At 03:32 GMT on June 21, 2021, the earth will experience the June solstice. This is the point of greatest daylight for those of us who live in the upper hemisphere.
While many people let the summer solstice pass without note, those of us who pay attention to astronomic events know it’s an exciting day. Additionally, people around the world have long celebrated the solstice with a variety of cultural festivals and activities.
In this post, learn about some of the best cultural festivals and summer solstice celebrations all over the northern hemisphere. The dates and details are updated for 2021. You’ll also learn about some unique natural phenomena that only occur at the summer solstice.
Featured photo credit: Paul Townsend via Flickr
This post was originally published in June 2018, and was updated in June 2020 and June 2021.
What is a Solstice?
The solstice occurs on the day that the sun reaches its highest point, also called its “northerly excursion” during the June solstice in the northern hemisphere, in the sky at noon, local time. In the northern hemisphere, the June solstice is the “longest day” of the year, with the most daylight hours.
Solstices occur because of the axial tilt of the earth, which also creates different seasons in the different hemispheres.
When is the Summer Solstice in June 2021?
This year, the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere will occur at 03:32 GMT on June 21, 2020; this is about four hours later than it occured in 2020.
Where to Celebrate the Summer Solstice
Summer solstice celebrations take place throughout the northern hemisphere on or near June 21st. Here, we’ve selected some of the most unique and interesting cultural celebrations of the solstice. On this list, you’ll find music festivals, traditional experiences, and even a bit of nudity!
Fairbanks, Alaska, USA – Midnight Sun Baseball Game & Festival
Fairbanks, Alaska is only 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle, so they know how to celebrate the solstice right. Fairmanks’ summer solstice celebration is all about celebrating the ‘midnight sun!’
At the Midnight Sun Festival each year, you can visit a twelve-hour street fair and watch live music from over 30 acts. The Festival takes place on the Saturday closest to the solstice, so June 19th this year.
Additionally, on the solstice itself, you can watch a midnight sun baseball game, with first pitch at 10:00pm. The game goes right through midnight and proves that it truly doesn’t set in Fairbanks at the solstice!
Seattle, Washington, USA – Fremont Fair
Many other U.S. cities may not experience the same dramatic increase in daylight that Fairbanks does, but still celebrate the summer solstice. Seattle is one of those cities, with a massive festival in the Fremont neighborhood. This year, the Fremont Summer Solstice Art Fair will take place from June 15-20, 2021.
The festival includes a craft market, live music at small venues, and food and drinks served at festival gardens throughout the neighborhood. In years past, the Fremont solstice fair included a parade; that was cancelled last year and this year. However, you can still enjoy stationary floats throughout the neighborhood as temporary public arts.
Learn more about the parade and more on the official Fremont Fair site.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival
Ottawa, in Canada’s Ontario province, has one of the most interesting cultural festivals in the country. If you’re interested in learning about First Nations culture and heritage, the Ottawa Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival is the place to experience the solstice. This event focuses on summer solstice traditions from the First Nations people.
In normal years, this celebration is full of food, drinks, family activities and a traditional powwow, this year’s celebration is being held virtually online. As the picture above shows, it’s a visually stimulating cultural celebration that will get your heart pumping in rhythm with the traditional drums!
For 2021, things will operate a bit differently; there are virtual and online events occurring throughout the week leading into the solstice.
Learn more on the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival website.
Reykjavik, Iceland – Secret Solstice Festival
Admittedly, the Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland is not so secret anymore – the festival began in 2014 with over 8,000 attendees, and continues to grow each year. While I believe there was a festival in 2020, the festival was cancelled in 2021 and the plans for next year are already available on the website. (Plan ahead if you want to visit!)
See the full lineup and grab tickets on the Secret Solstice site.
Stockholm, Sweden – Midsommar Festivals
The summer solstice in Sweden – also called Midsommar – is celebrated throughout the country. In the Swedish capital of Stockholm, this year’s celebration will take place on Saturday, June 26th. While there isn’t a huge, organized festival, most Swedes head toward the countryside or a favorite island in the Stockholm Archipelago. There they decorate Maypoles and take part in traditional dancing.
One of the most visit-friendly options takes place at Lägret in Vaxholm, a small set of islands that is a 37-minute drive or take the popular ferry route to visit Vaxholm for the day. Here you’ll experience summer solstice traditions for the Swedes first-hand.
Learn more about festivities in the Stockholm area on the Visit Stockholm website.
Tyrol, Austria – Mountaintop Bonfires
In Austria’s southern region of Tyrol, Austrians celebrate with a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages. For centuries, locals have created massive bonfires atop many of the mountains. They then light them as the sky goes dark on the longest day of the year. These fires turn the mountaintops into beacons and cast a mystical effect across the whole mountainous region.
In 2021, the bonfire lighting will take place on Saturday, June 19th in a number of locations across the Tyrolian alps. If you miss this date, a few other locations have other dates throughout the summer.
Learn more about the solstice bonfires on the Tyrol tourism website.
Istria, Croatia – Astrofest
In Croatia, locals and visitors celebrate the solstice with a combination of ancient traditions and modern science. The event includes stargazing at the Višnjan Observatory and bonfires to celebrate the shortest night of the year.
Be prepared for a long night, as Astrofest celebrates sunset – the ‘seeing off of the sun’ –, as well as watching the sunrise the next day. For this admittedly short all-nighter, you’ll be in good company, among space enthusiasts and those who honor the seasons of the year.
