Festivals in the Islands & Archipelagos
Island-hop and festival-hop all at the same time; in the island-endowed countries of Europe you’re sure to find a festival happening at any time of year that will add a bright swathe of memorable local color to your holiday, whether focused on local products and traditions, music or the arts.
Traditional local festivals and international convocations of talent abound throughout Turkey. Food is critical as always and is celebrated variously at the Malatya Apricot Festival, the Aksu Cherry Festival, and the Diyarbakir Watermelon Festival. Listen to stirring classical music of the music of the Balkans and Anatolia with the melody of jazz, fusion and funk at the Ankara Music Festival or go to the coast to enjoy the Çeşme Music Festival. Have a group love-in for gorgeous Turkish rugs at the Carpet Festival in Eşme and see stellar films at the Antalya Golden Orange Cinema Festival. Istanbul and Izmir are two other cities that host multiple festivals showcasing jazz and film.
It would seem that not a month goes by in Cyprus without a festival with a religious or cultural basis. A Greek Orthodox festival with strong pagan roots focusing primarily on water, Kataklysmos or Festival of the Flood marks the day of the Holy Spirit. Coastal cities seize the opportunity to stage concerts and games near the waterfront, but even inhabitants of inland towns and particularly children – their water guns a necessary accessory, enjoy a good ‘splash”. Cyprus’s wine capital Lemesos lives up to its reputation as a party town with its annual wine festival every year.
Inspired by the ancient festivals dedicated to Dionysos and Aphrodite, it combines fun and merrymaking with ample wine and food and a variety of performances from local and international artistic groups.
The Tyrnavos Carnival, dramatically described as “the forbidden festival” and a “local rebellion” – this is in Greece after all, the birthplace of western drama– is a hundred-year old, all-stops-out, month long extravaganza. The town plays host to evenings of theatre, fancy dress parties and streets alive with music and dance. Thessaloniki Crossroads honors Middle Eastern cultures with a series of musical and culinary events, theatrical productions, film festivals, exhibitions, conferences and symposia, proving east and west have always existed in a state of mutual influence. Check local calendars for a plethora or music, film, and culinary festivals throughout the year.
Croatia is a country where folklore, art, food and music are highly appreciated. Cases in point: the Zagreb Film Festival is one of several cinema fests that leans towards non-mainstream movies and this may be on of your few chances to see them onscreen. But you have to eat, no? Check out the Asparagus Festival and learn why an asparagus frittata with prosciutto is so tasty. There’s not a single recipe involving chestnuts that can’t be found at the Kostajnica Chestnut Festival. Besides sampling the goods, you can contribute to the effort and help with the chestnut harvest. There are so many other festivals highlighting children’s art, lace, Slavonian traditions, jazz, chamber music, and more.
Malta may hold more festivals per capita than any other country in Europe. Every single village and town holds its own festa in honor of its patron saint, so there’s almost always a town on holiday status, holding a parade and enjoying special foods and snacks for sale from carts along the way. Festival Mediterranea celebrates everything about the island of Gozo; other annual events showcase jazz, Maltese folk singing, and fireworks. The Malta Arts Festival comprises a wide variety of art forms, such as theatre, dance, music and art.
A world of festivals awaits in Italy, where festivities can honor everything from a mushroom to opera. In the Pisa neighborhood for instance: there’s the luminaria of San Ranieri, the Regata delle Repubbliche Marinare, the festival of cherries and the festival of pappardelle with truffles. Near Modena, home of balsamic vinegar, is the Gnoccata, the festival of gnocchi, those cute little potato dumplings, which are given out to all visitors from steaming pots along the streets. Then there’s the festival of dieting, but that’s after you get back home. In Sicily seat yourself in Taormina’s Ancient Theater for the Cinema Festival, or witness a mix of faith, folklore and tradition at festivals dedicated to the Patron Saints of Sicily. Dozens of festivals throughout Italy feature historical parades honoring different figures in history and giving everyone a reason to don a costume.
Celebrations for patron saints and the Virgin Mary are the liveliest of Portugal’s festivals. You’ll find music, dancing, plenty of color and streets full of flowers. Annual religious festivals are an ideal way to discover the culture and traditions of the Minho, replete with processions, music, special costumes and re-enactments of important events. The Flower Festival held in Madeira after Easter is a riot of blooms, beginning with thousands of flower-bedecked children flock to take part in building a mural of flowers called the Wall of Hope. The next day, dozens of flower-laden floats leave ephemeral perfumes in the air, as do the floral carpets brightening up the streets.
Fiesta! Enumerating the festivals in Spain is not quite possible, there are so many in every region. Madrid hosts a huge International Dance Festival annually that attracts dance companies encompassing the full range of dance styles, from classical to avant-garde, including Spanish and flamenco dance. Fancy some time travel? Streets decked out like the Middle Ages, magnificent processions and exciting mock battles mark the 400-year old festival of Moors and Christians: days filled with magic, legend and spectacle. Come and enjoy this unique festival in which thousands of people take part year after year, all trying to outshine each other in splendour and brilliance. These are only two of so many enriching and wildly fun festivals in Spain; start making your list.
