight, summer’s Midnight Sun is a highly anticipated reprieve. Days of the sun setting at 3 p.m. in the afternoon and long, dark nights are countered with endless summer nights, as if mother nature is making up for the darkness in winter.
Based on sunset and sunrise times, you can see the Midnight Sun between June 15 and June 30, with the longest day taking place around June 21. Though if you visit between May and July, it’s likely you’ll still see lightness in the sky at midnight, even if the sun has officially set.
By contrast, the Winter Solstice usually takes place on December 21. During this time Iceland only sees four hours and seven minutes of sunlight. On this day the sun sets at around 3:30 p.m. and doesn’t appear again until 11:30 a.m.
The Earth rotates on a tilted axis with the North Pole facing away from the sun. So, for several weeks of the year, the sun never sets above the Arctic Circle. Apart from the tip of Grimsey Island, Iceland sits outside the Arctic, but you can still experience the Midnight Sun here because you’re so close to the Arctic Circle.
Jónsmessa is Iceland’s most famous festival to celebrate the bright summers. A similar tradition is celebrated in the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, and is known as Midsommar.
In Iceland, Jónsmessa (named after John the Baptist as June 24 is believed to be his birthday) is thought to be one of the most magical nights of the year. According to Icelandic folklore, herbs and stones gain magical powers; cows can talk and seals can turn into humans. Taking off all your clothes and rolling naked around in the dew-covered grass is a local tradition.
Of course, elves play a role in Jónsmessa too; it is said that if you stop at a crossroad where all roads lead to four different churches, elves will come and attempt to seduce you with gifts or food.
There’s something magical about being out and about in the middle of the night, as the sun streams high above you. Icelanders swear that in the peak of summer they get an extra jolt of energy from the long hours of daylight, and we’ve rounded up some activities to make the most of the light nights.
Work off this extra energy with a stroll along the seaside after dinner. After a hearty meal of fresh fish or a warm bowl of soup, head out to the seafront and follow the coastal path around Reykjavík. Here, you’ll spot the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture, which seems to glow in the Midnight Sun. Gazing out across the water, Iceland’s rugged mountains loom in the distance.
It’s no secret that Iceland does dairy well (Skyr, anyone?) So, unsurprisingly, Iceland’s ice cream is delicious, too. Parlours stay open until around 11 p.m. in the peak of summer, so you can enjoy a candy-topped scoop of Turkish pepper or go for a classic like mint and chocolate chip. Or try the local favourite bragðarefur. It’s the perfect midnight feast.
Head down to the harbour for a late-night boat ride. The wildlife in the Atlantic Ocean is just as energized as Icelanders during the Midnight Sun. Join a whale-watching cruise to head out to sea and spot whales as they breach the water and salute the sun as the clock ticks past midnight. Or work off that excess energy with a spot of ocean kayaking.
Hike along the flat top of Esja Mountain, where the view of the Midnight Sun illuminating the red-roofed towns and volcanic landscape around you is spectacular. This popular hiking route is just 10 kilometres from the centre of Reykjavík and is very well marked.
Or head up the holy mountain Helgafell. From the top, you’ll get a glorious view of Breiðafjörður Bay and the areas around it. Tackling a hike during the Midnight Sun means you can head off after dinner.
A soothing soak in the geothermal-heated water of Sky Lagoon is the perfect place to experience the Midnight Sun. The lagoon’s position, jutting out over the wild North Atlantic, is a pleasing mix of sea, sky and steam.
At midnight in June, the natural grottos and dark volcanic rock formations around the lagoon are illuminated in golden light. Enjoy the view from the infinity edge or tucked into a lava-carved seat in the warm natural water of the lagoon. Of course, the view is best paired with a cold drink from the Lagoon Bar – perhaps a glass of something bubbly to toast to the absent sunset.
Celebrate the turn of the solstice with the seven-step Ritual, which will rejuvenate body and mind. The Ritual is inspired by Icelandic tradition and folklore and is a mix of soothing geothermal soaking, a steam in the sauna, scrubbing and plunging into the cold water of a glacial pool.
As much as the Midnight Sun is woven into Iceland’s heritage, so is bathing culture and a Midnight Sun soak in Sky Lagoon combines the two perfectly. Whether you’re embracing the seven-step Ritual, sipping on a cold glass of bubbles or simply unwinding in the bath-warm water of this seaside lagoon, a Midnight Sun moment at Sky Lagoon is sure to be a memorable one.
Visiting Iceland during the Midnight Sun and summer solstice is a truly magical time. Whether you hike up a mountain, watch whales breach on a boat tour, take a long, luxurious soak at Sky Lagoon or simply enjoy the city on a walk along the harbourfront, Iceland’s Midnight Sun is an experience to remember.