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What is the midnight sun?

By: Jessica
Last Updated: 14/07/2020

Imagine a summer day that never ends, where the sunset is also the sunrise, where people play golf when they should be in bed. Wait, what?

But such a thing is possible when you are in a destination that experiences the phenomenon known as the 'midnight sun'. You see, here in the Nordic countries, our seasonal shifts are a bit extreme. We'll do our best to explain our wildly varying seasonal daylight hours below.

What is the midnight sun?

The midnight sun is the name given to a natural phenomenon that happens in the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle. When it occurs, the sun remains visible at the local time of midnight.

A classic midnight sunset as seen from the city centre of Reykjavík, Iceland.

What causes the midnight sun?

Scientifically speaking, the midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs in far northerly latitudes — particularly at or above the Arctic Circle — during summer, when the earth's axis is tilted more towards the sun. It peaks at the summer solstice, usually around the 21st of June each year.

At its peak, the sun does move position in the sky, but it does not dip completely below the horizon. Depending on how far north you travel, the period of non-stop daylight can last from a single day to nearly five months. In the town of Ilulissat in Greenland, for example, the midnight sun appears from mid-May to late July.

Where can you experience the midnight sun?

Nordic Visitor destinations that experience this phenomenon include Svalbard, the Lapland region of Finland and Sweden, and northern parts of Iceland and Greenland. Elsewhere you can experience this in northerly parts of Russia, Alaska and Canada, as well as Antarctica.

In areas below the Arctic Circle, but above 60° north latitude, the sun may dip a few degree below the horizon but not enough for full nightime darkness to set in. These are referred to as white nights. Most of our Nordic destinations experience this to some degree during summer.

How do the daylight hours change?

After the summer solstice, the daylight gradually gets shorter by a few minutes each day, the sunsets get earlier and earlier, until the far north returns once again to winter darkness and northern lights season. To get a better idea of the shifting daylight hours, take a look at our sunrise and sunset table for Iceland.

The opposite phenomenon of the midnight sun is polar night, peaking at the winter solstice in December, something you can experience at 78° north on an adventure in Svalbard.

What to do with all the extra summer daylight?

Take our suggestions:

Here's another helpful tip: if you're a light sleeper, you may wish to pack a sleep mask for summer visits to the Nordic countries. Of course, we won't judge if you want to stay up past your bedtime.

Visiting the Nordics in summertime gives you plenty of options, as you can see. But when you're planning to come in wintertime instead, you'll still have lots to enjoy. There's another natural phenomenon you may get to experience — the northern lights.

Contact our travel consultants to experience the midnight sun or the northern lights.

Post by: Jessica

When not writing about Northern European tourist attractions, Jessica Bowe is busy daydreaming about her next trip or scouring Instagram for travel inspiration. Originally from Wisconsin (USA), she's lived in Iceland since 2008 and has since become fully immersed in Eurovision mania and Scandinavian coffee culture.

Find Jessica on LinkedIn.

More posts by Jessica

Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way - check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.