Forget, for a moment, the football south of the equator; across the northern hemisphere, the days are long and – in many places, if not all – the sun is shining. This Saturday, pagans will celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year; while next Tuesday, Christians will mark the feast of St John the Baptist with a dual midsummer celebration. Religious or not, there are plenty of ways to get the most out of your (long) days this summer.
At a prehistoric party
The two solstices are the only times at which English Heritage permits visitors inside the monument at Stonehenge. In the early hours of Saturday morning, thousands of neo-druids, pagans and revellers will gather on the Wiltshire plain to see the sun rise. Access to the stones, which are thought to date from 2,400BC, is from 7pm on Friday until 8am on Saturday, free of charge (0870 333 1181; english-heritage.org.uk).
Sharing the Salisbury Plain is Avebury, Britain’s largest Neolithic henge and stone circle. While the stones here were excavated and resurrected (by marmalade heir, Alexander Keiller in the 1930s), they are still considered a sacred living temple by druids, wiccans and heathens, who will gather here to see in the summer solstice on Saturday morning (01672 539250; nationaltrust.org.uk; admission free).
In the midnight sun
Midsummer is held sacred across Scandinavia, where the long days that stretch well beyond midnight north of the Arctic Circle are welcomed after the cold, dark winter. Make the most of the light nights with Simply Sweden, which has launched two Midnight Sun trips in Norway: a Magic of the Arctic sea safari in the world’s most northerly town, Longyearbyen; and a Midnight Sun Cruise into Arctic Circle fjords, which includes night-time kayaking trips. The sea safari delves into the Svalbard archipelago to spot polar bears, whales, seals and all manner of Arctic seabirds. The nine-day trip costs from £2,295pp with flights, transfers, accommodation and activities; trips run until 22 August (01427 700115; simplysweden.co.uk).
For a culture fix
St Petersburg is the hub of the White Night festivities, which celebrate twilight with a programme of cultural events and fireworks until 2 July. Traditions include the opening of the Neva bridges (ships are unable to sail up the frozen river in winter), and the Scarlet Sails festivities on 22 June, during which a mock pirate battle, fireworks and a huge tall ship with red sails are watched by around one million people on the banks of the Neva. The Mariinsky Theatre (mariinsky.ru) hosts a Stars of the White Nights programme of concerts and operas to 31 July (007 812 326 4141; mariinsky.ru).
Feel the heat
Bonfires are a symbol of St John’s Day on 24 June. It’s a public holiday in Porto, where the city’s patron saint and midsummer are marked with one of Portugal’s liveliest street festivals. The day before, each bairro (neighbourhood) displays its own ornate model as part of a city-wide competition, bunting adorns the streets, soundsystems are set up in the squares and fireworks burst into the night sky as a huge street party takes place. Bonfires are lit the following day, with parties filtering out to the outlying beaches; a regatta of wooden boats glides along the Douro river. easyJet Holidays (0843 104 1000; holidays.easyjet.com) offers a three-night package to Porto from £220pp with flights from Gatwick on 22 June and B&B at the Hotel da Musica.
With Celtic connections
Penzance is the place to see the ancient Celtic midsummer celebrations for Golowan, which run from Friday until 29 June. Traditions have been revived since the 1990s and kick off with an appearace by Penglaz the Penzance ‘Obby ‘Oss, followed by bonfires and fireworks, as well as cultural events. It all builds up to Mazey Day on 28 June, with mock mayoral elections and a colourful parade (golowan.org). Boutique Retreats has a number of stylish self-catering properties available in the region. A week at The Upper 18 near Newlyn costs £1,221 for four guests from 20 June (01872 553 491; boutique-retreats.co.uk).