In a lush, wildflower-filled meadow under sunny summer skies, a group of Swedes gathers. Clad in fresh garlands and clothing that wouldn’t look out of place at an outdoor music festival, they dance joyously around a maypole and hop up and down like frogs before sitting down to a meal featuring plenty of local food and drinks. And because it’s mid-June, the sun stays high in sky for a deliciously long time, allowing the party to continue long into the evening. It’s a celebration of summer. It’s a celebration of Swedish traditions. It’s a celebration of life.
Welcome to a Midsummer celebration in Sweden. The country’s holidays preserve traditions that date back centuries, if not millennia—from the bonfires of Walpurgis Night in April to December’s saffron buns on St. Lucia’s Day. But foremost among these important moments is Midsummer Day, celebrated on Friday in the third week of June (this year it falls on June 19) and centered around the summer solstice.
It’s a thrilling time. Families and friends gather beside the country’s serene lakes and in its endless green fields to make the most of the season’s long, sunshine-filled days. In other words, Midsummer is the perfect time to explore Sweden’s vast treasure trove of natural beauty—from its thousands of charming islands in the south to the craggy peaks of the rugged north.
The region of Dalarna, a vegetation-rich area of rolling hills and sparkling lakes that stretches across central Sweden, is where you can find some of the most traditional Midsummer festivals, keeping alive customs like floral garlands and maypoles—the centerpieces of the celebrations.
Head north, to Swedish Lapland, and as you experience area’s verdant valleys, snow-capped peaks, and rich culture, you can combine Midsummer celebrations with the midnight sun. In the region’s largest city, Kiruna, the height of summer means that the sun that doesn’t set for weeks. Visit during the Midsummer holiday and you can join the Dance of Little Frogs around the midsummer pole and feast on herring and potatoes, paired with flavored snaps (the Swedish equivalent of Scandinavian aquavit). Combine the festivities with hiking, golfing, and fishing under skies that illuminate nature’s beauty even in the middle of the night. You can even have the singularly unique experience of skiing in summer at a place like Neihku Mountain Villa, which opens at the end of June.
Even better, the dramatic phenomenon of the midnight sun lasts well into July, encouraging you to keep exploring Sweden all summer long.
Read on for suggestions on how to experience the magic of Swedish Lapland during the mystical time of Midsummer. Then get inspired by joining Visit Sweden’s virtual Midsummer celebration, new this year. Their Facebook page features videos of events from Skåne, Stockholm, Dalarna, and, yes, Swedish Lapland that you can view from home. Participate in the virtual Midsummer holiday—perhaps while dining on some herring, in true Swedish style—and start planning a trip to join the party in person in 2021.
Itinerary / 5 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
You’ll feel like even more of a pioneer as you take to the open road, motoring even farther north to 19,000-acre Abisko National Park. The snow that blankets this peak-filled wilderness in winter gives way in summer to grassy green pastures, fast-running rivers, and a dazzling collection of wildflowers—with snow still melting from the tops of craggy mountains. The wildlife run free here, adding an exciting element to the awe-inspiring panorama; it’s common to see moose and reindeer traipsing across the tundra, while colorful birds fly between shimmering lakes and birch trees, making their summer home here, just like you.
At Mount Nuolja, you can experience the unique thrill of climbing into a chair lift and traveling up, up, up toward the sky, as ever more of the magnificent horizon floods your perspective. In just 20 minutes, you’ll be witnessing a stunning view from almost 3,000 feet above sea level at the Aurora Sky Station; you may even experience the often otherworldly glow of the soft sunlight. Hike around the peak and marvel at the emerald sea of trees peppered with brilliant blue lakes and backdropped by mountain silhouettes in the distance. Enjoy an alfresco meal before continuing on to your final stop for the day, the town of Jukkasjärvi.
Jukkasjärvi was settled in the 17th century, and you can still feel the call of a distant era as you arrive. Besides channeling history, though, you can also take part in a decidedly modern tradition. Every winter here, the ICEHOTEL is reborn, with international artists invited to create an ephemeral architectural wonder that will disappear when Mother Nature turns up the heat of the seasons. Even when that happens, however, you can still experience the magic of the ICEHOTEL, thanks to the at the year-round, solar-powered ICEHOTEL 365, an installation of ice art that includes overnight accommodations, including 12 artist-designed suites with private saunas and plunge bathtubs carved from ice and snow.
You’ll also find an amazing alternative overnight option just outside of Jukkasjärvi: The Reindeer Lodge at Nutti Sámi Siida includes five basic cabins set near grazing reindeer in what will feel like your own slice of Sweden. The lodge is owned by the Sámi, Sweden’s indigenous people who have lived here for some 3,500 years; staying here offers the fascinating opportunity to live like the Sámi people, absorbing their deep respect for nature that has become part of their DNA.
Just south of Gällivare is the Sapmi Nature Camp, where you’ll spend the day. The Sámi-owned operation is another fascinating chance to learn about Sámi culture, history, legends, herding practices, and cooking. Out among the dense forests and endless blue skies, you’ll explore the region’s rich and colorful flora and fauna, which at the height of summer includes the sweet songs of the many birds that migrate to the beautiful area that is Sweden’s north.
