Calling all music maestros, culture connoisseurs and gastronomic geniuses, this one is for you. After a few years of empty streets, tentless fields and silent cities across Europe, the continent is now brimming with foodie fiestas and tradition-filled carnivals just waiting to be enjoyed. With Glastonbury just around the corner, as well as tonnes of wacky cultural festivals around Europe, it is time to dive in and create the ultimate collection of festivals to add to your bucket list. From crazy ancient costumes to a food-fight-to-top-all-food-fights, below is what we think are some of the best festivals in Europe…
For around a week every summer, boxes of pizza line the cobbled streets of Naples and the smell of pizza lingers in the breeze. PizzaFest is one of the most unusual yet lip-smacking festivals in the world. The Napoli Pizza Village is transformed into a pizza dreamland, flaunted by the aroma of tomato and basil pizzas, and surrounded by the soundtrack of authentic Italian entertainment. This is the festival for you if wood-fired wonders are a particular favourite. Enjoy tasters of calzones, traditional Napoli pizzas and even pizzas covered in cheese art. To add even more adventure and culture to your trip, head on a guided hike up Mount Vesuvius where you can look over the city and the Gulf of Naples below.
There are popular music festivals. There are legendary music festivals. And then there is Glastonbury. Set in the rolling hills of rural Somerset, this music haven has drawn crowds from far and wide since 1970, as some of Earth’s greatest musicians rock out on one of the most prolific music stages in the world. It is a sea of flags in electric hues with summer soundtracks blaring from every stage and waving arms as far as the eye can see. Whether it is Ed Sheeran’s sweet tunes making the crowd sway or Billie Eilish’s chart toppers vibrating the floor, Glastonbury has a little bit of something for everyone. With this year’s event kicking off on the 22nd of June, pack up your tent, wellies and glitter, and head to what is, without a doubt, one of the best festivals in Europe.
The Spanish town of Buñol is painted red every August, thanks to La Tomatina. A sea of tomato juice, pulp and peel covers its ancient streets and wonky walls after one of the greatest food fights in the world. Trucks arrive overflowing with 120 tonnes of overripe tomatoes as participants grab handfuls, arming themselves for a fun fruity fight. Having originated from an impromptu local food fight in 1945 and with no purpose other than for the entertainment of spectators and partakers, this is undoubtedly one of the most exciting festivals to see. Keep your eyes peeled for rogue flying tomatoes as you wander the streets until you find the famous ham atop a greased pole. Watch the party start once the ham has been captured before heading to a local cafeteria for a refreshing sangria as you watch the chaos unfold.
Alphorn International Festival
The Alps, Switzerland
The mellow trumpeting tones of an Alphorn (alpine horn) orchestra reverberate around the verdant valleys and aquamarine lakes of the Swiss Alps in July. If you were to follow the sound, you would stumble into an ancient folklore fairy-tale. Hundreds of Alphorn players stand in circles and dress in traditional garb, each putting their heart and soul into playing their hauntingly beautiful Alpine instruments. This inherently Swiss summer folk festival is rooted in tradition, with a trachten (folk costume) parade, yodelling contest and Swiss wrestling, ending with the world-famous Alphorn competition. Spend the day hiking around flower meadows and across babbling brooks before enjoying one of the best festivals in Europe (if not one of the noisiest too).
Winter Lights Festival
Shimmering shades of bright moss, glacial blue and volcanic red bounce off buildings that sparkle with a light layer of ice, as Iceland’s Winter Lights Festival takes over the capital city. Reykjavik’s most iconic structure and Iceland’s largest church, Hallgrímskirkja, stands tall above the rest of the city, its pointed nose glistening with northern-light-hues in the wintry darkness. This midwinter (February) festival celebrates Iceland’s winter world as well as the glowing light that follows the long polar nights. Wander through the prettily-lit streets and try a traditional kleinur (twisted doughnut) or if you’re brave, sip on Iceland’s iconic brennivin (spirit), also known as ‘black death’, as art, culture and history fill the streets.
As far as quirky carnival costumes go, Kurentovanje certainly gives the rest of Europe a run for its money. Throughout February, people dressed in Gruffalo-like costumes (kurenti), adorned with rainbow ribbons and clanking cowbells dance through the streets knocking on doors and scaring winter away while ushering in the springtime. Bidding adieu to winter in Slovenia is certainly a festival bucket-list-topper as the kurenti-filled streets create quite an experience.
Celebrating midsummer in Sweden is a cherished tradition. Over the summer solstice in late June, the countryside is filled with people joyously jigging around maypoles decorated in sparkling rainbow shades, flower crowns adorned with sweet-scented primroses, clovers and daisies, and languid lunches spent revelling in the nationwide festivities. Sip on cold beer and spiced schnapps or tuck into fresh lax (salmon) and färskpotatis (new potatoes), followed by delicious jordgubbar and glass (strawberries and ice cream). The jolly frivolities and carefree atmosphere of midsummer in Sweden help it onto the list of the best festivals in Europe.