Norway’s North Cape is the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car and also where visitors can watch the midnight sun.
Question: What remote location’s first tourist showed up unannounced and unable to speak the language, then left without mementos, and yet somehow inspired kings to follow his path?
Answer: North Cape, Norway
The very top of Europe is the island of Magerøya, which serves as the gateway to the Arctic. Here at Nordkapp (North Cape), thousand-foot cliffs rise from bone-chilling waters where the Barents and Norwegian seas pool together at the confluence of Atlantic and Arctic oceans. For centuries, only sailors and explorers ever witnessed the forbidding cliffs, always on their way to other destinations. But an Italian priest decided he wanted to visit the North Cape for itself.
Francesco Negri felt that it was sinful that his fellow Europeans sailed the globe but had not finished exploring the far reaches of their own continent. From 1642-1644, notebook in hand, he traveled into the furthest corners of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. He was especially interested in the Finnmark region, the land of midnight sun (see below) and endless night, both of which he experienced in his treks. His desire to reach its outermost limits kept him going despite the fact that he did not speak any of the local languages; while everyone he met was friendly to him, he only met one other person who spoke Italian in the two years of his journey.
Along the way, he jotted down notes about flora and fauna, but he didn’t bring home botany samples or other mementos. The desire to simply reach North Cape was the real motivation. And one good look was enough. As he wrote in the book Viaggio Settentrionale, "Here I am at the North Cape, at the edge of Finnmark, and I dare say the very edge of the world, since there are no other places further north inhabited by man. This affirmation has now been fulfilled to my satisfaction."
Once the book was published, his account stirred up interest among adventurous types, though typically only those with plenty of money could follow him. Louis XIV made the trek, as did King Oscar of Norway and Denmark (making headlines for climbing the cliffs), and even King Rama of Siam. Eventually, as roads were built, more nature lovers found their way to the site, and today it is considered a national treasure. A quarter million visitors follow the friar’s footsteps every year.
10 Things to Know About the Land of the Midnight Sun
- True midnight sun—24 hours of consecutive visible sunlight—happens only in the polar regions.
- The sun does not remain high in the sky at midnight, but it is not completely hidden either; it appears to be lurking near the horizon, offering enough light to read outdoors all night long.
- The length of the midnight sun isn’t universal. While Tromsø residents enjoy a solid eight weeks, the North Cape gets the full ten weeks of the eternal brightness, and the North Pole basks in the glow from March to September.
- Because these weeks offer a temperate climate and a chance to see the beauty of Norway 24 hours a day, many plan their summer vacations around it, and hikes, swims, and kayak trips briefly become nocturnal activities.
- Not everyone loves it. Some Norwegians get the summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder, exhibiting insomnia, anxiety, and weight loss during midnight sun weeks.
- Hotels typically boast blackout blinds and sometimes additional curtains over those so that guests can mimic the nighttime hours to which they are accustomed; the nicer the hotel, the heavier the drapery.
- People who camp overnight bring thick eye masks, so that they can “turn off” the daylight for at least a few hours.
- Because the sun lingers near the horizon for so long, viewers have the experience of watching the equivalent of a sunset that lasts for several hours, and its proximity to the region yields the intense colors all year.
- When fog rolls in, as often happens on the cape, the sun burning behind the moisture yields a golden glow that has been immortalized by Norway’s greatest painters.
- Norwegians mark the abundance of light with solstice celebrations they call Sankthansaften, involving bonfires, dances, and high-spirited mock weddings, which symbolize new birth.
Head north and discover the endless beauty of Norway and beyond on O.A.T.’s Fjord Cruise & Lapland: Norway, Finland & the Arctic Small Ship Adventure.