Make the most of the cold season with these European winter festivals, which involve everything from skiing and snowboarding to music, comedy, ice sculptures, and dazzling carnival parades.
Venice Carnival, Italy
Every winter, Venice bursts into life with fanciful masked balls and extravagant parades. The city’s narrow, enigmatic backstreets and the beautiful Saint Mark’s Square are taken over by mysterious masked revelers, while elegant gondolas filled with fantasy characters glide up and down its beloved canals.
Venice during Il Carnevale is an explosion of color and fashion creativity, an experience you’ll never forget. Venice Carnival 2017 will be held between 11-28 February.
Amsterdam Light Festival, The Netherlands
During the dark winter months, Amsterdam comes to life with a spectacular open-air exhibition called Amsterdam Light Festival. The 55-day event gathers the best national and international light artists to showcase their work throughout the city center and along its picturesque canals.
This year, the festival takes place from the 1st of December 2016 to 22 January 2017, and all the fabulous sculptures and art installations on display will gravitate around two different themes: Water Colors and Illuminade.
Horizon Festival, Bansko, Bulgaria
Held in Bansko, Bulgaria’s premiere ski resort, Horizon Festival translates into six crazy days and nights jam-packed with music and mountain fun. And with 75km of world-class pistes, some of the hottest names in electronic music, and over 30 hedonistic parties taking place around the lively resort, this is clearly one of Europe’s greatest snow parties.
2017 dates to be announced.
Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival, Bruges, Belgium
Winter in Bruges comes with charming Christmas Markets, festive decorations, and the wonderful Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival. Every year, artists from all over the world transform this postcard-perfect European town into a winter wonderland, enchanting visitors with their fantastic ice and snow sculptures depicting scenes from various stories.
Cologne Carnival, Germany
Locally known as the “Fifth Season”, Cologne Carnival is undoubtedly the biggest, wildest, and craziest celebration in Germany. It usually kicks off on the 11th of November at 11:11, but it is temporarily suspended during the Advent and Christmas season.
Events include everything from concerts and traditional shows to balls and flamboyant processions. The highlight is Rose Monday Parade (two days before Ash Wednesday), with over 140 floats and thousands of people marching the streets of Cologne.
Momentum Ski Festival, Verbier, Switzerland
One of the best Alpine events for business executives, Momentum Ski Festival consists of the City Ski Championships, the Alpine Business Forum, and a variety of après ski entertainment. Within the course of the event, between 2-5 February 2017, attendees will be treated to an exciting programme of comedy, live music, and club nights. The Momentum Ski Festival takes place in the famous ski resort of Verbier, Switzerland.
Altitude Comedy Festival, Mayrhofen, Austria
From 11th to 17th December 2016, the lovely Tyrolean ski resort of Mayrhofen becomes home to Altitude Comedy Festival, a one-of-a-kind event that combines the adrenaline rush of the ski slopes with some of the biggest comedians in the world. Expect excellent skiing and snowboarding along with fantastic stand-up and musical comedy, late night parties, and great atmosphere.
This is the first edition of Altitude Christmas – The Funniest Show on Snow, so there will be plenty of festive lights, shopping, and holiday cheer.
Ljubljana Dragon Carnival, Slovenia
Each year on Shrove Saturday, the old center of Ljubljana comes alive with dance, puppet shows, and a colorful parade of masked characters. Ljubljana Dragon Carnival, also known as Shrovetide Carnival, is an excellent cultural experience, offering an insight into the country’s unique Shrovetide traditions.
New Year’s Dive, The Netherlands
If you happen to be in the Netherlands on January 1st, don’t miss their annual New Year’s Dive. Dating back to 1960, the tradition of starting the year fresh with a plunge in the sea is celebrated in more than 60 locations throughout the country, but the greatest dive can be observed on the beach of Scheveningen, where over 10.000 brave Dutch swimmers jump together into the chilly waters of the North Sea. One hell of a spectacle!
