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Celebrating the Summer Solstice in Stockholm and Its Archipelago
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. Read more about Midsummer in Swedish Lapland in our itinerary for that region.            

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.
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    Photo By Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se
    Day 1
    Arrive in Stockholm
    After your overnight flight, you’ll land in Sweden’s capital. Prepare to be awed. Gorgeous Stockholm sits on 14 islands, where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea, and the shimmering waters of its sophisticated setting are especially stunning during the long days of summer.  

    One of the city’s islands, Djurgården, is home to a vast park—a stretch of the Swedish countryside with wide-open meadows and forested groves in the heart of Stockholm. It’s also the location of Stockholm’s biggest Midsummer celebration, at Skansen. Visiting the world’s oldest open-air museum is like a journey back in time and through the entire country, with thatch-roofed farmsteads, cobblestone streets, charming churches, and real homes from all parts of Sweden. It’s fun for everyone, and a great place to celebrate the important holiday; over the course of three days, from June 19 to June 21, visitors of all ages can join traditional activities like making garlands of birch leaves and dancing around the maypole.  

    The island, however, also plays host to some smaller, less-crowded venues that offer more personal experiences all close by each other. Begin with some art inspiration. At the Thiel Gallery—one of Sweden’s finest art galleries—you can stroll the historic building as you peruse the impressive collection of late-19th-century and early-20th-century works by iconic artists such as Eugène Jansson and August Strindberg, and be awed by the largest collection of Edvard Munch’s art outside of Norway. Move on to the Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, a castle-like building once owned by Prince Eugen that now displays some of his best-known works, as well as that of other famous Swedish artists. 

    Then it’s time for some fun! If you’re traveling with kids of an entire multigenerational group, Gröna Lund is an exciting amusement park with 30 rides and a wealth of entertainment. Feel the wind in your face as you climb high in the air on thrilling ride with a magnificent city view, or take the kids on a family-friendly roller coaster.

    When you’re ready to eat, Djurgården serves up a number of local favorites, offering alfresco dining under Stockholm’s blue skies. In walking distance, the restaurant at Spiritmuseum’s craft cocktails pair well with a menu that focuses on the sea, the lake and the animal kingdom, and you can check out the famed Absolut Art Collection and delight your tastebuds with a tasting while you’re there too. Oaxen includes two restaurants, both featuring contemporary interpretations of Nordic cuisine: Krog’s menu consists of delicious and refined seasonal dishes, while Slip is a more casual bistro. Rosendals Garden is a working farm with a café serving dishes that incorporates the vegetables, fruits, and herbs grown on site. The restaurant offers a true farm-to-table experience, with only a few feet separating them; it’s a hidden gem that’s not to be missed.

    You can also visit some of Stockholm’s most interesting museums without leaving the island. The Vasamuseet—Scandinavia’s most-visited museum—houses an enormous, restored 17th-century warship; ABBA The Museum celebrates Sweden’s legendary pop group; and the Nordiska museet offers a deep dive into Scandinavian culture, including Midsummer.            

    You may have a tough time deciding where to stay tonight: Stockholm boasts some amazingly unique hotels that offer a true sense of place. Perhaps you’ll pick the historic Hotel Skeppsholmen, which features a castle-like exterior and uniquely shaped guest rooms. Originally built as barracks for the Royal Marines, the hotel has a bucolic, tranquil setting that’s replete with water views—you may not even believe you’re in the heart of the city. History also comes alive at the Grand Hôtel, Stockholm’s waterfront grande dame, which first opened in 1874. Today, modern luxury touches every corner of this extravagant hotel, with Stockholm’s singular skyline on view throughout. Or, for a one-of-a-kind experience, opt for the Oaxen Prince van Orangiën—a prestigious boat that’s been luxuriously transformed into space that oozes romance, thanks to a wealth of dark woods and marble. All are hotels offering experiences you’ll never forget.
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    Photo By Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
    Day 2
    Svartsö
    Stretching east from the city is the Stockholm archipelago—24,000 islands and islets scattered across the Baltic Sea and a vision of natural beauty that beckons with the promise of endless adventures and authentic experiences. You can explore major islands full of lush vegetation that are home to welcoming towns; you’ll pass others no bigger than a rocky outcropping that are occupied only by a sole cabin or lighthouse. For locals, taking a ferry or private boat out to this glorious area is truly a rite of summer.    

    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 3
    Midsommar on Grinda

    Today you’ll learn what the Midsummer excitement is all about. After you enjoy a generous breakfast at Svartsö Logi, catch a ferry to nearby Grinda and get ready to celebrate! First, though, take some time to explore this charming, lush island that’s a designated nature reserve. It was a director of the Nobel Foundation, Henrik Santesson, who purchased the island in 1906 and built himself an Art Nouveau villa—today, it’s the Grinda Wärdshus hotel, which sits atop a small rise and is fronted by a field of green that practically begs you to go frolicking. Check it out, and then stroll the many hiking trails, wandering past farms and forests to the rugged coast or up to higher points to enjoy spectacular views out over the island. 

    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.
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    Photo By Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se
    Day 4
    Return to Stockholm
    Still sporting the glow from your Midsummer celebration, you’ll travel back to Stockholm by ferry (roughly an hour’s journey). With 14 islands and one day to explore them, you may not be able to see all of the city’s highlights, but a cruise will take you through narrow canals, past historic buildings, and along the edges of verdant greenery, giving you a great overview. Afterwards, head to Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s historic old town, and wander among its cobblestone streets and ochre-colored buildings. You’ll be charmed and inspired all at once as you witness the highlights of the city’s medieval heart, like the Nobel Prize Museum, the Royal Palace (with its reception rooms and armory open to the public), and a number of historic churches.            

    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.
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    Photo By Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se
    Day 5
    Return Home
    After breakfast in your room at Ett Hem or the hotel’s Greenhouse restaurant, overlooking the gardens, it’s time to head home—or to explore more of Sweden. As you depart, scroll back through the photos of your adventure and the friends you’ve made while participating in this very important cultural event that happens just a once a year. And remember, you’ve seen only a small part of this magnificent country; more natural treasures and more deep dives into local communities await in other areas. Clearly, you’ll need to return to experience it all.