Sweden’s long and complex history has given rise to numerous, traditional events and festivals taking place throughout the year, where pagan festivities cross paths with baroque concerts and food events. We explore some of the best art, music and food festivals from Gothenburg to Stockholm.
Walpurgisnacht has its roots in paganism as a festival that celebrates spring. With the arrival of Christianity through northern Europe it has also taken on a similar role as Halloween and is treated as a celebration to ward off witches by building massive bonfires and dancing energetically. In Sweden, it’s a real festivity, as King Carl XVI Gustaf also happens to celebrate his birthday on that day. Although they take place nationwide, most of the more impressive festivities take place in university towns such as Gothenburg. Students of Chalmers University of Technology hold The Cortege parade that sees a strange collection of vehicles while the streets are lined with people in fancy dress.
Some Swedes would have people believe Midsummer is as important an event as Christmas to them while others would say that it is more so. Like a family Christmas, the event has a unique spin depending on individual cultures and traditions but essentially it is a continuous lunch party that lasts well into the night. Communities coming together to raise maypoles, put flowers in their hair and dance in the glorious sunshine. A nationwide event that happens in almost every park and garden in Sweden, you’ll find most of the country singing songs and devouring pickled herring throughout the day.
Founded in 1999, Peace and Love is a festival designed to celebrate diversity, community and peace and love. Until bankruptcy in 2013, Peace and Love was Sweden’s biggest annual music festival. Fortunately, it has risen from the embers and came back to life in 2014. It tries to promote a healthy respect for others’ opinions through events and workshops, and to engender a spirit of understanding, solidarity and mutual respect all the while providing the best music around. Attracting big name stars as well as local talent this is effectively the equivalent to Sweden’s Woodstock.
Marking the start of summer, the Summerburst music festival brings the best dance acts the world has to offer to the Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg, for two days of heart-pumping, ground-shaking electronic music. Massive acts such as Tiesto and David Guetta join the roster of performing artists alongside some home-grown talent on the bill. Since being moved to Ullevi Stadium, one year it attracted 24,000 people but organizers promise to make it bigger and better with the young festival going from strength to strength.
For part of August the streets of Gothenburg are awash with all the best of arts and culture that the city has to offer. One of Sweden’s biggest city festivals, the Gothenburg Culture Festival combines a giant street party atmosphere with high culture at its finest with ballet, street theatre and all sorts of music from jazz to hip-hop to symphonic works. A wide array of street food is also on offer with pickings from all over the globe, including traditional Swedish fare tempting passers-by as they amble towards art exhibitions or poetry readings happening during the festival.
Long the hub of Sweden’s fruit production and distribution, Kivik set up the Apple Market to pay homage to the fruit industry of the area. Today it is a full-blown festival that combines creativity and productivity in one event. A free festival at the end of the country’s harvesting season, the Apple Market not only shows off the produce in all its various forms (pies, desserts, cider and more) but also brings a certain level of artistic expression to the proceedings with the ‘apple art’ showcasing great mosaics of colorful imagery from the humble fruit as well as events such as apple tasting and a visit to a cider brewery.
In early June, a collection of some of the best musicians from Scandinavia and around the world come together to perform iconic and little known pieces from the baroque, renaissance and medieval periods. Taking place in the grand and historical setting of Stockholm’s old town, the Stockhom Early Music Festival is a far cry from your muddy fields and dilapidated campsites most commonly associated with the European music festival circuit. Instead it lends an air of sophistication and elegance to the whole idea of a music festival. The festival offers lunch and evening performances alongside seminars and master classes.
There has been free, open-air theatre in Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm since 1942 and it continues to this day. Up and down the city in all of its many parks, people can enjoy classic and modern theatre productions performed in the surrounding greenery. It’s not just for Swedes either. Non-Swedish speakers can find performances of Parkteatern that may suit their language or their Swedish speaking abilities. If the dramatics aren’t enough, there are also circus performers, workshops, musicians and traditional Swedish folk dance, all for free and all in the great outdoors.
The Re:Orient Festival combines the best of eastern and western culture in a festival of music, dance and culture. But the event not only provides entertainment, it is also an educational opportunity, with talks and seminars on current affairs and issues involving the Middle East. All this is interspersed with the best of Arab club culture and European dance to provide wild and energetic dance music throughout the festival. A unique and contemporary take on presenting modern issues to a younger audience, the Re:Orient festival combines the best of tradition and modernization in a festival of the mind and body.
Umea puts on a wealth of cultural and arts events every year including the Umea Kulturnatta. With 24 solid hours of cultural events happening throughout the city so that guests never need worry about having nothing to do. Best of all, entry into every last one of them is absolutely free with music, art, dance and theatre performances all being staged at various venues throughout the city.