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Lapland and Northern Norway are not places that you travel to expecting to sleep at traditional hours. No matter what the season, the natural phenomena of the Arctic Circle are often at their strongest in the middle of the night; the northern lights dance overhead in the darkness of winter and the midnight sun shines all night long in summer.
Many people could describe to you what the northern lights are like, despite never having seen them. However, I’m not sure it’s the same for the midnight sun. Sure, everyone knows that the midnight sun is…well, when the sun shines at midnight. But what makes it special, other than the fact that it means you’ll need much thicker curtains? There are a few answers to that question.
It’s Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before
No matter where in the world you’re from, you’ve probably grown up expecting the sun to trace the same basic course across the sky each day. It pops up above the horizon, by midday it’s right overhead, and then it slowly arcs its way towards the other horizon.
With the midnight sun, though, you get to see the course the sun takes when it’s usually not visible, and it has to be seen to be believed. The midnight sun appears to move almost parallel to the horizon when at its lowest point of the day.
When I watched the midnight sun in Lyngenfjord, I saw the clouds behind the western mountains light up, and then the sun slowly inched out from behind the mountains. It then traced a subtle arc across the entrance to the fjord before disappearing behind the mountains on the eastern side.
In an area with a clearer view of the northern horizon — on Nordkapp, which has a clear view of the Barents Sea, or at the top of a fell in Finland — you can actually watch the entire progression of the sun as it dips towards the horizon and then begins its ascent again.
It Lights Up the Landscape in Gold
Photographers call the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset “golden hour,” a time when the sun’s light is at an angle that causes it to turn everything in its path a brilliant golden hue. The midnight sun turns the entire night into one long golden hour full of warm light and long shadows.
In Northern Norway, this means that the mountains around the fjords often bathe in an orange glow while the water appears to turn molten yellow. An already spectacular landscape turns into an otherworldly one. In Lapland, lakes — often completely calm except for the swarm of mosquitos buzzing just above them — perfectly reflect the sky as it explodes into colour.
I learned very quickly that you shouldn’t get discouraged if you don’t see the light of the midnight sun on your first attempt. Just like the northern lights, seeing the midnight sun is very dependent on weather, and this summer — one that many people made sure to tell me was the worst summer in decades — featured plenty of nights where midnight just looked like an overcast day.
I often found myself checking an hourly weather forecast, particularly in Northern Norway where the weather was quite changeable, to see whether a rainy evening would turn into a beautiful golden night. There were days when I (impatiently) waited until 11pm and was rewarded with a brief glimpse of the sun before it went into hiding again. It made my sleep patterns even more unpredictable, but if the sun was out at 3am, I was going to be out at 3am to see it!
Everyone Seems More Alive at Night — and You Will Too
In summer, people are ready to go out and enjoy every moment of sunshine they can while it lasts, since the flip side of two months of never-ending sun in summer is two months of polar night in winter.
Shops are closed, but city streets still bustle with people at 10pm. Some events, like the Midsummer celebrations with bonfires and dancing, take place completely under the midnight sun. Festivals continue much later into the night than in other areas of the world, with main acts not taking the stage until 12am or later.
It may take a few days to get used to the fact that it’s light all night. The locals may seem bouncy and energised but that’s because they’ve had a gradual progression of sun that has acclimated them to the never-ending days.
However, you’ll quickly find that you are more invigorated and that you naturally begin to sleep less while still feeling rested. This is coming from me, someone that struggles when I’ve had less than 8 hours of sleep normally.
While I did feel tired — probably because I was pushing myself so hard when I was out and about — I naturally woke up after 5-6 hours of sleep and felt refreshed. It was a surprising way to “extend” my trip and give me even more time enjoying the nature that Lapland and Northern Norway are so famous for.
The midnight sun truly has to be seen to be believed. Regardless of whether you see it in Canada, Siberia, or Lapland, basking in sunlight at midnight is an experience that will stick with you for a long time afterwards.
Is seeing the midnight sun on your bucket list? Where would you like to go to see it?
My visit to Finnish Lapland was sponsored by Finnair, Visit Finland, and Europcar. My visit to Northern Norway was sponsored by Visit Norway. These sponsors made it possible for me to extend my trip under the midnight sun to be 7 weeks long, and as a result, I will be writing A Guide to Lapland and Northern Norway in Summer, to be released next March.