Unfortunately, the details for this event were not updated for 2020 or 2021; if they don’t update for next year, I’ll assume this event isn’t happening anymore.
Learn more about Astrofest on the Istria tourism website.
Kuldiga, Latvia – Jāņi Festival
Latvia isn’t one of Europe’s top destinations, but that makes the summer solstice a great excuse to finally plan a trip. Each year, Latvians mark the solstice by celebrating the Jāņi Festival, which dates back to the Middle Ages. This is one of the most interesting ways to experience historic European summer solstice traditions.
This celebration takes place this year on June 23rd and 24th and is celebrated by creating floral wreaths, heading out into nature, lighting bonfires, traditional singing and dancing, drinking beer, and eating Jāņi cheese (a sour cheese made with caraway seeds). It’s a perfect celebration of nature and the changing of seasons, mixed in with some unique cultural experiences.
Learn more about the Jāņi Festival and how to celebrate on the Latvia Travel website.
St. Petersburg, Russia
In St. Petersburg, Russia, the Russians celebrate solstice for a long time – the annual White Nights festival usually starts in May and ends in July! This year’s summer solstice event includes classical ballet and opera performances, the Scarlet Sails celebration (pictured above), carnivals, and music performances by famous acts. In the past, these concerts have included the Rolling Stones and Sir Paul McCartney.
The Scarlet Sails celebration is the part of the White Nights festival that occurs most closely to the summer solstice. For 2021, they haven’t announced any details yet, but keep an eye on the site linked below as that’s the most likely place to find info in the next week.
Learn more and get the full details about the Scarlet Sails event on the Visit St. Petersburg site.
Unique Natural Sights You Can Only See on the Solstice
In addition to the cultural celebrations noted above, you might want to celebrate the solstice by admiring the natural phenomena that occur on the summer solstice. Below you’ll find four interesting natural sights that only occur on the solstice. While some of these involve human construction, all take advantage of the earth’s rotation and placement of the sun in the sky.
Longyearbyen, Norway – The Midnight Sun
How far north can you go? In Longyearbyen, Norway, the answer is ‘not much further.’ One of the northernmost cities in the world, Longyearbyen is the largest city in Svalbard, deep in the heart of the Arctic ocean.
If you’re looking for the true Midnight Sun, there’s nowhere more obvious to find it. The sun rises on April 19th and doesn’t set fully again until August 23rd! On the summer solstice, the sun literally doesn’ go down in Longyearbyen circling the small city well above the horizon.
Orkney, Scotland, UK – Standing Stones of Stenness
The Standing Stones of Stenness date back to the Neolithic period when they were erected by the people who lived in Orkney, the far north of Scotland. The stone henge, possibly the oldest in Britain, has survived through the centuries and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the summer solstice, the stones align with the rising and setting sun. While there are no major festivals or celebrations at the site anymore, it’s likely the case that for millennia, early inhabitants came to mark the changing of seasons at these stones.
Stonehenge, England, UK – Perfect Alignment
In southwest England, Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous stone circle. How the massive bluestones which make up the circle came to this part of England is still a mystery – as well as how they were arranged in such elaborate formation.
Aligned for the summer solstice, Stonehenge is actually closed for normal admission on the solstice itself. Instead, you can show up to see the stones for free. In 2021, there are still some restrictions in place for public health, so plan ahead if you want to attend. Once there, you’ll enjoy the company of others who come to respectfully watch the sunrise above the heel stone and through one of the remaining stone arches.
Learn more and plan your visit to Stonehenge on the English Heritage site.
Cairo, Egypt – Sunset Between the Pyramids
Destinations near the equator are often overlooked at the summer solstice – after all, the change in sunlight between seasons is less noticeable at these locations.
In Giza, near Cairo, there is one special natural phenomena which occur on the solstice though. As the sun sets on the summer solstice in Egypt, you can observe the sun setting between two of the famous pyramids in Giza.
Bonus! Visit Giza at the vernal (spring) equinox in March. You can see that the Sphinx faces due east, looking directly at the rising sun on the equinox.
Experience the Winter Solstice Instead!
Not interested in celebrating the summer solstice, or you live in the southern hemisphere? You may want to experience one of these winter solstice celebrations instead.
Hobart, Tasmania – Nude Swim
Down in Hobart, Tasmania, the Tassies celebrate winter solstice in a very unique way. Each year, over 1,000 Tasmanians strip to their skin and run into the Derwent River for a quick dip!
The event marks the end of the Dark Mofo Festival, an art and music festival that takes place in June each year, but is unfortunately cancelled in 2020. While there may not be an official event, you may still see some brave souls who take a swim in the 53ºF (12ºC) water.
For 2021, the Dark Mofo Festival is scheduled for June 16-22, and the nude swim will be at 7:42am on that day.
Cusco, Peru – Inti Raymi Festival
Peru is famously known for its Inca ruins like Macchu Pichu. However, there’s a lot more of Inca culture to experience on your trip. If you visit over the winter solstice in Peru, you can observe the Inti Raymi festival on June 22nd this year.
The Inti Raymi festival celebrates the Inca god Inti (Quechua for “sun”). It marks the begin of the return of the sun to Cusco, Peru. In the time of the Inca Empire, as many as 25,000 people would attend the festival. Today, you can watch reenactments of the festival and one of the largest Inca celebrations in the world.
Celebrating the summer solstice? Have a great one!
Featured photo by Paul Townsend via Flickr