Why is Greenland called the land of the midnight sun?
Various Arctic regions can quite rightly be called “The land of the midnight sun.” Any region close to the Arctic Circle falls within the land of the midnight sun. But the actual experience of the midnight sun may differ from one Arctic region to another, whether it’s Arctic Norway, Lapland, Iceland, Greenland, or Nunavut in Arctic Canada. But few Arctic destinations offer the same wonder of the midnight sun as Greenland.
So what does that poetic phrase, “the land of the midnight sun,” actually mean to a traveler? The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs in places close to the North Pole where the sun does not set for a matter of days or months. I recall my first visit to the Arctic Circle about a decade ago and how I was initially puzzled by the triple-layered curtains in my hotel room. It was at 1:15 in the morning—with daylight outside my window—that I realized they were actually blackout curtains to block the Greenland midnight sun so I could sleep during these arctic summer nights.
Quark Expeditions guests can camp overnight along the Tasermiut Fjord in South Greenland.
Photo: Peter Lindstrom/Visit Greenland
So, why does it never get dark at night at certain times of the year if you’re in the land of the midnight sun, be it in Greenland, Iceland, Northern Norway, or the Canadian High Arctic?
As scientists have explained, the midnight sun occurs when the Earth’s axis is tilted more towards the sun during the summer months in the northern hemisphere, and peaks when the summer solstice is in full swing (late June). The position of the tilted axis relative to the sun's position means that the sun never dips below the horizon line.
It’s possible at these times to observe the sun moving in the sky—however you don’t see it dip below the horizon completely.
Depending on how far your travels take you in the northern regions of the world, this continuous daylight can last from one day to as long as five months.
Seasoned visitors to central Greenland have found that the sun does not set from the end of May until late July or early August. So, in this particular part of Greenland, the midnight sun is visible to visitors for 24 hours. And that’s why Greenland is called the land of the midnight sun.
So, what is it like for the traveler who visits Greenland on a quest to witness the midnight sun? To quote one longtime Greenlandic resident: “If you have not seen the Greenland Midnight Sun setting behind the wall of icebergs, then you have missed something fundamental in your life!” Others talk about Greenland being completely enveloped in a muted golden or reddish yellow light for days, weeks, or months on end.
When is the best time to see the midnight sun in Greenland
The midnight sun in Greenland is between late April and late August in the island’s northernmost regions. Closer to the Arctic Circle, the midnight sun is visible between early June and mid-July. Of course, you need to factor in navigation and weather.
Quark Expeditions offers voyages to various parts of Greenland from July to late August/early September. Essential Greenland: Southern Coasts and Disko Bay, for instance, is offered in July which aligns with one of the best times to see the midnight sun in Greenland.
Prolonged daylight in Greenland's Land of the Midnight Sun.
Photo: Ben Haggar
Most cabins and suites on polar ships are furnished with blackout curtains that keep the light from coming in—so there’ll be little chance of the midnight sun keeping you awake when you’re about to fall to sleep after a long day spent exploring the polar landscapes.
Additionally, blackout curtains on ships also prevent inside light from penetrating the dark Arctic surroundings. This is to reduce the impact on local wildlife which is central to Quark Expeditions’ Polar Promise sustainability practice of protecting the places and wildlife we visit in the Polar Regions. And remember to pack your eye mask just in case!
What to expect when you embrace the Greenland nightlife
What’s meant by “Greenland nightlife” to one traveler could very well differ from someone else’s sense of “Greenland nightlife.” If you’re looking to “check out the night scene” in the small capital of Nuuk, of course, you will find restaurants and bars. But, as we well know, the lure of visiting Greenland, the land of the midnight sun, is to experience a late night with the sun still shining in all of its Arctic glory!
The continuous light means that photography, wilderness viewing, and landscape discoveries will go late in the day into the evening—much later than in other parts of the world. Who knew that icebergs, glaciers, and wildlife would be part of the Greenland nightlife?
Can you imagine taking a Zodiac cruise to view the icebergs of Ilulissat Icefjord with that prolonged sunlight in the background at midnight?
The light plays on icebergs in South Greenland.
Photo: Aningaaq R. Carlsen/Visit Greenland
How to get to Greenland
Planning how to get to Greenland to experience the wonders of the land of the midnight sun starts with choosing the trip to match your Arctic travel desires. Greenland offers many natural wonders ranging from polar bears and muskoxen to deep fjords and snow-covered peaks. So you’ll want to align the various goals on your travel list as you plan how to get to Greenland.
In fact, Quark Expeditions, which has been exploring Greenland since the year 2000, recently launched two brand new 2024 itineraries to Greenland: Gems of West Greenland: Fjords, Icebergs and Culture, and Greenland Explorer: Sail and Soar the Alpine Arctic. The latter voyage was brought to life through Quark Expeditions' longstanding partnerships with local Greenlanders—enhanced by the use of Ultramarine's two twin-engine helicopters.
Some itineraries, such as the multi-destination Three Arctic Islands: Iceland, Greenland, and Spitsbergen, depart from three different places based on the schedule: Oslo, Norway; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Helsinki, Finland. Other voyages, such as Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland, will see guests departing on their flight from Toronto, Canada, then joining their ship in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Guests who join Quark Expeditions’ Greenland Adventure: Explore by Sea, Land and Air will rendezvous in Reykjavik, Iceland, and then fly by private charter flight from the Icelandic capital to Narsarsuaq, Greenland, where they’ll embark on their ship into the beauty of Greenland.
For more expert tips on traveling to Greenland, the land of the midnight sun, check out How to Fly to Greenland From Canada and The Ultimate Greenland Travel Guide.