For several weeks each summer, Iceland is the ‘land of the midnight sun’ – an ideal place to enjoy the magic of endless days with the most dramatic and vibrantly colored sunsets. There is no night sky and the sunshine is everlasting. This strange natural phenomenon occurs at the North Pole, during the summer months, and reaches its peak on Midsummer Day (June 21) when the sun is visible for a full 24 hours! The same happens at the South Pole, in the middle of the summer months in that region (December 21). If you wish to experience the midnight sun in Iceland, here’s everything you need to know about this spectacular natural wonder!
Why Does the Midnight Sun Occur?
This strange phenomenon occurs because the earth is both rotating and tilting during its orbit around the sun. The earth takes one year – just over 365 days – to complete a single orbit. While the earth is orbiting the sun, its simultaneously rotating on its own axis once every 24 hours, and as countries face away from the sun, they experience the darkness of night. The earth continues revolving on its axis and hours later, the same countries begin to face the sun again, bringing the dawn. The earth is tilting at a 23.5 degree angle as it makes its orbit. And during the summer months in the northern countries, the sun remains above the horizon for longer and longer each day until Summer Solstice. At the North Pole, the sun is constantly visible just above the horizon.
While this is happening in the northern countries, like Iceland, at the South Pole and Antarctica there are nearly 24 hours of darkness! In sharp contrast, during the winter months, Iceland and other high latitude countries near the North Pole experience increasingly shorter hours of daylight. The Winter Solstice (December 21) approaches, and on this day there is continual darkness. During the weeks on either side of this date, daylight last for just a couple of hours!
Why Can You See the Midnight Sun in Iceland?
The best place to witness the midnight Sun is the North Pole, or within the Arctic Circle. Iceland lies just a few degrees further south, with only some of its islands within the Arctic Circle. Nevertheless, because of atmospheric refraction of sunlight, the Midnight Sun can be witnessed in Iceland and other countries that lie within a 90 kilometre radius of the North Pole. Countries that are located further away from the North Pole can still experience the Midnight Sun – but to a lesser degree.
After a long dark winter, with only seven hours of sunlight in February, the days in Iceland start to lengthen. By March, the days average 13.5 hours of light, and by May this has increased to 18.5 hours. In June, on either side of the Summer Solstice, 21 hours of daylight is the norm! During July, the average is still 19.5 hours, and this starts to decrease in August. By September there are about 13 hours of light each day.
What Are the Best Ways to Enjoy This Time?
Iceland is a beautiful country, with so many natural attractions to enjoy! These include Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Park and the Gulfoss Waterfall. The Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is another impressive waterfall, dropping 60 meters into a lake at the bottom. Its possible to walk behind the waterfall and admire the sunlight through the cascade of water.
Another popular place to visit is the beautiful Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The bright night sky is mirrored in the lagoon, which is filled with more icebergs at this time, as this is the period when they tend to break (or calve) from the glacier. For those who are keen to go whale watching, this is the optimal time, as there are more sightings recorded during the summer months. Jónsmessa (June 24) is the Summer Solstice Festival, which is evolving into a large music festival. And avid golfers shouldn’t miss the Arctic Open Golf Tournament!
Many visitors travel to Iceland to witness the Midnight Sun and enjoy endless days. To experience the Midnight Sun in Iceland, visit in June – as close to the Summer Solstice as possible! The temperature in Iceland at this time of year is a pleasant 5-14 ºC – perfect for exploring the country and enjoying some of the many outdoor activities! Artists are drawn to their sketch pads and photographers reach for their cameras to capture the true splendor of Mother Nature – simply at its best.