Add a Festival to Your European Vacation (Part 2)

People & Culture

Traditional christmas market in the historic centre of Frankfurt, Germany

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Add a Festival to Your European Vacation (Part 1)


If you are heading on a European vacation, why not check out what special events are taking place during your time there.

With countless events to be enjoyed on a European vacation, here is a continuation of my compiled list of festivals that Globetrotters may have the fortune of experiencing.

Germany

Young women in traditional Bavarian clothes at Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
Young women in traditional Bavarian clothes at Oktoberfest

From late September until early October, over a period of 16 days, the Munich Oktoberfest in Germany serves an awful lot of beer! This world’s largest beer festival held in Munich has been running annually since 1810. It is held in 14 large tents and around 20 small tents, each one sponsored by a different brewery. Should you choose to wander into several tents, you can find typical Bavarian and traditional German food served along with the beer. If you prefer wine, this is also readily available. There is, of course, lots of music being played.

On a different note entirely, the Bayreuth Festival is a music festival held annually in Bayreuth. It is exclusively devoted to performances of operas by Richard Wagner. Both the festival and the specially designed theatre were originally supervised by Wagner himself to present his operas, especially The Ring Cycle and Parsifal. Tickets are always at a premium and need to be ordered well in advance.

I haven’t personally attended a Christmas Market in Germany for many years, but I do recall they are very special and wonderful places to purchase your Christmas presents. These take place usually in late November. Apart from the gifts, you can enjoy a glass of mulled German wine and gingerbread, plus there are sometimes free concerts taking place in churches and similar venues. There are so many Christmas Markets that I suggest you research online to ascertain one for yourself if interested.

Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany
Christmas Market in Frankfurt

Finland

The Savonlinna Opera Festival is held each year in the city of Savonlinna in Finland, not too far from Helsinki. The Festival takes place in July/August at the medieval Olavinlinna (St. Olaf’s Castle) built in 1475. This castle is located on a beautiful lake. The festival was first held in 1912. Each year it performs to a total audience of around 60,000 with about a quarter coming from outside of Finland. Visiting opera companies have included the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre from St. Petersburg, the Covent Garden Opera House from London, and the Los Angeles Opera Company.

Russia

In Russia, The White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg begins in May and finishes in July. The official name is The Stars of the White Nights, and it’s held at the Mariinsky (formerly Kirov) Theatre and includes classical ballet, opera, and orchestral performances. There are nightly performances usually of opera or ballet, and during the day, most often, there are classical concerts or operas in concert form. This festival has been held continually since 1993. The standard of the performances is high, and tickets should be booked in advance.

Crowd on Palace Bridge watching fireworks during White Nights Festival, St Petersburg, Russia
Crowd on Palace Bridge watching fireworks during the White Nights Festival, St Petersburg

The Netherlands

Some of us know the song, Tulips from Amsterdam, so why not go there and marvel at the amazing sight of thousands of tulips in bloom. Spring in the Netherlands is “flower time.” The most famous place to see them is Keukenhof, which literally means “kitchen garden,” and which goes back to the 15th century. This showcase for Dutch floral culture, located 35 kilometres/22 miles south-west of Amsterdam takes place over 8 weeks, with millions (literally) of flowering bulbs on display. More than 20 flower shows with 500 flower growers show off their wide variety of both cut flowers and potted plants. Another way to experience tulips is to drive along the 100 kilometre/60 mile route called Flevoland, to the northwest of Amsterdam. This is The Netherlands’ longest and most colourful tulip display, covering 5000 acres of splendid red, yellow, and purple blooms.

Keukenhof Park in Netherlands
In full bloom at Keukenhof Park

For Jazz fans, arguably the best festival on a European vacation is the North Sea Jazz Festival which is held in July in Rotterdam. More than 1000 musicians perform in approximately 150 shows, and 13 different venues. Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Bennie Goodman, and Miles Davis have, at some time, performed here. The musical styles range from traditional New Orleans jazz to Swing, Bebop, Fusion, and Blues idioms.

Switzerland

Another festival for jazz fans is the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, which takes place annually in early July and lasts for about 2 weeks. It dates back to 1970 and the music includes blues, soul, and rock. However, jazz is its heart. It is held principally at the Montreux Music and Convention Centre, mainly in 2 auditoriums aptly named Auditorium Stravinski and Miles Davis Hall.

Display of Flags on Swiss National Day in Zurich, Switzerland
Display of flags on Swiss National Day in Zurich

The Swiss National Day is held on August 1st. Thousands of people attend festivals all over the country in the larger cities such as Zurich, Basle, Geneva, Bern, Lucerne, and Lugano. The celebrations include concerts, choirs, gymnastic presentations, bonfires, fireworks, and children parading through the streets with paper lanterns.

The International Street Artists Festival takes place in Interlaken at the end of July, and involves all kinds of artists such as acrobats, jugglers, magicians, comedians, and musicians who perform continually and come from all over the world. And they perform for free!

Czech Republic

The Prague Spring International Music Festival showcases performing artists, symphony orchestras, and chamber music ensembles from around the world. This 70-year-old Prague event takes place around May/June and attracts some of the very best performers and orchestras.

The Czech Republic has a reputation for brewing excellent beer. The Prague Beer Festival operates along the same lines as the beer festival in Munich. May is a time when you can try more than 100 different types of quality Czech and foreign beer, plus sample delicacies made by Czech chefs, butchers, and bakers. There are also music performances and all service is provided by attendants dressed in traditional Czech costumes.

Every year in June, the beautiful historic city of Cesky Krumlov puts on the Celebration of the Rose Festival. This is a celebration of medieval times, and for 3 days, the city’s streets and squares are filled with knight tournaments, crafts fairs, banquets, and medieval music. The highlight is a wonderful procession in historical costumes with knights on horseback. There are also a jousting tournament and fireworks display.

Medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Medieval town of Cesky Krumlov

Austria

The Salzburg Summer Festival, one of the world’s most famous music festivals in Austria, takes place in July/August for about 5 weeks, with a comprehensive programme which consists of opera, classical music concerts, and theatre – the latter having included dramatic works by Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett.  The Vienna Philharmonic, Placido Domingo, Cecilia Bartoli, and Riccardo Muti have all appeared here.

Slovenia

If you happen to be visiting Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, any time between June and September, consider attending the Ljubljana Festival, the oldest and most important festival in Slovenia, having been in existence for more than 60 years. This music festival has attracted such big names as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Mariinsky Theatre of St Petersburg, the Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company, the Bolshoi Ballet, plus guest artists such as Valery Gergiev, Simon Rattle, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, and Ennio Morricone.

Tromostovje in Ljubljana city centre, Slovenia
Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) in Ljubljana city centre

There are literally thousands of festivals taking place in Europe. So wherever your travels take you, do check them out, as I am sure not only will you find a festival to suit you, but it will certainly enhance your European vacation.