Dragons, ruins, fire, beer. Some of these feel right out of Game of Thrones.
Spring in Europe is about so much more than just blooming flowers. How about outdoor parties with pitch perfect weather? Or beer fests that are less crowded than Oktoberfest? Here are our favorite festivals to take advantage of.
1. Las Fallas, Valencia, Spain
Every March, Valencia welcomes spring with its traditional Las Fallas Festival. Locals construct massive papier-mache puppets called ninots. Designed to resemble public figures in caricature, the figures are set aflame to symbolize the destruction of everything bad and unnecessary. From there, the city can be reborn from the ashes and welcome a new season. Originally all the ninots were burnt, but over time, the people began pardoning the best ninots, and thus a competition was born. Those who have been spared become fixtures in the Fallas Museum.
2. Starkbierfest, Munich, Germany
February 19-March 19
If you’ve ever fought the crowds of Oktoberfest and want something a bit more chill, consider Munich’s Starkbierfest festival. It has half the crowds and beer twice as strong. This festival actually predates Germany's more famous beer fest. Like Oktoberfest, there are open tents and oompah bands for merrymakers, but unlike Oktoberfest, Starkbierfest is an evening affair, lasting from about 6pm until Midnight. Reserve a table at Paulaner Brewery at Nockherberg for the best seats. After you’ve downed enough steins to feel invincible, burn off the alcohol with traditional wood-chopping and stone-lifting contests.
3. Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland
The Beltane Fire Festival is a riff on how ancient Celts welcomed the coming of summer and the end of a long, dark winter. You need to book tickets to see the big show on Carlton Hill, but if you time it right, you can catch the procession where it starts at the National Monument. The May Queen and the Green Man lead a cavalcade of mythological characters in their wake towards the hilltop where they ignite the spark of summer with a huge bonfire and drumbeats. Performers brave the cold Scottish night for hours, in many cases outfitted in little more than body paint.
4. Feria de Abril, Seville, Spain
Seville’s famous April Fair is an Andalusian variation on the state fair that dates back to 1846. During it, from around midday until early evening, Seville society parades the fairgrounds in their horse-led carriages. There are several big bullfights for those who want to experience it. While it’s tricky to score an invitation to one of the private casetas (tents), seven are open to the public. The ruffled, brightly-colored traditional dresses are optional, but don’t dress down. Inside the tents, you’ll find tapas and sherry along with live music and traditional Sevillanos dancing.
Plan your trip: 7 Amazing Spring Festivals to Experience in Europe
5. Koningsdag, Amsterdam, Holland
Amsterdam celebrated Koningsdag, King’s Day, for the first time after the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander in 2014, the first male monarch in the Netherlands in 123 years. For this outdoor street party, everyone wears orange as a show of pride and solidarity with the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. There are parties the night before, with DJs and dancing and during the day, flea markets that fill the streets, decorated boats that float down the city’s famous canals, and live music is all around. Tompouces, a local pastry, are even outfitted in orange for the occasion. Just be forewarned, somewhere between half a million and a million extra people are in Amsterdam for the celebration, so things can get rowdy.
While St. Patrick’s Day hasn’t always been a blow-out in Ireland, it’s been celebrated in Dublin since 1995. Massive parades featuring elaborate floats, marching bands, puppets, and hundreds of performers crowd the streets in the Irish capital to celebrate the man said to have freed Ireland from snakes. There are also concerts, an Irish Craft Beer and Whiskey village for adults, and carnival rides for all ages. After dark, iconic buildings around town are lit up green—a better way to feature the holiday's signature color than the green beer they serve in the U.S.
7. Diada de Sant Jordi, Barcelona, Spain
On April 23rd, Barcelona pays homage to Catalonia’s patron Saint, George, known locally as Jordi. Tradition once dictated that ladies received roses and men got books, but nowadays everyone gets a little bit of everything. The city center fills with stands proffering roses in every hue imaginable—even rainbow-colored. Some booksellers even give you roses with a book purchase. The kicker: many local dress-up as the saint and, more importantly, as dragons.
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