Fête du Citron, Menton, France
Every February, Menton, a picturesque coastal town on the French Riviera, hosts the Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival). The delightful event includes a series of exhibitions and parades featuring fabulous citrus fruit creations. The 2017 Lemon Festival runs from February 11th to March 1st, and some of the most spectacular displays can be seen in the Jardins Biovès.
Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Scotland
One of Europe’s largest and most spectacular fire festivals, Up Helly Aa takes place on the last Tuesday in January every year, in Lerwick, the main port of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. The outstanding event celebrates the region’s Viking heritage with traditional music and a dramatic torch-lit procession. The spectacle culminates with over 1000 costumed guizers throwing burning torches into a galley, a traditional Viking longship.
Nice Carnival, France
Bright blue skies, fabulous parades, and perfumed flower battles on the Promenade des Anglais make Nice Carnival one of the greatest events of its kind in the world, alongside the famous Carnevale di Venezia and Carnaval do Brasil.
From 11th to 26th February 2017, the glamorous capital of the Côte d’Azur becomes the backdrop for a series of theater performances, colorful stalls, firework displays, and parades of elaborately decorated floats and giant papier mache figurines.
Where’s The Music, Norrköping, Sweden
Taking place in various clubs and venues in the center of Norrköping, Sweden, Where’s The Music is part music festival, part music conference. The three-day festival brings together the best in Swedish music, from established professionals to emerging young artists, and runs February 2-4, 2017.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, Scotland
One of the world’s most famous New Year festivals, Hogmanay sees over 140,000 revelers from all corners of the globe joining the vibrant street parties, concerts, and celebrations held each year on 31 December in Edinburgh, SCotland.
Don’t miss the astounding Torchlight Procession through the city center, the traditional Concert in the Gardens, or the New Year firework display, which is often regarded as one of the biggest on Earth.
Vinterjazz, Denmark’s Winter Jazz Festival, takes place each February and offers 17 days packed with events and concerts by Danish and international musicians. The nationwide festival features over 450 performances held in 100 venues across the country, from Copenhagen to Aarhus to Esbjerg. Vinterjazz 2017 is set to take place on February 3-26.
Sitges Carnival, Spain
Although modest in size, Sitges packs a punch when it comes to entertainment. A favorite destination among the gay community, the coastal Catalan town warms up in winter with a flamboyant week-long carnival featuring a variety of festivities, parades, and cultural events. Highlights include the family-oriented Parade of Debauchery (Rua de la Disbauxa) and the gay-friendly Parade of Extermination (Rua de l’Extermini). In 2017, Sitges Carnival will take place between February 26th and March 1st.
Carnival of Binche, Belgium
A UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Carnival of Binche welcomes visitors with extraordinary street performances. During the three days leading up to Lent, over 1000 Gilles (local men wearing bizarre masks and costumes) can be admired marching the charming medieval streets of Binche, dancing to the sound of drums, and throwing oranges to the crowd for good luck. The next event will be celebrated on February 26th, 27th, and 28th.
Carnaval de Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
February in the Canary Islands is synonymous with colorful dancing parades, merrymaking, and extravagant floats. Declared a “Fiesta of International Tourist Interest”, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is about as close as you can get to the one in Rio de Janeiro in this part of the world.
Traditional events include the Gala to elect the Carnival Queen, the Burial of the Sardine, and the Coso (grand finale parade).
Snow Bike Festival, Gstaad, Switzerland
Taking place in Gstaad, an upscale ski resort in the Swiss Alps, from January 19-22, 2017, the third edition of the Snow Bike Festival promises to delight visitors and fatbiking enthusiasts with an exciting mix of rides, races, and parties.
An independent ski & snowboard music festival held in Les Deux Alps, Rise combines exciting snow sports with the hottest in electronic music. Epic parties and wellbeing along with 222km of pistes and the largest skiable glacier in Europe await revelers between December 10th and 17th 2016 in this lively French resort, 3000 meters above sea level. Tickets include a lift pass and access to all night and daytime soirees.