Instead of falling into a tourist trap, why not celebrate the season with locals by letting down your hair at one of many Midsummer’s Eve festivals across Europe?
The low-down: The UK always has something to offer and June is no exception. First observed as a Celtic fire festival, Midsummer’s Day on June 21 will kick off a spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration, bringing together leading artists from across the world. With the Olympics opening ceremony to be held at the end of July, prices are bound to soar, so head to London as soon as you can.
X-factor: Britain will host an unparalleled programme of free events for culture buffs this year. Art enthusiasts will rejoice when the former Bankside Power Station’s impressive oil tanks will host the Tate Modern’s live programme of performance and event based art. Over 30 metres across and seven metres high, these circular spaces will set the stage for the opening programme of debates, films, and newly commissioned installations by several noted artists. Since you’re already in England, remember to stop by Stonehenge if you can. Regular train services are available and it takes only 90 minutes.
Best for: Celebrity sightings! Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett will make a rare appearance on the London stage in Botho Strauss’ Gross Und Klein and Jay-Z will be one of the headlining acts for Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend.
The low-down: Chosen by British lifestyle magazine Monocle as the most livable city in the world, and currently holding the title as World Design Capital for the year 2012 — Helsinki is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Not only does the official programme for Helsinki 2012 include around 300 special events and projects related to technology and design, but the city still boasts the important national festival that it has upheld for centuries. The summer solstice of Midsummer’s Eve day marks the end of the season and is celebrated with dance, music, good food, and beautiful bonfires across the country.
X-factor: To really feel like you’re a part of something special, head over to Seurasaari Island, just a few kilometers from the heart of Helsinki. The island houses relocated cottages and manors from the past four centuries. Visitors will be able to experience the traditional Finnish way of life on June 22, complete with loggers, craftspeople, folk music, a midsummer pole and special bonfire for children. Music and dance shows will be held around the open museum, while the bazaar is the perfect place to pick up beautiful local handicrafts.
Best for: Those who prefer to go off the beaten track. A festival rooted in ancient superstitions means there might be a little bit of magic in the air. Folklore suggests that women waiting to meet their future husband simply need to put nine different species of wild flowers under their pillow to see his face revealed in their dreams. Why not give it a go?
The low-down: In Spain, Midsummer’s Day coincides with the Feast of Saint John the Baptist and is a festive and fiery night. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint central fireworks displays, there is definitely always something going on, usually organised locally by the districts and civic centres of Barcelona. Keep your eyes peeled for squares, where displays are being set up in local barrios during the day, and return to catch an interesting show in the evening. On the electrifying night of June 23, young and old will spill onto the streets to embrace the festivities.
X-factor: Described by Catalans as the “Nit del Foc” meaning the “night of fire”, don’t expect to take a siesta on June 23. Temporary fireworks shops take charge of the city in the days leading up to the feast, with people often queuing for goods. Most families and friends will spend the evening on the large balconies and terraces across the city for the best views. If you are out and about though, be prepared for costumed groups of men running into the centre of town squares with large fireworks in their hands, definitely not for the faint of heart.
Best for: Party animals. Don’t have a friend’s party to head to? Doesn’t matter. The most common place for people to gather on June 23 is the beach. Be prepared as Barceloneta beach fills up early, with people hoping to catch the fireworks displays and listen to groups of musicians and drummers. Restaurants along the beachfront and surrounding areas often build special kiosks to sell food and drinks for partygoers to enjoy. The day after is a public holiday so everyone will be up well into the night.