10 great white night experiences: readers’ travel tips

10 great white night experiences: readers’ travel tips

10 great white night experiences: readers’ travel tips

The party never stops on these midnight sun and twilight jaunts from Russia to Alaska. And neither do the hikes, wildlife encounters and saunas in the gloaming

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Midsummer sunset from Birsay, Orkney.

Flame on … midsummer sunset from Birsay, Orkney.
Photograph: Alamy

Winning tip: Orkney, Scotland

Birsay, on the mainland of Orkney, where the Atlantic and North Seas meet, is brilliant for a white-night walk. Start at Longagleeb, an impressive geo (long cleft in the cliffs) and experience stunning sunsets at about 10.30pm at the moment (and sunrise at 4am), and beautiful seascapes. Here, you’ll see the puffins, Arctic terns and eider ducks which are prolific at this time of year, and watch out for the huge Arctic skuas that will swoop towards you if you walk near their nests. After passing the Birsay whalebone, erected in 1876 by local fishermen using the remains of a beached whale, cross the causeway to the Brough of Birsay. This is a now uninhabited tidal island where visitors can explore dark ages Pictish and Norse settlements. Up ahead the light from one of the Stevenson family lighthouses sweeps out across the ocean. This is Orkney at its most splendid and diverse. Wild camp if you want to, there’s plenty of secluded pitches, or self-cater in luxury at Grukalty (from £600 in June, sleeps six) in Birsay, with its hot tub and sauna, and uninterrupted views out to sea.

Denali national park, Alaska

View of Double Mountain, Denali National Park, Alaska.

Photograph: Alamy

July in Alaska’s Denali national park means a sunset at around 11.30pm, which leaves plenty of time to pitch a tent for the night and cook a late dinner (there are six campsites in the massive park). On a backpacking trip there last summer, I played cards and charades around a wooden picnic table for hours, everyone occasionally lifting up the mosquito netting around our heads to sip hot chocolate from small titanium mugs. With the sunshine lasting well into the evening, no one remembered to check their watch until at least 10pm, a realisation that came as a shock to us. We stayed at Wonder Lake campground ($16pn, at mile 85 on the Denali park road), and saw bears through binoculars on a few occasions. My personal highlights were the wild flowers everywhere, and the astounding views of Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), North America’s highest peak.
Maura Monaghan

Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland

Sunset over Eyjafjallajokull Glacier, Iceland. Image shot 2014.

Photograph: Alamy

At the summer solstice each year, dozens of Icelanders and adventurous tourists hike through the “night” and have a midnight picnic on top of Eyjafjallajökull – the snowcapped volcano that halted air travel across Europe in 2010. You can do the 24km, six-hour walk in either direction between Thórsmörk and Skógar. Sunset in mid-June is at around 11.45pm but it doesn’t get dark – and the sun is back up by 3am. You’ll pass though some breathtaking scenery, climb a glacier and cross some of the newest land in the world, including Magni and Modi, the two youngest craters in Iceland. The all-night light gives you energy to keep going long after bedtime. However, if you’d rather break the hike into a two-day affair you can stay overnight in the hut at Fimmvörðuháls (£45), a one-room, cosy bunkhouse for 20. You bring in snow from outside and melt it on the stove to get water, carry all your rubbish away with you and may well find yourself sung to sleep by the guitar-strumming warden, as we were. It’s a night you’ll never forget.
Kate Jackson

Ronas Hill, Shetland, Scotland

View east from Ronas Hill, Mainland, Shetland

Photograph: Alamy

If you climb up Ronas Hill on midsummer night you will enjoy what must be the longest possible day you can have in the UK (sunset at 10.30pm, sunrise 3.40am). The hill’s only 450 metres high but is the highest point on this country’s most northerly islands. From the summit on a clear evening you can see the whole archipelago, from Mackle Flugga to Fair Isle laid out before you. In the Shetlands they call the long summer twilight the “simmer dim”. It’s the cue for parties and one of the UK’s best motorcycle rallies.
Stephen Redpath

Ålesund, Norway

47,4 meter world record bonfire at Slinningen, Alesund, Norway

Photograph: Alamy

Norway’s week-long midsummer celebration Slinningsbåle celebrates the birth of St John and there are celebrations across the country. These are best experienced in the smaller towns, where they take the whole thing a little more seriously and none more so than the fishing port of Ålesund (sunset 11.30pm), where each 24 June a bonfire is lit that takes weeks to build and is continually in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest (currently around 47.5 metres). Erected on an islet to ensure debris falls into the water, it burns from the top down and while the view from shore is spectacular enough, if viewed from one of the many local boats you’ll be able to see the firestarters as they hurriedly scramble back down the structure. Fire has played a major role in Ålesund’s history: in 1904 the then-wooden town was all but destroyed in a huge conflagration that only killed one person but left 10,000 homeless. It was rebuilt in the art-nouveau style that makes the place so distinctive today.
Luke Sullivan

Island near Stockholm

Gällnö Island, Stockholm.

