Kenyon Wallace and Adrian BrijbassiToronto Star

We go to Europe for art, culture, theatre, history, great food and drinks. Sometimes, we can find them all in one place, on one day. The continent has some of the biggest and best festivals each summer, so you might want to plan your holiday to include one of the many dozens of celebrations going on in your chosen destination. Here’s a look at 27 European festivals you should try to get to if you’re heading overseas.


Salzburg Festival, July 27-30 / 2011: 
In the birthplace of Mozart, opera and drama join classical music in this sophisticated festival in its 91st year. This edition features concerts by the Vienna and Berlin philharmonic orchestras as well as a staging of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” and operatic performances of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Stravinsky’s “Le Rossignol,” among others. Tickets range from 10-370 euros ($14-$530)


The Summer Festival (or Ollesummer), Tallinn, Estonia, July 6-9: What better way to celebrate your status as the 2011 European Capital of Culture than with a strip poker tournament in the Playboy Lounge? Oh, and there’s music and beer too. Festival prices range from 7-59 euros (about $10-$85), with the most expensive ticket for music headliners the Cranberries on July 8 — although you might lose your shirt and then some at the poker

Positivus Festival, Salacgriva, Latvia, July 15-16: Set in the woods about 90 minutes north of the capital of Riga and running onto a beach on the Baltic Sea, this music festival continues to gain notoriety as one of the best on the continent. Tickets run 40 euros ($57)


Verdur Rock Festival, Namur, June 25: This free one-day festival for contemporary music has been showcasing indie bands to thousands of music fans for 27 years, and takes place at the magnificent outdoor Citadel of Namur theatre. Featured groups this year include Monday Morning, Music Aromatic, Brains and My Little Cheap Dictaphone.

Les Francofolies, Spa, July 20-23: This four-day festival features more than 250 concerts from the biggest names in French music. The charming town of Spa makes for a beautiful setting and most concerts are outdoors. Previous Francofolies festivals here have attracted close to 200,000 people, so accommodations can be scarce.

Beer Passion Weekend, Antwerp, July 24-26: Held in Groenplats Square in downtown Antwerp, this festival will draw beer connoisseurs from around the world. Featuring more than 200 beers from 40 breweries in Belgium and other European countries, Beer Passion Weekend is the place to taste some of the best brews around. A single weekend pass (169 euros, or $240) provides access to all beer tents (but not beer).


Floating of the Wreaths Midsummer Festival (or Wianki), Krakow, Poland, June 25:Wyclef Jean will be the headliner at this annual public festival that features a parade of wreaths on rafts in the Vistula River. The annual festival, which dates to the 1800s, takes place at the Wawel Castle and culminates with a fireworks display.


Nights of Fourvière, Lyon, June 7-July 30: Held in Roman amphitheatres that date to 15 B.C., this festival of drama, art and music is celebrating its 65th year in 2011 with a special circus theme. Among the musical highlights will be performances from Charlotte Gainsbourg and Mark Knopfler. Most tickets range from 25-40 euros ($35-$57).

Avignon Festival, July 6-26: You never need an excuse to drop in on beautiful Provence, but this cultural feast of theatre, dance, art, photography, opera and classical music will make a visit even more fascinating. Tickets range from 16-38 euros ($23-$54).


Kiel Week, Kiel, June 18-27: Attracting more than three million people annually, this sailing event in northern Germany is the largest in the world. But it’s not all sailboat races; the event also offers one of the largest open-air music festivals in Europe. Folk, pop, rock and classical artists will take to stages across the city.

Cologne Pride, June 18-July 3: Attracting close to one million people, Cologne Pride is among the largest gay and lesbian events in Europe. The main attraction of the festival, the gay pride parade, takes to the streets on July 1 and lasts for three days. The two-week long festival also features parties, political forums and movie screenings.

Tollwood Sommer Festival, Munich, June 22-July 13: This three-week art and music festival starting June 22 takes over the city’s massive Olympia Park and attracts thousands from across the country. It is famous for attracting the biggest names in music; already on the bill for this summer are Limp Bizkit, Bryan Adams, Macy Gray and Buena Vista Social


Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug. 5-29, and Edinburgh Book Festival, Aug. 13-29: It’s billed as the world’s festival city for a reason. There are eight festivals in the Scottish capital this summer and in August five of them overlap. The Fringe festival is the world’s largest arts fest with more than 32,000 performances held in 250 venues across this beautiful city. The book fest features big names each year.

