Like the site of the famous Jelling Stones, home to a church since the 11th century, Sankt Hans Aften is a relic of Denmark’s uniquely blended Pagan and Christian past.
A brief history
First, as a celebration of the summer solstice, people gathered at sacred springs, draped rowan branches over their doorways and gathered herbs to ward off evil spirits and ensure a successful harvest season.
Later, missionaries and priests interpreted the ancient customs to serve Christianity, and the festivities became tied to the feast of Saint John the Baptist, which is celebrated the following day.
Today, for most, the festivities of June 23 have less to do with religion, and more to do with tradition, heritage, and … well … fun. Despite the centuries that have passed, however, a few things have stayed the same: song, drink and fire.
Where to go for celebration?
Being one of the year’s longest days, the celebration will begin long before dusk has fallen. And, despite falling on a Thursday, the revelry will continue late into the evening.
Bonfires will be lit, beer cans will be cracked open, and friends and strangers alike will offer a ‘skål’ toast to the night ahead.
In Copenhagen, opportunities abound to take part in the merriment. Here are some of the best places to celebrate Sankt Hans Aften this year.
June 23, 17:00-23:00; Kulturhuset, Islands Brygge 18, Cph S; free adm
Welcome the summer with entertainment for the whole family, including speeches, live music, children’s theatre and a huge Sankt Hans bonfire. Bryggens Spisehus will fire up the grill and serve adults for 165 kroner and children for 40 kroner. Yemi Valdes Latin Band, Telescope For The Blind and Tuhaf will be performing.
June 23, from 19:00; Kvæsthusbroen, Cph K; free adm
Copenhageners celebrating the year’s shortest night here will enjoy talks and music under the theme of ‘Tribute to the Witch’. Astrologer, podcast host and magician Annasophia Petri will moderate a series of panel discussions, and podcast hosts Klavs Bundgaard and Allan Sindberg will give this year’s speech before the floating bonfire is lit. Afterwards the singer Oh Land will perform in collaboration with strings from The Royal Chapel.
June 23, 15:00-21:30, Blågårds Plads, Cph N; free adm
Play table tennis, take part in a dance-off and enjoy some Jamaican barbecue at this midsummer celebration. The bonfire will be lit at 20:00, followed by a performance by Danish singer-songwriter, composer and guitarist Bo Evers. Finally, the Mind Your Head juggling club will put on a show before the fire is extinguished at 21:30.
June 23, 16:45-23:00; Frederiksberg Have; free adm
The festivities at Frederiksberg Garden this Thursday will mark 60 years since celebrations began in this famous Copenhagen green space. This year, the Danish pop rock band Love Shop will put on a concert, and astronomer Anja Cetti Andersen will give the bonfire speech.
June 23, from 20:00; Tivoli, Vesterbrogade 3, Cph V; regular adm fee
Featuring a speech from Mayor Jacob Bundsgaard and musical entertainment from the Hardinger Band, this evening in Tivoli will honour Sankt Hans Aften with the playing of midsummer songs and the lighting of a bonfire.
LGBT Midsummer Party at Amager Beach
June 23, 17:00-23:00; Øresundsstien, Amager Strandpark, Cph S; free adm
Sankt Hans Aften coincides with the anniversary of the founding of LGBT + Denmark, and every year both are celebrated at this event: a big beach bash featuring speeches, performances, and – for the first 50 people to arrive – cake! This year, the secretary of LGBT + Denmark, Susanne Branner, and activist Hinda Olad will be giving the speeches, Følsom Front will be providing the music, and Drag Queen Mizz Privileze will be kicking off the fun.
June 23, from 18:00; Kildesøen, Bakken, Dyrehavsbakken, Dyrehavevej 62, Klampenborg; free adm; bakken.dk
Celebrate one of Denmark’s oldest traditions at the world’s oldest amusement park, where you’ll find entertainment, rousing speeches, a bonfire (of course), and – to end the evening – a laser show. If you’d like to head there early, you can enjoy Bakken’s dozens of rides and eat at one of its many restaurants.
June 23, from 17:00; Reffen, Refshalevej 167, Cph K; free adm
Visit this street food paradise for a delicious bite to eat, and then find a seat overlooking the harbour, where the bonfire will be lit at 20:45. In addition to traditional midsummer songs, DJs Rasmus Shack & Boogie Rookie (Hi Leif) will be providing the entertainment.
June 23, from 17:00; Grønningen, Cph K; free adm
This family-friendly celebration will begin with a treasure hunt for the kids, followed by a concert with Nanna & Peder, and a speech by Peter Hybschmann from Tietgen College. In addition to a larger central bonfire, three smaller bonfires will be set afloat on the canal.
June 23, from 16:00; Seaside Tolboden, Nordre Toldbod 18-24, Cph K; seasidecph.dk
If you’d prefer something more exclusive, book a table at Seaside Tolboden, where you’ll be able to enjoy delectable seafood and an extensive selection of domestic and imported wines. DJs will take care of the music and, from 21:00, you can enjoy the sounds of a crackling bonfire set alight on the quay.