Imagine icebergs illuminated by pale sunlight at midnight, the sunrise at 2 a.m. over a thundering waterfall, or a day of hiking that ends with an 11 p.m. soak in a natural hot spring. These things are a reality in Iceland where, for about two months every year, the sun never sets. This is the "midnight sun," a legendary peculiarity of Iceland's far north, where the sun might set a little--dipping below the horizon at, say, one in the morning, and rising again at two--but the sky remains light and night never falls.
This is common to all the northernmost latitudes, so if you've traveled in Alaska, Canada or Russia, you might be familiar. But if your first visit to Iceland is also your first visit to the northern cap of the globe, you probably have some questions. I'm here to give you a preview of the peculiarities of traveling with the midnight sun, and to share some of the reasons I love spending time in a land where the sun never sets.
The truth is that the beauty of Iceland makes you wish for more hours in the day, and the midnight sun makes that wish a reality.
Many people think illuminated nights will be an annoyance, something that endangers their night of sleep and jeopardizes their ability to enjoy the next day to the fullest. Yes, you do need a good night's rest if you're going to hike ten miles through a volcanic valley, or strap on crampons and climb the largest glacier in Europe. But worry not, hotels always have black-out blinds to facilitate darkness when needed.
In my opinion, the midnight sun matters more for your waking hours than your sleeping ones. I, like so many, was a little surprised when I first arrived to the island to observe this "sun never setting" phenomenon. But once the novelty wears off, you realize the amount of flexibility that an extra half-day of sunlight gives you.
I had guests on the Iceland Classic Multi-Adventure Tour play nine holes of golf after dinner, teeing off at 11 p.m. at a golf course that sits in the shadow of an active volcano. They came back flushed and laughing, and at the end of the week, said it was the highlight of their trip to Iceland.
On a Backroads Private Trip, I had a group of guests who wanted to go horseback riding--an activity that wasn't on the agenda--but didn't want to miss out on any of the planned activities. So what did we do? We went horseback riding at 8 p.m., finished at 10 p.m., then ate a late dinner and watched the sunset at midnight--and the sunrise at 1 a.m.
All it takes is a small shift in your perspective to change the midnight sun from an irritating solar quirk to the factor that enables some of the best moments of your trip. But that duality is typical of Iceland, a strange little island that, with its dramatic landscapes and constantly changing sights, will challenge you to see the whole world in a different light.