Everything you need to know about visiting the Arctic during Polar Night Travel

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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  1. This was such a great article. I really had no idea what a polar night actually looked like. I didn’t know about the three twilights either. I always thought I stay away from traveling during a polar night, but not now!

    • globalbrunch Says: January 14, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks so much! It’s a fantastic thing to experience. If you get the chance to go to the Arctic during polar night, I’d highly recommend it. It’s one of those things that is hard to imagine until you see it.

  2. How amazing would this be! To be honest, I didn’t know what Polar Night was until I read this. I’d love to go but I hate being cold so I feel like maybe it’s not for me haha.

    • globalbrunch Says: January 14, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks, great to hear that you found it interesting. With the right clothing it’s actually not that cold and really enjoyable 🙂

  3. I was in Finnish Lapland last month and was really surprised by the colours of the skies. I have some photos just like yours with the pink and orange sky and was transfixed by how beautiful it was. My niece, who is 6 was convinced it was the sun rising even though it was coming to the end of the day

  4. Experiencing Polar Night has been high on my wish list for some time. Your photos are absolutely stunning. Thank you so much for all the great information. Your tips will undoubtedly be very useful when planning a trip to see this natural phenomenon

    • globalbrunch Says: January 14, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Thanks so much for the amazing feedback. I hope you get to tick the polar night off your travel list soon 🙂

  5. I’d love to visit the Finish Lapland. Such a gorgeous place and your photos really prove it. Bring on the Northern Lights!

    I’ve experienced the midnight sun (in Iceland) but this looks equally unique and a must-have experience.

    • globalbrunch Says: January 14, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      Iceland is where I experienced the Midnight Sun as well! Both are equally fascinating and worth experiencing.

      I really hope you make it to Finnish Lapland. It’s such a beautiful place. You’ll love it.

  6. Wow, your pics are beautiful! And it’s incredible to learn that polar night is not always dark. Great to get the view in video too!

  7. What a great read and very informative! I love all the photos that were taken as well. Definitely something I will add to my future trips. Seems a bit cold, but definitely worth exploring.

  8. Love your photos, Maria! I’ll admit, I wish I’d gone to Svalbard a bit closer to the Polar Night (although the day long sunrise/sunsets were pretty neat). It’d be neat to see it there one day… maybe in Finland? 🙂

  9. Wooooow. This is so cool! I never thought to visit northern areas during Polar Night, but your photos came out great, and I had no idea of the three different kinds of twilight. Very cool about how the moonlight reflecting on the snow created so much light. Romantic concept!

  10. What a fun post. I had no idea about the different kinds of twilights! All twilights are beautiful in my books. I’ve experienced the white nights in Russia, which is the opposite of this – as you say the midnight sun- so I’d love to experience the perpetual night, too.

  11. What an adventure. I need my sun, but your photos are intriguing me. The colors of the sky are beautiful. Great tip on venturing out by late morning and preparing for an early afternoon return with the possibility of needing a light or headlamp, depending on your activities. The beauty of the sky and twilight would make up for the cold and lack of sun, at least I think!

  12. Wow. What a phenomenon. I’ve experienced the midnight sun, but not the opposite. It looks breathtakingly beautiful.

  13. Great article, my wife is from Finland and she saw many of the Northern lights, also in Lappland. Pity that I didn’t manage yet to see with my own eyes, I only managed to travel to Helsinki so far.
    Husky sledding sounds really cool, as I saw you did this in Norway.
    You inspired me now with this, for the next winter I will definitely try this out.

  14. This was such a good read. I had no idea there were different twilights! I really want to travel to the north of Norway but always thought it would be a waste to go in winter because I wouldn’t see anything. Now I might just rethink my plans! Thanks for this great post!

  15. We had the plan to go to Finland to watch northern lights this year, but due to other plans, we had to postpone it for 2018. Your post includes great information and tips. I will save it for my trip. Your photos also are amazing

  16. Coolest thing ever! I’m not sure I could handle 52 days without sun, but I would love to spend some time exploring the Polar Night. Your photos are so gorgeous – capturing such a great beauty and sense of place.

