While many countries above the arctic circle in the Baltics and Scandinavia spend much of their winters in darkness with average light hours not getting above four or five hours in total, the summer brings another phenomenon which baths them in the midnight sun, where the sun sits on the horizon for the full 24 hours of the day. With 76 days of midnight sun between May and July within the Arctic Circle and temperatures raising to temperate levels taking a Baltic Cruise, Spitzbergen & North Cape Cruise or Iceland and Northern Isles Cruise during these months is the perfect time to visit if the bitter winters of the north do not take your fancy.
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Depending on where you are in or around the arctic circle the phenomenon that you see can vary from place to place. In St Petersburg throughout July, the city celebrates the White Nights and is bathed in a stunning white light which keeps it on the cusp of twilight until the sun comes back up, as the sun merely dips under the horizon between 23:00 and 05:00 daily. Those cities up above the Arctic Circle are the best to see the midnight sun skim along the horizon throughout the night with it dropping to its lowest point between 23:00 and 03:00, Murmansk and Tromsø while in winter experience the ongoing night in summer they rejoice in the eternal day.
Top places to find the Midnight Sun:
Founded during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II on October 4th, 1916, Murmansk is today the largest city above the Arctic Circle, and its port is home to the world’s largest atomic fleet. During the Second World War, the Arctic Convoys delivered their vital supplies to the city of Murmansk, which withstood three years of fascist attack and was one of few Russian cities the Nazis didn’t occupy. For its heroism, Murmansk was given the title of ‘Hero City’.
While in winter Murmansk has almost 40 days in complete darkness throughout winter, the summer months are bathed permanently in sunlight with the sun sitting on the horizon from 23:00 until the early hours, most cruises to Murmansk arrive in the early morning so be sure to be up on top deck to watch your arrival into port under brilliant light.
Not surprisingly for a city that lies almost 220 miles north of the Arctic Circle, many of Tromsø’s landmarks lay claim to the world’s ‘northernmost’ titles. The ‘Capital of the Arctic’ is home to the world’s northernmost university, cathedral, botanic garden and brewery. A cable car runs to the summit of Mount Storsteinen from where there are wonderful views of the lively and beautiful city built on two islands and the mainland, which are linked by both tunnels and bridges, the views of the midnight sun are amazing. The Polar Museum is just one of Tromsø’s fine museums and the striking Arctic Cathedral is undoubtedly a highlight. From 20 May – 22 July with the sun skimming across the horizon the locals of Tromsø take the chance to spend as much time as possible outside and you will find that the city does not sleep through the Midnight Sun spectacular with bars and restaurants staying open all night.
Part old Norse, part modern city, the Icelandic capital has a quirky character of its own. Although Reykjavik is one of the world’s smallest capital cities, it is home to almost half of Iceland’s population. Mosaics, murals and sculptures are found throughout the oldest part of the town where brightly coloured houses with tin roofs are watched over by the towering Hallgrimskirkja Church. The classic ‘Golden Circle’ featuring vast lava fields, bubbling mud pools, crashing waterfalls and spouting geysers, is a popular optional excursion along with the chance to bathe in the famous geothermal Blue Lagoon.
While Reykjavik is not located within the Arctic Circle it stills has its fair share of light from the Midnight Sun with the sunsets in summer being spectacular so be sure to have a camera to hand. Likewise, while we humans take advantage of the natural ability not to sleep in the Midnight Sun you may find that the local wildlife also adapts to the change in light so there is always the possibility to spot more whales than normal of the Icelandic coast.
Although not as bright as its artic sisters, St Petersburg is far enough north that the sun, when setting, does not go under the horizon deep enough for the sky to move out of early dusk and into the night. This leaves the sky a bright colour all night from 11.30pm until sunrise which gives you a beautiful white colour.
For those who are tempted to explore the city by foot overnight, take advantage of the light setting and summer warmth. Every night the bridges that connect the five main city islands raise, which is a popular event for people to view, however, it is worth noting that the bridges do stay raised until 5.00am so do make sure you are on the correct side of the river if you do want to take in the spectacular sight but still make it to bed at a reasonable time!
- We would advise finding a warm spot on one of the outer decks as while the sun is technically still shining the temperatures will still be cooler than you expect. Be sure to grab your blankets from your cabins as well so you can layer up as much as you want. Deck 8 or 9 on Marco Polo has great outside seating areas where you can relax and take in the spectacle from the rear of the ship.
- While staying up at night to view the sun skimming over the coastline is something everyone should try and see once it can wreak havoc with your body clock. Normally our body associates darkness with sleep and so staying up and absorbing natural light might be easier to do than you would first think. Be sure to pack an eye mask for sleeping regardless of whether you are going to stay up or sleep at normal times as the light which will creep into your cabin will make it difficult to drift off so blocking as much light as possible is advisable.
- Much like capturing the Northern Lights, capturing the Midnight Sun on camera can be slightly difficult as the golden glow of the sky is something, although very visually stunning to the human eye, struggles to be captured on camera, here Visit Norway gives us their top three tips to capture the sun perfectly: “The golden glow is what many people remember most about their midnight sun experiences. This tends to accentuate colours and elongate shadows, which provides plenty of scope for dramatic and expressive photography.
- Tip 1: Since colours are more vivid in the midnight sun, it is a good idea to keep images simple, concentrating on two or three colours at the most to avoid a confusing image for the viewer.
- Tip 2: Foreground images can be used to frame subjects in mid and deep field, creating a better sense of three-dimensionality.
- Tip 3: To maximize the impact of the light sky on a landscape, compose your picture in the viewfinder by keeping the horizon a third of a way from the bottom; this will help your camera to expose properly.”