Solar, so good

Stockholm lies at the same latitude as Orkney but, whereas Scots' feast days brighten up the dark (St Andrews, Hogmanay, Burns Night), the Swedes' biggest holiday celebrates the light of the midnight sun.

Midsummer is a rare opportunity to catch the habitually undemonstrative Swedes off guard. For two days in June they shelve their brooding melancholy (known as svrmod), forget the certitude of long winters, death and taxes, let down their long blonde hair and make whoopee all weekend.

The holiday holds a very special place in Swedes' hearts and starts on Midsummer's Eve, the Friday closest to 24 June. The superbly phallic Swedish Maypole is erected in a suitably green public space and locals then come out to gather in large crowds to picnic on strawberries and cream, chilled Aquavit and pickled herring, and to dance to feisty fiddles and wheezing accordions.

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Stockholm's midsummer festivities centre on Skansen, Sweden's most-visited attraction. This open-air museum, founded in 1891, is a collection of historic buildings in which Swedes in period dress demonstrate craft work and domestic activities as undertaken centuries ago.

Skansen is situated on the island of Djurgrden, one of 14 islands, connected by some 50 bridges, that make up Stockholm city – as opposed to the 25,000 largely uninhabited islands of the larger Stockholm archipelago. The Swedish capital is one of the greenest and cleanest in the world (tied in sixth place alongside Oslo and Zurich, according to and more than 60 per cent of the city consists of waterways and green spaces.

One such gem is Djurgrden, an emerald isle just minutes from the city centre. One hundred bird species live here and the man-made lakes attract flocks of heron. A favourite of joggers and Alpine walkers of all ages, its western half is formal with gardens and historic buildings, while further east lies a wilderness in which royalty once hunted deer.

Huge crowds come to Skansen at Midsummer to celebrate for three entire days. Everyone gets involved with decorating the massive maypole with garlands, fiddlers play for ring dances, then there's singing, games and more dancing, with plenty of audience participation.

Once you've had your fill of singing and dancing, bus or canal trips are both excellent ways to circumnavigate Djurgrden and to get to know the city in a wider context. Boats let you catch odd magic private moments, like locals pottering in their pocket-handkerchief allotments, complete with tiny cottage-style sheds. Fishing, swimming and kayaking are all common sights on the city's waterways.

One of the most dominant landmarks on shore is the City Hall, where the Nobel Prize-giving banquet is held. Its Italian Renaissance-inspired architecture houses many unique antiquities. The Gold Room, built over two years and incorporating 19 million pieces of 23.5kt gold-covered mosaic, is simply astonishing.

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The tower of this working seat of local government is well worth climbing. Take the lift half-way up, then trudge up the ever-diminishing spiral passageways and you'll be rewarded with a view that will broaden your horizons. One imagines Stockholm close to open sea, whereas the view from 90 metres up shows city on all sides, albeit punctuated by roads of water and masses of greenery. From a plane, the picture is even more striking. Stockholm's landmass resembles foam in a bubble bath: at first, a fairly solid mass with just a few water channels; increasingly the foam islands thin out and the water dominates; until, eventually, only the odd island remains.

A few days of midnight sun leaves you with a strange, not unpleasant, woozy feeling, as if you are in motion even when you are still. Returning to your hotel on a bright summer night at 11pm is one half of the story. Winter days that last only five hours begin to explain the Swedes' obsession with lighting of all kinds.

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Open fires and candles are not reserved for nightfall, indeed you'll usually see candles lit at the breakfast table. These conditions inspired the architects at Stockholm's Nordic Light Hotel to create an innovative way to experience the Swedes' relationship with light.

One expects something special from a design hotel. A design hotel in the capital of a country famous for its architects and designers needs to be extra, extra special. Nordic Light delivers a truly extraordinary experience, pleasing all the senses, most notably sight.

Design is taken terribly seriously in this country. From the bedroom's pile of coffee-table books to the complimentary ergonomic click refill lead pencil with rubber fingerpoint; from the quality of natural daylight, diffused through the huge bedroom windows, to the expansive foyer's mesmeric art installations; from the absence of noise pollution (none of the usual air-conditioning or busy street hum, despite the fact that the hotel is only 20 metres from a train station exit) to a welcome pack that includes a CD of Nordic Light music; from a set of clear plastic drawers filled with sweets to the exquisite chocolates and Tea Forte pyramid "bags" with decorative leaf that look far too good to eat or dunk.

So far, so very good, but at night, bedroom number 602's lighting comes into its own. The reason there are no artworks on the white walls is because the lighting itself is art. The bed is fitted with an advanced LED system that allows you to control the lighting colour to fit your mood, whether harmonious, meditative or stimulating, either racing through the spectrum or dreamily morphing inch by inch through all the colours of the rainbow. Every three months, the lobby, light bar and lounge's interior and lighting themes change.

It would be easy to dismiss this as style over substance, but here, style is the substance. Getting the style right is integral to Nordic Light's success, everything from the breakfast buffet to the way cocktails are constructed at the bar – even the muzak is an exclusive audio concept called "the sound of light".

From one niche of interior design to another. At the Absolut Ice Bar, 20m from the Nordic Light Hotel, 15 of us mingle a little self-consciously in metallic padded hooded cloaks. The only furniture in the metal box is made of ice: ice tables, ice bench seating (albeit with real padded cushions), three ice sculptures, and the ice bar itself. An entry ticket of 13.50 buys you 45 minutes in the -5C bar, and each drink is 9.50. Although sipping vodka out of ice glasses is undoubtedly cool, after 30 minutes my fingertips began to freeze, even inside their special mitts and, frankly, I got a bit bored.

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But there are plenty of other wonderful things to see and do in this city. The hotel is based in the City district, filled mostly with 1950s and 1960s emblematic architecture and wide busy streets, but walk seven minutes and you're soon over a bridge into the Old Town, or Gamla Stan. Its narrow alleyways, dating back to the 1300s, are reminiscent of Edinburgh's High Street closes and packed with history and charm. Within a half-mile radius, there are at least half a dozen must-see attractions, including the Vasamuseet, the Moderna Museet, the Royal Palace and the National Museum.

If you can't fly off to Stockholm next weekend, citizens of Edinburgh can get a taste of the celebrations at Swedish-owned bar, Sofi's, in Henderson Street, Leith, which is holding a Midsommar Party from 7pm on 25 June. Mattias will lead the Frog dance. If that hasn't put you off, see or tel: 0131-555 7019 for more details.

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The facts Scandinavian SAS flies direct to Stockholm from Edinburgh, see Return flights start at about 230. Nordic Light Hotel rooms cost from 108 single and 134 double to 373 per night. See

• This article was first published in The Scotsman on 19 June.