By David Stewart White
June 19, 2010
After whether to go to Europe, when to go to Europe is one of the questions faced by Americans planning vacations abroad. There is a case to be made for mid-June and it has nothing to do with airfares or hotel rates–it is a function of sunlight.
In mid-June, the sun sets in Paris at nearly 10:00 p.m. Go a bit further north to Scotland, and the sun sinks below the horizon after ten at night and seems to stay there in a long twilight for hours until rising again at 4:30 a.m.
All this daylight makes “a full day of sightseeing” the literal truth. As the longest days of the year approach, available hours of sunlight often outstrip the opening times of some sights. In Paris, guards at the Luxembourg Gardens hustled out joggers, picnickers and other park-lovers at 9:30 p.m. Visitors were ready to enjoy another hour of light; guards were ready to go home for the night.
On June 21, all of France unites in a musical celebration of the summer solstice. In the Fête de la Musique, street corners, parks, and stages throughout the country are filled with performers in a celebration that goes on late into the night. The festival began in Paris in the 1970s and has spread to cities elsewhere in the world. The Fête de la Musique is just one of the many summer excuses to celebrate that Parisians have invented–the city abounds in outdoor events from June through September.
Bastille Day on July 14 is probably the biggest single celebration of the season, with a huge parade on the Champs-Élysées, military displays, and fireworks. Later in the summer the banks of the river Seine are transformed into beaches, complete with sand, umbrellas, and local sunbathing enthusiasts.
Normally, Paris and all of France would be deep into soccer World Cup fever this June and July, but the lackluster performance of the French national team has put a damper on local enthusiasm. A newspaper headline labeling the team “the impostors” pretty much sums up the fickle fans attitude after the team’s early performance at the World Cup in South Africa.
June sunset in Venice (photo: David S. White)
Paris, France is on the same latitude as Vancouver, Canada and the days in the French city last longer than most locales in the continental United States. Drop a bit further south in Europe to Italy and the impact of the summer solstice is a bit less pronounced–more like upper Maine or Ottawa–but still almost 15 hours of daylight grace the mid-summer days in northern Italy.
England’s largest stone circle at Avesbury (photo: David S. White)
The stone circles that dot the countryside of Britain and other once-Celtic countries are popular tourist attractions throughout the year. But at the summer solstice, the circles attract another kind of visitor. The English Heritage organization provides “managed access” at Stonehenge for summer solstice worshipers and England’s National Trust warns visitors that only 100 camping sites will be available at the Avebury Stone Circle for this year’s solstice celebrations. Both organizations have learned to expect crowds of free-spirited visitors at stone circles throughout Britain.