Scandinavia is famous for its polar night, the winter months of the year where the sun hardly makes an appearance and the Northern Lights flash across the sky. The less spoken of but no less exciting time of year is the opposite – the Midnight Sun over the summer months. Locals make the most of the extended daylight hours to spend more time outside and basking in the sun.
What is the Midnight Sun?
The Midnight Sun is the phenomenon that occurs in and around the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle where the sun is still visible at midnight because of the tilt of the earth. This phenomenon can be experienced in Canada, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, Sweden and the USA (Alaska). The closer to the poles, the more sunlight there is – this means a quarter of Finland has 60 days of sun without setting, while Svalbard in Norway has no sunset from the 19th of April to 23rd of August.
Although the Midnight Sun only shines above and around the Arctic Circle, in truth the nights are ‘white’ throughout much of Scandinavia. During the summer solstice, the sun is visible for a full 24 hours but it is the days leading up to and following on from this mid June date, the white nights, where the sky is most fascinating, with sunset colours dominating as the sun briefly dips below the horizon then comes back up again. The line between night and day blurs and Scandinavians sleep less, spending their long days outside exploring.
It is at this time of year that much of the native flora and fauna of the Arctic begins to flourish. Having been dormant for the many winter months, wildflowers begin to bloom in the Arctic tundra and wildlife such as polar bears, elk, arctic foxes and migratory birds can be readily seen.
The cultural importance of the Midnight Sun
The Midnight Sun is culturally significant in old Norse legends, although how exactly it was understood is unclear. The Icelandic Snorri Sturluson attempted to compile Norse legends about the 12th century and although his compilation has been shown to be far from reliable, the legends about the sun and moon seem to be reasonably accurate of what the Norse people believed, coupled with many early artworks and artifacts.
The story goes that Sol (old Norse for Sun) and Mani (old Norse for Moon) were two beautiful siblings, a sister and a brother. The gods were so outraged that their parents had called them such powerful names that they condemned them to drive one chariot each across the skies, one pulling the moon and one pulling the sun, one after the other. These chariots were pursued by wolves and every once in a while the wolves would catch up with the brother or sister and devour them – thus there would be no sun (polar night) or no moon (midnight sun) until Sol or Mani were reborn.
Another classic Norse legend is that young women looking for love should collect seven flowers on Midsummer’s Eve and place them under their pillow that night. Then, in her dreams of the next few months, her future fiance will appear.
In more contemporary history, the famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch depicted the golden lit Midnight Sun in his famous (and influential) work, ‘The Sun’ (1909). This wall mural occupied the University of Oslo’s Assembly Hall and was a symbol of the creativity and productivity of the Norwegian people under their golden Midnight Sun.
The best ways to experience the Midnight Sun
Known as the land of the midnight sun, there are some wonderful ways to experience the extended daylight hours of the summer in Norway. Consider a coastal cruise or some outdoor adventures to make the most of your long days.
- Commonly mistaken as the most Northern point on the European Mainland, the North Cape is technically situated on an island. It is however a wonderful place to feel rejuvenated by the Midnight Sun with only the sea and Svalbard between you and the North Pole.
- Take a cable car ride up 656metres in Narvik where you can behold stunning views of the fjord, the town, the islands and surrounding mountains including the famous Sleeping Queen. You can even hire a mountain bike to go back down into town!
- Alternatively, take a cable car ride in the northern town of Tromso – although only 421 metres above sea level, the attraction affords amazing views of the peaks of Ringvassoya Island where the Midnight Sun hovers. Open well after midnight in the summer, this is the perfect way to make the most of the eternal summer days.
- Visit Trollstigen National Tourist Route and admire the UNESCO listed Geirangerfjord from the Flydalsjuvet rest stop.
- Longyearben, Svalbard opens up in the summer time and is a wonderful place to visit. The most Northern Norwegian settlement, Svalbard enjoys the longest period of the Midnight Sun from 22nd April to 20 August.
Visit Kiruna, in the Swedish Lapland to experience the Midnight Sun at it’s best along with famous Swedish hospitality. The Midnight Sun phenomenon lasts in Sweden from late May to mid July but the further North you go, the longer the season.
- Play well passed midnight at the famous Bjorkliden Arctic Golf Course. 250km north of the Arctic Circle, this is one of the most scenic golf courses in the world and is open 24hours a day.
- Indulge your inner artists in an Ice-Sculpting course at the ICEHOTEL, or ski into Midsummer’s Eve high up in the mountains.
A quarter of Finland is within the Arctic Circle and so the Finnish Lapland experiences about 70 consecutive days of constant sunlight.
- The Midnight Sun film festival occurs every year in Sodankylä, located approximately two hours northeast from Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi. The five day festival was founded in 1986 and has gone from strength to strength in each year since, with an international mix of filmmakers and film-lovers. Screenings run 24hours a day from 15 to 19 June and the highlight is the silent film concerts, always packed out.
- Jutajaiset Folklore Festival in Rovaniemi is a celebration of the coming together of Lappish, Sami and Finnish culture in music, dance and performance. The program is both fun and educational, with the opportunity for anyone to participate in the National Course for Accordionists and an art camp designed specifically for children.
Although outside the Arctic Circle, Iceland experiences the ‘Bright Nights’ due to refraction of the sunlight.
- Explore the Land of Ice and Fire from inside a magma chamber at Thrihnjukagigur volcano. This amazing place is only open for May to September and is an unforgettable experience!
- Make the most of the bright night and enjoy a late night dip in one of Iceland’s many hot springs.
- Tackle a guided glacier hike in stunning surrounds during the afternoon and there is no need to hurry back for sunset as the days draw out.
Experience the Midnight Sun in Greenland’s Northernmost towns – Qaanaaq, Upernavik and Uummannaq.
- Take a boat ride among the ice flows and admire the awe-inspiring Ilulissat Glacier, above the Arctic Circle.
- Even further south in Greenland, locals enjoy Bright Nights with nearly 20 hours between sunset and sunrise. In Qaqortoq and Nanoralik, nightlife and daytime activities merge and there is something for everyone to enjoy.