The longest day of the year is a big deal for the sun-deprived northern countries of the West. Celebrations of this day, which falls on 21 June in 2019, date back centuries, with all manner of weird and wonderful rituals to bless the harvest, promote love and fertility and chase off evil spirits. Many of these traditions endure, with modern interpretations constantly being added to the mix. Here’s how to celebrate the summer solstice in 2019.
New York, US
Salute the sun amid the skyscrapers with solstice yoga in Times Square. It may be better known for New Year’s Eve celebrations, but on the longest day of the year thousands of yogis gather for free classes throughout the day (21 June 2019). Across town in Battery Park the city hosts one of the biggest Scandinavian solstice celebrations outside Sweden, with more than 3,000 people joining folk dancers around the maypole (22 June 2019).
The solstice sun never sets in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the town – which lies 225 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle – makes the most of the daylight. Thousands flock to watch the Midnight Sun baseball game, a tradition since 1906, with the Alaska Goldpanners taking on the Seattle Studs this year (21 June 2019). There’s also a Midnight Sun 10-kilometre run on 22 June, starting at 10pm; and a 12-hour street fair on 23 June, attracting more than 30,000 revellers. At the Fairbanks Golf and Country Club, visitors can tee off under the midnight sun.
Vancouver celebrates the solstice Chinese-style, with an annual Dragon Boat Festival on False Creek. Crowds cheer on more than 150 teams over three days – and there’s plenty of free entertainment, too, from live music to circus performances (21-23 June 2019). Just to the east of Vancouver in Burnaby, the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival offers Nordic food, maypole dancing and a Viking village – complete with wife-carrying competitions (22-23 June 2019).
Don the walking boots (and bring a torch) for an 18-kilometre midnight hike on the Dublin Mountains Way – ending with panoramic views of sunrise over Dublin Bay. Starting from Tibradden car park, the route takes in ancient tombs like Ballyedmonduff and climbs to Fairy Castle, a Bronze Age passage tomb on the summit of Two Rock mountain – plus there’ll be discussions about the significance of solstice on the way (meet 11:30pm on 21 June). Alternatively head north to the Hill of Tara in County Meath – the seat of the ancient kings of Ireland – where crowds gather, as they have done for millennia, to watch the sunrise on the longest day of the year.
Thousands of visitors from around the world descend on Stonehenge for the summer solstice to witness the sun rise in alignment with the Altar, Heel and Slaughter stones. Neo-pagans, Druids, families and tourists mingle together, and there’s an electric atmosphere – though the sacred site itself is roped off. Make the most of the vibe with music and log fires at the four-day Solstice Festival(18-21 June 2019), held at a nearby campsite. To avoid the crowds and get a close-up view of the stones, Specialist Journeys has an archaeologist-led trip offering access to the inner circle without anyone else present (7 July 2019).
Take in the magic of the solstice from the saddle on an all-night bike ride from London to Hastings. Leaving from Peckham at 9pm, the 120-kilometre route heads south from the capital, with cyclists pedalling through the dark and watching the sun rise along the way, finally arriving at the coast by 7am. A pub stop and optional sea swim are on the agenda – and it’s free (21 June 2019).
The Unearthed music festival in Pembrokeshire, Wales, will begin with a solstice ceremony combining Druidic rituals and land blessings. The planting of a ‘living henge’ of trees is also planned – with the Preseli Hills, where the bluestones of Stonehenge are believed to have been quarried, as the backdrop (21-23 June 2019).
Street parties, beach parties, bonfires and fireworks mark the summer solstice and the Feast of St John in Barcelona on 23 June 2019. The celebration’s origins are pagan – fires were lit as an offering to strengthen the sun – but today it’s one big fiesta, with costumed revellers and musicians partying all night. The festival takes place in other cities and towns in Spain, too; it’s particularly big in Alicante and on the island of Menorca.
Summer solstice is a lively affair in the Pyrenean mountain villages within Catalonia, Aragon and Andorra, with huge bonfires and after-dark revelry. During the Fallas del Pirineo (which takes place on 23 June 2019), villagers parade down the hillsides with flaming torches and there are fire rituals, dancing and festivities long into the night. Each village has its own traditions which date back hundreds of years.
On summer solstice in Florence the sun’s rays shine through the dome of the Duomo, creating a circle of light that perfectly aligns with a circular marble slab on the floor of the Chapel of the Cross. This astronomical time-teller draws big crowds. Midsummer celebrations include a 10-kilometre night race (22 June 2019) and St John’s Day festivities (24 June 2019) with parades and fireworks over the Arno river, replacing festive fires once lit for the solstice.
Step back in time in the grounds of the fairytale castle of Gruyères, which transforms into a medieval playground for midsummer fun on St John’s Day. Potters, tailors, bakers, blacksmiths and weavers set up stalls, while acrobats, jugglers and musicians entertain the crowds. There’s an evening dance in the square, where costumed duos take to the floor, and a bonfire that couples jump over three times to bless their union. Gruyères (the home of the famous cheese) is just two hours from Zurich. (22 June 2019).
Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, is known for its carnival – but the four-day Midsummer’s Eve Fair (21-24 June 2019) is a raucous celebration with music on six stages, comedy, theatre and fireworks over the Rhine. The city is associated with the invention of the printing press, and baptism rituals held for apprentice printers and typesetters are among the more unusual antics.
There will be dancing on the streets in Paris – and across France – for the annual Fête de la Musique (21 June 2019). Thousands of free performances by amateur musicians mark the longest day of the year, from DJ sets to choirs, classical music to rock. Paris buzzes with life, particularly around hubs like the Rue Oberkampf, but artists can be spotted on even the quietest streets. An official event in France since 1982, it’s now spread around the world with over 700 cities taking part last year.
Outdoor adventures from bear-watching to rafting under a never-setting sun are on the agenda at the brand new Solstice Festival in Finland this summer. Taking place in the Rukatunturi ski resort in the north of the country, the three-day event brings live acts and DJs to a beautiful forest setting – plus there’s a busy arts programme, too (20-22 June 2019).
Solstice was an important celebration for Norse pagans – and today, midnight sun frolics continue at Reykjavík’s Secret Solstice festival. Rita Ora, the Black Eyed Peas and Patti Smith are among artists on the line-up this year, playing to crowds under 24-hour daylight (21-23 June 2019).
About 6,000 runners from around the world descend on Tromsø, in Norway’s Arctic north, to take part in the Midnight Sun Marathon. Celebrating its 30th year in 2019, there are various lengths available, from a full marathon to an 800-metre race for kids (22 June 2019).
Celebrations of Midsommar take place across Sweden, with flower-wreath wearing, costumed party-goers joining in folk dances around the maypole and feasts of traditional foods like pickled herring and cured salmon, washed down with schnapps. In Stockholm, celebrations centre on Skansen, the vast open-air museum and city park, but most locals decamp to the islands or the countryside. One of the nearest islands from the capital is Fjäderholmarna, which comes alive with music and dancing in near-constant daylight.
Cathay Pacific and its codeshare partners fly to several of these destinations.