Avoid summer’s touristy crowds while enjoying the charm of Europe in the winter. Though the temperature may be lower, there’s plenty to see and do in many of the continent’s top destinations. This includes a full calendar of special events and traditional festivals, whether you’re a music, history or theatre fan. Here are five of the best European winter festivals to explore this year.
1. Up Helly Aa
The Shetland Islands have more to offer than ponies and spectacular scenery. There’s also a rich sense of history and tradition here, including the fiery events of the Up Helly Aa festival in January. This Viking festival takes place in Lerwick, featuring over 1000 costumed residents taking part in a torchlight procession through the town’s streets. Marked by traditional music, the festival ends with the burning of a longboat and much merriment.
2. Venice Carnival
Venice is a feast for the senses at any time of year, with its romantic bridges and aromatic seafood dishes. It really comes into its own in the winter months for the elegant Carnival festival, with revellers wearing exquisite masks and music and art bursting out of every cobblestoned alleyway and passing gondola. For fashion, cuisine and creativity, the Venice Carnival is truly a must-see. Dressing up is a must; you can prepare with your own Funidelia funny costumes or pick up a one-of-a-kind handmade mask to treasure as a unique souvenir.
3. New Year’s Dive
Start the Yew year off with a bang in the Netherlands by participating in the famous New Year’s Dive. There are similar traditions around the world, but the Dutch celebrate on a grand scale with thousands of divers taking a brisk swim in the icy sea across 80 coastline resorts. The North Sea dips down to nearly freezing temperatures at this time of year, but you’re rewarded with a sense of camaraderie. If you’re not keen to dive in, you can join the safely bundled up observers on the shore instead.
4. Carnival of Binche
Another Carnival celebration to make the list takes place in the medieval town of Binche, Belgium. Binche’s Carnival is very different to Venice’s, although both involve processions, dancing and costumes. This event has been recognized by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” covering traditions held of centuries based on local folklore. During the main event, local men dress up in fantastic costumes and throw oranges to the crowd while dancing to the beat of drums.
5. Horizon Festival
If the prospect of donning a carnival mask or diving into the North Sea don’t tempt you, then we’ll round out this list with a trip to Bulgaria for the Horizon music festival. It’s held in the chic ski resort of Bansko, over a period of nearly a week. Partygoers and serous skiers alike get down to electronic music, dancing until dawn before hitting the famed pistes of the ski resort here. It’s a fun and pretension-free counterpart to Europe’s summer music festivals, drawing big-name DJ from around the world to these snowy slopes.
Start packing your bags to enjoy all of the winter entertainment and scenery that Europe has to offer!