We’ve all heard about Munich’s Oktoberfest, Ireland’s St Patricks Day and Spain’s Running of the Bulls festival. But there are many lesser known festivals that offer an awesome experience, excitement or thrill, without being overrun with tourists.
Here are some great events and festivals I came to see through word of mouth recommendations from passionate fellow travellers whilst backpacking through Europe.
1. Koningsdag (Kings Day)
Previously known as Queen’s day, this free festival is set in Amsterdam (need I say more?) and is a colourful day- -to-night celebration held at the end of April each year. Queen’s Day is basically a huge party for the Dutch, where everyone dresses in orange and parties in the streets.
It is the one day where the people of Amsterdam can trade their gear of the streets, so the experience wouldn’t be complete without doing some trading or shopping from a street stall.
At night, the city raves on in what can only be described as a sea or orange dancing bodies. A must do for anyone looking for something quirky, slightly unusual and quintessentially Dutch.
2. Batalla de Vino – The Wine Fight (Haro, Spain)
If throwing buckets of wine at strangers sounds like your type of party, then this is the festival for you!
Haro Wine Festival is held each year in Spain’s La Rioja region, and takes place on June 29. While logistically it isn’t as easy to get to as other famous Spanish festivals (it’s about 2 and a half hours from San Sebastian), its definitely worth the journey to experience something different.
The festival starts with a large procession of people dressed in white with red scarves, making their way the to Cliffs of Bilibio, where a mass is held. The fun really starts after the ceremony, when the battle of the wine begins. Ultimately it’s a chaotic, thrilling, free for all, where the aim of the game is throw as much wine at each other as possible, until everyone is left soaked and a pale shade of purple.
The best thing about Batalla de Vino is that it’s still quite unknown to many tourists, so you’ll still enjoy a typically Spanish experience, without bus loads of other tourists.
Set on the picturesque ‘Island of freedom’ in Budpaest, Sziget festival is one music festival to add to the bucket list. If not for the amazing location, each year Sziget attracts an amazing headline of international artists and bands.
Described as one of the biggest multicultural events of Europe, this week long festival is held in August every year.
Attracting about 400,000 people from all over Europe, as well as some Aussie stragglers and other happy go lucky folk, this event includes 50 venues hosting over 200 music, theatre and circus shows. Check out their lineup!
4. Austrian Krampus – Festival
On the eve of St Nicholas Day each day, many Austrian villages celebrate the Krampus; a wild, untamed, scary creature, who, according to tradition, punished children who had misbehaved, in contrast with St Nicholas who rewarded children who has been good with gifts .
“Krampus” is the untamed, shaggy spirit that accompanies St. Nicholas, and personally I think looks like a possessed devil.
On one night each year, the men in the village dress as Krampusses and run around trying to scare children into being good, wearing masks and intimidating costumes complete with flashing red eyes, pointed horns and whips. The traditional costumes and masks are elaborately handcrafted, and definitely not for the feint at heart. The Krampus often carry black paint, and will try and ‘taint’ you, or whip you, so make sure not to wear good clothes.
This experience may quite possible be the strangest and most scary night of your life, but definitely worth seeing with your own eyes, if not for the stories you’ll be able to tell later on.
5. Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling festival
The Cheese Rolling festival, held at Gloucestershire’s Coopers Hill is one of the rare and absolutely brilliant examples of the Englishman’s ability to find something random to celebrate.
Based wholly around chasing cheese down a hill, this hilarious event attracts quite a crowd including the local ambulance service, cos lets be honest, people get carried away and end up with some pretty serious injuries from chasing a yellow ball down a grassy slope!
If this doesn’t sound too cheesy for you, be sure to check it out, and perhaps even join in on the shenanigans.
6. Hahnenkamm Race, Kitzbuhel Austria
This yearly Austrian Ski race, the Hahnenhamm , is renowned for its dangerous slope, which has thrown off several skiing pro’s at its dangerous, icy last turn before the finish line!
Set in the Tirolean Alpine town of Kitzbuhel, this day is described by SNOW Magazine as Austria’s Super Bowl. It is the biggest event in Austrian skiing, and makes for a great party atmosphere. Grab a spot at the bottom of the piste, and enjoy the race while sipping some warm gluhwein or jagertee, before kicking onto into the night for an incredible apre ski party!