Tonight, prepare for a one-of-a-kind experience that harks back to ancient times, when people here lived without the distractions of the modern era: You’ll spend the night in a lavvu, a traditional tent, on the shores of a small lake. Unlike the lavvu that generations of migratory Sámi herdsmen have used, however, these come ready-made for curling up and channeling those ancient rhythms, as they’re heated and furnished with comfortable beds. After your day of exploring with your Sámi hosts—and perhaps a visit to the camp’s sauna—you’ll relax as the sounds of nature lull you off to sleep.
DAY 3Midsummer at Huuva Hideaway
Lovers of art and design can also discover a local sense of place: A fun alternative stay is at the six-room Arthotel Tornedalen, which features renovated country houses decked out with carefully curated Scandinavian design, crafts, and contemporary art, and set out on the winding Torne River.
At Huuva Hideaway, you’ll meet owners Pia and Henry Huuva, who will make you feel like part of their extended family. You’ll be invited to join in the Hideaway’s Midsummer celebrations, beginning with the essential tradition of picking colorful wildflowers to braid into garlands and wreaths. If you’re single, you may want to test a particular Swedish tradition: It’s said that if you pick seven particular flowers and sleep with them under your pillow on Midsummer, you’ll dream of your future spouse.
Before then, however, you’ll have a day of raising the maypole, joining the Dance of the Little Frogs around it, and participating in some of the games that are traditionally played at Midsummer celebrations, like sack races and kubb. The latter game is sort of like a Swedish version of lawn bowling, in which each player tries to knock over the wooden blocks, or kubbs, of their opponent.
The Huuva Hideaway celebration includes, of course, opportunities to sample favorite Swedish dishes and drinks. If your visit doesn’t fall on the Midsummer holiday itself, you can enjoy the delights of the Edible Country experience offered at a reindeer corral just 15 minutes from the Hideaway. This four-hour culinary adventure begins by walking through dense woods in search of ingredients for your meal—perhaps spruce needles (trust us) or wild berries that explode with flavor, like delicious cloudberries. You’ll then learn how the cuisine of Sweden’s far north has been shaped by Sámi influences. The menu for the experience depends on what’s available and at its freshest on any particular day, but you might sit down to a meal pike caught in a nearby lake, roe from the small vendace fish, or moose or reindeer meat.
The perfect end of your day, whether you’ve been celebrating Midsummer or participating in the Edible Country experience, is to participate in a Swedish ritual that’s always refreshing and unforgettable—a late-night swim under the midnight sun, as you gaze up at the stars and dream of the Swedish adventures still to come.
The Arctic Bath in Harads, which opened at the beginning of this year, has been compared to a bird’s nest floating on the Lule River. The exquisite building, designed by architects Bertil Harström and Johan Kauppi, is one-of-a-kind—a whimsical, circular structure that inspires as it beckons. And in true Swedish style, it’s not just forward-thinking in its design, but also made from sustainable materials; much of the wood, stone, and leather used in the building and its furnishings was sourced in Lapland or nearby. On your visit to the spa, you’ll enjoy a sauna, followed by a dip in the long, snaking river to cool off. Then choose from a long list of treatments, from massages to facials, and settle in to experience true wellness.
Afterward, head to the Arctic Bath’s restaurant, helmed by chef Kristoffer Åström, which brings Sámi touches to spa cuisine. Dishes feature ingredients from nearby dairies and farms, and the fish and game served here are caught in the wild. It’s yet another way to channel the ancient rhythms of Sámi culture, in an inspiring, ecologically rich setting.
While the Arctic Bath does offer several different styles of suites for overnight accommodation, you’ll continue on after your spa day to singularly unique option—the Treehotel, also in Harads. The seven treehouses here overlook the Lule River and offer more eye-popping designs to fill your Instagram feed with, including a UFO-inspired treehouse, a mirrored cube, and a bird’s nest. Far from being the treehouses of childhood memories, of course, these luxurious havens include en-suite toilets, electricity, heating and air conditioning, and WiFi. In short, they have all the amenities you’d expect of a hotel room, with the greenery of unexpected treetop views that come from being located in treehouses floating above the forest floor.
Today, Gammelstad has been meticulously preserved and restored, and docents in period costumes welcome visitors to many of the buildings. If your visit coincides with Midsummer, this tiny town serves up a fantastic experience that brings to life all of the Swedish traditions: dances, games, floral garlands, and the decoration and raising of the maypole.
Before you head to the airport and begin your journey home, you may want to pick up some souvenirs of Lapland in Gammelstad. Look for wooden Sámi crafts and jewelry at the store Shop in Lapland (which for now is open only by private appointment). Kallaxgårdsbutik is a home décor shop curated by owners who have that characteristically Swedish ability to spot stylish design in even the most utilitarian objects. While you may not need a gallon can of paint, their soaps, candles, handbags, kitchen accessories, and other items range from cool to kitschy. The shop is also a great place for a fika—a sweet snack served with a cup of coffee—before you depart from Swedish Lapland. You’ll depart with some new purchases to keep the memory of your holiday alive until you can return for more exploration and celebrations.