The summer solstice ushers in the long-awaited summer sun, and revelers celebrate the longest day of the year across the globe. This yearly phenomenon is viewed as a religious experience for some and simply a reason to stay up late for others. Regardless of the reason, midsummer celebrations draw in people from across the globe. From watching a sunrise at Stonehenge to lighting fires on mountain peaks in Austria, these are some of the best summer solstice celebrations in Europe.
What Exactly Is the Summer Solstice?
Quite basically, the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year. It happens twice a year — once in each hemisphere. It occurs when the tilt of the Earth’s axis causes peak sunlight, and the sun travels its longest path through the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.4 degrees toward the sun, while in the Southern Hemisphere, the summer solstice occurs when the South Pole is tilted 23.4 degrees toward the sun. When the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing the summer solstice, the Southern Hemisphere experiences the winter solstice and vice versa. The summer solstice takes place sometime between June 20th and 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere and December 20th and 23rd in the Southern Hemisphere.
Depending on location and culture, the summer solstice is viewed as either the beginning of summer or the height of summer. Regardless, the summer solstice — or midsummer — has been recognized for thousands of years. Throughout history, different cultures have marked the yearly event with festivals and other rituals. In the Southern Hemisphere, the summer solstice coincides with traditional Christmas celebrations, so this article will focus on summer festivals in the Northern Hemisphere.
Some of the Top Summer Solstice Celebrations in Europe
Stonehenge – Wiltshire, England
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument built between 3,000 BC and 2,000 BC to quite possibly track the sun’s movements. This Neolithic stone structure is positioned to align with both the summer and winter solstices, and because of this, many believe that the ancient site was built to worship the sun. The monument is steeped in mystery, which only adds to its allure.
Today, revelers head to Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, in droves to mark the summer solstice. Many partake in the festivities dressed like ancient druids, while others are just there to watch a unique spectacle. Whether the summer solstice personally marks a religious occasion or simply the start of summer, the sunrise directly over Heel Stone (also known as Sun-Stone) is hard to top. After watching this natural masterpiece, head to the nearby Cotswolds. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is comprised of rolling hills, gardens, and historical villages constructed from Cotswold stone
Secret Solstice Festival – Reykjavik, Iceland
Because of its northerly latitudes, Iceland experiences the elusive midnight sun during the summer months. This phenomenon peaks around the summer solstice. During these long summer days, the sun sets after midnight and rises again before 3 in this morning. However, the night sky still gives off an otherworldly faint glow. This makes Iceland the perfect place to take full advantage of the summer solstice and the surrounding festivities.
The Secret Solstice Music Festival in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik spans three full days. The multi-genre festival allows revelers to party under the midnight sun during the longest days of the year. While the focus is on music, the Secret Solstice Festival also offers unique side performances and exhibits around the country’s picturesque glaciers and volcanoes. After the marathon three days, unwind at the famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. This relaxing retreat is rich in ingredients to relax both the mind and body. Plus, it’s conveniently located only 12 miles from the airport.
Midsummer – Stockholm, Sweden
Also known as St. John’s Day, Midsummer is one of Sweden’s most important annual events. The festival is rooted in pagan ritual and is usually celebrated on the eve of the summer solstice. This public holiday is a beautiful day of indulgence. Revelers wear flower wreaths and decorate homes and other structures in greenery. Herring, salmon, potatoes, and other national delicacies are washed down with local schnapps. A maypole — or “midsummarstang” — is erected and dancing commences.
While Midsummer is celebrated all across Sweden and other parts of Northern Europe, Stockholm’s Skansen Museum is an ideal place to take full advantage of the festivities. The open-air museum offers a traditional maypole, folk music, and food. Once over, visit the nearby Vasa Museum to learn about Sweden’s vast maritime history and continue the indulgence at one of the capital city’s Michelin-starred restaurants.
Jani – Latvia
The summer solstice celebration of Jani has been held throughout Latvia since the Baltic country’s pre-Christian times. Therefore, the festival is unsurprisingly steeped in pagan traditions. Jani takes place shortly after the solstice on June 23rd and 24th. Before Jani starts, most city dwellers pack up and head to Latvia’s lush countryside. The celebrations include plenty of food and drink. Homes and livestock are decorated, wreaths are made, and revelers sing folk songs specific to the Jani celebration. Bonfires are also lit, with the ancient belief that the light from the fire will transmit to the next solar year.
Jani celebrations are widespread throughout the country, but for the uninhibited, head to the town of Kuldiga. Here, revelers run naked through the town at three in the morning. The exposed runners are then rewarded with beer. After Jani, head to the capital city of Riga. The historical city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the entire city was the European Capital of Culture in 2014. After celebrating the summer solstice in the countryside, exploring the picturesque streets of Riga should give you a nice overview of this scenic nation.
Solstice Fires – Tyrol, Austria
Lighting fires in Austria over the summer solstice is an alpine tradition dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. Back then, native tribes lit these mountainous bonfires to worship the Earth. Today, fires dot the countryside and mountain ridges to celebrate the Festival of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. While this tradition takes place throughout Austria, it is most prevalent in the western Wilder Kaiser area, including the region of Tyrol.
To celebrate midsummer, cable cars shuttle revelers to scenic mountain towns for various events, and parties are hosted late into the night around these annual bonfires. After partaking in the summer solstice celebrations, head down to the postcard-worthy town of Innsbruck to explore the quaint streets, beautiful architecture, and numerous museums. After wandering around the city and recovering from the late night, head back up to the mountains for some hiking. Austria is known for its magical vistas, and mountaintops provide the perfect perch to take in the sites.
Festival of Saint Joan – Menorca, Spain
The Festival of Saint Joan is a celebration for the summer solstice and St. John the Baptist’s birth. Because of this, the festivities feature a unique mix of pagan rituals and Christian traditions. Celebrated throughout Spain on the 23rd and 24th of June, the Festival of Saint Joan offers merriment, bonfires, and fireworks.
While Barcelona holds a large summer solstice festival, head to the island of Menorca, Spain for something different instead. Ciutadella has made this yearly festival their own. Street stalls offer traditional food, beer, and pomada (a local drink consumed during festivals), and musicians and DJs offer up lively music. Most uniquely, Ciutadella’s celebration features an impressive horse-riding display known as “jaleos”. The Festival of Saint Joan is then crowned by a breathtaking fireworks display. After, relax on one of the Mediterranean island’s numerous beaches, unwind in the turquoise water, and indulge in fresh seafood.
The summer solstice marks either the beginning or height of summer for different cultures. This peak time of sun has been welcomed by merrymakers throughout centuries. From festivals marked by constant daylight to dancing around a maypole, one of these summer solstice celebrations in Europe is bound to catch your interest. Pick your destination, and plan your next trip around this celebration of summer.
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