The Midnight Sun, like the Aurora Borealis, is one of those strange, otherworldly natural occurrences that few of us get to witness in our lifetime. Around the summer solstice, in countries and territories near the Arctic Circle, the sun remains visible for 24 hours. Scandinavia is often called the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” and in Svalbard, Norway, the northernmost inhabited region in Europe, there’s no sunset from April 19 to August 23.
The midnight sun is believed to cause hypomania, a mood state characterized by persistent disinhibition, pervasive elevated euphoria, or irritability. Sleeping can be difficult, if not impossible; this was mined to great effect in the Norwegian crime thriller Insomnia, in which an Oslo detective, on the trail of a serial killer, descends into madness because of the 24 hour sunlight. Tourist boards aren’t going to reference Insomnia in their marketing campaigns; they will, however, advertise that the midnight sun gives people the chance to blur night and day, party, and celebrate. Hypomania or not, the midnight sun is more like a hazy sunset or soft twilight than a fierce, burning glare, and those are perfect conditions if you want to vacation near the Arctic Circle. Here are 7 places to soak up the midnight sun.
7 Rovaniemi, Finland
Located six miles south of the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the gateway to the Finish Lapland, a region that is considered the official home of Santa Clause. In fact, Santa's office is just a few miles out of town, and it's visited by thousands of tourists every year, along with the Santa Clause Village and Santapark. And while you won’t see Santa Clause when Rovaniemi celebrates the midnight sun, chances are if you do any biking or hiking, you’ll spot reindeer. The Lapland Region is home to numerous national parks and wilderness areas. Rovaniemi hosts The Midnight Sun Rafting Euro Cup on June 14 and 15, and the Nightless Night Festival takes place on June 24. The sun, however, doesn’t set until July 7.
6 Fairbanks, Alaska
Known as “The Golden Heart City,” Fairbanks is located 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle and is the second largest city in Alaska, after Anchorage. The city’s population of 30,000 swells in the summer months as tourists from around the world descend on the far-flung outpost to enjoy parades, street parties, and markets. One of the quirkier traditions in Fairbanks is the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, which dates back to 1904. While the game is held on June 21, the Goldpanners, the hometown baseball team, play night games throughout July, putting a different slant on the idea of baseball under the lights. The Fairbanks Golf and Country Club is open 24 hours a day in June and July, so getting a round of golf in won’t be a problem.
5 Hammerfest, Norway
No, Hammerfest is not the name of a Scandinavian death metal festival. It’s a municipality in Finnmark County, Norway that encompasses parts of three large islands -Kvaloya, Soroya, and Seiland. Located three hours by plane from Oslo, Hammerfest is Norway’s northernmost town. The midnight sun shines from May to July. The colorful seaport and surrounding villages celebrate the summer season with bonfires, parties, music, and dancing. With the harbor ice-free, sightseeing cruises are popular in the summer, as the surrounding landscape features beautiful fjords, straits, skerries, and moors. The world’s most northerly golf course is located in the nearby town of Repparfjord. It's opened 24 hours a day in the summer months.
4 Inuvik, Canada
Located two degrees above the Arctic Circle, Canada’s northernmost city (pop. 3,500) is said the have 56 straight days of sunlight during the summer. Similar to Scandinavia, Inuvik is known for its sherbet-colored houses, which are specifically painted that way to bring brightness and cheer during the long, dark winter months. In the summer, when the sun circles the sky but doesn’t dip below the horizon, the rainbow-colored homes add another layer of surrealism to the midnight sun phenomenon. Every June, on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice, Inuvik hosts A Midnight Sun Fun Run, a 5k, 10k, and half-marathon that’s billed as the only midnight race in the north. The summer celebration continues for 10 days in July, when visual artists and performers from the region descend on Inuvik for the Great Northern Arts Festival.
3 St. Petersburg/Murmansk, Russia
In 1848, Russian author Fydor Dostoevsky wrote a short story called White Nights, and while the name is the same as what the Russians call the midnight sun –“Byeliye Nichi,” or white nights, the story has nothing to do with the summer solstice in St. Petersburg. Nevertheless, one could easily imagine one of Dostoevsky’s characters losing their mind because of the 24 hour sunlight. St. Petersburg is 460 miles south of the Artic Circle, but the city still experiences the midnight sun. Every year since 1993, The Mariinsky Theater hosts the Stars of the White Nights Festival, one of the most popular and diverse music events in Russia. Opera, ballet, chamber music -over the years the festival has featured works by Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky.
Murmansk is located in the extreme Northwest of Russia, halfway between Moscow and the North Pole and close to the borders of Norway and Finland. While getting there might prove to be challenging, it's the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, with a railway and trolleybus system billed as the “northernmost on earth.” Ivan Kupula Day is held in Murmansk on July 7. It’s a midsummer celebration and pagan holiday filled with ceremonies and rites connected to water, fire, and herbs. As part of a purification ritual, locals jump through bonfires; it's an image that might bring to mind scenes from The Wicker Man.
2 Kiruna, Sweden
Situated 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set in Kiruna until mid-July. So what’s a tourist to do when the sunlight casts the world in perpetual dawn and leaves him with wide-eyed insomnia? The Kiruna Midnight Sun Festival is held from June 27 to June 30, and the three-day party will test the stamina of even the heartiest weekend warrior. Midnight Hikes are held daily on Aptasvaara Mountain. The panoramic view includes the summit of Sweden’s highest mountain –Kebnekaise. Kiruna’s other attractions include a 100-year old wooden church and the largest iron ore mine in the world. In the winter, tourists come to see or stay at the IceHotel, considered one of the 7 Wonders of Sweden and Kiruna’s most globally recognized attraction. However, during the summer visitors to Kiruna can only see the grounds of the IceHotel –yes, it melts- as well as a scaled replica of it in a giant freezer.
1 Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s landscape is hauntingly beautiful. Volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, fjords, mountains, and glaciers dot the small Nordic country between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. It’s a land of legends and folktales, where a majority of the population of 300,000 believe that elves, trolls and “hidden people” make their home on the island of fire and ice. Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city and the northernmost capital in the world, is famous for its nightlife and music scene, with bars and clubs open to 6 a.m.
Now imagine leaving a club at 3 a.m., and as you close the door on the faint strains of Bjork or Sigur Ros, you’re greeted to a sunlit night. The Vikings used to celebrate the summer solstice, and the locals in Reykjavik carry on the tradition by hosting festivals: The Summer Solstice Festival and the Secret Solstice Midnight Sun Music Festival are the city’s largest and most popular events, the later featuring 150 musical acts during 72 hours of constant sunlight. However, Reykjavik is still technically below the Arctic Circle, so purists who truly want to soak up the midnight sun will have to catch a boat to the island of Grimsey, which is situated on the boundary of the circle.