I have lived in Geneva for 10 years now, and I mark out the Swedish Days festival on my personal calendar every January. My family never misses it, in fact we always attend at least a few days. So I feel qualified to give you some “insider” advice if your family wants to check it out for the first time.
What is Swedish Days? Held in downtown Geneva, it is described as “Geneva’s midsommar festival” and also the “granddaddy of Illinois festivals.” Its roots date back more than 65 years. Despite its Swedish bent, it offers a lot of the same things you’ll find at other community festivals — a carnival, fair food, musical performances, a parade and activities for kids. But the schedule is very robust, and perhaps I’m biased, but I really think it is a great festival!
When to Go: Swedish Days always starts on a Tuesday and wraps up on Sunday. In 2017, it’s running from June 20 through June 25. Admission is free. You’ll find lighter crowds on the weekdays, and I feel like there are more activities specifically aimed at kids during the week as well. We usually check the detailed schedule for the days and evenings we are considering attending. Every day through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., there’s a “Creation Station” for kids at James and Third on the north side of the courthouse. The Geneva Public Library offers special activities in a tent in front of its building on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are afternoon acoustic-style concerts on the lawn of the Courthouse (you can bring a blanket for those) and evening concerts on the stage on Third Street by rock and blues bands. You’ll find lots of shops having sidewalk sales and offering special activities as well.
Carnival: The carnival is run by Windy City Amusements and is located in the courthouse parking lot. It offers rides for toddlers through high schoolers. The prices for individual rides quickly add up, so your best bet is to buy a wristband for $25 for unlimited rides, but those are only valid for certain days and times, including Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The wristbands have to be bought at at ticket booth on the carnival grounds – the person in the booth will put the wristband directly on your kid’s wrist. In past years, only cash has been accepted.
Swedish Highlights: If you want to experience a bit of Swedish culture, the “Sweden Vast” is held on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in a tent at the corner of South Fourth and State streets. There will be Swedish art, singers, dancers and food. Find details on page 28 of the complete schedule. You can also tour Swedish cottages and a viking ship on Saturday and Sunday, but those are over in Good Templar Park, off of East Side Drive (not walkable from Swedish Days) and do require purchased tickets. I just recently toured the cottages, and they are amazing for anyone who is a fan of the “Tiny House” movement. But kids under 8 would probably get bored quickly.
Kids’ Day and Parade: The designated “Kids’ Day” is Friday, June 23, and it includes special performances on the main stage by dancers, cheerleaders, etc. The highlight is the “Kids’ Parade,” in which children can get dressed up in costume (or decorate their bicycles and tricycles) to be judged on the library lawn. Then the children get to have a mini-parade from the library to the main stage at Third and Campbell streets, with police blocking off the streets as kids and their parents make their way from one location to the next. The costume categories for 2017 are: Swedish costumes, decorated bikes and trikes, sports fans, from the movies and fun with duct tape. Check-in starts at 11 a.m. on the library lawn; the judging is from 11:30 a.m. to noon and then the parade starts at noon, with the announcement of the winners immediately after. This is a fun tradition and one we participate in every year. It’s especially nice if you can go with some friends to help pass the time, since there is a waiting lag during check-in and judging on the library lawn.
Parade: The big Swedish Days parade for 2017 is on Sunday, June 25. It steps off at 1 p.m. at the corner of Anderson and Center streets, then travels south on Anderson, east on State Street, south on Third Street, dispersing at the Metra Station. This is a great parade filled with marching bands (at least one from Chicago), Shriners, floats, horses and more. It usually lasts a couple of hours. The route is long, so you won’t have trouble finding a place from which to watch. If you want to be at the beginning of the route, there are wide parkways on Anderson Boulevard, and you can likely find a spot in the shade to throw down a blanket and watch from near the curb.
Food: Much of the food at Swedish Days is prepared and sold by local organizations (like the Lions Club, various churches) as a fundraiser mechanism. So you’ll find lots of hot dogs, bratwursts, shaved iced, that sort of “fair food.” Some of the restaurants in the area will set up a stand or tent outside their business to sell food as well. Once you buy your food, the courthouse lawn is a nice place to sit and eat; there are tables and chairs on the lawn if you can grab them.
Parking: Parking for Swedish Days isn’t fun. My only advice would be to consider parking on a neighborhood street north of State Street (Route 38) and then crossing at Third and Street to head south to the main action on Third Street by the courthouse. Once you get south of State Street, you’re going to be in a real mess of closed streets, tight passages and lots of other drivers looking for parking as well!
Go West readers: Are there any Swedish Days regulars who have more tips to share? Please do so in the comments!