  17. This is SO true! I’ve been telling my husband this for years and still haven’t convinced him that winter so far north isn’t dreary. I spent a winter in Alaska above the Arctic Circle and absolutely loved it. With the bright snow, stars, moon, and Northern Lights, sometimes it was just plain bright. It’s a Heaven unto itself, and your article does it justice.

  18. Whoah I never even knew about a polar night. Those pictures of the Northern Lights seem to make the whole wintertime worth while. I think it is kind of a mindset too if you think it’s gonna be dreary then it will be. But if you embrace the cold and semi-darkness it could be a totally different way of seeing a place!

  19. You hooked me with just the title of the article. I would have no idea what to expect up there during the winter. You got some beautiful Northern Lights photos though! Almost makes me want to brave the cold and try it out myself…

  20. You’re so lucky to have experienced the Northern Lights! That’s on my list for this year.

    Didn’t know about the different twilight types and that the darkness varies like that, so thanks for the educating!

    Did you spend a lot of time outside? Must have been so cold :O

  21. I really thought it was darker during the polar night! But I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable spending all those hours basically with no sun. I was already “shocked” seeing Stockholm in December, that is far more south, I can’t imagine living with more than a couple of days without the sun up in the sky…

  22. These pictures are amazing! I never knew you could see the Northern Lights while the sun is out. That’s a beautiful picture. I saw the Northern Lights in Iceland, but I bet they are so much stronger in Finland, and I would love to see the twilight pastels. Never knew that was a thing. Thanks for all the great info!

  23. 52 days without a Sun? But from your pictures and your description, it is easier to understand why it is not so dark. Would love to experience the Polar night at least once in my life.

  24. OMG months without seeing the sun is definitely not something we would be comfortable with. Sunsets at the end of November and doesn’t rise again until mid-January? That’s astounding. We are amazed at how the inhabitants have adjusted to it. It’s interesting to know about what to expect from a polar night and that there are different kinds of twilight too. And the northern lights definitely makes the trip worth it all.

  25. It is hard to imagine the darkness up north even when living in Stockholm. A few hours of “sun” each day do make a difference even when it is not a lot. One big advantage up north is the snow, without that and it would be even darker. 🙂

  26. I would love to experience the Polar nights but I am afraid that it will be very, very cold. I have experienced the midnight sun before and it was amazing, one thing you definitely have to see during your life. I think the polar night is the same. Plus, you have the aurora, which is a dream of mine to see.

  27. This was such a brilliant read, and since I will be visiting there very soon, this was also very useful. I would also love to hear some more tips like, what kind of clothing is needed and any other special tips for people like me who come from more tropical places 🙂

  28. I’ve experienced it in Norway. I spend one year in Norwegian village in Lapland 🙂 It’s so fascinating to observe Northern Lights so often 🙂

  29. Just mindblowing vistas out there. The aurora at the end finished it perfectly! I think I will experience better dreams when I sleep in a place like this.

  30. We really considered going to Finland and the Lapland while we are in Europe but never got around to it because the flights were expensive. I had heard of the polar night but I didn’t realise that it was not pitch black. The light that you do have makes for some excellent pictures of the northern lights.

  31. The Arctic is such a magical region. The Polar nights are fascinating. The phenomena of the lights is so charming. The Northern Lights is like a dream beckoning us towards them.

  32. Such extremes for night and day there during the different seasons. Nights aren’t pitch dark that is something I didn’t know. I have to experience all this.

  33. I can not even believe the photos! The northern lights over those cabins looks like something out of a dream or a movie! This is all so incredibly beautiful!

  34. The colors of sky are so pretty! You’re photos are really gorgeous, I’m dying to see everything you described with my own eyes. Guess I gotta start planning!

  35. […] my time in Lapland this winter I have learned a lot about driving in extreme winter conditions and I thought it was […]

  36. I’m curious about how/why you spent a few weeks in the artic circle. Were you on holidays or working/workaway-ing ? It’s one of my dream adventures, I’m glad you gave these informations!

    • globalbrunch Says: February 21, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      I was working in Lapland as a tourist guide. I wanted to find out what challenges the Polar Night poses to locals and tourists, so I figured what better way than some hands on research.

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