Notting Hill Carnival, London, Aug. 28-29: You could call the largest street festival in Europe “Caribana-over-the-pond.” The festival is organized by the West Indian community of London’s Notting Hill area and draws more than one million people who come for the street food and parades.


Ancient Olympia Music and Cultural Festival, Peloponnese, July 27-Aug. 1: If you ever wanted to play a Greek god, here’s your chance. A short drive from the ancient site of Olympia, music, theatre performances and general merriment take place in a forest close to the temples of Pan and Artemis. Tickets are 100 euros (about $143), and include entrance for five days and use of camping grounds for nine.


Puck Fair, Killorglin, Aug. 10-12: Billed as “the oldest fair in Ireland,” the Puck Fair dates to the early 17th century and honours a male goat (or Puck) credited with warning villagers of invading Englishmen. It’s filled with free family fun, parades, music, food and good, ol’ Irish cheer.


Palio Horse Race, Siena, July 2 and Aug. 16: Held twice a year, this bareback horse race is preceeded by an opulent pageant, the Corteo Storico, in which flag wavers and people in medieval costumes perform for thousands of spectators. The races themselves are quite short. They consist of 10 horses running three laps on a dirt course surrounding the Piazza del Campo. But the spectacle is worth the trip.

Feast of the Redeemer, Venice, July 16-17: Perhaps the best-known summer festival in Italy, the Feast of the Redeemer celebrates the disappearance of the plague that ravaged the city in 1577, killing 50,000 people. A parade of beautifully decorated boats cruising through the city is followed by a massive fireworks display at this free event.


Summer in the City, Luxembourg, June 21-Sept. 10: This culture and music event takes over city squares to bring a variety of street theatre shows, open-air concerts, markets and folklore exhibitions. Check the website if you’re travelling through the region to see what’s playing during your stay.


Holland Festival, Amsterdam, June 1-26: Founded in 1947, this is the Netherlands’ oldest and largest performing arts festival. Showcasing theatre, opera, modern dance, art and architecture, this festival is renowned across Europe for its cutting-edge and thought-provoking exhibits. Now in its 64th year, the festival charges around 12 euros ($17, all Canadian dollar figures are approximate) and up for its events.


Norwegian International Film Festival, Haugesund, Aug. 17-26: Now in its 39th year, this festival is known as the “Nordic Cannes” and is devoted to promoting new films from European and Nordic filmmakers. The festival’s host city, Haugesund, is worth the trip alone for its location near the country’s famous fjords and mountains and the North


Den’ Goroda (City Day), Moscow, Sept. 2-4: The annual celebration of the historic founding of the city includes various festivities and street parties, along with a free concert on Tverskaya Street, which leads to Red Square and Kremlin. No website.


Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Denmark, July 1-10: With more than 250,000 attendees every year, this festival is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. Greater than 1,000 concerts will be held in downtown Copenhagen at more than 100 venues. Some concerts are free, but expect to pay up to 450 Danish Krone ($95) for big names. Headliners this year include Bobby McFerrin and Lyle Lovett.


Barcelona Summer Festival Grec, Barcelona, June 17-July 31: This annual arts, theatre, circus and music festival in one of Spain’s most beautiful cities is widely known as “the Grec,” named after the Teatre Grec — an open-air theatre built on the slopes of Montjuic for the 1929 Universal Exhibition. It is one of Europe’s largest summer festivals and regularly attracts some of the biggest names in popular music. Past performers include Joss Stone, Brian Wilson and Craig David.

S.M. La Reina Regatta, Valencia, July 10-13: Sailers from around the world will converge on this cruiser race, created in 1988 to pay tribute to the Spanish Navy. One of the most important fixtures on the racing calendar, the Regatta usually offers an exciting show for sailing fans as boats cruise around the waters of this beautiful Mediterranean seaport

Monegros Desert Festival, Fraga, July 23: This is a must for any raver. DJs keep the 24-hour event moving with a non-stop torrent of techno, hip-hop and dance music in the middle of the Monegros desert in Spain’s Huesca province. Several different stages are sure to satisfy the tastes of all electronic music fans. Tickets are 70 euros ($99).


Grand Raid, Verbier, Aug. 19-20: Cycling enthusiasts flock to Switzerland every year to watch Grand Raid, one of the world’s most grueling mountain bike races. This year’s race features competitors from around the world traversing more than 120 kilometres of rocky trails from Verbier to Grimentz. 

The Star Com / Travel * European Festivals—2011-european-festival-guide



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