Whether you think of it as the start of summer, the longest day of the year or an excuse to dance, perhaps around bonfires or a maypole, the summer solstice is a celebration of the season. Sure, it marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but it’s also steeped in tradition and cultural significance throughout the world.
The summer solstice is celebrated in a variety of ways across the globe. From skygazing in Croatia to sun salutations in Times Square, here are ten places where you can make the most of the longest day of the year.
Secret Solstice Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland
Home of the midnight sun, Iceland is the perfect place to get the full solstice experience. An Icelandic sunset on the solstice is around midnight and sunrise is a little before 3 a.m. Light sleepers may want to find a hotel with thick curtains or, better yet, use the extended daylight to see and do more. Iceland’s Secret Solstice Midnight Sun Music Festival is a three-day music festival that makes good use of the extra daylight. With electronic, hip-hop, rock and reggae acts, the festival is a musical smorgasbord and with 72 hours of sunlight, it is most definitely the Energizer bunny of music festivals.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
The site itself is cloaked in mystery, and historians, archaeologists and mystics alike have long debated its baffling construction. Impressively, Neolithic builders created the massive stone structure with primitive tools made from wood and deer antlers. And, while theories abound, we may never know for sure whether it was an ancient burial ground, a temple of worship to ancient earth gods, a prehistoric observatory or something we’ve yet to consider. Today, the summer solstice draws an eclectic mix of druids, pagans and miscellaneous revelers to Stonehenge to witness the sun rising above the stone circle, which aligns perfectly with the summer solstice sunrise.
Solstice in Times Square, New York, New York, United States
Where better to spend the longest day of the year than the city that never sleeps? Celebrate the start of summer with sun salutations amid the urban bustle of New York City. Solstice in Times Square, a day-long yoga event now in its 13th year, begins at 7 a.m. on the solstice and continues until just before sunset. Adding to the excitement, the day has also been named International Day of Yoga by the United Nations General Assembly. Not in New York? Participate remotely via the event’s live webcast.
Solstice Fires, Tyrol, Austria
Lighting mountain fires to mark the solstice is an Alpine tradition that dates back to medieval times when native tribes used the mystical fires to worship the earth. Throughout Austria (and especially in the mountains of the Wilder Kaiser region of Tyrol), fires dot the countryside to celebrate the solstice. Cable cars run late into the evening shuttling partygoers to events in various mountain towns and offering panoramic views. There are a number of places to celebrate the solstice, including a cruise on Lake Achensee or musical and culinary festivities amid the backdrop of Innsbruck’s Nordkette Mountains.
Wianki, Krakow, Poland
Eastern Europe celebrates the solstice with Kupala, a Slavic holiday with pagan roots. Named for the Slavic goddess Kupala, it was originally conceived as a fertility rite. Women would weave garlands of flowers or wianek and float them on water to predict romantic success. Today, Kupala is still widely celebrated in Eastern Europe, especially by the younger crowd. Head to Krakow, Poland, for Wianki, a day of music and revelry, with acts ranging from contemporary rock and electro pop to classical and traditional. Expect a day of music and celebration – and, as was also the case in pagan times, a whole lot of revelers in flower crowns.
Summer Solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The summer solstice has long been celebrated by the aboriginal people across Canada, and, since 1996, the celestial event has coincided with National Aboriginal Day. To mark the event, the Summer Solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival brings together the urban aboriginal community with a family-friendly outing that draws a substantial and diverse crowd of aboriginal and non-aboriginal attendees. Held at Vincent Massey Park, the three-day event includes traditional dance, music and storytelling to celebrate the solstice, as well as the area’s aboriginal culture.
Festival of Saint Joan, Menorca, Spain
Combining a celebration of the summer solstice with the birth of St. John the Baptist, the Festival of St. Joan has become an amalgamation of Christian tradition and pagan ritual. In pagan times, fire acted as a symbol of purification, and today it is still incorporated into the revelry with bonfires and fireworks. While Barcelona is a celebratory hot spot, trade the city experience for a memorable solstice on the island of Menorca. The charming town of Ciutadella has made the traditional celebration its own, with rituals unique to the island, including an annual one-of-a-kind horse riding display.
Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration, Santa Barbara, California, United States
This Southern California event has been a summer staple since 1974 and it attracts more than 100,000 visitors from around the world with its colorful floats, festive costumes and musical stylings. The unique celebration of creative expression was originally conceived by artist and mime Michael Gonzales but, over the years, this whimsical event has taken on a life of its own. Each year’s Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration has a theme, and 2015 will find parade-goers donning out-of-this-world costumes befitting a sci-fi motif.
Midsummer, Stockholm, Sweden
One of the most important events of the year in Sweden, midsommar is a day of decadent indulgence with its root in pagan ritual. Topped with wildflower wreaths, Swedes nosh on pickled herring, cured salmon and potatoes, drink flavored schnapps and dance around a maypole decked out in flowers and greenery. Although the day is widely celebrated throughout the country, one of the most popular celebrations takes place at Skansen Museum where you can get the full midsummer experience from folk music to maypole revelry.
Astrofest, Istria, Croatia
For an alternative to the wild parties typically associated with a solstice celebration, head to Croatia where Astrofest brings amateur astronomers and stargazing enthusiasts to the famous astronomical Višnjan Observatory. The event is a unique and magical way to celebrate the solstice, combining science and spirituality, celestial skygazing and New Age music, drum circles and performances. Istria also boasts exceptional wine and local cuisine, making the event gastro- and astro-nomical.