Summer solstice 2021: when is the longest day of the year?
The longest day of the year, known as the summer solstice, is celebrated throughout the UK every year. Our guide explains when and why the summer solstice occurs and how to livestream the event from Stonehenge.
The summer solstice can be a magical event to experience, with many people believing it connects us with our ancestors and the land. It is also the day that the Earth’s North pole is tilted closest to the sun, resulting in the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours for those living in the northern hemisphere.
On this day the sun also reaches the highest point in the sky, making the shortest day of the year – known as the winter solstice, feel a distant memory.
From watching the sun rise at Stonehenge to a summit solstice at the peak of Ben Nevis, here's our guide on the longest day of the year and inspiration on the best places in the countryside to experience the summer solstice in 2021.
What is the summer solstice?
The term summer solstice is derived from Latin and means 'the sun stands still'. The solstice – also referred to as Midsummer – is often thought of as a day-long event, but in fact represents a single moment in time: when the sun is at northernmost point from the earth's equator during a single year.
When is the Summer Solstice in 2021?
In the UK in 2021 the summer solstice takes place on 21st June. In the northern hemisphere, the sun will rise at around 4:44am and set around 9:20pm. While Stonehenge in Salisbury will feel the day's first rays at 04:52 and bid them farewell at 21:26.
In daylight hours this is around 8 hours, 50 minutes longer than the December Solstice.
Despite being the longest day of the year, the summer solstice isn't actually have the earliest sunrise of the year. Generally, the earliest sunrises of the year occur before the summer solstice.
Why is the summer solstice the longest day?
The summer solstice takes place every year between June 20 and June 22 in the UK, marking the moment the sun reaches its highest elevation in the Northern Hemisphere, providing the UK with the the longest day of the year with sunlight that lasts for almost 17 hours.
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Best places to experience the summer solstice in the UK
The summer solstice is celebrated all over the UK and in many different ways. The truth is, if you have the stamina to stay awake and welcome midsummer, you can't go wrong. Here is some inspiration for places to experience the summer solstice, from a solstice of solitude to Midsummer from a mountain.
Stonehenge is an atmospheric spot to celebrate the summer solstice as the first beams of sun rise behind the Heel Stone to shine into the heart of the stones.
Currently, English Heritage plan to allow celebrations to take place at Stonehenge this year on the evening of 20th June to the morning of 21st June if the Government's re-opening roadmap remains unchanged. However, as guidance may change, it is important to check updates from English Heritage before travelling to the site.
You can also watch live via English Heritage's website.
Saltwick Bay, North Yorkshire
During summer, a small yet particularly photogenic section of the North Yorkshire coast has the distinction of hosting both sunrise and sunset over the sea. Head for Saltwick, where the sandy beach is flanked by the Northern and Southern Shelves, whose textured rock formations and mirror-like pools make for breathtaking reflections. As the sun sets, it picks out the whale-shaped silhouette of Saltwick Nab. On rising, the Black Nab rock stack and the twisted wreck of the Admiral Von Trump take centre stage. Just make sure you check tide times.
Place Fell, Ullswater
Place Fell isn’t notably lofty, but the views from its cairn-riddled plateau contradict its 657 metres. It’s cradled to the north and west by Ullswater. The Helvellyn range to the west is especially brilliant at sunrise, while Hartsop and Kirkstone Pass to the south are at their best as the evening rays steal across them. The 90-minute walk up from Patterdale is relatively easy and you can follow sunrise with a seven-mile circuit back along the lakeshore path, which, according to Wainwright, was “the most beautiful and rewarding walk in Lakeland”.
Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh
The exposed, almost polished rock at the summit of Arthur’s Seat is a surprisingly wild spot just a short walk from Edinburgh’s old town. At 251m, this is the highest of Edinburgh’s seven hills and as such offers clear views of the other six, as well as Leith and across the Firth of Forth to Fife. The viewpoint is popular for sunrises and sunsets regardless of the solstice, so expect to share the space with a lively crowd.
Glastonbury Tor, Somerset
After Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor is surely the second most obvious place in Britain to celebrate the summer solstice and, arguably, it has the better views. Crowned by the ruins of 15th-century St Michael’s church, the tor rises 158m above the Somerset Levels to give a timeless 360° view of Wells, the Bristol Channel, Wiltshire, the Polden Hills and Exmoor. It’s one of Britain’s most spiritual sites, so you’ll be part of a crowd drumming and chanting as they have done here for millennia.
Avebury Henge, Wiltshire
Avebury is often thought of as Stonehenges quieter cousin. Not so at Midsummer as druids and other sun worshipers converge on the small village en masse. Visit England’s largest Neolithic henge, making the most of the long evenings with a walk to the Bronze Age burial gounds or just bring a picnic and watch the sun rise.
John Aubrey noted that Avebury far surpassed Stonehenge “as a Cathedral doth a Parish Church”. Then again, he didn’t have to pay the car-park charges. On 20 June, the car park will be open from 9am and parking costs £7 (£4 after 3pm). It fills up quickly and there is no street parking for non-residents. Avebury is 30mins bus journey from Swindon BR. Local accommodation is likely to be full if you leave it too late.
Best summer walks in Britain
Make the most of the longer days and warmer weather with our pick of the best summer countryside walks in the UK.
Valley of Rocks, Exmoor National Park
Distance: 3 miles | Duration: 1.5 hours
Exult in towering sea cliffs where feral goats clamber skilfully between Devonian crags on our short circular walk around the Valley of Rocks in Devon.
River Stour, Suffolk
Distance: 3 miles | Duration: 1.5 hours
A short walk along the marshy banks of the River Stour, running from the Suffolk town of Dedham to Flatford Mill – once home to painter John Constable – and back again.
Greenlee Lough, Northumberland
Distance: 3 miles | Duration: 2.5 hours
Lying to the north of the Great Whin Sill, and easily visible from Hadrian’s Wall, Greenlee Lough is the largest natural lake in Northumberland.