When it comes to festivals, Europe does it like no other continent. Practically every region has its own customs and traditions which are all reflected in countless cultural events and happenings ranging from exclusively local to internationally famous. If you’re headed to Europe, make sure to add these 5 festivals to your bucket list – everyone should experience them at least once in their lifetime.
Follow Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps to the most famous running of the bulls event during the San Fermin festival, popularly called Sanfermines, held every year in July in the town of Pamplona, Spain. The tradition dates back to the 14th century when bulls were transported from nearby fields into the city’s bullring. On the way, youngsters would jump in and join the run, showing off their courage and bravado – and that’s how the tradition of encierro was born.
Bull running starts at 8 am during every day of the festival. If you’d like to experience the rush of adrenaline yourself, you’re welcome to join in – many people return to this unique year after year just to relive the thrill of running in front of bulls in this quintessentially Spanish celebration.
Top tip: Since runners are meant to guide the herd with their bodies, any interference with the herd that might cause a bull to separate from the pack is considered by the locals a great offense, not to mention a great danger. Running with the bulls is a unique experience and if you do it right, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.
Easily the world’s largest fair, Oktoberfest is simply a two-week celebration of beer held in the heart of Bavaria, the glorious city of Munich, Germany. Every year, more than six million people come to participate in the general revelry, drinking liters of beer and eating countless traditional pork sausages. This year, Oktoberfest starts on 17 September and lasts until 2 October 2016.
Join the locals at the Wiesn (nickname for the Theresienwiese) and enjoy a great variety of beers to the tune of traditional German folk music. Visitors can watch one of the festival’s most impressive parades on the first festival Sunday – with 8000 participants dressed in historic festival costumes followed by rifle clubs, decorated carriages, and marching bands, it makes for quite a sight.
Top tip: If you don’t want to pay the fee for your seat at one of the many Oktoberfest tents, you should reserve it – still, you’ll be required to consume a minimum amount of beer and food. Talking about a table for 10, this is usually between $500-600. Avoid booking seats with online agencies that charge ridiculous amounts of money – hosts might cancel such reservations and you’ll be left standing outside the tent with no seats at all!
Every year more than 175 000 music lovers flock to a stretch of land in Somerset, UK for the most exciting music event of the year. Inaugurated in 1970, Glastonbury Festival is today the largest field festival in the world. If you think Glastonbury is just about contemporary pop and rock music, you’re making a huge mistake – the festival hosts many art forms, including dance, theater, circus, cabaret, and many others. With its rich cultural offerings served on multiple stages and performance areas, Glastonbury offers a lineup that caters to everyone’s taste.
Top tip: Arrive as early as possible to get the best camping spot. Pick a place behind the family fields – you’ll get the least traffic and cleanest toilets. And remember to pitch your tent on a gentle slope – you don’t want to experience one of the famous Glastonbury downpours while camping on a flat or low-lying place!
Another Spanish delight, la Tomatina is held in Buñol, a town located in Valencia region. What is it about? Tomatoes, in all shapes and forms. Participants of the festival throw tomatoes at each other as pure entertainment. Interestingly, the festival was inaugurated in 1945 when a group of young people headed down to the town square to watch the Gigantes y cabezudos parade.
Causing a slight commotion, the group would never imagine that their tomato fight would start a powerful tradition enjoyed by more than just the locals. In 2015, the festival made use of an estimated 145 000 kg of tomatoes!
Top tip: If you’re considering entering this peculiar vegetable fight, make sure to buy your ticket early – for safety reasons, only a limited number of participants are allowed to take part in the event.
The Carnival of Cultures was established in the capital of Germany, Berlin, quite recently – in 1996. Celebrating the diversity of its cultures, Berlin’s spring festival offers the best way to experience as many as 80 different traditions of the city’s inhabitants. Visitors can try international cuisines, listen to traditional music, enjoy dance shows and participate in countless other activities which make up for this truly multicultural festival.
Top tip: If you’d like to relax after a busy day, try Swing and Wine Avenue on Zossener Straße, Kreuzberg. It’s located in a secluded, green area with lots of chillout spaces and smaller stages. Listen to some good music and enjoy your wine!
It’s safe to say that each of these 5 European festivals offers a unique experience – they all provide an excellent occasion to meet the locals and join them in celebrating their culture in a most meaningful way.
Susanne Loxton is a travel enthusiast who combines her love for adventure with a passion for writing. On a daily basis, Susanne works for Aubiz, a compendium of knowledge about companies in her native Australia.