What comes to mind when you think of Europe? The picturesque castles and churches? The top must see attractions or mouthwatering meals? Whatever you think of first, it doesn’t really matter as Europe is all of these things and more! The side of Europe that most people don’t consider, however, are its festivals! With so much diversity and culture in one continent, there is an amazing range of festivals that you can plan your trip around and get involved in. I personally love to plan my itinerary around what I want to see and do, so hopefully, this list will help you to start mapping your route around Europe too!
Festivals in Spain
La Tomatina Festival
One Spanish Fiesta I would absolutely love to take part in is the La Tomatina, or ‘the tomato throwing festival’ as it is known to the majority of us. This festival is literally exactly how it translates as you spend an hour pelting tomatoes at each other. Why you may ask? For fun!
Every year on the last Wednesday in August in the little town of Buñol near Valencia, 175 tons of ripe tomatoes are offloaded from trucks ready for “the world’s biggest food fight.” La Tomatina is thought to have come about by a food fight between local children in 1945. how cool is it that you get to be a part of this historical annual event! Apart from La Tomatina, take a look at this article featuring other Spanish festivals.
When: End of August 29-31 Other festivals to look out for in Spain:
- Los Sanfermines – This is the classic running of the bulls festival that we’ve all heard of. A 7 day Basque rite-of-manhood party as every morning six bulls are released into the streets where the brave take on the challenge to run with them. (When: July 6th – 14th)
- Festival Grec de Barcelona– A festival celebrating art and culture through theater, dance, and music. (When: July)
- Gracia Festival- The biggest street festival in Barcelona in the Gracia neighborhood (When: August 15th – 21st)
- Sitges Carnival – The wildest, gay pride party of the year in Spain which is held in Barcelona.(When: Early February)
- Fallas de Valencia – The most explosive carnival/Spanish Fiesta you will ever see! 5 days of partying with parades, pageants and fireworks topped off with a complete blackout of the city. As soon as the lights go out, hundreds of paper-maché caricatures are set on fire and released into the sky. Soon, the fireworks inside these caricatures explode, lighting up the city in a wide array of color and pizzaz. (When: March 15th – 19th)
Festivals in Germany
Christmas markets are my absolute favorite event of the year. As much as I love the sun, nothing beats getting dressed up warm in multiple layers and walking around the lit up stalls, smelling the amazing food and sipping on my finger-warming mulled wine. The whole experience is an assault on the senses. Although I’ve only been to German markets in the UK, the place to go for the full German atmosphere is the Hannover Christmas Markets.
One of the world’s most famous Christmas markets, Hannover should be on your route to experience the best authentic bratwurst, roasted chestnuts, the aroma of Christmas trees, amazing quality craftwork and of course red-nosed and smiling families all wrapped up enjoying the experience with you.
Other festivals to look out for in Germany:
- Kolner Karneval and Düsseldorf Karneval – The first carnival being Germany’s equivalent to Mardi Gras, local festivities celebrate the “crazy days.” The latter carnival is another explosive and psychedelic occasion with the Rose Monday Parade requiring the wackiest dress possible! (When: 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th of the 11th month November)
- Oktoberfest – In Munich thousands will down vast quantities of beer and bratwurst and will sing till their hearts are content. Rules of the event? You have to love beer, love sausage, love off-key singing and love drunk Germans! I think I qualify on every level! (When: Mid September to early October)
- Starkbierzeit – This 300-year old traditional strong beer festival, again involves beer drinking and guttural singing for 2 to 4 weeks depending on the venues. Are you sensing a theme here?
Festivals in France
Tour de France
Okay so maybe playing fast and loose with the term ‘Festival’ here but major events count in my opinion! If you’re planning on traveling to France then definitely try to go when the Tour de France is taking place. The track changes every year so whether you want to catch the race in one of the small medieval villages like Dinan or the finale at Paris, it is worth looking into. I have actually had the experience of standing on the sidelines of this event and although you wait for hours for that 30-second glimpse of the world’s greatest cyclists whizzing past, I haven’t experienced anything like it since. One thing I will say is that the atmosphere of the crowds building all day is what makes this event so exciting and unique.
Editor’s Note: Traveling around France? Check out our personal recommendations on the Best Places to Stay in Paris
Other festivals to look out for in France:
- La Fete de la Bastille – Bastille Day is arguably one of the biggest events in France, marking the beginning of their revolution. Celebrated throughout the whole of France, wherever you are there will be an awesome street party! If you want to be right in the middle of it all though, Paris is the place to be for parades, firework displays, a masquerade ball at the site of the old bastille prison and in general just a huge party. (When: July 14th)
- Mardi Gras – The French equivalent of pancake day, the tradition of lent has now become a great party with street theater and masquerades, and fireworks. For these festivals, head to the south coast such as Nice. (When: day before Ash Wednesday)
- Cannes Film Festival – A glamorous, celebrity spotting event showcasing the world’s best films and popular indie films. If you aren’t keen on traveling for celebrities then travel here for the atmosphere and a seat to see new releases at the public open air cinema on the beach. (When: mid-May)
Festivals in the UK
Glastonbury Music Festival
The Glastonbury Music Festival is a global event attended by around 175,000 people every year. Held in Somerset on the last weekend of June, the five-day festival celebrates contemporary performing arts with comedy, theater, circus acts and cabaret amongst other acts. The main attraction of this festival is the live music where leading pop and rock artists have headlined, alongside thousands of bands performing on multiple stages. An event inspired by the ethos of the hippie culture and free festival movements, if you love live music and partying, this one is for you.
Although this is the most popular, the UK is known for its range of music festivals such as T in the Park in Scotland (July) and Bestival on the Isle of Wight (September) to name a few.
