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.
Plenty of foreign tourists visit Sweden in June, to enjoy this most Swedish of celebrations, with activities such as traditional dancing around a maypole and floral wreath making.
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.
Other traditional Midsummer games
Aside from maypole dancing, Swedes traditionally celebrated Midsummer by dressing up as “green men” and covering themselves in ferns to encourage fertility as well as decorating their houses and tools with foliage.
Today, people are more likely to play lawn games such as kubb (also known as Viking chess), where the aim is to knock down your opponents’ wooden blocks by throwing wooden sticks at them.
Also popular is Kasta hästsko, where players toss horseshoes at a stake in the ground or in a sandbox, with aim of getting the horseshoe round the stake, or as close as possible.
Games such as sack races, egg and spoon races, darts, croquet and chasing games are also often played at Midsummer.
And you may see people playing Spotta groda (or Spit the frog), a fairly new game whereby players stand behind a line and try to spit a frog-shaped gummy sweet as far as they can. The person who spits the frog the furthest wins!
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 (Midsummer’s Day), the main festivities take place on the Friday (Midsummer’s Eve) and most companies treat this day as a holiday too.
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|Saturday 20th 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. Buy a ticket and visit the museum here!
The park hosts three days of celebrations (from 23rd–25th June this year), with a maypole being raised at 11am on Midsummer’s Eve, followed by dancing round the maypole, folk music and folk dancing and making a birch leaf crown.
Bring a picnic, or eat in one of the park’s restaurants, and enjoy the atmospheric Midsummer decorations, while children can play with old-style traditional games, go on a family walk and listen to storytellers.
If you want to stay near Skansen, Scandic Hasselbacken is a family-friendly option with comfy rooms. They put on games and dancing round a maypole for the children, plus a Midsummer menu and a slightly less traditional Midsummer drag show with DJs and dancing for the adults!
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 around 245 SEK (children under 15 years old enter for 70 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.
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.
Midsummer kayak tour
If you want to do something a little different to celebrate Midsummer, why not take a kayak tour with a celebration Midsummer meal.
On Midsummer’s Eve you can kayak out on the water and set up in a scenic spot for a traditional Midsummer picnic of herrings, potatoes, meatballs, boiled eggs with caviar and crispbread with cheese.
The island of Grinda, in the Stockholm archipelago, usually celebrates midsummer in style.
The meadow behind the Grinda Wärdshus hotel is where the celebrations happen, with a flower-festooned maypole around which guests can dance. Everyone is encouraged to pick flowers and help make floral wreaths and decorate the pole.
In the afternoon, traditional troubadors lead the singing and provided entertainment. The hotel even put on a three-course Midsummer banquet, with dancing and DJs afterwards. The hotel also puts on themed barbecues in the evening.
Midsummer celebrations in Gothenburg
Gothenburg’s main park, Slottsskogen, is usually one of the best places in Gothenburg to celebrate Midsummer, with plenty of green, open space for picnics and outdoor beers.
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.
Galaxen City Farm
If you’ve got kids, Galaxen City Farm, in the city suburbs, is a great place to celebrate Midsummer. Kids can help dress the maypole, and there’s games around the maypole, dancing and pony rides.
Plus there’s the usual farm animals including chickens, rabbits, cows, horse, sheep and pigs.
The coast and islands
Traditional Midsummer celebrations are usually held at Bassängbacken, around half an hour’s drive south of Gothenburg along the coast, as well as at Tjolöholm Castle, a further half an hour south.
The islands of the Gothenburg archipelago are also a good choice for Midsummer celebrations, in particular the island of Vrångö in the southern archipelago.
Midsummer celebrations in Northern Sweden
Of course, the further north you go the later the sun sets and by the time you’re north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, it’s light all night at Midsummer.
For ideas of things to do in Swedish Lapland, see our guide to tours in Swedish Lapland.
For a really awesome experience, you can go skiing at midnight in Riksgränsen, Sweden’s most northerly ski resort.
The midnight sun starts from mid-May in Riksgränsen, some 200km north of the Arctic Circle, and if you’re lucky there may still be enough snow left on the slopes to ski at Midsummer.
If not, Riksgränsen certainly celebrates Midsummer in style, with renditions of the Small Frogs song ringing out from the mountaintops and locals dancing around the bars on skies and snowboards!
The Arctic Lodge has comfortable apartments with balconies, just 500 metres from the slopes in Riksgränsen.
Also up in Swedish Lapland, Kiruna is a good place to spend Midsummer, as it’s a hub for tours and trips around the area. Fancy playing golf beneath the midnight sun, going horse-riding at midnight, or hiking the Midnight Sun Trail from the city up to the top of Luossavaara Mountain?
Camp Ripan in Kiruna has comfortable chalets and is a good place to spend Midsummer in an outdoor hot tub or in the pool with a view.
Just north of the Arctic Circle, Jokkmokk has been a meeting point and trading centre for the Sami people for hundreds of years. Ájtte, the city’s museum of Sami culture puts on traditional Midsummer celebrations, but with a Sami twist.
In summer, Jokkmokk is a stop on the scenic Inlandsbanan train trip, so makes a good destination to spend the Midsummer holidays.
The Peace & Quiet Hotel is a good place to stay, with direct access into the lake for a midnight swim under the sun.
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, such as Leksand, Rättvik or Mora, put on some of the country’s best Midsummer parties, and claim to have Sweden’s largest Midsummer gatherings and tallest maypoles.
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!
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.