Imagine strolling through a pine-scented forest that opens onto a sparkling lake you have all to yourself, where you can take a refreshing dip as the rays of the summer sun warm you. That magical setting—which you can find all over Sweden—is just part of the appeal of summertime in the country, when it takes on a unique magical feel. That summer sun doesn’t set for weeks at the country’s most northerly latitudes, and days stretch out to become epic hours full of celebration. Residents head to holiday homes on the country’s many lakes and coastal islands to enjoy a Scandinavian version of dolce far niente. Days are spent exploring spectacular settings and lingering over mouthwatering meals of cured salmon and pickled herring, followed by desserts made with just-picked berries.
Time can pass in a slow, dreamlike state of bliss, with one sun-kissed day following another, but Midsummer (or Midsommar in Swedish) stands out on the calendar. Celebrated on the Friday between June 19 (like it is this year) and June 25, the holiday involves joyous, welcoming celebrations that create a feeling of community for all who attend. It’s an ancient tradition that comes to life in beautiful and sometimes quirky ways. Swedes don folk costumes that hark back to a different era, complete with colorful billowy dresses and the occasional top hat. Properly decked out, they pick colorful flowers to braid into wreaths, raise an enormous maypole, play music and dance, and—of course—enjoy traditional Swedish dishes, often paired with beer or snaps (which is like Scandinavian Aquavit).
While Midsummer is celebrated throughout Sweden, this itinerary centers on Stockholm and the islands of its archipelago. Other regions have their own appeal. Perhaps you’ll want to head to Dalarna, which stretches across the middle of the country and is known for having some of the biggest, most traditional Midsummer celebrations. Or you can travel north to Swedish Lapland where, along with joining in the Midsummer traditions, you can experience the midnight sun and channel ancient traditions by learning about the fascinating Sámi culture.
To truly experience Midsummer in Sweden, you need to be there to taste the sweetness of strawberry cake, smell the crisp pine-scented air, and feel the golden summer sunshine. But this year, Sweden is offering a virtual introduction to the holiday, with inspiring primers on what you can expect when you travel to experience the holiday in person. Visit Sweden’s Facebook page features videos of events from Skåne in the south to Swedish Lapland in the north, allowing you to travel the country—and celebrate Midsummer—from your own living room.
Itinerary / 5 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
It’s also easy to find an island where Midsommar celebrations are in full swing—or to take an excursion anytime during the summer. The picturesque Möja, Vaxholm, Gällnö, and Finnhamn are idyllic outposts with small villages and harbors that offer opportunities to meet locals and channel the ancient seafaring culture.
Today, however, you’ll set out on the water and weave your way to Svartsö—one of the archipelago’s larger islands, with three small lakes and a welcoming village. After the 90-minute ferry ride, drop off your luggage at Svartsö Logi, a collection of tents on the water’s edge, set up to make you feel like you’re the only one out here. Plus, it’s camping in style; each tent features real beds with down comforters, an electric fireplace for cool evenings, and its own terrace that will give you the opportunity to wake with the sunrise and start your day already surrounded by ecological wonders. Before you settle in, however, rent a bike to explore the island, riding by green pastures and forested groves to Svartsö’s beaches, where you can stretch out, or its village, where you can explore local culture. Or try sea kayaking in the tranquil waters of the Baltic Sea; it’s easy to find kayaks to rent, and the experience can be as relaxing as you like.
Before settling in for the evening, you’ll enjoy a five-course meal at Svartsö Krog, a cozy bistro on the water, with dishes that highlight local ingredients and look like works of art. Bring local flavors together by pairing your meal with a beer from a Nordic microbrewery. Then head back to your tent and watch as the sun glistens off the lake and the sky changes into an endless curtain of colors.
DAY 3Midsommar on Grinda
On your Midsummer visit, you’ll feel the spirit of Sweden as you experience this traditional holiday celebration. At the start of the day, join residents as they gather colorful flowers and birch leaves and branches to make garlands and decorate the Midsummer pole (aka the maypole). Later in the morning, all hands are welcome—and that includes visitors—to help raise the pole, which serves as the centerpiece of the celebration.
By mid-afternoon, you’ll feel like part of the family. And with preparations completed, it’s time to enjoy the festivities. You’ll sit down with newfound friends at a communal table, and as the breeze blows through your hair, you’ll sample delicious Swedish dishes like cured salmon, pickled herring, and strawberry cake. Cold beer and flavored snaps help fuel the fun as revelers dance and sing along to Swedish folk songs. Don’t be shy about joining in the traditional Dance of the Little Frogs around the maypole; as you channel the past, you’ll be connecting with the present. Still, if you’re feeling self-conscious about your dancing skills, try another Midsummer ritual: a midnight swim in the sea.
You can spend the night at the Grinda Wärdshus—a rustic inn surrounded by nature—or choose another option on the island, like a cabin rental or budget-friendly hostel.
DAY 4Return to Stockholm
You’ll also be in a city with no less than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and this is your opportunity to experience the unique atmosphere created by this collection. Anyone who’s super-curious about the Vikings will want to take a full day and visit Birka, the site of one of Sweden’s oldest towns, where many historic remains have been unearthed. Channel the spirit of the rugged souls who once inhabited this land. You can also choose to visit the grand Drottningholm Palace, which stretches out so wide you may need to adjust your camera lens. This gorgeous structure dates from the 16th century, though it includes later additions from the three centuries that followed. While a portion of it still serves as the residence of the Swedish royal family, many of the palace’s opulent rooms are open to the public. Don’t miss Drottningholm’s gardens, which are as captivating as the palace itself, especially in the summer when they’re at their most leafy and blossoming. The third UNESCO site may be a surprise: Woodland Cemetery was included on the list as a modernist masterpiece, with its remarkable landscape design and several buildings of architectural note. It’s also simply a pleasant setting for a stroll underneath the dappled shade of its towering trees.
Celebrate the final night of your too-short Swedish holiday with dinner at one of the city’s leading restaurants. Sweden’s chefs have been hailed for elevating local ingredients and reimagining traditional preparations into contemporary dishes, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to sample their creations. Among the standouts where you may want to reserve a table are Agrikultur, Restaurang Hantverket, and Gastrologik. In all, you’ll find a cutting-edge approach to flavor and attentive service that will make your send-off meal one you’ll never forget.
You’ll sleep in style tonight at Ett Hem, a 12-room hotel located in a 1910 Arts & Crafts building. Marrying the classically Swedish traits of functional elegance and contemporary design, Ett Hem feels more like the private home it once was than a hotel, making for a final night that feels local and personal all at once.