It’s true to say that Sweden offers travellers a genuine smorgasbord of experiences - depending where and when you go. From ogling the awe-inspiring Northern Lights during the depths of winter, to enjoying a magical city break over Christmas, to exploring the great outdoors in spring, Sweden rocks. Arguably though, with its traditional feasts, flower festivities and frog dances - well lubricated by beer and shots of schnapps - summer solstice is the ideal time to explore Sweden through Swedish eyes. There are - essentially - two main places to visit to celebrate the solstice in Sweden - Dalarna, and the Bohuslän coast. Read on for our full guide to Sweden’s unforgettable midsummer celebrations.
The Swedes know how to party in inimitable style, especially when it comes to national festivals (see our full festivals in Sweden travel guide for detail), most of which are centred around the changing seasons. And, when it comes to festivals, celebrating the summer solstice is top of the Swedish tree - it’s a fact that no one does midsummer quite like the Swedes.
Celebrated annually across the weekend closest to 24th June, Sweden’s midsummer celebrations are a big deal for the entire country. There’s a mass exodus from towns and cities as everyone heads to the countryside and coasts for gatherings with family and friends. Maypoles are erected in gardens and parks as gigantic fertility symbols. White-clothed trestle tables buckle and creak under the weight of immense feasts - herring, potatoes and akvavit (a grain or potato-based liqueur seasoned with herbs) are in plentiful supply.
The party extends long into the (light) night, with much merry-making, dancing and drinking accompanied by accordions and fiddles. Like we said at the start, the Swedes sure know how to party.
Sweden’s most famous midsummer celebrations are held in Dalarna. Centred around Lake Siljan, Dalarna is an incredibly picturesque (and touristy) region. Think sweeping green hills, flower meadows and log cabins - that’s Dalarna in a nutshell. As seen in their handicrafts, inhabitants uphold a cultural heritage that stretches back to the Middle Ages.
While here, you’ll be struck by the sight of red cottages trimmed with white door and window frames. While outsiders might read their uniformity as a measure of conformity, this is more about tradition and practicality - the red paint (known as Falu rödfärg) contains a special copper preservative that protects the wood against the elements.
While in the region, the Dalarnas Museum is well worth a visit. Located in the centre of Falun, it features exhibits on regional folk art, dress and music. If you’re staying in town and fancy some swank, the First Hotel Grand Falun should fit the bill. Dating back to 1862, its rooms are smartly chic, plus it boasts a generously sized pool, spa and gym.
During midsummer, Dalarna erupts into a frenzy of celebration culminating in the church boat (kyrkbåtar) races held on Lake Siljan. The races - a waterborne procession of wooden longboats once used by locals to row to church on Sundays - start on Midsummer’s Day in Siljansnäs. To get there, take the (roughly) hourly bus #84 from Leksand. The procession continues for ten days at different locations around the lake, reaching Leksand on the first Saturday in July.
Located about 50km northwest of Falun, Leksand itself is perhaps the most traditional of Dalarna’s villages. While here, it’s worth taking a cruise on Lake Siljan aboard the charming old steamship M/S Gustaf Wasa, which was built in Stockholm in 1876. Talking of charm, Leksand’s Hottell Moskogen makes a lovely change from kipping in impersonal hotel rooms. Located on the edge of a forest, guests stay in comfortable, cosy log cabins, with access to the on-site sauna, hot tub and outdoor pool.
Another top spot to celebrate midsummer in Sweden is around Gothenburg and the Bohuslän coast, an archipelago of 3000 or so midnight-sun islands. For an informed overview of the area, you could take an island-hopping boat trip, like this expert-guided archipelago cruise that covers the southern islands and Älvsborg Fortress, one of Sweden’s best-preserved forts.
Before you head off to join the solstice celebrations, it’s worth spending some time in grand Gothenburg itself. Sweden’s second city boasts magnificent Neoclassical architecture and oodles of elegant avenues and squares that provide the backdrop to Scandinavia’s biggest seaport. What’s more, the city’s relaxed (and cosmopolitan) vibe instantly makes visitors feel at home.
A great way to explore the city is to take this walking tour of the old town. Exploring historic Haga - one of Gothenburg’s oldest neighbourhoods - in the company of an expert Swedish tourist guide provides charm and fascinating facts aplenty. For an unforgettable accommodation experience in Gothenburg, check-out Barken Viking, a characterful hotel on a grand, four-masted 1906 sailing ship that’s moored by the Opera House.
Once you’ve gorged on Gothenburg’s delights, take your solstice celebrations cue from locals, who escape the city for midsummer fun, typically heading to their family summer house on one of the islands, or renting a lakeside cottage.
Whether you choose to wear a traditional krans or not, it’s worth knowing what they are, and why they’re worn - chances are you’ll see plenty of them during the celebrations.
A powerful symbol of midsummer, the krans is a headband of summer flowers wound around birch branches - a personalised floral crown, if you will. The flowers are gathered in the morning and - according to folklore at least – you should place your band under your pillow that night to bring dreams of your future lover.
To celebrate midsummer in style, usually with a krans-making class thrown in alongside a sumptuous banquet that befits a midsummer queen, Villa Sjötorp deserves to be top of your accommodation wish-list. This country hotel in the village of Ljungskile is an impossibly chic retreat with a romantic lakeside location.
Come mid-afternoon, Swedes gather in parks and on village greens to enjoy the spectacle of the midsummer dance around the phallic maypole. Mixing elements of British and German folk practices, with children dressed in traditional costume and rousing folk music blaring from accordions, this brings the community together in feverish fashion.
Introverts be warned, though - innocent bystanders will almost certainly be dragged into the line-dancing-like displays. This culminates in små grodorna (that’s Swedish for “little frogs”), a curious tradition that sees participants (willing or otherwise) dancing around the pole in the manner of (you’ve guessed it) little frogs. The frog dance even has its own song, with lyrics commenting on how funny frogs are, and the fact they have no ears or tails - all enacted in the dance.
After an afternoon of amphibian-inspired dancing, it’s little wonder that Swedish midsummer celebrations involve a fair bit of food. And the three-course supper is arguably the main event of the day - at once tasty, traditional and practical, given that revellers may need to line their stomachs ahead of drinking and dancing into the small hours (in the name of national customs, of course).
The feast kicks-off with a starter of multiple kinds of herring served with crème fraiche, fresh dill and new potatoes. This is usually followed by cuts of beef, chicken and lamb, or grilled salmon, served with tomato salad and a tangy smoked mayonnaise.
To finish things off, celebrants tuck into juicy fresh strawberries (the first of the season) topped with cream. This midsummer meal is accompanied by cold beer and spiced schnapps, with every refill marked by an outbreak of uproarious singing.
After a day of dancing, drinking and feasting, Sweden’s unforgettable midsummer celebrations are usually capped off with a dip in a lake, the sea or, if you're in the north, a ski in the midnight-sun, with schnapps-fuelled sing-alongs still in full flow.
While midsummer is certainly an extra-special time to visit this stunning Scandinavian land, for Sweden tourist information with tips about when to go around the year, take a look at our complete guide to the best time to visit Sweden.
Looking to travel further this summer? Don't miss our guide for the best places to visit in Iceland during the summer.
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Header image: Midsummer maypole celebrations in Sweden © Shutterstock
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her