Can you imagine 52 days without sun? Neither could I! But after spending a few weeks in Finnish Lapland during polar night, I know it’s nothing like the vision I had in mind. I’ve put together a handy little guide providing you with everything you need to know about the polar night to inspire you to visit the Arctic and experience this unique natural phenomenon.
What is the Polar Night?
The polar night occurs when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon and the night lasts longer than 24 hours. This is the opposite phenomenon to the midnight sun, when the sun doesn’t set. Now despite what you might think, the polar night does not mean complete darkness. The nights might be considerably longer during that time and you don’t see the sun directly, but don’t expect it to be pitch black. During the day you can experience a very long twilight period with various kinds of beautiful blue light, pastel colours or complete white outs depending on the weather conditions.
Did you know that there are actually three different kinds of twilight? The first and brightest one is the Civil Twilight. This one is my favourite. On a clear day you can witness the sky turning bright pink or orange when the sunlight reflects from below the horizon. During the polar night this is the longest twilight period. It provides plenty of daylight to explore. This is followed by the Nautical Twilight, when it’s slowly getting darker and you can already see the first few stars. The name comes from the days when seamen & sailors used stars as their main source of navigation to make their way across the ocean. This twilight period is usually quite short, but during the polar night it is a lot easier to identify. The Astronomical Twilight occurs just before it turns completely dark. By that point you can see most of the stars and almost definitely need an additional light source to find your way around.
Where can I experience the Polar Night?
The name already gives it away. The polar night can be experienced anywhere within the polar circle, including Finnish Lapland, Northern parts of Russia, Sweden and Norway, Greenland, as well as Northern parts of Canada and Alaska. The rule of thumb is that the further North you go, the longer the polar night, which brings me to my next point.
How long does the Polar Night last?
The closer you go South towards the Arctic Circle the shorter the polar night will be. Let’s use Finland as an example. In Utsjoki, the northernmost municipality of Finnish Lapland, the polar night lasts for 52 days, while Rovaniemi will only have a two day long polar night during winter solstice. So if you would like to experience this phenomenon you will have a much bigger time frame to plan your trip the further North you go. In Utsjoki the sun sets for the last time at the end of November and doesn’t rise again until mid-January.
Tips & advice for planning winter activities during Polar Night
If you’re visiting any of the Nordic countries during winter, you will most definitely want to try some winter activities like husky sledding, snowshoeing or snowmobiling. In order for you to still enjoy those activities in the daylight to really appreciate your surroundings, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Plan your activities during Civil Twilight to get the maximum amount of daylight. Use timeanddate.com to check the exact time of the Civil Twilight period and you will know how much daylight you have to play with. If for example the Civil Twilight lasts from 10am until 2pm, make sure you set off on your day tour or trip by 10:30am and start heading back to your accommodation before 2pm. It is possible to continue after that, but you may need a head lamp to navigate your way around. If you’re hiking or on a snowshoeing trip, I would advise to take a head lamp either way as you may underestimate the time it takes you to get back.
Useful things to know before booking your trip
Before booking a trip to any Nordic countries during polar night it is good to know that the length of the Civil Twilight also varies. So if you’re planning longer hikes but you’re not comfortable with being outdoors in the dark, you may want to choose a travel period that’s either at the beginning or end of the polar night as the daylight hours are considerable more compared to the “height” of polar night, which is around the winter solstice.
Not convinced yet that your trip won’t be in complete darkness? Then check this out!
All of these pictures have been taken at night during polar night in Finnish Lapland and while I might have enhanced the features, there are not heavily edited (a big no,no for me). This is simply the light of the moon and/or Northern Lights reflecting in the snow, which creates so much light that it can look like daytime.
So if you’re considering a trip to the far North during polar night, but you have been hesitant to go because you have been afraid to miss out due to a lack of light, I really hope this handy little guide has helped you to put your worries aside and convinced you that the polar night is a natural phenomenon well worth experiencing.
Want to see more pictures of Arctic landscapes taken during polar night? Then head on over to my Instagram and check out my gallery!
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