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The lightest places to visit on the summer solstice

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You know today’s the longest day of the year, right? Well, without wanting to go all Ned Stark on you, we're celebrating what's great about the northern hemisphere and taking a look at some of the lightest and most interesting places to experience the summer solstice. You'll be pleased to know there’s no great wall, white walkers or incest involved.

(Images: Rex Features)

(Main image: Svalbard, Norway at midsummer)

Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway

Grab a map and take a look at Norway. Above it you'll see an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean (no, not there, up a bit more), which is called Svalbard and constitutes the northernmost part of Norway. The capital of it all is Longyearbyen and, at 78 degrees north, it's the world’s most northerly settlement. It also boasts the world’s northernmost university, kindergarten, hospital, bank, bus station and art gallery. Originally a mining community, it is located by the Isfjorden — a popular stretch for summer solstice cruises and whale-watching expeditions. Good news: Crime is practically non-existent. Bad news: polar bears roam the neighborhood, so you need to carry a gun.

Sunrise: Up all day

Sunset: Up all day

St. Petersburg, Russia

During midsummer in St. Petersburg, the White Nights Festival occurs. This is a celebration of Russian arts and culture, and includes a series of classical ballet, opera and music events. Expect to see performances by Russian dancers, singers, musicians and actors, as well as famous international guest stars. Bars, cafes and restaurants stay open late and twilight only lasts for a few hours until the sun rises again around 4am.

Sunrise: 4.35am

Sunset: 11.25pm

Reykjavik, Iceland

What with exploding volcanoes and a collapsing economy, Iceland’s not had it so great of late (not unless we’re talking about the high street food chain, then that’s a whole other matter). But since 2008, Iceland's turned to tourism to boost its flailing economic growth and as such it's much cheaper to visit. So, trips to the land of ice and fire are much more doable. Just don't go looking for an iron throne.

Sunrise: 2.55am

Sunset: 12.04am

Anchorage, Alaska

As the northernmost city in the United States it was owned by Russia until 1912. A fun and only-useful-in-a-pub-quiz-on-Anchorage fact: it has more espresso stands, per capita, than anywhere in the U.S. Oh, and it's currently experiencing a heat wave.

Sunrise: 4.20 am

Sunset: 11.42 pm

Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland

You might recognise this place. That’s because Dan Brown wrote about it in the Da Vinci Code (yes, you get a prize for spotting that first). The church is fascinating, not just because it appeared in one of the best selling novels of all time, it’s also because of this: its expansive vault still hasn’t been opened and no one knows what’s inside it. The highlight is a hidden pentagon window near the ceiling of the church, named the Rose Window. On the solstice, the sun's light hits the window and bathes the nave (pictured) in a reddish glow.

Sunrise: 4.26am

Sunset: 10.03pm

Qaanaaq, Greenland

The not-so-easy to pronounce Qaanaaq area in northern Greenland is home to one of the world's northernmost civilian settlements, pipped only by the Norwegian town of Longyearbyen (see above) and a few military bases. Getting here will be a challenge though, as permits may be required for use of the nearby Thule Airbase, which is under the control of the United States. Geographically, Qaanaaq is located very close to the North American continent. It is likely that the area around Qaanaaq served as an immigration route onto Greenland for thousands of years.

Sunrise: Up all day

Sunset: Up all day

Grise Fiord, Canada

Grise Fiord is known as the place that never thaws, so we’re banking on it being fairly chilly there. In fact, it’s actually one of the coldest inhabited places in the world, with and average annual temperature of −16.5 °C (hello, year-round thermals). On the plus side, if you're desperate to get away from it all, apparently there are only 130 people who live there, so, you know it’s isolated.

Sunrise: Up all day

Sunset: Up all day

Helsinki, Finland

Midsummer is treated as a holiday in Helsinki and a celebration of the summer solstice is typically spent with friends and family at a summer cottage away from the city, either partying or relaxing. Taking place at the end of June, the midnight sun (pictured) is a key element in the festivities in the northern parts of Finland. Not that it gets dark in the south, either; nights are white throughout the country. Lighting bonfires and spending time in a sauna (not at the same time, we imagine) are popular activities.

Sunrise: 3.54am

Sunset: 10.50pm

Kiruna, Sweden

As the most northern city in Sweden, it's situated in the province of Lapland [insert joke about spotting Father Christmas here]. Similar to many other places this close to the arctic circle, the sun doesn't set between May 30 and July 15 and has a sub-arctic temperature. Kiruna is famous for its church, which was built in 1912, and is one of Sweden's largest wooden buildings. It was even voted as Sweden's best-looking church. Close by, in the village of Jukkasjärvi is the famous ice hotel , which is reconstructed annually for the winter. We hope they have electric blankets there.

Sunrise: Up all day

Sunset: Up all day

Skagen, Denmark

This town is located at the far north tip of Denmark. And on the tip of that tip, there is the coastal area known as Grenen. This is where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet. Because of their different density you can see a clear line between to two seas. Shipwrecks are common in this area too, which led to Skagen being one of the first places in Denmark to have lighthouses. Similar to Sweden they celebrate the midsummer with bonfires.

Sunrise: 4.17am

Sunset: 10.22pm

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