Dancing, feasting, drinking and a seemingly endless supply of sunlight: there’s a lot to like about Midsummer in Sweden.
With the possible exception of the weeks leading up to Christmas, the other big festival on the Swedish calendar, it’s the best time of year to be a foreign visitor in the country.
Midsummer – or midsommar – is still a huge deal across Sweden, with people young and old getting together to celebrate, either at large community events or smaller gatherings of friends and family.
Almost everyone gets to finish work early on Midsummer’s Eve, leading to a mass exodus from cities like Stockholm and out into the countryside, where meadows full of wild flowers are at their most beautiful.
The 2020 festivities will be rather more muted than most years. Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned in Sweden at the moment, so many of the larger celebrations have been cancelled.
However, plenty of places are planning smaller, more low-key outdoor festivities that are just as enjoyable. Many places are not having the traditional dancing around a maypole, but activities such as making floral wreaths and decorating the outdoor Midsummer bar are going ahead.
And if you can’t get to a proper Swedish midsummer celebration, the tourist board are live streaming events throughout the day – so get in some stocks of sill and snaps (pickled herring and aquavit) and join in the festivities in your own home.
What’s Midsummer all about, then?
Swedish Midsummer traditions are thought to have their roots in pre-Christian, sun-worshipping cultures. The time of year around the summer solstice, when the darkness of night is replaced by a magical twilight, would have held special significance for people in northern climes.
Despite later attempts by the church to transform Midsummer into an entirely Christian festival, it’s the pagan symbols that have stood the test of time.
Women and young children still put wild flowers in their hair, and communities across the country still decorate phallic midsommarstänger, or maypoles, for people to sing and dance around.
The best known of all the songs performed is Små Grodorna (Small Frogs). Its lyrics (The little frogs, the little frogs, are funny to observe/No ears, no ears, no tails) have very little to do with Midsummer, but nobody seems too worried.
Midsummer food and drink
The other part of the traditional Swedish Midsummer celebration involves eating and drinking copious amounts, ideally outside, and ideally without rain or mosquitoes to dampen the mood.
The classic midsommar lunch is eaten around a table stacked with boiled potatoes, different types of pickled herring, crispbread and salads, though these days just about anything goes.
What starts off as a civilised feast can often end up getting rowdy, thanks to the large amounts of bitter-tasting snaps consumed throughout the meal – not to mention the accompanying songs, which inevitably end with everyone taking a gulp of the strong stuff.
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When is Midsummer?
Celebrations in Sweden take place on the day known as midsommarafton – that is, Midsummer’s Eve.
Until the 1950s this meant the 23rd June, but the rules have since been changed so that Midsummer is always celebrated on a Friday, to help fit in better with the working week.
Although the official public holiday is on the Saturday (Midsummers day), the main festivities take place on the Friday (Midsummer’s Eve) and most companies treat this day as a holiday too.
Midsummer 2020: Friday 19th June
Midsummer 2021: Friday 25th June
Midsummer 2022: Friday 24th June
Is everything shut during Midsummer?
The Friday (Midsummer’s Eve) is the main event, so many shops are closed altogether, or only open for short periods.
In larger cities like Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg some restaurants, petrol stations and big supermarkets will still be open, though your options will be limited in rural areas. The same applies on the Saturday (Midsummer’s Day).
What’s the weather like at Midsummer?
It could be gloriously sunny, but there’s a running joke in Sweden that the weather on Midsummer’s Eve is often the same as at Christmas.
Realistically, snow is very, very unlikely, even in the north, and there’s a good chance you’ll be basking in warm weather.
The best places to celebrate Midsummer
The best way to experience Midsummer is with a group of Swedes.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have been invited to dinner with some Swedish friends, your best bet is to head to one of the public gatherings which are held in parks and town squares around the country.
These tend to kick off fairly early on Midsummer’s Eve – aim to get there for around midday.
Midsummer celebrations in Stockholm
If at all possible it’s worth leaving Stockholm for the countryside, as that’s where you’ll find the really traditional Midsummer celebrations.
If you’re short on time or just don’t fancy leaving the big city, however, there are a couple of places you can try on Midsummer’s Eve:
Stockholm’s huge open-air museum, Skansen, puts on the city’s biggest Midsummer celebration. There’s been some kind of Midsummer festivity taking place here since 1892, and the tradition continues today.
Bring a picnic, or buy one from one of the park’s restaurants, and enjoy it amid the atmospheric Midsummer decorations, while children can play with old-style traditional games, go on a family walk and listen to storytellers.
