Europe’s Greatest Festival Celebrations


Fall is upon us. For many around the world, this means it’s time to gear up for festival season. Indeed, this time of year often brings about some of the best festivals as people celebrate food, drink, music, the arts, and various other subjects. However, while fall is often recognized for some signature festivals (Oktoberfest comes to mind), Europe has great festivals of all kinds throughout the year. To celebrate the season and give you a heads up for next year, here’s a brief rundown of Europe’s best festivals.

Festivals are all about demonstrating culture, so why not start with a weird one? Called the Up Helly Aa event “Europe’s largest fire festival” in the midst of its own list of 23 world festivals not to miss. If a fire festival in Scotland doesn’t get you excited, nothing will! Specifically, it takes place in late January in Lerwick, Scotland, and consists of a variety of fire rituals, culminating with the burning of a replica Viking ship. Perhaps not for everybody, but it’s certainly interesting and oddly festive.

The Brazilian version of this festival has become one of the most famous parties in the world, but Carnevale in Venice is still one of the great festivals in Europe. Basically, it’s an ever-changing blend of an old-world masquerade and a modern day party with tourists and locals alike dressing up in elaborate costumes to simply mingle and celebrate in the streets of Venice. The festival takes place in February and March each year.

Most think of music, food, and drink when they hear the term “festival,” but at Cheltenham in mid-March you can enjoy an atmosphere designed around a high-profile horse racing event. Cheltenham brings some of the best racehorses in the world together for a weekend of races, and the surrounding atmosphere (restaurants, bars, celebrity sightings, small concerts, etc.) makes for a wonderful time. The Betfair horse racing section recapped this year’s event by writing about the retirement of Big Buck’s, one of the event’s great champions. However, that shouldn’t put a damper on the event itself, which will always feature the best of the best.

If you’re looking for a summer music festival in Europe, mark Tomorrowland (in late July) on your calendar. This is a sort of travelling festival (also taking place in Brazil and the United States), but the version in Boom, Belgium is one of the continent’s biggest music-related parties. The focus is largely on EDM, so the music isn’t necessarily for everyone. Yet, at the same time, this is exactly the sort of music that inspires high-energy parties! Keep an eye on the Tommorowland festival website for an eventual reveal of the 2015 line-up of performers.

Another great option for music lovers, the Isle Of Wight Festival takes place during the summer at Seaclose Park on the Isle Of Wight. This year’s line-up included a diverse range of acts, such as Calvin Harris, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fall Out Boy and many, many more. This event tends to be all about the music so, yes, it turns into a party, but it’s not without plenty of food and drink to enjoy. Still, it’s a giant concert first and foremost, which some find refreshing.

You’ve no doubt heard of Spain’s infamous Running Of The Bulls festival. While that’s a wonderful time indeed, it doesn’t quite have the carefree appeal of La Tomatina. Taking place in Bunol at the end of August, this is literally a citywide tomato fight—and that’s about it. But there are few things more enjoyable!

This event pretty much speaks for itself, and it is arguably still the most famous festival of any kind in the world. In fact, Oktoberfest is now mimicked all over the globe, because nearly every beer festival is in some shape or form modeled on the famous German festival. Although, no one does it quite like Munich. Large and festive crowds, traditional snack foods, hearty German meals, and enough beer to satisfy you for a year make this a wonderful time every fall.

We’ve covered culture, music, sport, and food and drink, but some also love to find unique festivals that are largely visual in nature. So it is with the Festival of Lights in Lyon each December. Originally a religious celebration of the Virgin Mary, the festival has grown into one of the largest annual gatherings in the world. Tourists flock to Lyon to see what basically amounts to a four-night light show that spans the entire city. For the best idea of what to expect at this event, The Guardian offers a stunning slideshow of photos from festivals past.



Lyon pendant la fête des Lumières 2013, vue de la colline de Fourvière