For most of us, extreme changes in daylight or darkness are something we’ve probably experienced on a really long flight or suffered as the side effects of jet lag. This kind of light/dark deprivation can play havoc with your senses, but what we should also understand is that for people in some places on earth, such extremities are just another yearly occurrence and very much a part of life.
If you didn’t pay much attention during science class, don’t worry — here’s how you can understand these natural phenomena. As the Earth’s axis is tilted, its two poles experience either significantly more or less exposure to the sun compared to other parts of the world. When you throw in the fact that light refracts when it hits the atmosphere, then you have places in the world that experience days of sunlight (called the polar day or the midnight sun), as well as places that experience days of darkness (polar night). Most of these places can be found in the northern hemisphere, and they are places you can visit, with actually a lot of activities based around the fact that you have 24 hours of sun or darkness. So what are you waiting for? Grab your bags and get ready to experience something that’s totally out of this world!
Fairbanks, Alaska (for the Midnight Sun)
For the closest-to-home option, a sure bet to experience the magical midnight sun would be to visit Fairbanks, Alaska. The state’s second-largest metropolitan area is also the American city that’s closest to the Arctic Circle (just about 120 miles away). The sunshine starts to stretch itself from around March and the days continue to get longer up to the time of the summer solstice, from when onwards there’s 24 hours of sunlight for a solid month! This is also a good time to visit as you can partake in all the fun in the 24-hour sun at the city’s famous Midnight Sun Festival.
St. Petersburg, Russia (for the White Night)
While it doesn’t have 24 hours of sun, St. Petersburg is famous for its “white nights”, where the twilight lingers through the night, allowing you to go ahead with usual daytime activities without the need for too much artificial light. Usually occurring every year from June 11 to July 2, it’s also a reason to party as the last 10 days of June are filled with concerts, ballet performances, carnivals, and a massive fireworks display during what is known as the White Nights Festival.
Hammerfest, Norway (for the Midnight Sun)
If you’re up for a Nordic holiday with a delightfully different experience, then head to Hammerfest for the spring/summer. Over here, the midnight sun illuminates the night sky from mid-May almost to the end of July. For fans of the outdoors, you can’t beat the extended hours available to you for hiking, fishing, boating, and mountain biking, while for those that prefer other activities, there’s a 24-hour golf course in the nearby town of Repparfjord — just in case you want to play a round or two at around midnight.
Reykjavik, Iceland (for the Midnight Sun)
Already a travel hotspot thanks to its captivating scenery, Iceland becomes an even hotter ticket during the summer months when the days get longer. During the summer solstice (June 21), the sun sets just after midnight and rises again at 3 a.m., and there’s no better city to be in than Iceland’s capital Reykjavik. There’s plenty of action as there’s a half-marathon, plenty of late night (or should we say early morning?) drinking at bars, and the aptly name 3-day Secret Solstice festival that’s highlighted by international music heavyweights.
Svalbard, Norway (for the Polar Night)
Svalbard is a cluster of islands between Norway and the North Pole. While seemingly remote in its proximity to the North Pole, it sees a flood of visitors during its polar night season of mid-November to the end of January, when the almost constant darkness make it an excellent spot to catch a glimpse of the magical northern lights.
Helsinki, Finland (for the Midnight Sun)
The main midnight sun period in Finland spans over June and July and you could get the best experience by basing yourself in the capital city of Helsinki. From here, you, you can take part in all kinds of classic Finnish summer activities, like hopping a boat to islands just off the coast, heading off to Lapland for the Midnight Sun Film Festival, or catching some swinging tunes at the Kalottjazz & Blues Festival in Tornio and Haparanda.
Tromsø, Norway (for the Polar Night)
While having most of a day shrouded in darkness may sound downright spooky and depressing to some, for many locals in Norway, the holiday season revelry still continues, albeit the lack of full sunlight for weeks on end. In Tromsø, the polar nights last for six weeks between late November and mid-January but this doesn’t mean there’s a lack of color; sunset-like shades dazzle through the clouds during the day while the absolute dark periods of are the best time to see the northern lights in all their glory.
Know of any other destinations perfect for taking in some extreme daylight or night? Let us know in the comments section below!