In Iceland in June, the sun extends a sincere (albeit belated) apology for its winter disappearing act. Remorse is demonstrated in the form of near omnipresence: There is a springtime battle to vanquish darkness that sees the sun emerge victorious, and the prize is near-endless bright skies.
The summer solstice, when the sun peaks and produces the longest day of the year, occurs on June 21. On this date, Reykjavík’s sunrise is at 2:55 am; sunset occurs 21 hours later at 00:03 am. For three hours of twilight, the sun sits just below the horizon and delivers lingering natural light.
(Fun fact, for contrast: December’s winter solstice offers a mere four hours and seven minutes of daylight in the Icelandic capital.)
The further north you travel in Iceland, of course, the more prolonged the summer light. Akureyri boasts 23.5 hours of light on June 21; Ísafjörður has 24-hour brightness, and Grímsey (the only part of Iceland within the Arctic Circle) also has perpetual light.
The sun’s apology is not so humble that it comes with genuine warmth—in the tropical sense—but as the daytime temperatures hopefully nudge the mid-’60s (Fahrenheit), and the late-evening skies take on a pinky-peach glow, winter’s gloom is generally forgiven.
The summer solstice was traditionally a time of bounty in the lives of the Nordic nations and a cause for celebration. Be ready to enjoy a burst of energy and a crazy sense that time is immaterial.
For six weeks either side of the June 21 solstice, you’ll enjoy bright nights: The sun lingers long and low on the horizon like a welcome dinner guest. Even after its sunset departure a rosy afterglow will remain.
Sightseeing under the midnight sun is a joy (after all, there are fewer busloads at waterfalls at 11 pm). Bird-filled cliffs offer a comforting soundtrack of warbling. Hot tubs and springs offer delicious warmth and may help to edge insomniacs closer to sleep.
Midsummer festivals make prime use of the longest days. In Reykjavík, you can party through the light at Secret Solstice music festival (June 21–24), or compete in the Midnight Sun Run (June 20), which ends with a soak at Iceland’s largest geothermal pool.
If you’re in the North, you can stay up for 24 hours of culture at the Akureyri Midsummer Magic festival (June 22–23), tee off at the Arctic Open golf tournament (June 19–22), or take a short flight or ferry to Grímsey island to experience the Solstice Festival within the Arctic Circle (June 21–24).
Of course, you don’t need festival tickets to bask in the midnight sun. Make your own fun hiking, golfing, fishing or camping, or book an evening tour to whale-watch, bird-watch or horse-ride into the night. And for the simplest solstice pleasure, take a midnight stroll to see the sun dip just below the horizon—and if you walk for long enough—bounce back up before you return.
Traveling between North America and Europe with Icelandair, you have the opportunity to add a stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare.
Text by Carolyn Bain and Sarah Dearne
This article first appeared in the Icelandair Stopover inflight magazine, Spring 2019