The midnight sun in Norway: All you need to know

SunshinePhoto: Meric Dagli / Unsplash
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Enter the world of the mythical midnight sun. Norway is one of the best places on Earth to experience 24-hour daylight during summertime when the shimmering greens of the northern lights are swapped for verdant vegetation. Read on to discover the marvelous midnight sun in Norway.

“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”, wrote Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian author who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in his 1894 novel Pan.

The midnight sun in Norway inspires awe in all who witness it.

We’re bringing you a complete guide to Norway’s midnight sun: the best place to see the midnight sun in Norway, how it affects humans and the environment, what causes the midnight sun, and when and where exactly this fantastical phenomenon occurs.

Why does the midnight sun occur?

The Earth rotates on a tilted axis (at about 23.5 degrees) relative to the sun. This tilt causes the Earth‘s seasons and gives way to phenomena like the northern lights and the midnight sun.

During the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months, the North Pole is angled toward the sun, while the South Pole is angled away from the sun – and vice versa during the Southern hemisphere’s summer months. 

seasons of the earth, northern hemisphere seasons
The Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, begins on June 20 or 21. Source: NASA.

At the North Pole, the sun can shine 24 hours a day for six full months during the summer.

The further away from it you get, the shorter the midnight sun lasts, and the more diluted its light is. 

polar zones, polar regions, northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere
Far south of the Arctic Circle, and far north of the Antarctic Circle, you can’t see the midnight sun at all. Source: Stacey Huang.

When is the best time to see the midnight sun in Norway?

The best time to see the midnight sun in Norway varies depending on your location – but it must be during the summer months.

Above the Arctic Circle, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard sees the 24/7 midnight sun from late April to late August.

svalbard, svalbard norway
Svalbard is home to Europe’s northernmost town, Longyearbyen. Source: Thomas Lipke / Unsplash.

Further away, you’ll experience bright sun during the day, and something like what Hamsun described during the night: a sun that sets so close to the horizon that it appears to have just gone down for a short drink.

southern norway, norway midnight sun
The dimmed midnight sun of Norway’s southern regions.

In southern Norway, the midnight sun doesn’t last quite all night, and there can still be sunsets and sunrises.

For example, in capital city Oslo, June, and July have prolonged hours of sunlight (around 19) with the sun setting between 11 PM and 4 AM. 

How does the midnight sun affect the environment?

The plant life of Norway generally benefits from long daylight hours, enjoying the warmth and longer photosynthesis cycles.

midnight sun norway, wildflowers in norway
The midnight sun illuminates wildflowers in Nykvåg, Norway. Source: Vidar Nordli Mathisen / Unsplash.

Also enjoying the midnight sun’s perks are Arctic animals.

Animals that feed primarily by sight, like elk, have more hours during which they can feed. More plant life allows more feeding opportunities for grazing animals like reindeer.

Feeding in the summer, and the consequent improvement in strength, is important for Arctic animals to survive the severe northern winters.

norway reindeer, arctic reindeer
One of Norway’s many majestic reindeer. Source: Sébastien Goldberg / Unsplash.

Studies carried out by the University of Tromsø have shown that the circadian rhythms of reindeer actually adjust to the Arctic’s extreme conditions, minimizing problems in sleep and digestion for the mammals.

How does the midnight sun affect humans?

To continue Hamsun’s quote: “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.”  

Humans’ circadian clocks don’t have the adaptation reindeer’s do, so the midnight sun can make us feel really “out of it.”

Our successful functioning relies heavily on our circadian rhythms, which are regulated by a structure called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SN). The SN is located in the brain at the intersection of the optic nerves.

Sunlight is much more potent and compelling to the SN than unnatural lights such as our cellphone screens or lamps (which affect the SN, but to a smaller degree).

So, the midnight sun can be very confusing to the body. When our circadian rhythm is off, other functions begin to falter too, including memory, alertness, mood, energy levels, and digestion.

The effects could be likened to the feeling of jet lag. Another issue can be prolonged skin exposure to the sun.

The midnight sun brings certain benefits to humans too, though.

After a rough, dark winter, longer days are often just what’s needed. All of a sudden, there’s much more time for activities like hiking, kayaking, hanging out with loved ones, and more – and they can all be done under the sun.

The midnight sun is a sight to behold and simply experiencing it can bring happiness and a sense of wonder.

There are few places and times where one can, for example, trek a glacier illuminated in gold sunlight at 3 AM.

midnight sun norway, norway's midnight sun
The midnight sun glowing over Tranøy, Norway. Source: Vidar Nordli Mathisen / Unsplash.

How can you protect yourself against more adverse effects of the midnight sun?

General well-being methods such as healthy eating, using relaxation techniques, and exercising can help us adjust to the midnight sun.

Additionally, creating a dark sleep environment will aid the body’s circadian rhythms.

Many northerners affected by the midnight sun have either black-out drapes or aluminum window coverings in their houses. Sleeping masks can help, too.

norway house, midnight sun norway
A Norwegian house with interior window coverings. Source: Vidar Nordli Mathisen / Unsplash.

Most locals are well-acquainted with the midnight sun in Norway and already have methods in place to handle it each year.

If you’re just visiting for a short time, you’ll likely just want to enjoy it – but bring your sunscreen and reserve a day (or two) for sleeping when you get back home.

What is the best place to see the midnight sun in Norway?

If you want to experience the midnight sun, literally, you’ll have to head north. Just remember not to stare directly into the sun unless you have the required eye gear.

Helgeland

One of the best places to see the midnight sun in southern Northern Norway (and twist your tongue along the way) is the district of Helgeland, which sits just below the Arctic Circle.

Helgeland is known for the Kystriksveien, or Coastal Route; a road trip extraordinaire. The route is comprised of a 625-kilometer scenic drive that’ll take you from Namsos to Bodø.

Catch the midnight sun in Helgeland from June 12 to July 1.

Bodø

The district of Bodø and its namesake main town also make for a great base to enjoy the midnight sun in Norway.

You’ll have extra daylight hours to fully explore the exciting area; from visiting museums (like the Nordland Museum which features Viking treasure) to hiking the craggy Børvasstindan mountain range.

Catch the midnight sun in Bodø from June 4 to July 8.

The Lofoten Islands

Head to the northwestern islands of Lofoten to experience manifold natural wonders soaked in a blanket of golden sun. As you traverse rocky coastal peaks and beautiful white-sand beaches, you’ll appreciate the extra sightseeing hours even more. 

Catch the midnight sun on the Lofoten Islands from May 22 to July 21.

Troms og Finnmark

Troms og Finnmark County is mainland Norway’s northernmost region. Must-see spots include the vibrant city of Tromsø (try local seagull eggs if you dare), the Finnmarksvidda mountain plateau (which is home to more reindeer than people), and the most northerly point in Norway: the North Cape (where you can try activities like dog sledding).

Catch the midnight sun in Tromsø from May 20 to July 22 and on the North Cape from May 14 to July 19.

Svalbard

The Svalbard archipelago sits halfway between the North Pole and Norway, and as such, it has more midnight sun than anywhere else in the country.

Polar bears live on the island (so always head into nature with a guide), which is also home to the world’s northernmost town of Longyearbyen.

Catch the midnight sun in Svalbard from April 20 to August 22.

Where does the midnight sun occur in the world, other than Norway?

During their summer months, you’ll find the midnight sun reigning the world’s polar regions. Those include:

  • Alaska
  • Antarctica
  • Canada (northern regions)
  • Finland
  • Greenland 
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Russia (northern regions)
  • Sweden

The polar regions: giving a whole new meaning to trying everything under the sun.

Source: Norway Today

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