2 October 2019 by Saija Kokkonen
Updated for 2020 season! If you want to bask in 24-hour sunlight, follow our guide to the best places to experience the Midnight Sun.
The magical natural phenomenon of the Midnight Sun is a wonderful time to visit the landscapes of Scandinavia, the Nordics, Canada or Alaska as they bask in perpetual sunlight. But what actually is the Midnight Sun? It occurs when the Earth orbits around the sun and the tilt makes the north pole face completely away or towards it, so creating complete sunshine in the summer and darkness in winter. Travelling north of the Arctic Circle boosts your chances of feeling the full effects of the phenomenon, but there are many readily-accessible destinations that revel in the permanent sunlight.
Where to see the Midnight Sun
Hammerfest, the world's most northerly town, enjoys permanent sunshine from May until the end of July. The town's port remains ice-free due to the warming effects of the North Atlantic current – take advantage and enjoy a 'nighttime' sightseeing cruise. Close by, in Repparfjord, you'll find the world's most northerly golf course, where you can tee off at any time of day or night during the July and August. If you can't make it to Hammerfest, then Tromso or the Lofoten Islands are also good bases from which to experience the Midnight Sun, whilst North Cape (Nord Kapp), the northernmost point in Europe, basks in 76 days of full Midnight Sun.
Midnight Sun on Senja, Norway
The wild Arctic outpost of Svalbard, flung out to the far north of Norway, makes for wonderfully remote way experience the Midnight Sun. Fly into Longyearbyen or take an Arctic expedition cruise to reach the untamed wilderness where you'll have the opportunity to spot polar bears, Arctic foxes and herds of reindeers along with whales, walrus and seals alongside a whole host of Arctic adventures.
Spitsbergen in summer
The dazzling Arctic flora and gigantic icebergs in Greenland make for a spectacular backdrop against long midsummer nights. The summer here is short and intense, ensuring that the flora explodes in a wealth of colour for a brief time. Cruise the coastline past gigantic icebergs and look out for calving glaciers, whales and seals, or take to the ice to trek across the glittering fells.
Icebergs under the Midnight Sun light in Ilulissat, Greenland
At the end of June, the Kiruna Festival in Swedish Lapland means that people can party right through the night. Elsewhere, it's possible to go night hiking in Abisko National Park or the mountains of Lapporten. Although Stockholm doesn't benefit from perpetual daylight, the open-air museum, Skansen, stays open late when the sun is shining.
Summer Midnight Sun rafting excursion from the ICEHOTEL (Credit: Asaf Kliger)
Reykjavik, the northernmost national capital in the world, hosts a raucous Summer Solstice Festival on 21 June that celebrates the country's Viking heritage with drinking, dancing and debauchery that continues until the following day. However, the city is just short of the Arctic Circle so to witness the full phenomenon jump on a ferry to the tiny island of Grimsey, which lies on the Circle itself, making it a fabulous, out-of-the-way destination.
Midnight Sun over Seljalandsfoss, Iceland
Head to Inuvik, a couple of degrees north of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories, to take part in a Midnight Sun Fun Run in June or see the Great Northern Arts Festival in July. With only a little more than 50 days of daylight, many of the houses here are painted in bright, rainbow colours to bring a bit of colour to the otherwise dark, monochrome winters; there's also a celebrated church here, shaped like an igloo.
Midnight Sun over the Harbour Islands, Nunavut, Canada
Fairbanks in Alaska, the northernmost of the state's main cities, spends much of winter cloaked in darkness, so the return of sunlight and the onset of the 24-hour phenomenon makes the locals pretty excited. The end of June brings the Midnight Sun Festival, when the city centre is shut off to traffic as street parties, parades and food markets clog the roads. There's also an annual Midnight Sun baseball match, which has taken place every year since 1906; the first throw is at midnight. The Golf & Country Club here also allows you to play a round at any hour during most of June and July. South of Fairbanks, Eagle Summit also experiences the Midnight Sun around the time of the summer solstice despite being south of the Arctic Circle, due to its elevation.
Midnight Sun, Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet, Alaska
Tips for Midnight Sun holidays
- Locals often adjust to the additional daylight naturally and even require less sleep. As a visitor a sleep mask will help with shutting out the light when attempting to get some sleep under the long daylight of the Midnight Sun.
- With so much daylight, plan for long days outdoors; take advantage of the fact that activities can be arranged around the clock.
- Always bring a variety of sensible clothing and layers to add or remove when venturing up to the Arctic Circle, regardless of the season; summer can still be chilly.
- Sun cream and sunglasses are recommended when exploring these areas.
What is the Midnight Sun?
Sometimes referred to as a Polar Day, the phenomenon occurs because of the earth's slightly tilted axis; as the earth orbits around the sun, the tilt makes the north pole face towards the sun in summer and away from it in winter, creating darkness during the northern hemisphere winter months and complete sunshine during the equivalent summer. The same phenomenon can be witnessed south of the Antarctic Circle but since there are no permanent human habitations here it's easier to experience the natural wonder in the north.
When to see the Midnight Sun in 2020?
Generally, this phenomenon can be seen all along the Arctic Circle from mid-June to early July. Head further north to Svalbard or Greenland to enjoy the spectacle from April to August – with adequate weather conditions the sun is then visible for a full 24 hours a day. During this period it's impossible to see the Northern Lights, as the skies are too bright.