10 European Festivals for your Diary

I know. You’ve always wanted to go to at least one major European festival. For years, you’ve been hounding our mates to head down to Spain for La Tomatina. Since you were a wee child, you’ve been begging people to join you at Up Helly Aa.

Are you going to a festival in Europe this year? These boys are waiting for you, at Up Helly Aa

Hopefully you’ve ticked one or two off your list already, but this is your year of travel. This is the year to take a long hard look at your travel ambitions and make a move.

No continent does cultural festivals on the scale that Europe does; and while some have been around for what seems like eternity, other festivals have made their way onto the radar of fun-loving travellers with great aplomb.

Which festivals are you visiting in 2012?

Coming up in a moment, are ten of our favourite European festivals for you to enjoy this coming year. But don’t let the conversation run dry; throw your ideas in the comment thread below! Have you got plans to visit any of the following? Let us know!

Up Helly Aa

31 January | Shetland Islands | Find out more
OK, you’ve already missed Shetland Island’s headline event, let that be a lesson going forward! Most of the morning is taken up by marching Vikings, before the early darkness falls, and a custom-built Viking galley (ship) is dragged from the sea, and hauled through the streets by a torchlight procession, to the infamous Valhalla (burning site), where it is ceremoniously burned. Just not your average night out in Scotland, then. Look out for the 2013 event on 29 January.

Battle of the Oranges

12 February | Ivrea | Find out more
The town’s historical carnival is reason enough to visit Ivrea, in Italy’s northwest, but for those in search of something a little — how shall I put this — juicier, time your visit for the Battle of Oranges. Peel back time to the 1800s, and you’ll discover the roots to one of Europe’s most unusual fests. The festival began as a few stroppy peasants throwing beans to show their contempt for the feudal lords, and somehow escalated into a full blown citrus war. These days, the friendly Battle is contested by two teams, one in the carts, and one on foot.

Las Fallas

16 March | Valencia | Find out more
Las Fallas is one of Spain’s most coveted fiestas, with a fantastic lead up to the main event featuring firework displays, street parades and performances echoing Valencia’s creative vibe, and feeding off local folklore, traditions and customs. What’s a fallas? I’m glad you asked; it’s a cardboard, wood or cork sculpture, which humorously portrays current events. And they get burned, while you scoff paella.

St Patrick’s Day

17 March | Dublin | Find out more
It’s black and white and green all over; yes, it’s that global festival that every Irish (and English, French, Nigerian, Chinese, Mexican etc.) person celebrates with gusto and a pint (or twelve) of the black stuff. You haven’t done Paddy’s Day, until you’ve partied in Dublin, dressed up from head to toe, and enjoying the craic.

Get your jig on, in Ireland, for St Patrick's Day!

Pillow Fight Day

7 April | Amsterdam | Find out more
Two guesses what this one involves. Bonus points if you can name the 47 cities taking part. We’ll give you one to kick you off: Amsterdam is taking part in creating the world’s thickest fog of feathers, by taking part in the newest craze on the festival circuit: International Pillow Fight Day. Plump yourselves up, and get involved!

Calcio Storico

24 June | Florence | Find out more
This is definitely one to watch from the stands! The annual calcio storico (old football) in Florence pits the 27 reds against 27 blues in a 50 minute “game” that at first glance appears to be half street-football, half street-fighting, and refereed by a man wafting around a feather hat. Think Fight Club meets Bend it Like Beckham. The festival is infused with Medieval undertones; and fuelled by bulging Italian masculinity. Amid all of the violence, there’s a ball, and a couple of goals — some might say this is a mere cloak for a no-holds barred fight. Think this is just for vagabonds? Think again: three former popes have competed in the calcio storico!

La Tomatina

29 August | Valencia | Find out more
Struggling to get your five-a-day? Head over to Valencia’s neighbouring town, Buñol, in late August and get fixed up for life, as La Tomatina showers the city streets — and locals and backpackers — with an inordinate amount of specially grown tomatoes, that are crushed and hurled through the air. There are no winners (only juicers), and here’s a tip: take some goggles and gloves. Those fruity projectiles can take their toll on your fairy soft hands.

You say tomato, we say La Tomatino.

Matchmaking Festival

September | Lisdoonvarna | Find out more
This week might have seen singletons scampering for cover as the Valentine’s brigade marched through Love Town… but wait! Follow us. We’ve got the perfect remedy, on Ireland’s romantic west coast. The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival attracts over 40,000 hopefuls to take part in a carnival of speed dating, partying, and (probably very flirtatious) dancing. This could be the best festival you’ll ever go to.


20 September | Munich | Find out more
Raise a stein (glass) to the world’s most famous beer festival. An event crammed with some of the best — and wurst — of Bavarian culture. Feeling in need of some hair of the dog? Stagger over to Stuttgart, and indulge yourself on Volksfest, a lesser-known beer festival, all wrapped up in a welcoming autumnal fair. Chin chin!

Which one of these festivals will you be visiting? We’re always open to hearing about new ideas; if you know of a great European festival, lay it in the comments below and share your travel knowledge with people from around the world!