Like a prolonged sunset and sunrise all at once, this natural phenomenon colours heaven and earth in a reddish yellow light. Welcome to the land of the midnight sun.
What is the midnight sun?
The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the summer in places south of the Antarctic Circle and north of the Arctic Circle – including Northern Norway.
The earth is rotating at a tilted axis relative to the sun, and during the summer months, the North Pole is angled towards our star. That’s why, for several weeks, the sun never sets above the Arctic Circle.
Svalbard is the place in Norway where the midnight sun occurs for the longest period. Here, the sun doesn’t set between 20 April and 22 August.
It’s tempting to wonder about all the sights and experiences that have been made under the midnight sun through the ages – by people who lived off the sea in the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelagos, or the Sami reindeer herders of the far north.
The phenomenon has at least made a lasting impression on several Norwegian artists and writers. This excerpt is from Knut Hamsun’s Pan (1894): “Night was coming on again; the sun just dipped into the sea and rose again, red, refreshed, as if it had been down to drink. I could feel more strangely on those nights than anyone would believe.”
Travel to the areas above the Arctic Circle in Norway and live these moments yourself. Doing a whale safari or exploring the wilderness inland takes on a new dimension at night in the summer months, when you literally get to see the nature and wildlife in a different light.
If you’re not afraid of the sometimes chilly summer nights in the north, you could try a midnight swim or pitch your tent in the wild. Many sights and activities are open at night during these weeks’ endless days, so you can go midnight golfing, cycling, river paddling, or sea kayaking – or maybe just find a quiet spot to fish.
If you travel to the Arctic islands of Svalbard, the sun stays up from April to late August. Here, you can do a midnight hike on a glacier (with a guide, of course) or watch the reddish sky from a moving dog sledge in the unique climate and nature near the North Pole.
Find more activities under the midnight sun.
When to see the midnight sun
The Arctic Circle: 12 June–1 July
Bodø: 4 June–8 July
The Lofoten Islands: 28 May–14 July
Harstad: 25 May–18 July
Vesterålen (Andenes): 22 May–21 July
Tromsø: 20 May–22 July
Vardø: 17 May–26 July
Hammerfest: 16 May–27 July
The North Cape: 14 May–29 July
Svalbard: 20 April–22 August
Where to find the midnight sun
76 days of midnight sun between May and July greets travelers in Northern Norway. The further north you go, the more nights of midnight sun you get.
During the summer months, you can experience up to 24 hours of sunlight above the Arctic Circle, which means more time to enjoy the sights and make new discoveries. When you plan your midnight sun adventure, think of Northern Norway as divided into six main areas as you travel north.
The southernmost part of Northern Norway is called Helgeland and is situated just below the Arctic Circle. The whole area is an undiscovered gem. Follow the Kystriksveien Coastal Route, rated as one of the most beautiful road trips in the world, to secret white beach coves, small towns like Brønnøysund and Mosjøen, and wonderful hikes in mountain ranges like De syv søstre and Okstindan. Bring your bike on the local ferries and go island hopping between small islands like Træna, Lovund, and Myken – no car needed.
Bodø and Salten
The Coastal Route continues across the Arctic Circle into the region of Salten, and all the way to Bodø. Not only is the city a major transport hub – Bodø is also an interesting place to explore in itself. Check out exiting museums, marvel at the world’s strongest maelstrom Saltstraumen, travel back in time in Norway’s best-preserved seaside trading post at Kjerringøy, and hike the Børvasstindan mountain range. Then, you can jump on a boat to explore the magical islands of Salten, like Steigen, Hamarøy, Støtt, Bolga, and Rødøy. A visit to the Svartisen glacier just south of Bodø is also a must.
Lofoten and Vesterålen
If you travel on to the northwest across the sea, you will reach the islands of Lofoten and Vesterålen – areas of outstanding natural beauty characterized by dramatic, rocky peaks that rise up from the sea and coastal flatlands where sheep graze. The landscape is also dotted by beautiful white beaches and picturesque fishing villages. Experience the Viking culture at Lofotr Viking Museum, go on a day cruise to the extremely narrow Trollfjord (you will probably spot Sea eagles on the voyage), and join a whale safari from Andenes.
The vibrant city of Tromsø in Troms county is often called “the Paris of the north” and has sun around the clock for a whole month. The midnight sun experience might be even better on the dramatic islands of Senja, Ringvassøya, Kvaløya, though. Or why not travel to tiny Sommarøy, where the locals want to introduce a “time-free zone” during summer – as there is daylight at all hours, people don’t abide by the clock anyway (this goes for all of Northern Norway in the summer, really). The alpine Lyngenfjord region close to Tromsø is a paradise for hiking, fishing, and cycling in the middle of the bright night.
This is the furthest north you can get in mainland Norway. Midnight sun chasers usually head to the North Cape, the northernmost point you can drive to in Europe. But Finnmark county, the kingdom of the king crab, is a massive area with plenty of untouched nature. Along the coast, you can explore glaciers, fjords, and large islands such as Sørøya and Seiland. In the far east, the Varanger area is known for its world-class birdwatching. Inland, you can travel across Finnmarksvidda, which is Norway’s largest mountain plateau and inhabited by far more reindeer than people. This is also the cradle of the Sami culture, which is especially visible in Karasjok and Kautokeino.
Halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, you’ll find the Svalbard Islands where the polar bears reside. Here, you can really talk about an endless day – the sun patrols the sky in almost uniform circles all summer. From the modern town Longyearbyen, which offers a wide range of cultural activities, restaurants, and bars, you can venture into the wild (always with an armed guide) to explore the islands’ Arctic nature, rich wildlife, and old mining towns.
3 tips for photographing the midnight sun
The golden glow is what many people remember most about their midnight sun experiences. This tends to accentuate colours and elongate shadows, which provides plenty of scope for dramatic and expressive photography.
Tip 1: Since colours are more vivid in the midnight sun, it is a good idea to keep images simple, concentrating on two or three colours at the most to avoid a messy image.
Tip 2: Foreground images can be used to frame subjects in mid and deep field, creating a better sense of three-dimensionality.
Tip 3: To maximize the impact of the light sky on a landscape, compose your picture in the viewfinder by keeping the horizon a third of a way from the bottom; this will help your camera to expose properly.
Midnight sun activities
Many activities in Northern Norway are best enjoyed in the daylight. Fortunately, the summer days never end.
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