Special Midsummer tickets must be bought in advance for admission to the park on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the Midsummer weekend, and visitor numbers are limited. Day tickets cost 245 SEK (children under 15 years old enter for 80 SEK).
To get there, take a tram bound for Waldermarsudde from Sergels Torg and get off at Skansen.
To experience Midsummer on a smaller scale in Stockholm, head to Vitabergsparken, a small park on the eastern side of Södermalm, for the usual dancing, singing and snacks.
It’s free to get in, with the celebrations running until around 4pm. Entry is free and it’s fairly easy to reach from the city centre; bus #3 from Slussen stops on Gotlandsgatan, near the park’s western edge.
NB: This event has been cancelled in recent years and has not yet been confirmed for 2020!
NB: Midsummer celebrations have been cancelled here for 2020, but expect to be back in full festive form in 2021.
If you want to escape the city but still stay near to Stockholm, you can always celebrate out in the archipelago.
Djurönäset Konferens & Hotell, which is accessible from the city centre by road, puts on a traditional Midsummer lunch, complete with pickled herring and all the trimmings, plus music, dance and games around a Midsummer bar. Rooms are available on Booking.com.
The island of Grinda, in the Stockholm archipelago, is celebrating Midsummer in style this year. In a meadow below the Grinda Wärdshus hotel, a flower-festooned bar will be set up at 9am – and everyone is encouraged to pick flowers and help make floral wreaths to decorate the bar.
In the afternoon, traditional troubadors will lead the singing and provide entertainment. The hotel is putting on a three-course Midsummer banquet for 695 SEK a head (there are three sittings at midday, 3pm & 7pm, and booking is required), or just bring your own picnic and join in the fun.
Midsummer celebrations in Gothenburg
Gothenburg’s main park, Slottsskogen, is usually one of the best places in Gothenburg to celebrate Midsummer, though 2020’s festivities have been cancelled.
One of the city’s best hostels – also called Slottsskogen – is just around the corner offering dorms and private rooms. Entry to the park is free for everyone.
Close to Gothenburg’s central train station, the park called Trädgårdsföreningen is where Gothenburgers regularly go to watch the Midsummer celebrations, though the festivities have been cancelled this year. Entry is free and the park is off Slussgatan, just south of the train station.
If you’d rather celebrate away from the city and stay right near the coast, try Säröhus Hotel, around half an hour’s drive south of Gothenburg (rooms can be booked here).
Traditional Midsummer celebrations are usually held at Bassängbacken, a short walk away, and half an hour further south, at Tjolöholm Castle.
NB: The 2020 Midsummer celebrations have been cancelled at Bassängbacken and Tjolöholm Castle. Organisers at Bassängbacken are planning double celebrations in 2021.
And for the best Midsummer parties in Sweden?
If you’re looking for the best place to celebrate midsummer in Sweden, our advice is to head to the countryside.
Dalarna, in the central part of the country, has some spectacular scenery, with rolling green hills broken by shimmering lakes and red wooden cottages.
Lots of the hotels here put on special midsummer offers: the beautifully decorated Tällbergsgårdens Hotell, right near Lake Siljan, and the nearby Klockargården Hotell both offer Midsummer packages, with music, entertainment and traditional dress.
Towns and villages around the lake put on some of the country’s best Midsummer parties – try Leksand, Rättvik or Mora.
Almost every village in these parts has its own celebrations – and they are usually spaced out, making it possible to celebrate Midsummer a few times within the same week. Just pace your snaps carefully!
And this year, for those who can’t get to Sweden to enjoy the celebrations, the Swedish tourist board, VisitSweden, is live streaming events from around the country on Friday 19th June.
You can participate in workshops on how to make a Midsummer flower wreath and prepare traditional dishes, and learn how to dance round a maypole Swedish-style.
You can even vicariously enjoy the thrill of leaping into the Baltic Sea or a chilly lake – a popular Midsummer activity.
So top your glasses up with snaps and join in the dancing and singing in your own home – make sure you practise doing the frog dance along with the locals.
The action kicks off at 11am (Swedish time) and lasts until midnight, so you can tune in at any time and see what the Swedes are up to.
Don’t forget insurance – even if your trip has already started!
It’s no good visiting Sweden for Midsummer if you don’t have adequate travel insurance.
Even though Sweden is safe, we strongly recommend getting a decent policy in place for your trip.
It really can make a world of difference when things go wrong. For lots of different reasons, including the fact that they will cover you even if your trip has started, we recommend World Nomads. You can get a quote below.