Photographers can attest to the magic of the golden hour. But experiencing daylight at midnight during endless Arctic summer nights is another wonder altogether. Read on for the best adventures to have under the midnight sun, from tracking polar bears in the white nights of Svalbard to kayaking close to a pod of tusking narwhals in the ice floes of Arctic Canada.
GET LOST IN THE ALASKAN WILDERNESS
For being home to some of the world’s most inaccessible and rugged landscapes, Alaska also makes it surprisingly easy to get immersed in its wilderness, with all manner of seaplanes, bush planes, boats, and off-road vehicles at your disposal for getting out there and into it. Your adventures here can be as soft and luxury-minded or as off-the-grid intense as you like.
The favourite local hike during Anchorage summers is the hour-long ascent to the top of Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park, with panoramic views all the way to Denali and the Aleutian Islands illuminated late into the night. Hike up in the wee hours and you might even have Alaska’s most visited mountaintop to yourself.
About 60 miles east of Fairbanks, go for a soak in the bright late evening light at Chena Hot Springs’ atmospheric outdoor “rock lake,” where the natural geothermal springs are said to soothe all kinds of ailments, including psoriasis, arthritis, and muscle aches. Or you can pack the bear spray and your nerves and head out searching for some secret springs of your own.
TRACK POLAR BEARS IN SVALBARD, NORWAY
The midnight sun means extended hours for pursuing one of the world’s most thrilling wildlife encounters in Svalbard: a polar bear sighting.
PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVEN J. KAZLOWSKI, AURORA
From late April to late August, the sun doesn’t set at all in the spectacular Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, instead tracking above the horizon in a disorienting dance sure to interfere with your circadian rhythms. Enjoy the internal chaos during a trip here by making the most of time in the great outdoors, on land or at sea.
The midnight sun means extended hours for pursuing one of the world’s most thrilling wildlife encounters: tracking polar bears (more populous than people in Svalbard) in places like Nordenskiöld Glacier and the island of Spitsbergen. Another fine way to explore Svalbard is with an 11-day National Geographic Expeditions trip that includes six nights aboard the National Geographic Explorer. Cruising past ice sheets, glaciers, and imposing mountains, you’ll likely spot walruses, seals, and—of course—polar bears.
SNORKEL AND SCUBA DIVE IN ICELAND
The world is full of wondrous places to snorkel and scuba dive. But there’s nothing like strapping on a mask in the wee hours of the night to submerge in the bright blue world of the Silfra crack. This fissure in Thingvellir National Park, east of Reykjavik, is at the exact site where the tectonic plates of the North American and Eurasian continents meet. And when you dive or snorkel in the park late at night during the summer months, you can have it mostly to yourself despite the broad daylight of the midnight sun. Fish are rarely seen at Silfra and the water temperature is frigid, hovering between 35 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. But with visibility of up to 300 feet in waters that are Bahamian blue and the chance to touch two continents under water, there should be little complaining.
GET YOUR FLOE ON IN CANADA
The feeling of remoteness and the proximity to raw nature is like no place else on Earth in the floe edge of northern Baffin Island. Get ready to view nature up close and personal with the chance to spot tusking narwhals or polar bears.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
With a fleeting window from around mid-May to mid-June, the season for excursions onto the floe edge of northern Baffin Island is short and sweet. And when you venture across the land—in a sled pulled by a snowmobile—navigating around leads (large tidal cracks in the ice) and snowcapped peaks to emerge at the open sea—the feeling of remoteness and the proximity to raw nature is like no place else on Earth.
Outfitters set up surprisingly comfortable campsites and kayak depots right at the floe edge, where you might get lucky enough see a pod of tusking narwhals feeding under the midnight sun or a passing polar bear on the hunt for surfacing seals. To be based on the water instead, join 15-day expeditions in July and August aboard the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer, which spends a week in the Canadian Arctic on an itinerary that also takes in western Greenland’s fjords and the eastern entrance of the Northern Passage.
CRUISE OR KAYAK IN NORWAY
Explore the northern towns of Lofoten and Tromsø in Norway to bask in some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery. Bathed in light around the clock during late spring and summer, there's no better way to take in the sights than on a cruise or kayak through the fjords.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOOK FOTO/AURORA
The northernmost reaches of Norway, including the Arctic archipelago of Lofoten and the sophisticated city of Tromsø to the north, are home to some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery, bathed with light around the clock during late spring and summer.
