Just Exactly How Dark Does it Get in Iceland in Winter?

Northern lights hunting in Iceland
Northern lights hunting in Iceland | ©Justin LaBerge/Flickr
Camille Buckley

Every traveler to Iceland during the winter months is naturally concerned about how to deal with the notorious darkness of the northern latitudes. Actually, the darkest month of the year, December, is much more about celebrating light as it is the time – during the winter solstice on December 21 – that the days start getting longer again by the glacially slow pace of two minutes per day.


On December 21, the sun rises subtly around 11am and sets hazily around 3pm. This does mean that many Icelanders travel back and forth to work in complete darkness, however, it is the norm. In fact, many find the summer months of complete brightness even more difficult to become accustomed to. On the summer solstice, June 21, the sun doesn’t actually set, but dips just below the horizon to continue rising which means between midnight and 3am you get a few dusky hours of hazy sunlight. In the northern parts of Iceland this can be even more extreme.


With many centuries of dealing with this winter darkness, Icelanders have it figured out. There are many activities, such as lounging in the public geothermal pools or natural hot pools and gazing at the Northern Lights, that make the lack of sunlight more tolerable. Some find the use of solar lamps, sleeping aids, and Vitamin D supplements helpful to regulate some sense of daylight in the body. Also, Reykjavik has cultural activities and concerts scheduled strategically throughout the winter so there is never a dull moment.

Aurora Borealis

Don’t assume that just because it is getting darker earlier that people will retire earlier. The darkness can have quite the opposite effect. Also, everyone knows how important it is to socialize in the winter months. After the Christmas books flood in, with bookstores releasing most of their new titles intended as Christmas gifts, everyone has a lot of reading to do.


The winter time in Iceland is also incredibly photogenic with blankets of snow brightening the darkness. With its subtle display of colors, it has been described as equally mesmerizing as the endless display of sunlight in summer. A warm glow tends to cover these long drawn out hours of sunrise and sunset in all seasons. While many assume Iceland to be just as cold or colder than other winter destinations, its position on the Gulf Stream makes the island stay relatively temperate. However, it is the gusty arctic winds that one has to dress in warm layers for.

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