Chasing Elves & Rolling Naked in the Grass Under Iceland’s Midnight Sun

Every year around June 21, Iceland natives and tourists gather for the three longest days of the year. The sun sets just after midnight and rises just before 3 a.m., but even when it’s “night time” it’s never really dark. Which, naturally, means festivals, endless partying, drinking, and rolling naked in the early morning dew (more on that later).

“For these 72 hours and also just over the peak of summer when you have basically 24-hour sunlight, people go out hard,” Stefán Sigurðsson, an Icelandic native who’s now an account executive at Colangelo & Partners in New York City, tells VinePair in an email. After the bars close, the party goes on “because it’s just so damn bright and summery out, you just don’t get tired.”

Concerts, town festivals, parades with dancers and Icelandic horses, and after-parties rage into the brightly lit night. There’s something for everyone, but if you’re someone who needs your sleep, the market for blackout curtains in Iceland is healthy, probably. Just be prepared to live with the FOMO.

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reyka is the drink of iceland
Photo via Reyka

Needless to say, there’s nothing quite like an Icelandic summer solstice party. And if you get the chance to party like an Icelander, you have to drink like an Icelander, which means craft beer and Reyka Vodka.

Reyka, Iceland’s only vodka, is as Icelandic as it gets. It’s made with Icelandic glacier water, filtered through lava rocks, and made in a distillery powered by geothermal energy. Whether chilled and taken as a shot, or mixed into cocktails like an Icelandic Mule (Reyka Vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice), drinking Reyka is like drinking a distilled Iceland. As Villi Godi, a tourHQ tour guide in Iceland, tells VinePair over email, “Reyka embodies the charming characteristics of Iceland’s provenance and people.”

Then there’s Brennivin, or Black Death, that Sigurðsson says has a cumin taste and “isn’t actually as bad as it sounds.” The tourist trap of taking a shot of fermented shark meat rinsed down with a shot of Brennivin, however, is as bad as it sounds. Other local favorites are Topas and Opal, which are licorice-flavored Schnapps.

If beer is more your pace for all-day drinking, Iceland has a vibrant craft brewing scene (which the Maine Brewers’ Guild is supplementing with a 40-foot refrigerated container for the Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavik). People in the U.S. are likely most familiar with Einstok, an Icelandic brewery with a killer white ale. Viking Gold and Kaldi are local favorites, Sigurðsson tells VinePair, as are Borg Brugghus and Olvisholt Brugghus.

iceland solstice party horses
Photo via Reyka

Once you’ve had your fill, it’s time to partake in the quirkiest of Icelandic traditions.

“The naked dew roll is like old superstition/tradition, but there’s always somebody crazy/drunk enough to go for it,” Sigurðsson says. It’s as simple as it sounds: Get naked, roll in a grassy meadow that’s been dusted with dew, and your luck will be better than ever.

Not everyone is down for public nudity, so here’s another tradition: elf spotting. At midnight on the solstice, walk to a four-way intersection and look around. Chances are (so the superstition goes), you’ll see an elf.

Or just stick to the partying. It’s a hell of a time.