In the Lofoten Islands, you can head out at night on an exhilarating rigid inflatable boat (RIB) ride from the fishing village of Henningsvær, a famous cod-fishing and rock climbing destination some 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to see the midnight sun. You’ll cruise through narrow fjords before arriving at the Atlantic Ocean, spotting sea eagles, seals, and, if you’re lucky, maybe even an orca along the way. For slower cruising under the midnight sun, rent a kayak or head out on guided trips from Reine, another Lofoten fishing village, and Tromsø to paddle past pretty red fishing huts and spot sea otters in the blue-green waters.
WHALE WATCHING IN GREENLAND
Greenland is a land of raw beauty and more icebergs than you can imagine. One of the biggest draws of this icy land is the chance to spot humpback, fin, and Greenland whales during July and August.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DANITA DELIMONT, GETTY IMAGES
To see more icebergs than you can imagine under the subtly changing light of the midnight sun, the western fjords of Greenland are as good as it gets. For land-based travels, book one of the igloo-style pods right on the edge of Disko Bay at the Hotel Arctic in the settlement of Ilulissat. You’ll have a front-row view of icebergs freshly calved from the Northern Hemisphere’s most productive glacier. And the endless daylight of summer means that any time you step out your door there will be something to see.
Cruises bring you even closer to the calving action and out into the bay for the best chance at seeing humpback, fin, and Greenland whales, all commonly sighted here. Join 15-day expeditions in July and August aboard the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer to explore Greenland’s western fjords before sailing across Baffin Bay to the Canadian Arctic.
VISIT FINLAND FOR FLY-FISHING
With the thawing of lakes and the sun-drenched days of summer, Finland is a must-see. Fish until your hearts content in the endless daylight or take an epic excursion into the Wild Taiga.
PHOTOGRAPH BY VILLE PALONEN, ALAMY
For all the glory of a whitewashed Finnish winter, nothing quite compares to the sun-drenched days of summer here, when the lakes shed their frozen top layer and become comfortable enough for a dip and the famously subdued population gets positively giddy with the beauty of the countryside.
During summer’s seemingly endless daylight, anglers never have to pack up when the fish are still biting due to descending darkness. Fishing fanatics arrive in the town of Kuhmo, near the Russian border, for excursions into the Wild Taiga, a wilderness home to brown bear and wolves as well as some of Europe’s most fish-rich rapids, lakes, and rivers. Cast out a line or try your hand at fly-fishing under the midnight sun to hook the trout, white fish, grayling, perch, and salmon the area is famous for.
Afterward, relax with a classic Finnish wellness ritual. Spend an hour or two alternating soaks in a smoke sauna with icy plunges in the nearest body of water and even the bright sun won’t keep you from a great night’s sleep. The smoke sauna at Järvisydän Resort in the Lake Saimaa region in southeastern Finland is one of the best for its balance of authentic and luxurious.
SEE VOLCANOES IN RUSSIA
Russia’s sun sets late during the summer months, which makes it the prime time to view and explore the area’s many steaming geysers, fumaroles, and volcanoes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEXANDER PIRAGIS, ALAMY
Most volcano summit climbs are timed to coincide with sunrise to maximise views. But when the sun sets late during the summer months in Russia’s rugged Kamchatka Peninsula, just about any time is a good time to view the area’s many steaming geysers, fumaroles, and volcanoes, including Klyuchevskaya Sopka, an active volcano that’s the highest peak here.
In easternmost Russia and isolated from Siberia by mountains, Kamchatka feels more like an island and is almost untouched by civilisation. Use the extended daylight hours of summer to spot the area’s legendary brown bears, some of the largest in the world at up to 800 pounds. One of the most thrilling ways to see the animals is on rafting trips along the peninsula’s largest rivers, the Kamchatka and the Bystraya, which carry you through cedar forests and over rapids teeming with the bears’ favourite food, salmon.
Header Image: Explore the Silfra crack in Thingvellir National Park during a thrilling dive that takes you to the exact site where the tectonic plates of the North American and Eurasian continents meet. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEX MUSTARD, GETTY IMAGES