When: End of June
Other festivals to look out for in the UK:
- The Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival – Held for 4 days leading up to summer solstice, chill on the Salisbury Plain with live music and a beer watching the sunrise over Stonehenge on the longest day of the year. (When: June)
- The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival – Yes you read that right, I said cheese rolling. In spring in Gloucestershire, participants from all over the world chase (or tumble after) a 9lb wheel of double Gloucester cheese down a phenomenally steep hill! It sounds mad but the winner gets the wheel of cheese and then everyone goes to the pub! (When: End of May)
- Burns Night – In every pub and restaurant in Scotland, everyone celebrates in honor of the Scots Poet Robert Burns on January 25th. The night starts with a traditional ‘Burns supper’ of haggis, neeps, and tatties (haggis, swede, and potatoes) with whiskey before people get involved in reciting Scottish poetry, traditional dances and Scottish music. Couch surfing in Scotland around this time may be a night to remember! (January 25)
- New Year’s Eve – London is the place to be! Standing on the banks of the River Thames watching one of the most famous fireworks displays in the world, with the sound of the crowds counting down while Big Ben chimes in the new year. Clubs and bars will be full, and a massive music festival will be held in the early hours of the new year with big acts such as Bryan Adams and Queen center stage.
Festivals in Italy
Carnival of Venice
Have you ever wanted to get dressed up and attend a masquerade ball? I have. I don’t know why but the glamorous ball paired with the intrigue of everyone’s hidden identity is very alluring. If this is something you’ve always wanted to do to then Venice should be on your list.
An annual carnival taking place around Lent, you can enjoy being in the crowds of people dressed in the most colorful and extravagant clothing while everyone is in disguise. Lose yourself in this fascinating and charismatic lifestyle, all while gawking at some of the world-famed elaborate masks.
When: End of January to mid-February
Other festivals to look out for in Italy:
- Calendimaggio – The Italian equivalent of May Day, locals parade in medieval clothing and stage friendly games between two ancient rival clans. Celebrated throughout Italy but mainly in Assisi, this festival takes you back in time. (When: May)
- Festa della Repubblica – A celebration of their freedom from the 2nd world war and the formation of their republic, a huge military parade will march through Rome where you will see the impressive tank and airplane displays. (When: June 2)
- Ferragosto – An ancient festival, almost unchanged since its introduction in roman times, involving horse races, beast of burdens (donkeys, mules etc) released from their work duties and decorated with flowers and a massive feast celebrating Mary’s assumption. (When: August 15)
Festivals in the Netherlands
Tulip and Flower Festival
Okay so not the most exciting but this festival is so different and classically Dutch that I had to include it. Probably one of the prettiest festivals around. During Spring, Holland is filled with fields of tulips and flower bulbs in every color on the spectrum. If you want to step into a Dutch postcard, then head to Keukenhof or Cleveland for wooden shoes, windmills, and 32-hectare gardens displaying 8 million flowers from March to May. In April between Noordwijk and Haarlem, you can also catch the flower parade which involves a procession of floats displaying giant dolls made of flowers, with jugglers and dancers and a whole lot of fun.
When: 23rd March to 21st May
Other festivals to look out for in the Netherlands:
- Nieuwjaarsduik – This festival is called the New Year’s Day Dive where thousands of people take part in the ‘polar bear plunge.’ This is basically where everyone jumps into icy water! Scheveningen is where the main event takes place but you will find it taking place everywhere across the country. (When: Jan 1)
- King’s Day – An annual event honoring the king, thousands of people party in the streets of Amsterdam in April from dawn until dusk. Expect hundreds of market stalls, parades, the national color orange everywhere and the whole shebang! (When: April 27)
- The Rotterdam Summer Carnival – A huge latino, Brazilian festival marching through the streets with live music, drum battles, and cultural dancing. (When: End of July)
- The Saint Nicholas Festival – From mid-November to the 5th of December, thousands of people will line the canal to welcome Sinterklaas. Kicking off the Christmas festival, Sinterklaas and his 600 black faced assistants will parade through Amsterdam bringing spicy biscuits to everyone. (When: Mid November to early December)
Festivals in the Republic of Ireland
Saint Paddy’s Day
Saint Patrick’s Day or the Feast of Saint Patrick is a cultural and religious festival that celebrates the traditional death date of their patron saint. The day is celebrated by a huge parade, with Irish music and dancing and the ‘wearing of the green.’ The green symbolizes shamrocks as Saint Patrick is said to have used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Pagan Irish. Saint Paddy’s Day has become a global festival celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, so if you want to celebrate a lot of history and culture, oh and drink loads, be sure to travel to Ireland on these dates!
When: March 17
Other festivals to look out for in the Republic of Ireland:
- Fleadh Cheoil na heireann – The Irish way of saying the ‘Festival of music in Ireland,’ where musicians from Ireland, Britain, and North America compete in concerts, pageants, and exhibitions to celebrate Irish culture. (When: Mid-Aug.)
- Rose of Tralee – A global Irish beauty pageant involving concerts, carnivals, a circus, funfair and markets surrounding the selection of the ‘”Rose of Tralee.” Any young woman of Irish descent can be chosen. (When: Mid August- End of August)
So there we have it! This was just a taster of the festivals to be had in Europe but there are plenty more I can assure you! With loads of Countries in Europe comes, even more, festivities, you just have to find the ones you really want to go to and plan your travels around them. Good luck and enjoy!
If you’re planning a trip to Europe, check out our other handy articles
- Best Ways to Travel Around Europe
- How I Survived Europe on a Budget
- Traveling Europe: Are the Eurail Passes Worth It?