10 Quirky European Festivals

Who doesn’t love a good party? In Western Europe, however, centuries of culture adds a certain charm to revelry and we have picked ten festivals at random to help demonstrate some the of unusual goings-on that might just tempt you to travel this year or next to participate in the festivities. Read on, and if you see something that interests you, let us know!

  • Beltane Fire Festival

    Beltane Fire Festival
    Where: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    When: April 30th

    If ancient Celtic culture appeals to you, then the Beltane Fire Festival just may be your ideal travel destination. Taking place in Edinburgh, Scotland on April 30th, this festival brings together thousands of visitors from all over the world to take part in one of the country’s largest celebrations. A giant fire is lit to set off the festivities, and from then on it’s nonstop party.

    The Beltane Fire Festival originally began to mark the beginning of the summer in Scotland. The bonfires lit during the festival were a representation of the increasing dominance the sun has through the summer, and the Celtic people wished to communally show their fervent respect for the massive star.

    The festival begins with a parade led by the May Queen, a representation of the strength and stability of the earth’s growth, and the Green Man, a personification of the life that grows on Earth. Never once do the two separate throughout the festival.

    If you are a traveler wishing to partake in a unique celebration of Celtic heritage, you won’t want to miss out on this fiery fest!

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  • Krampusnacht Festival

    Krampusnacht Festival
    Where: Klagenfurt Austria
    When: December 5th

    The Krampusnacht Festival in Klagenfurt Austria celebrates St. Nicholas’ darker “shadow” side. It plays off the “not so nice” side of the giving holiday. Folklore says that every December central Europe gets harassed by a demon that escaped Hell, and steals naughty children never to be seen again, in hopes to keep the children good and well behaved.

    Krampus appears as half demon, half goat with the goat as the upper half. He is meant to be St. Nicholas’s contrast, while St. Nicholas brings gifts to the good; Krampus punishes children for being bad. Preceding the feast of St. Nicholas (December 6), people flock to the streets in towns and cities all across Austria to their own Krampus costumes with many different designs of the demon and creatures of hellish stature (December 5).

    After a few drinks to stay warm – you have to it’s the holidays – they’re off in a hellish parade ending well into the morning.

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  • The Carnival of Venice

    The Carnival of Venice
    Where: Venice, Italy
    When: Two weeks before Ash Wednesday until Fat Tuesday

    The Carnevale di Venezia, or Carnival of Venice, is a festival that takes place annually in Venice, Italy. It begins around two weeks before Lent season and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Carnevale, which translates to ‘farewell to meat’, originated as a pre-Lent jamboree and is celebrated all throughout Italy. The Carnival was originally held in Venice in the 11th century and consisted of nearly three months of lively festivities that typically involved large amounts of alcohol. After the Carnival event experienced drastically declining popularity in the 18th century, the festival was revived in 1979. It continues to provide visitors of Venice with an amazing opportunity to dress in costume, parade around the city, and enjoy all the music, shows, and merriment that the Carnival has to offer.

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  • Festival of Giants

    Festival of Giants
    Where: Douai, France
    When: July

    A citywide procession of enormous effigies is the basis for the annual Giants of Douai festival held in Douai, France. Dating back to the late 15th century, this summer commemoration is one of the oldest and most spectacular traditions in both France and Europe. With approximately 100 giants in attendance, there are plenty of beloved historical customs to be encountered. Many people think of the titans as royal figures inspecting their kingdom. The most popular characters are known as the Gayant (Giant) Family. Make your way toward Douai in mid-July for a (literally!) larger-than-life weekend celebration!

    The festival commences with a pigeon release and the streets crowd with thousands of intrigued townspeople. Lengthy parades are held each day of the festival, and children are delighted to enjoy the delicious treats provided by the giants. Brass bands march behind the large statues and enthrall the spectators with celebratory harmonies. Real people dressed in knights armor ride horse effigies about the procession in a symbolic gesture of the city’s ancient protectors. Other large figures of dragons, mythical creatures, and the beloved Gayant Family are a few highlights of the parade.

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  • Running of the Bulls

    Running of the Bulls
    Where: Pamplona, Spain
    When: July 6th-14th

    The Running of the Bulls phenomenon began centuries ago when cattle herders would take their bulls to the markets and traverse through the narrow passages of Spanish cities. Eventually, this became a competition amongst herders as they attempted to outrun the bulls on the way to the markets. Hundreds of years later, their acts of courage and negligence for their personal well-being made way for the contemporary observance of La Fiesta De San Fermín.

    La Fiesta De San Fermín has grown to become one of the most renowned cultural events in the world. Held annually from July 6th until the 14th in Pamplona, Spain, La Fiesta De San Fermín combines an adrenaline-fueled spectacle with rich Spanish heritage and the beautiful architecture of Pamplona to provide a brilliant travel experience. The festival prominently features three different traditions: a feast day of San Fermín, a bullfighting exhibition, and an ancient trade fair.

