As we all (hopefully) know, the Earth rotates on an axis around the sun, providing us with all manner of marvellous things like the seasons and night and day. But at the northern and southern extremes, the tilt causes incredibly long days in summer and absent days in winter.
In the northern hemisphere, days of prolonged daylight hours, commonly known as the midnight sun, start anywhere from April in the far north and mid-June around the Arctic Circle and last until late August or early July respectively.
So while we’re all revelling in the ability to bask in beer gardens until 10pm, there are people around the world putting up blackout blinds and feeling slightly odd when leaving clubs at 3am in the daylight.
The ‘light’ of the midnight sun isn’t the same as that in the middle of the day. It has a slightly magical quality to it – similar to that which photographers often refer to as the ‘golden hour’ – and makes you feel as if you’re on the edge of a perpetual sunset that never arrives.
So where are the best places to see the midnight sun in the northern hemisphere this summer? Unsurprisingly, most of them are also the best places to see the Northern Lights in winter.
While it might sound odd to our ears, it’s not unusual to go on a nighttime sightseeing tour in Norway. Or surf at midnight. Or even play 18 holes at the 24-hour golf course. When there are 24 hours of sunlight you should make the most of it.
If you’re willing to travel, Svalbard is one of the best places on Earth to experience the midnight sun. This rugged wilderness is home to polar bears, glaciers, Arctic foxes and whales, so wildlife spotting is a great way to spend the extended daylight hours.
A little less chilly are the Lofoten Islands. Being on the Gulf Stream means that, despite its latitude, Lofoten’s climate is relatively mild, even reaching 20C in summer. It has pristine beaches and towering rock formations – as well as a golf course. The midnight sun is visible here from the end of May through to mid-July.
Greenland’s capital of Nuuk is something of an adventure centre, offering plentiful opportunities for fly-fishing, sea angling, hiking, climbing and paragliding. If your dream is to see the eerie glow of the light settling on icebergs, the western fjords are home to some of the country’s best coastal landscapes.
In Greenland’s south, there are whale watching cruises and the summer months are the height of the season. While up to 15 species can be found frequenting the waters of Greenland at any one time, fin, humpback and minke whales are the most common at this time of year, and the large mammals can almost outnumber the icebergs of Disko Bay.
One of just two countries where you can’t see the midnight sun over the ocean (Finland being the other), you have to head to the northern tip of Sweden to experience the oddity of seeing the sun lingering above the horizon at midnight.
Every year, at the end of June, you can party through the non-night at the Kiruna Festival in Swedish Lapland. You can also ski into the early hours at Riksgränsen.
With much of the country found south of the Arctic Circle, the island of Grimsey, off the mainland’s north coast, is the only place in Iceland that you can experience the true midnight sun. This out-of-the-way island is inhabited by fewer than 100 people, despite being wildly rugged. It’s also a paradise for birders, with puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars and razorbills all commonly spotted.
While the Silfra rift in Thingvellir National Park, found to the east of Reykjavik, does not technically experience the midnight sun, it is still light incredibly late during the summer and you can snorkel and dive late into the ‘night’. If you dive deep enough here, it’s possible to touch the underwater boundary of two continents.
The best thing you can do in northern Canada during the long hours of the midnight sun is to head out to do some wildlife spotting – nowhere is better for spotting polar bears. With 50 days of continuous sunlight from May to July, the frontier town of Inuvik is a good base from which to explore the nearby national parks and hosts various events throughout the summer, such as the Great Northern Arts Festival in July.
If it’s marine mammals you’re eager to see, a cruise around the waters of Baffin Island offers the opportunity to spot walrus and seals, as well as some of the best whale watching in the world. Orca, beluga and bowhead whale can all be found here, as well as the odd-looking narwhal, with its single tusk earning it the nickname the ‘unicorn of the sea’.
In the most northern parts of Finnish Lapland, the sun does not leave the sky for more than 70 days. While none of coastal Finland lies above the Arctic Circle, there are plenty of lakes where you can enjoy the husky light and keen fly-fishers can cast a line or two.
A level of myth surrounds this time of year in Finland and a popular old belief is that if a maiden collects seven flowers on midsummer’s eve and places them under her pillow, she will see her future husband in her dreams. If you believe in fun rather than legends, check out the midnight sun Film Festival or folklore festival Jutajaiset in June.
St Petersburg’s legendary White Nights (Beliye Nochi) begins this weekend, on May 26, and runs until mid-July. While it’s not technically midnight sun (the city is south of the Arctic Circle), there’s no real ‘night’. Just a nautical twilight with the skies at their lightest between mid-June and early July. Residents of the city have been celebrating the end of the long winter months since the 16th century and today the event permeates almost every corner of the city with the Mariinsky Theatre, New Theatre and Concert Hall hosting performances ranging from opera to ballet throughout June.
Football fanatics among you may have spotted that the dates also correspond with some of the World Cup fixtures, so if you’re heading to any games in Russia’s second largest city this year, you’ll be enjoying White Nights.
There are places in Russia that you can experience the full effect of the midnight sun – including the village of Tiksi and the remote New Siberian Islands. Getting there is not easy, however.
This is the only US state where you can see the sun still reigning in the sky at midnight. Remote and not particularly easy to reach, you’re unlikely to share your experience here with many other people.
Utqiaġvik (more commonly known as Barrow) is a small isolated port city in the north of the state and when the sun sets here in mid-November, it doesn’t rise again for 65 days. It’s not connected to any main roads and the people that live here survive on what they can hunt or catch. Barrow is home to the largest Inupiat community in Alaska and polar bears can often be spotted wandering around the city.