We’ve all experienced it in one way or another: that peculiar sensation when the time of day just doesn’t seem to match with the time according to our internal clocks or the watch on our wrists. And while for most of us that usually means it’s the start of daylight savings time or we’re feeling the full effects of jet lag, for some parts of the world — it’s a way of life.
For those who may have skipped science class, here’s a little explanation: because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, our planet’s poles experience far more exposure to and concealment from the Sun compared to other geographic regions. Add in the fact that light refracts when it hits the atmosphere and there are areas of the world that experience periods of sunlight for whole days (known as polar day, but also called the midnight sun), as well as enduring stretches of constant night (polar night), and stints plenty close enough to both extremes.And there are even a few of these intense day/night locations where people actually live and where you can visit. All can be found in the Northern hemisphere and within proximity to the arctic circle. Here’s a look at some of these places you can visit to take in the excessive days or nights and things you can do while you’re there.
Fairbanks, Alaska (For the Midnight Sun)
The second largest metropolitan area in Alaska, Fairbanks is also the American city that’s closest to the Arctic Circle (which is less than 120 miles away). Days start getting longer around March in Fairbanks, culminating around the summer solstice, when the area experiences almost a full 24 hours of daylight for about a month and celebrates its famous Midnight Sun Festival.
St. Petersburg, Russia (For the White Night)
Although the city doesn’t experience a midnight sun, St. Petersburg does famously have “white nights,” when from late May to early July, the days last longer and the nights never get completely dark (reaching twilight at their darkest). During that time the city comes alive with ballet, opera, and orchestral performances, as well as fireworks, carnivals, and concerts.
Hammerfest, Norway (for the Midnight Sun)
The self-proclaimed “Northernmost town in the world,” Hammerfest’s midnight sun starts shining in the sky in mid-May and stays almost to the end of July. The area is a perfect destination for anyone who loves the outdoors with plenty of hiking, fishing, boating, and mountain biking. And if guests ever get tired of the natural outdoors, they can head over to the nearby town of Repparfjord, which is home to a golf course that stays open for 24 hours–so golfers can play a round or two after midnight.
Svalbard, Norway (for the Polar Night)
As far north as you can pretty much go without joining an arctic science expedition, Svalbard is a group of islands between Norway and the North Pole. It’s pretty infamous for attracting visitors during the polar night season of mid-November to the end of January, when the islands are in constant night. Why? Because it’s the best chance to see the mystical aurora borealis, aka the northern lights.
Reykjavik, Iceland (for the Midnight Sun)
Already a hot travel destination, Iceland can become a must-visit during the summer months when the days get longer and longer. And there’s no better place to celebrate the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, when the sun sets just after midnight and rises again at 3 a.m., than Reykjavik. The city plays host to plenty of celebrations and activities, including a musical festival and half-marathon, while bars stay open till 6 a.m.
Tromsø, Norway (for the Polar Night)
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The exact opposite of midnight sun, the polar night is when the majority of a 24-hour period is spent in night. While some might find the idea of experiencing nearly constant night depressing, for many in Scandinavia, and Northern Norway in particular, it’s a way of life. It helps that it’s during the holiday season when merriment and good cheer are a big focus. But in places like Tromsø, a city that experiences polar night for six weeks between late November and mid-January, the sky is often a color kaleidoscope with beautiful sunsets, a blue hue taking over the sky in the early afternoon, and of course, the northern lights. Polar night is considered by many when guests can see the real Norway.
Helsinki, Finland (for the Midnight Sun)
June and July are the prime midnight sun season for Finland, and any trip to take advantage of the epic days should use Helsinki as a home base. From there, travelers can partake in a host of classic Finish long summer activities – from boating and visiting islands just off the coast to heading off to Lapland for the Midnight Sun Film Festival or the Kalottjazz & Blues Festival in Tornio and Haparanda.
Got a recommendation for a destination to take in some extreme daylight or night? Let us know in the comments section below!