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  • Galway Oyster Festival

    Galway Oyster Festival
    Where: Galway, Ireland
    When: September 23rd through 28th

    Ireland isn’t known for being the seafood capital of the world, but if you love oysters and other fresh catches, it is the place to go in late September. Oysters, live entertainment, activities, and cooking shows bring people from around the world to the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival.

    Starting in 1954, the festival began with only 34 attendees. Now the festival has over half a million visitors and continues to grow. As the festival has been mentioned in many noteworthy media outlets, more and more people have been flocking to see, as said by the Sunday Times, “one of the 12 greatest shows on earth”.

    Each year the festival has a line up of talented performances, great food, and, most importantly, millions of oysters. Enjoy an entire day of fun and shell fish from sun up till sun down.

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  • King’s Day

    King’s Day
    Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands
    When: April 27th

    King’s Day is King Willem-Alexander of Amsterdam’s birthday celebration. The official celebration is on April 27th, but is preceded by King’s Night. King’s day is free to attend though some of the events require a ticket for entry and have an admission price. Everybody wears orange to honor their king as orange is the official color of royalty. The festival starts as early as 6 a.m. and runs till about 8 p.m.

    The canal ways as well as the streets will be filled with thousands of people of all types since everybody is encouraged to join the celebration. There are street venders that sell food along with secondhand booths set up to sell arts and crafts.

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  • La Tomatina

    La Tomatina
    Where: Buñol, Spain
    When: Last Wednesday in August

    Although there are several different accounts of how the festival came to be, a story of rebellious youth and the alliance of the townspeople is one of the most popular. It is said that a group of young boys in the Buñol area of Valencia, Spain started throwing vegetables at a group of musicians and floats that were passing by as part of a local parade in 1945. One of the enraged participants fired a tomato back at the young troublemakers and the rest of the crowd members joined in. These humble beginnings were the foundation of the festival known around the world today as La Tomatina.

    La Tomatina is annually held in Buñol on the last Wednesday in August. At 11am, a loud shot rings out as trucks full of tomatoes enter the Plaza del Pueblo. For the next hour, the attendees throw the red fruits at anything or anyone in sight. The participants needn’t worry about bodily harm, as these tomatoes have already been crushed to make sure they’re soft enough to prevent injury. As the tomatoes sail through the air, both the food-flinging fighters and the buildings of the plaza become soaked in red juice.

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  • Puck Fair

    Puck Fair
    Where: Killorglin, Country Kerry, Ireland
    When: August 10th — 12th

    Ireland is unique in many ways — the majesty of its rolling green hills, mysterious pagan past, and distinguished dancing styles set it apart from other countries, and their festivals share this same flavor of distinction. The town of Killorglin in Country Kerry, Ireland is home to a famous celebration known as Puck Fair. The three-day festival begins on August 10th each year with the royal coronation of a wild mountain goat who will rule over the city as king in an era of bearded glory.

    Perhaps we should elaborate. Puck Fair, or the Fair of the He-Goat, is reputed as Ireland’s oldest fair, though it can only officially be traced back to 1603 when King James I granted the fair its noble legal status. It is said that the fair pays tribute to a goat that saved the inhabitants of Killorglin from English military leader Oliver Cromwell and his troops in their 17th century conquest of Ireland. The goat left his herd to alert the townspeople, giving them enough time to prepare their defenses and hide. Another legend takes the tradition back to the Celtic harvest festival, where a goat that symbolized fertility was honored.

    Music and dance workshops are held for visitors who want to get a bit more than a pint of Guinness out of their visit to Ireland. Street traders, artists, and crafters sell anything from clothing and instruments to natural pagan remedies and handcrafted pottery. The festivities continue on through the night. King Puck allows pubs to stay open until 3am, an extra hour past the legal closing time. This is much to the dismay of local police — but really, what else would they expect with a wild mountain goat running the show?

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  • Scottish Highland Games

    Scottish Highland Games
    Where: Braemar, United Kingdom
    When: September 6th

    The Scottish Highland Games are believed to have been introduced in the 11th century during the reign of King Malcom III in Scotland. It all started with a simple footrace at the summit of the Craig Choinnich mountain and gradually became a gathering of athletes for one massive competition. Through the years, the military has made primary use of the games to exhibit their various trials and training as a recruiting method. Today it is an international event, and athletes train year-round for the chance to become the Highland Games Champion. The games are divided into three categories that exhibit the skills and techniques of weightlifting, dance, and music. The variation in the focus of the Games’ events is one of its most prolific aspects, as nearly everyone is able to find an event that piques their interest. Plus, who isn’t impressed by a man tossing a hefty 200 pound tire?

    Many food stands can be found throughout the festival to offer these delicacies such as these to the public. Locally brewed beers are sold by the case, and a multitude of the region’s best wines and spirits are also available at the nearby alcohol vendors. One of the biggest aspects of the festival is just how interactive it is, as you are freely able to participate in several of the competitions without a question. The 5k run is a popular event for visitors, as it requires no training that is particularly out of the ordinary. However, the ceilidh, a traditional Gaelic dance that occurs the day after the games, is a little bit trickier to master and is mostly performed by graceful Scottish youth.

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