Europe has a wide variety of cultures and histories across the small continent and most holidays only glimpse the true culture of an area.
Festivals are ideal for mixing with locals and people from across Europe and throwing yourself into celebrations of culture and arts that will be experienced to remember for the rest of your life.
Among the arts and music festivals there is a wide choice so why not try something new as well, perhaps rock music at Glastonbury, theatre in Edinburgh or opera in Verona?
Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
A lot more than just beer, though it does feature quite significantly, this is a celebration of Bavarian culture, as well as just a general celebration of the best life, has to offer including food, drink and fun.
The festival runs for 16 days each year from the end of September into October including October the 3rd, which is Germany Unity day meaning this day of the festival has become a celebration of modern unified Germany as well.
Bavarian culture is distinct from German culture, Bavaria having been independent until the formation of the German federation in 1871 since the 1st century AD.
At the festival find Bavarian traditional dancing, food and of course beers, in 1-litre steins naturally; many of Germany’s biggest beer companies have tents here as well as sponsoring the rides and live music.
Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh, UK
Not one festival but in fact around two dozen festivals of different sizes running concurrently to form the world’s largest arts and culture festival.
The original International festival includes classical and contemporary arts such as theatre, opera, dance and other visual arts. The other major part of the festival is the fringe festival. The fringe festival takes place on the street, in small bars and cafes and in back rooms at pubs and restaurants and includes theatre, music musicals and most famously comedy including sketches, stand up and one-man shows.
Montreux Jazz festival, Montreux, Switzerland
Montreux Jazz Festival is now much more than just Jazz though many of the best Jazz and Jazz related artists still play here and bring in the biggest crowds, including Stan Getz and Charles Mingus in recent years and Buddy Guy and Herbie Hancock in 2012.
Unlike other music festivals such as Glastonbury, Montreux works on the basis of paying for individual shows over two weeks, though some are free, and visitors may come for a day at a time, a few days or the entire fortnight.
Montreux on Lake Geneva is a beautiful setting that keeps people coming back year after year as does the chance of rubbing shoulders with many of the artists who stick around to enjoy the music themselves.
Glastonbury festival, Somerset, UK
The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, to give it its full name, is mainly focused on top-line pop and rock and yet has a lot of the best up-and-coming bands too not to mention comedy and other arts.
Glastonbury has long been associated with hippies and still has more of a peace and love vibe than other big music festivals. As a result, it is popular with families and on average has a slightly older adult audience than a lot of rock festivals. The acts as well are less focused on the latest big artists and include older established artists from Britain and elsewhere including Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon in recent years.
Lucerne classical music Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland
Originally held in Wagner’s own Villa the festival now takes place at the Lucerne Culture and Congress centre each summer. Attracting many of the world’s biggest orchestras and seeing performances of 21st, 20th century and older pieces, including many premieres of new pieces, the Lucerne festival is ideal for lovers of Classical music and those with an interest who want to learn more.
Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, Wales, UK
Hay-on-Wye is a Bibliophiles dream any time of year with new and second-hand bookshops everywhere in this small town. When the literary festival comes to town for ten days in early summer each year the town is swamped with the great and good of the literary world including non-fiction writers and academics many of whom will be guest speakers and others of whom will perform readings of their own or other works.
Verona Arena Opera Festival, Verona, Italy
The Roman Amphitheatre in Verona is a glorious place to enjoy opera and the centre of the annual Opera Festival is here.
Performances usually begin at dusk in the arena with audiences sitting on the original stone seats. Opera companies come to perform from Italy and further afield and though most Operas are Italian there are exceptions in most years and often premieres too.
FIB, Benicassim, Costa Azahar, Spain
Festival Internacional de Benicàssim unlike festivals in the UK and North Europe has an association with sun sea and sand rather than rain and mud. Bands include many from the UK, US and elsewhere in Europe as well as some more local Spanish bands but the event is very popular with people from across the continent giving it a very international feel, enjoy the beaches as well while you’re here.
Istanbul Biennial: Contemporary Visual Arts, Istanbul, Turkey – Held every two years this is a festival and exhibition of Visual Arts. The event brings together a great number of artists who create pieces for the event in advance or during the event. Each festival has a theme in 2009 it was ‘what keeps man alive’ and in 2011 ‘Untitled’. Many new artists make their names here so if you have an eye for art keep an eye out for the next big thing.
La Tomatina, Valencia, Spain
The tomato festival, totally unique, totally crazy and something that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime.
The main event is the tomato throwing, of course, great fun as long as you like tomatoes, you will be finding tomatoes in odd places for weeks afterwards and earplugs and goggles are a very good idea. There are also many other events for the 40,000 or so visitors that come to the tiny town such as parades, music and a huge firework display.
You’re unlikely to fit all of these festivals into one summer, though it might be fun to try if you have the time to spare. More likely though these can form a ‘things to do before a certain age’ list or maybe plan one every year meaning you’ll always have something to look forward to each summer.