midsummer in scandinavia: where?
March 12, 2014 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to be in Iceland this June and would love suggestions for where else I should go in Scandinavia (or the Baltic states) to spend the midsummer weekend. I'll be traveling solo and I don't know anyone there. If it helps, I'm not so much into dancing but I really like food!

Staying in Iceland is definitely an option, but by that point I would've been there for around 10 days already so I thought I might go see other places -- unless there's a compelling reason to remain.

I was thinking of Helsinki at first, including a daytrip to Tallinn. But from what I've read online, it seems that many people head to the countryside around that time, so fewer shops and food places may be open.

That said, this is probably the case for many other Scandinavian cities, so I'm not sure which would be the least affected by closures. All suggestions would be very much appreciated!
posted by swimmingly to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sweden for Crayfish!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:37 AM on March 12, 2014

Midsommar is a big deal, and the cities do indeed become ghost towns. Even Stockholm shuts down. I don't think you'll starve anywhere, but I don't think you'll have a great "Midsommar experience" without having people to tag along with!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:42 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I took a boat from Husavik, on the north coast, to Grimsey, the island to the north that's just across the Arctic Circle, on the Solstice one year. The seas were rough, it was pouring rain, winds were high, everyone was seasick, and it was fucking miserable. So don't do that.
posted by Capri at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, crayfish season is in August, and Scandinavian midsummer is 20-21 June, so there's that…

From a Swedish perspective, I'd second A. Haddock: Sure, some of the dancing might be public, for example in the historic open-air areas that many cities have around here, but the food and booze consumption that follows is often pretty much a private thing.

That said, both some nice out-in-the-country places and various hotels do have special midsummer food events, so ideally one could try and pick a nice place landscape- or vibe-wise and then see what the local options are.

The problem with midnight sun and the far north, on midsummer it's often still too cold for comfort (the gnats are already out, though). I remember once tying decorations with stiff fingers in the pelting slush in North Dalarna amidst a bunch of nicely dressed and unperturbed local people. Not really a vacation thing somehow.

I'd personally prefer to be in an urban area more in the south and try and find something to do. Taking Göteborg as an example, here is a list of events for this year.

I may be partial, but I'd consider going to Gunnebo, in fact.
posted by Namlit at 1:29 PM on March 12, 2014

Seconding Admiral_Haddock. On midsommar Stockholm is a ghost town. Seriously. Nothing open. Last year, I remember cycling home from the old city seeing only bewildered tourists wondering why they didn't receive the order to evacuate. Skansen has a big public celebration, but it's kitch and not like spending a day in the countryside with friends. In short midsommar not a good time to travel to Scandinavia.
posted by three blind mice at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2014

My partner and I spent midsummer of 2011 in Helsinki and kind of wandered around town and saw lots of people around having picnics with drinks and the like. We had no one to hang out with, but it was still nice to see it going on around us. I think that there was also a pretty accessible Midsummer party at the university of Helsinki (and maybe one on Suomenlinna?), but we didn't go to it.

The city was pretty quiet, but not as quiet as it had been the day before in Tallinn where they were celebrating Victory Day and the centre was a veritable ghost town.

We were in Saint Petersburg a day later and there was a LOT going on in the centre of town, as the White Nights Festival is a big thing there. That would be my recommendation of where to go if you want to be around a lot of people celebrating centrally, though a lot of people who, by and large, do not speak English much (at least in our experience).

Despite what's said above, my partner and I enjoyed our time there experiencing other people hanging out and enjoying their midsummer, even if we didn't join in. We had a little trouble finding food on that day in Helsinki (I think we ended up eating in a more touristy restaurant), but days around it were totally fine.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:30 PM on March 12, 2014

And along with midsommar, beware of Whit Sunday, which is celebrated 7 weeks after Easter and a big closure day in Scandinavia (or at least it was in Denmark). This year it falls on June 8th - and it really was the day that we found that EVERYTHING was closed, though we were in Copenhagen at the time where they celebrate it over TWO days. That was a pain.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2014

Though I am Danish, I came in to suggest Swedish midsummer, because the Swedes do this best, but I wasn't aware it was so private.
So go to Copenhagen or for smaller places, Skagen or Tisvilde, all famous for popular and public midsummer celebrations on the waterfront. Danes eat barbecue, sausages, shrimp, salmon, new potatoes, dill, asparagus, , cucumber, strawberries and cream.
Here, as urbanlenny writes, Whitsun is the family/private party, whereas midsummer is a public gathering with free entertainment in the form of live music, often political or moral speeches, and a lot of bonfires and burning of witches (straw figures). Not much dancing.
Since it is a very popular night for going out, reservations are needed in advance for all better eateries.

Copenhagen has scores of different public celebrations, in different styles and all with free entertainment. Some places there will also be a barbecue where you can get meat and maybe a salad or bread, but rarely anything sophisticated. At other places, nearby restaurants have special menus. You can sail through the harbor and see the bonfires while you eat, or go in Tivoli and eat shrimps. The Royal Theatre has a bonfire, often with opera, and their waterfront restaurant is a great place to see all the life from. Or you can go to one of the many beaches with your own picnic which you can buy in a smørrebrød-shop. The fire on the lakes and its party on the bridge is very popular with young people, this is next to an area with a multitude of good street-food offerings.

Tisvilde is a hamlet on the north coast of Sjælland (Zealand) where folk tradition has it one can be healed by spending midsummer night by the natural spring there. Today there is a huge gathering with bonfires and music and the local restaurants and hotels have special offers, either on the beach or in a short distance from it. It has become quite posh the last decade and there are excellent options for a good dinner, and also one of the country's best pizzerias. Seriously.

Skagen at the northern end of Denmark became famous for it's painters in the late 19th century, and one of their motifs was the midsummer bonfire, so now the Skagen bonfires (two or three of them) are seen as very romantic and authentic and often famous people speak there. Since sunset is somewhat later up there, and it is a lot colder, most people will eat at home or at one of the fine restaurants in town, and then head for the bonfires on the beaches afterwards, wearing warm clothes. I've never seen barbecues on the beach there. Some claim the tradition of songs and speeches originated here.

Everywhere else has public bonfires as well, with entertainment and some form of food / special menu at local restaurants. But in more provincial places the food will be crappy.
posted by mumimor at 4:15 PM on March 12, 2014

I would recommend going to Denmark for midsummer rather than anywhere else. Midsummer's a really communal thing in Denmark - you meet up with your community, sing songs, roast bread on the bonfire and there is something so wonderfully life-affirming about midsummer. Danes often think it all a bit pedestrian, but I really miss the sight of that big bonfire and the songs ringing out.. aw, man.

All the bonfires will be near water - I loved the bonfires out on Amager Strand (Amager Beach) when I lived in Copenhagen. People brought portable BBQs, beers and just hung out. It was lovely. Other places can be a bit more formal - the bonfire in Frederiksberg Park (also Copenhagen area) is a lot more nationalistic/conservative.

I've never been to the Skagen bonfire but I bet it's pretty magical too. Just bring some rain-proof clothing and you'll be good to go.
posted by kariebookish at 5:03 PM on March 12, 2014

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