Have you ever thought about going to Spain to throw tomatoes in the street? Or travelling to England to chase wheels of cheese down a steep hill? There are plenty of unique cultural festivals in Europe waiting to be experienced, and there’s no equivalent at home – which could explain why these events are already popular amongst Aussie travellers.
Get amidst the lively festivities as we reveal Europe’s ten best cultural festivals – as well as where and when to go. Be sure to add these once-in-a-lifetime events to your Euro-trip itinerary.
What was once a few locals chasing a wheel of cheese is now an event attracting thousands! Held each year on the spring bank holiday, participants enter a wildly fierce race where they throw themselves down a hill to chase a large wheel of cheese. The first to make it to the bottom of the hill wins the cheese, whilst those in second and third place win ten pounds.
You would be surprised to know that dedicated participants still turn up every year despite the event being permanently cancelled in 2009 due to exceeding the maximum capacity of attendees. Though there’s no official event, Cheese Rolling continues to attract crowds.
Date: 30th May 2016
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Anyone wanting to attend La Tomatina needs to be prepared for the messiest battle of their lives! This giant food fight, held in the town of Buñol near Valencia in Spain, happens every year on the last Wednesday of August. It brings together thousands of people from all over the world to throw more than 100 metric tonnes of overripe tomatoes at each other.
The tomato throwing is part of a week-long festival in the town which also includes music, dancing, parades and fireworks.
Top tip: Since 2013 La Tomatina has become a ticketed event, allowing only 20,000 participants per year, so be sure to get organised early.
Date: 31st August 2016
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Nothing completes a never-ending day better than a never-ending party. Midsummer (or Midsommar) is Sweden’s most important annual event, celebrating the longest day of the year – a day where the sun never sets.
Apart from spending the entire 24-hour period outdoors, the day also involves eating endlessly, drinking schnapps, and then singing and dancing around a maypole with flowers in your hair.
Top tip: this is celebrated everywhere in Sweden but the best place to experience the event is the Stockholm Archipelago.
Dates: 24th-25th June 2016
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Think of all the fun the Easter Show has to offer, and then add beer. This is the best way to describe Oktoberfest: a real Bavarian family affair with food, rides, games and of course, beer.
Beer tents are flooded with both locals and tourists dressed in traditional Bavarian attire, drinking litres of Germany’s best brew, eating pretzels and singing German folk music.
Top tip: Oktoberfest actually starts around the end of September and lasts for 16 days into the first weekend of October. For those wanting to get into the beer tents, make sure you get to the event early as tables fill quickly!
Date: 17th September – 3rd October 2016
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Brazil isn’t the only destination that brings this vibrant festival to life. Europe also has some celebratory hotspots with the most popular Carnevale festival being held in Venice, Italy. This city is all about masquerades and eccentric gowns.
This is a religious festival to celebrate the time before the beginning of lent and 40 days before celebrating Easter. Traditionally the masks were rather plain, but these days they’re decorated with colour, gold leaf, glitter and feathers.
Top tip: Carnevale is host to a number of events and parties during this period so be sure to get in early to research venues and book tickets.
Dates: 30th January – 9th February 2016
Find your hotel in Venice here.
San Fermin, known by many as the ‘running of the bulls’ is an adrenalin-pumping experience like no other. The run itself is just one aspect of a larger festival lasting eight days, involving street parties, sporting events, parades, music, fireworks and professional bull fights. It’s fun for the kids too – following tradition, they’re invited to hit the festival’s colourful stilt walkers with foam objects.
The running of the bulls event itself is held every morning at 8am from the 7th-14th July. It begins with the run in the street with hundreds of everyday participants being chased by six bulls that are guided to a large arena at the end. This is where the bulls chase participants in a ring, tossing them around and entertaining the crowd.
Dates: 6th July – 14th July 2016
It’s not every day an entire city turns orange and hosts parties on the street. Amsterdam is already known by most tourists for its party atmosphere, but King’s Day tops all days in this happening city. This is the largest national event in the country to honour the Dutch royal family and the largest public event of the year for Amsterdam – filled with markets, live music, DJs and outdoor parties.
King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day until last year) falls on the 27th April every year, unless that date is a Sunday – in which case it will be held on the 26th instead.
Top tip: if you want to get amongst the fun, jump onto one of the boats in the canals or onto one of the bridges – that’s where most of the action happens.
Date: 27th April 2016
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St Patrick’s Day
Although this is a holiday we celebrate at home, nothing beats celebrating it in Ireland itself. St Patrick’s Day, originally an occasion to honour the national apostle of Ireland and a day of religious meaning, is also an occasion to celebrate all things Irish. Bring your lucky charms, your shamrocks and Leprechauns and wrap yourself up in anything green. Then get yourself a Guinness and sing along to Irish folk music.
Top tip: The best place to celebrate is in Dublin, where you’ll find the city’s colourful street parades.
Date: 17th March 2016
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Up Helly Aa
Shetland Islands, Scotland
You haven’t played with fire until you’ve visited Scotland. Each year, on the last Tuesday of January, Europe’s largest fire festival, Up Helly Aa, takes place on the Shetland Islands in Scotland. It’s a festival to celebrate Scotland’s Viking heritage, which includes the burning of a galley (Viking ship).
The festival involves participants with torches taking the chosen Guizer Jarl (or Chief Guizer, leader of the Vikings) to the galley, where they all throw in their torches to burn it. A new galley is made every year to be burnt down – just for the festival.
Fancy dress, parades, music and feasting is a huge part of the festival and regardless of weather conditions, the festival will always go on.
Date: 26th January 2016
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Bastille Day is the perfect opportunity to experience Paris at its absolute best. The annual public holiday held on the 14th July commemorates the storming of Bastille, a prison in Paris back in 1789. The event represents the start of the French revolution and the birth of the republic.
The day is filled with flying French flags, high spirits and celebrations. It involves parades, music, dance, balls, delicious French food, and of course, a fireworks show by the Eiffel Tower.
Date: 14th July 2016
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What’s your favourite European festival? Let us know below!