A country of lush greenery and immense beauty, Iceland is often misrepresented by its very name. This is especially true when you’re visiting this Nordic country during summer months. I would never have believed that such contradictory circumstances exist anywhere in the world had I not been to Iceland. But stunning landscapes, glaciers and geothermal pools are only a slice of the cake called Iceland.
Summer hides another natural phenomenon only seen in a couple of other places on Earth. A happening of surreal appearance, the midnight sun is perfectly intertwined with the overall experience of Iceland. But, what is it really and what can you do with it?
So, What is This Midnight Sun?
I’ll start you off with a, quite possibly, forgotten lesson in geography. Due to our fair planet’s decent axial tilt, places in higher latitudes experience longer days than usual during their summer. These are the countries that reside north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic circle. Of course, this translates to much longer nights during the winter, and the polar opposite (pun intended) happening at the south pole.
What this means is that the sun is still in the sky at midnight, and because of atmospheric refraction of light, it’s possible to see light even after the sun sets. Soon after, it will start rising again, resulting in a colourful spectacle above the observer’s head as dusk and dawn coalesce into a singular being. I could never sleep knowing that there’s a light show happening outside as orange, red and even purplish gradients of colour swirl in the ‘night’ sky.
Although Iceland is not the only country that observes the midnight sun, its impeccable landscapes and unique features, combined with such an out of the ordinary happening make it far more attractive for visitors. As for the time of this happening, I’ve already mentioned summer, or the second half of May all the way to the end of July, even lasting as far as mid-August to be more precise. During this period, travellers will be able to observe the full glory of the midnight sun, no matter which part of the country they visit, so here’s how you can use it to enhance your visit to Iceland.
What is it Good For?
My short, simple answer to this question: It’s good for everything, except for sleeping. I’m certain that you already have a vague idea about what you would like to do during your visit to Iceland. Maybe you’ve already eliminated some possibilities due to a lack of hours available to you there. If that were the case, I’d say that you need to rethink your approach and add more things to your bucket list.
You’ll be able to do so much more, and to a greater effect, but don’t neglect your sleep. Even though there’s always at least some daylight, your body ought to get its necessary rest in order to successfully fight the cold and rains that often fall.
- Photography. Seeing how you probably already had planned to take pictures of magical landscapes of Iceland, leave some memory and battery for taking pictures of light plays taking place after midnight. This unusual occurrence will add so much more colour and depth to everything around you that you wouldn’t believe. I’ll suggest some places that are my personal favourites.
- Svartifoss. The most amazing waterfall I’ve ever seen, it’s located in the south of the country and it’s a part of the Vatnajökull National Park. All it takes is a bit of hiking, it is not difficult to reach if you’re exhausted from exploring all day long.
- Kirkjufell. Interestingly shaped for a mountain and fairly low for one, Kirkjufell can be found in the north, on a peninsula called Snæfellsnes. It’s probably the single best place to take photos off during the midnight sun because of all colours lining up so incredibly in the background of it.
The Blue Lagoon. I probably don’t even have to tell you anything about this geothermal pool as you must have already made plans to visit it. Now picture it beneath the dark-shaded sky of pink and yellow.
- Rent a Car. Excellent roads and visible road signs are a good prelude to uncovering this beautiful country by car. The midnight sun will provide you with good visibility, and having a car lets you experience Iceland in all directions, seeing as much as you can in the shortest amount of time. I’d strongly advise against going offroad – the people of Iceland are doing their best to protect their natural world from destruction. There are exorbitant fines in place to enforce this, in some circumstance even imprisonment. Stick to the roads!
- Hiking. Opposite to moving around in the car, hiking lets you explore more freely with a lot fewer restraints. It is equally exciting to do under the midnight sun of Iceland, making nights really bright and safe.
- Whale watching. Climb aboard a tour boat in Rejkyavik, I have to say that this might be my favourite thing to do in the evening when the light spectacle begins. You’ll be able to observe the rich sea life and different kinds of birds as they’re bathing in the gorgeous light. I should say that it’s worth doing multiple times over, but that’s just personal preference. Find the thing you enjoy the most and that seems best suited to this circumstance and have the time of your life.
- Camping. Camping is quite a big deal in Iceland during the summer. Not only will you get to experience the continuity of the midnight sun to the fullest extent, but you’ll also blend in with the local crowd seamlessly.
Packing for the Journey
I’ve already mentioned the direct downside of this phenomenon – getting enough shuteye. Iceland is a very peculiar place and needs some consideration when it comes to packing for the trip. The sleep mask is an absolute must-have during this time of the year, especially if you’re a light sleeper and think that curtains won’t do the tricks. I’ve stayed at a place where they have special curtains that completely block the sunlight, but having a mask is a good precaution especially if you consider going camping.
Do be considerate of fickle weather conditions there and consult a packing list for Iceland if you don’t know what to expect. For me, having sunglasses was also very important at all times due to my light-sensitive vision. Consider that, as a lot of brightness awaits you. Think about your personal preferences, what you can expect for yourself and what you might need. After all, it’s all about enjoying the midnight sun without worries, as I’m sure you will!