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There are few traditions quite as precious to residents of Sweden as the festival of Midsummer – or Midsommar – which takes place on June’s summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Escaping the cities to the vast splendour of the Swedish countryside for flower wreath-making, outdoor feasting and celebrations which last long into the evening – with help from local liqueur, aquavit – the pagan festival encapsulates the promise of Scandinavia’s bucolic summers (with none of the sinister side-effects of a certain 2019 movie of the same name).
Those who remain in the country’s capital, Stockholm – a compact city spread over numerous islands, where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea – can enjoy the festival too, with the city’s population descending into public parks to enjoy the traditional Midsummer menu (pickled herring, Swedish meatballs, boiled potato and dill, and the like) al fresco. In Skansen, the city’s open-air museum, a Midsummer festival has been running since 1892 – replete with maypole and traditional Swedish games – though try your best to get invited to a summer house on the Stockholm Archipelago outside of the city, where you can swim in crystal-clear waters or spend the long summer days boating from island-to-island.
Either way, the month of June is perhaps the best to visit the Swedish capital, when long days – on the solstice, the sun barely sets – and warm temperatures see the city come alive. Those expecting a holiday of sightseeing might be disappointed: though there is plenty to enjoy about the city’s architecture, from the muted grandeur of the city’s Royal Palace – official residence of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia – to modernist masterpieces, like Gunnar Asplund’s circular public library, Stockholm is best enjoyed at the sedate pace of its inhabitants, who spend their weekends at outdoor cafés and bars, making the most of the sunshine.
There are numerous hotels in Stockholm: Ett Hem remains one of our favourites, a luxurious bolthole in an Arts and Crafts townhouse in upmarket Ostermalm, where rich interiors give way to a sun-soaked walled garden. Elsewhere, the Gert Wingårdh-renovated Miss Clara is a lesson in pared-back mid-century Scandinavian minimalism (the setting is an ex-all-girls school), with a Nordic bistro on the property and airy Pizzeria Gino next door; or indulge in the old-world glamour of The Grand Hôtel, founded in 1874 right on the water. From the latter, you are just moments from the city’s numerous ferry rides, which can take you to the city’s main islands – and beyond – or a short walk to neighbouring Djurgården island and the royal garden of Rosendals Trädgård, home to the much-loved bakery of the same name (in summer, expect queues out of the door).
The larger, southern island of Södermalm remains the city’s hipper enclave: wander from central Stockholm over the small historic island of Gamla Stan and across the bridge at Slussen to get there, before climbing up its northern side for panoramic views of the city beneath you (an excursion downwards takes you to Fotografiska, the city’s centre of photography). Head inwards and you will the small public park of Nytorget, around which numerous boutiques and cafes have appeared: try Nytorget 6 for breakfast or the Södermalm staple of Urban Deli, right on the park, a casual store-cum-restaurant where Swedish seafood is served alongside international fair (those craving traditional Swedish cuisine should travel back to central Stockholm to the exemplary Restaurang Prinsen, where the city’s upper classes have been dining since the turn of the 20th century). You will easily while away a day exploring Södermalm’s long boulevards and colourful, yellow-hued squares, or head south to Eriksdalsbadet, a series of outdoor and indoor swimming pools that provide a respite for Stockholmers in the summer heat.
For those wanting a momentary excursion outside of the city limits, Stockholm’s scenic outskirts are easily explored: just 20 minutes by bus out of the city (or, if the weather’s good, by boat) Värmdö on the Stockholm Archipelago is home to the Johan Nyrén-designed Artipelag, a modern art centre nestled between pine forests and the waters of Baggen’s Bay. There is plenty for the art enthusiast in the 32,000 foot museum – Stockholm’s largest gallery – with rotating exhibitions and a permanent collection, though its location is perhaps Artipelag’s biggest draw: 800 metres of boardwalk sweeps around the primeval wooded coastline, giving way to the archipelago’s pristine waters.
In Rosendals Trädgård, a royal garden which feels far and away from its city centre location, you’ll find one of the Stockholm’s best bakeries: try their famed biodynamic bread and butter, or sugar-dusted cinnamon rolls
Travel north to visit one of Stockholm’s best museums, Carl Eldhs Ateljémuseum, which sees the Swedish sculptor’s works housed in his former studio, designed by Ragnar Östberg.
Back towards the water you will find M/S Enköping, a 19th-century ship which will take you out of the city and into the Stockholm Archipelago, a series of miniature islands dotted with the small wooden homes Swedes escape to in summer.
The boat will drop you close to the Johan Nyrén-designed Artipelag, a vast art centre on the archipelago’s waters. Explore the museum or the pine-forested surroundings, some of the most peaceful in Stockholm.
Restaurang Prinsen has been a Swedish institution since the 1800s – head back to the city to end your evening dining on the country’s traditional cuisine in particularly ornate surrounds.