Where to Go for Summer Solstice
Summer Solstice is on 21st June, so there's still time for a quick getaway if you want to embrace some midsummer madness. For most people, this important celestial event goes by without much in the way of fanfare, but why not make it the year you celebrate the longest day of the year?
Solstice at Stonehenge
Image by Vintage Dept under Creative Commons license.
For the tens of thousands of Pagans, revellers and other visitors who flock to Salisbury Plain on midsummer eve each year, there really is only one place to experience the shortest night. Stonehenge has a unique prehistoric connection to the solstice, which is believed to have been celebrated on the site as early as 3100 BC. This makes it one of the most ancient known party spots on the planet, and the atmosphere as the sun rises behind the heel stone - and its rays light up the heart of the stones - is said to be electric. Expect to see all kinds of weird and wonderful rituals and ceremonies taking place, with some attending in full Druid costume.
English Heritage, which manages the Stonehenge site, allows 'open access' to the stones on Summer Solstice, so you'll be able to walk amongst the stones and get closer to these ancient relics than at most other times of year. There are a few rules to bear in mind (you won't be allowed to set up camp, for example), but you can be sure to soak up some good vibes as the assembled crowd joins together to commemorate the same natural event as their ancestors once did.
Summertime in Sweden
Image by Hakan Dahlstrom under Creative Commons license.
Midsummer in Sweden is all about flowers, and at this time of year you'll see beautiful garlands decorating homes and gardens all over the country from Midsummer's Eve onwards. Midsommar is the second biggest Swedish festival besides Christmas, and it's a time when friends and families come together to dine al fresco and enjoy a glass or two of schnapps. On Midsummer Eve, young girls will pick flowers and put them under their pillows, which is said to lead to dreams about their future husbands - and there's no shortage of other pieces of funny folklore around the longest day of the year.
If you want to experience what the Swedish celebration of summer has to offer, head to one of the many parks and other public spaces holding traditional midsummer celebrations where you can catch a maypole dance. Take a look at this fun film about Swedish Midsummer for Dummies if you're still confused!
Bonfires in Finland
Midsummer is a national holiday in Finland, and joyous celebrations take place across the country to mark the arrival of warmer weather. June is also the height of the phenomenon known as the 'Midnight Sun', when days and nights blur into one, and the Finns take full advantage of neverending daylight: all-night parties are common, and huge bonfires are lit to celebrate the most uplifting time of the year. This is also a popular time for boating, barbecues and bathing in saunas.
Known locally as kokkos, bonfires big and small are held all over Finland, but one of the best places to enjoy them is Seurasaari National Park. Set on a beautiful green island just a few kilometers from Helsinki, it plays host to many of the more traditional Finnish midsummer activities every year - including folk dancing, games, spells and even weddings.
White Nights in St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg's White Nights are the stuff of legend, and here (as in Finland and many other Northerly parts), the sun barely sets for weeks on end. During these long and surreal days, you will see city dwellers roam the streets until the early hours, taking river cruises, drinking glasses of champagne and sometimes not sleeping at all. Photography fans will jump at the opportunity to take pictures in the eerie light, which lend a hauntingly beautiful quality to the city's ornate buildings.
The streets are filled with festivities and music at this time of year, and a popular pastime is to take a stroll in the Summer Garden; an oasis of marble statues, cool fountains and rare plants that was built by the order of Peter the Great - with these neverending summer nights in mind.