Photograph: Alamy

When we were last in Stockholm we bought five-day ferry tickets for around £38, which allowed us to travel to several islands. My favourite was Gällnö. We spent the night in the top half of a traditional farmhouse, right by the water (cottage from about £500pw).The island is very rural with no cars, just small paths meandering through forest, orchards and fields. In the middle of the night I was aware it wasn’t dark and stepped onto our wooden veranda to a silver, completely still, painting of water dotted with rocky islands. It took me a long time before I forced myself to go back to bed. The image of that light and landscape comes back to me often.

Dornoch, Scottish Highlands

The setting sun creates an explosion of colour over and around the Struie Hill and Dornoch Bridge in NW Scotland.

Photograph: Alamy

Surviving summer for the average Edinburgh resident is no easy feat. As the festival takes hold of the city streets from late July, the population doubles. Buildings, walls, street signs and lampposts are plastered in posters and the old cobbled streets are crammed with street performers singing, dancing, juggling and fire-eating. So, when my sister and her partner told me they’d decided to get married in the seaside village of Dornoch (45 miles north of Inverness) I was delighted. They planned a modest beach ceremony and invited me and my boyfriend as witnesses. The beach was peaceful and golden, lit perfectly in the high midsummer sun. There were few signs of life, apart from some dog walkers scattered on the horizon. The vows were brief but meaningful and were followed by a ceremonial dip in the freezing cold North Sea. We continued the evening with celebratory bubbly and BBQ around a small driftwood fire. We spent the evening watching the sun dip slowly towards the horizon (around 9.30pm in early August) through the sand dunes and chatting about what shows to attend on our return to Edinburgh.
Lou Harkins

Solovetsky island, White Sea, Russia

Summer Sunset in Solovki on the shores of the Holy Lake with views of the Solovetsky Monastery

Photograph: Getty Images

The island has an airstrip and can be reached by plane from the city of Archangelsk twice a week. But in the summer it can also be reached by three-hour ferry (£18) from Kem, only 200km from the border with Finland (reached by train from Moscow). The main attraction is the famous 16th-century Transfiguration monastery that in the 1920s was taken over by the Bolsheviks and turned into a horrific gulag. The monastery, now restored and reconsecrated, has regained its original vibe, as have the churches and museums. The island has so many amazing forests, wild-flower meadows, rivers, small islands and lakes to explore – a real white-night wilderness (sunset in June around 11.30pm, sunrise 2.30am). The island is typical of the Russian north, it feels sad, bitter but grandiose. There are a few hotels on the island, among the more comfortable is Solovki Hotel, a newish wooden place in parkland with sauna and bikes (doubles from £60 B&B).

Kuhmo, Finland

A Brown bear (Ursus arctos) walks by a nature photographers hide on its way to a swamp. Kuhmo, Finland

Photograph: Alamy

For a truly wild way to make the most of the midnight sun, head to the Wild Brown Bear Centre, close to the Russian border in remote Kuhmo, Finland. During the day, walk the many trails around the lodge, hire kayaks, or experience a traditional Finnish smoke sauna, complete with an obligatory dip in the chilly lake. After an early dinner, venture out into the woods to a wooden hide, complete with comfy chairs and bunk beds. As it never gets truly dark (sunset in June around 11.25pm and sunrise at 2.30am), you’ll have plenty of opportunities to photograph brown bears right outside the hide, as well as myriad other wildlife including moose, arctic hares, and, if you’re really lucky, wolverine.
€200 for Bear and Wolverine Hide, for day and night, full board including sauna

White Nights Festival, St Petersburg

Celebration Scarlet Sails show during the White Nights Festival in St.Petersburg, RussiaMass festivities of school graduates, they celebrate the graduation.

Photograph: Getty Images

Our Baltic cruise ship docked in St Petersburg and I told my parents I was going to explore the city then come back for dinner. I chanced upon the midsummer Festival of the White Nights (until 23 July this year, sunset around 10.25pm midsummer) immediately – the streets, bathed in a soft celestial light, were alive with the energy of dancing, music and literature activities outdoors. A theatre group asked me to read a speech from King Lear and I was invited to join in a performance – then go to a party. Thrown by the magical vibe, I lost track of time. I called to say I would be late for dinner. Dad said I would be very late – 24 hours had passed and the ship had sailed for Helsinki!

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