A 12 Month Calendar of Unusual European Festivals

A trip to various parts of Europe is quite a common choice for travellers from around the world. The continent of Europe is home to many diverse cultures, cuisines and languages that can all be reached quite easily thanks to efficient public transport.

For the ultimate European holidays it is often advised that tourists stay away from the most common attractions and instead seek out unforgettable and unusual destinations throughout Europe. This guide lists one incredible and unusual European festival for each month of the year.


On the first or second weekend of January each year the residents of Ronse, Belgium take turn taking down their Christmas trees and decorations into an unusual and fascinating festival. Over ninety percent of the population dresses up in elaborate costumes and tries to smack one another in the head as a tradition whose origin has long since been forgotten. Drinks throughout the day and hilarious costumes only add to the appeal of the Bommel Festival.


The city of Ivrea, in Northern Italy becomes the battleground for a huge food fight each February. The festival known as the Battle of the Oranges is rooted in the legend of a medieval uprising but today is about nothing more than having a good time, dividing up into large teams that separate the city and pelting one another with fruit. Those who want to watch rather than play can just wear a red hat which is symbolic and means you are merely a bystander.


The photo above shows a scene from the “battle of the oranges” and was taken in 2007.


Each year in Valencia, Spain the city celebrates Fallas de Valencia by eating drink, celebrating and exploring fireworks for a full five days. To signify the end of the festival every light in the entire city goes out while paper statues full of fireworks are lit and explode at the same time.


On the years when Easter falls in April the island of Chios in Greece becomes a strange battlefield. The festival of Rouketopolemos starts at sunset on the night before Easter Sunday when two rival churches on Chios Island fire rockets at one another than explode into beautiful and breathtaking fireworks. A victor is decided and the whole island celebrates with Easter festivities.


Every year some serious cheese lovers gather at Cooper Hill in England for a truly strange festival. The annual cheese rolling consists of adults chasing wheels of cheese down the side of Cooper Hill in an effort to beat the cheese to the bottom or catch it and carry it across the finish. The festival continues by having participants and onlookers devour the English cheeses with bread and wine.


The El Colacho Festival might not even seem real to anyone who hasn’t seen it with their own eyes. Each June the residents of Burgos, Spain get dressed up to honour the babies born in the last year and cleanse them of sin. The babies are placed one or two at a time on a mattress which men will jump over while wearing formal outfits.


The city of Matera, Italy is home to the unique Festa della Madonna Bruna. To visitors who don’t know better the whole procession and parade would be strange. It begins with well dressed characters in carriages and beautiful float made up paper maché. A gang of ruffians arrive from a surprise location and tears apart the float and fights with the characters in what is supposed to commemorate a significant uprising in Matera’s history.


Each August the annual festival called La Tomatina takes place in the Spanish town of Buñol. The festival consists of residents throwing soft local tomatoes at one another for an entire afternoon. The streets get covered in red and the whole town comes out to participate in this amazing and truly unusual festival.

The photo above shows scenes from the “La Tomatina” event in 2006.


In the Basque town of Lekeitio, Spain there is an annual San Antolin festival which involves plenty of great food and cheer. What sets the festival apart is the culminating event on the last day. A plastic goose is hung by the neck and each of the residents and visitors attempts to pull it down in a truly odd but symbolic tradition.


For a delicious festival there is clearly no better choice than the Paris Salon du Chocalat. The entire event is devoted to chocolate but it involves more than just tasting chocolate samples or selling products. At the event chocolate makers go to lengths to out-create their competitors with zany products like chocolate pens that can write in chocolate ink or even chocolate underwear. Festival attendees get to vote on the amazing results of the festival to select the winners.


To get visitors into the Christmas spirit there can be nothing better than Switzerland’s annual Santa Claus Word Championships. In this zany festival Santa Claus impersonators from around the world gather to compete for the honour of the most authentic Santa Claus.


New Year’s Eve is an exciting event no matter where in the world you happen to be. In Barcelona, Spain it is not unusual to see thousands of citizens running through the streets on New Year’s Eve wearing fake noses. The Cursa del Nassos festival is celebrated with fake noses and a popular footrace through the streets of the city before the strike of midnight.

For truly unusual holidays throughout Europe try to include one or more of the unique and bizarre festivals into your travel itinerary.

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