Holland hosts an amazing antiques and treasures event called The European Fine Arts Fair. Serious collectors and museums come here to acquire beauty, and you can attend and feel closer to the art than in almost any museum; the people watching is also spectacular. The Holland Flowers Festival kicks off the spring with a scintillating spectacle of blossoming bulb flowers, trees, shrubs and other ornamental cultivation products. The International Film Festival Rotterdam defines it unique character by focusing on new, innovative, independent films and filmmakers. The festival is a mixture of cinema, film-related visual art exhibitions and live performances. These are just a few of the major festivals in Holland; you’ll find wonderful local celebrations of art, food, and performance all over the country.
Between spring and autumn there are lots of fairs and festivals throughout the whole of Germany.
A Kirchweih (known also by many regional variations on the name) originally intended to celebrate the consecration of a church, the town fairs now involve carnival rides, special foods, and games. Best of all the local young men erect a maypole-like Kirchweihbaum. Among many other tuneful celebrations, the Rheingau Music Festival leads the pack, including not only fabulous concerts but comedy evenings in traditional wineries – what a great combination! Enjoy out carnivals in southern Germany from early November to late winter, wine festivals all summer along the Rhine, Moselle and Main, and of course Oktoberfest, for parades, rides, beer, pretzels, sausages and unfettered merriment.
Extremes of tradition and cutting edge craftwork and performing arts characterize Estonia’s festivals.
Tallinn Music Week started A kind of crash course to introduce Estonian music, from jazz and folk to punk and metal to the world. It’s definitely a large-scale party for Estonians and foreign fans and an opportunity for talented Estonian musicians to get noticed outside the country’s borders. The
Barokksepp Blacksmiths’ festival brings together blacksmiths from Estonia and neighboring countries for three days to get their irons in the fire and work their magic before visitors' eyes. The festival includes a blacksmith’s exhibition, tests of professional skill and workshops for both the blacksmiths and visitors. 'Uus Tants 10' represents a platform and overview of contemporary Estonian dance designed to showcase the most interesting productions by Estonian choreographers and dancers from the last two years.
From spring through autumn Finland rings with music and laughter at festivals devoted to all forms of entertainment and folk culture. Karhujuhlat, or the Bear Festival, is a versatile summer festival in Kuusamo including a beauty contest, competitions, programs for children, music and dancing. The Full Moon Dance Festival features not werewolves but contemporary dancers defying gravity, and how can you resist a stand-up comedy festival called “Tomatoes! Tomatoes!”? Is this a nod to projectiles reserved for less popular acts? The Ethno Music Festival Sommelo will takes place in Kainuu, Finland and Viena Karelia, Russia. It celebrates the shepherds' instruments, great songs and Sami culture, something you’ll experience only in this part of the world.
Denmark’s festivals are mainly musical and in or near Copenhagen. One standout is the, well, humongous eight-day Roskilde Festival. The Odense Folk Festival hosts upcoming and established Danish and foreign folk artists, always with a contingent of Irish and Scottish artists; if you love traditional jazz, get on over to the Femø Jazz Festival, 6 days of happy music for happy people! Copenhagen Distortion is Scandinavia’sleading street and nightlife festival, orchestrating 88 dance floors for five days of party madness, including block parties and programs in spectacular locations such as warehouses, museums, sport halls, bridges, old breweries. For something great but comparatively low-key, visit the new Copenhagen Photo Festival presents significant Danish and international contemporary photography in art institutions, galleries and urban space.
“Song of Norway” is the name of an operetta, a cruise ship, and could be the name of your holiday if you attend a fraction of the music festivals held here every year. Choose from among all stripes of rock, jazz and blues, Norwegian folk, classical, opera, and electronic events. Enter the ancient Norse world at Karmøy’s Viking Festival, which brings Viking history and culture to life in a reconstructed Viking settlement. Improve your aim at the archery workshops, hear music and enjoy arts and crafts, food, storytelling, sports and more from the Viking period. The Gladmat Festival is Scandinavia’s largest food festival and is a great place to discover niche products, taste local ingredients and get the lowdown on the latest culinary trends. Riddu Riddu Sami Festival presents an extensive program featuring music, film and art and offers many activities for children too.
Sweden’s most iconic festival is a one-day affair at Christmastime, the Lucia festival. Imagine the charming sight of thousands of young girls, dressed in white gowns, holding a lit candle and wearing a wreath of (electric, don’t worry) candles on their heads. Young boys taking part in the procession sport white gowns and pointed hats with gold stars on them, followed by wee ones dressed as elves!
The Malmöfestivalen festival is primarily a music fest – eight days of Swedish and international entertainmen, on no fewer than twenty stages, all free of charge. In recent years the festival has expanded to last the entire summer season, offering a plethora of performances – music, theatre, comedy, shows, circus and much more – most of them outdoors in the city´s lush parks and green areas.
Effervescent Ireland hosts scads of festivals that keep the streets alive with special performances, food and fun. Electric Picnic is specifically designed to attract families with young children in droves to enjoy an eclectic range mainstream international stars playing next to niche acts. Galway goes from The Galway Arts Festival, Ireland’s largest and most prestigious arts festival, with hundreds of writers, artists, performers and musicians, to a four-day festival devoted to one of its most famous natural resources – the Galway Bay Oyster. Belfast’s Open House lets traditional Irish, Americana, Bluegrass and Alt country tunes fill the air. Festival of Fools involves 75 artists from all over, 130 wonderful performances and 100,000 belly laughs.