Top 20 summer festivals in Europe and America

Posted by Adel Groenewald on 21 June 2012

As South Africans, we know how to be festive. Whether it’s a wine festival, a food festival, a music festival or a book fair, it’s pretty safe to say that we enjoy getting together over a weekend and indulging in some kind of leisurely pastime. We’re actually rather good at it.

So while we’re waiting out winter and resting our festival shoes, it gets interesting to see what the other half of the world is celebrating. Some of these will have you spontaneously booking a flight and others will leave you contemplating the sanity of certain nationalities. Either way, here are the top 20 American and European festivals for their summer.



London Festival of photography

The entire month of June

A festival of photography that takes place throughout some of London’s most celebrated venues, like the Museum of London, the British Library and the Tate Modern is definitely a treat for many. Photography enthusiasts can expect everything from street, documentary and conceptual photography exhibitions throughout the month of June.

National Hollerin’ Contest

North Carolina, USA
16 June

Hollerin’ used to be a means of communicating across long distances in rural areas, but soon became a means of entertaining your friends. You might know it better as yodeling – think Heidi in the mountains. The contest not only finds the one that hollers the best, but it also provides many fun, outdoor activities for the families that come to support their yodeling counterparts.

Fête de la Musique

Paris, France
21 June

What makes this music festival particularly special, as that it’s completely free of charge and open to musicians from all levels, as long as they’re happy not to receive compensation. Performances take place in public places like streets, parks, museums and train stations, making it perfectly possible for anyone on the streets to stumble upon a free show.

Lanjaron Water Festival

Granada, Spain
23-25 June

Celebrating not only the feast of San Juan Batista, but also the incredibly hot weather, Lanjaron kicks off at midnight with a grand fireworks display. At this moment thousands bring out their water pistols, buckets and containers and the women spray the streets with hose pipes from their balconies.

When whistles blow and fireworks go off for the second time, it’s time to dry off and start drinking beer. This goes on for about two days.

Colorado Brewer’s Festival

Colorado, USA
23-24 June

These folks sure know how to celebrate beer, as they’ll be getting together for the 23rd year to taste and enjoy the best brews from around Colorado. More than 70 beers will be tasted from over 40 different local breweries.

Safeway Barbeque Battle

Washington, USA
23-24 June

Encompassing everything an American barbeque should be, this national barbeque championship sees teams and restaurants compete over the prestigious title of National Pork Barbeque Champion. Thousands of Americans make their way to Pennsylvania Avenue to watch these battles go down and indulge in the results.



Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling

Edirne, Turkey
30 June – 6 July

As the world’s oldest wrestling festival, the Kirkpinar tradition has been going for almost 650 years. Although it originated as a means for soldiers to unwind between warfare, this need has long passed and today this elaborate, three day event also features many cultural activities – like folk dancing.

Over 100 barrels of olive oil are used during the festival, and with a 14-carat gold belt to be won, there is definitely reason to get down and dirty.

World body painting festival

2-8 July

Undoubtedly one of the world’s most colourful festivals, this particular display of body-painting skill is something to behold.  Events include the world championships for body painting as well as a night contest to judge some truly incredible UV effects.

Roskilde Festival

Roskilde, Denmark
5-8 July

One of Denmark’s biggest annual music festivals, Roskilde attracts thousands of people from around the world. This year’s headlining acts are Bjork, Bon Iver, The Cure, Jack White and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Wife-Carrying World Championships

Sonkajärvi, Finland
6-7 July

In the 1800s, it was common in Finland for men to steal wives from the neighbouring villages. Today, this practice has turned into a fun competition where men load their wives on their shoulders and run a track consisting of asphalt, sand and ever water.

Montreux Jazz Festival

Montreux, Switzerland
29 June – 14 July

What started purely as a jazz festival has expanded to celebrate many different styles and music genres over a two-week period. This international music celebration boasts over 1000 hours of live music and stages that have been graced by Miles Davis, Ray Charles and David Bowie.

Pitchfork Music Festival

Chicago, USA
13-15 July

Masters in recognising up and coming indie rock bands, Pitchfork hosts this annual event in Union Park and brings together all alternative music lovers. This year, bands and artists include Feist, Hot Chip, Sleigh Bells, Beach House and Vampire Weekend.

A total of 40 bands from the independent music scene will be performing so expect lots of dark-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans, but also a lot of fun and some great music.

Cambridge summer music festival

Cambridge, UK
13 July – 4 August

This annual festival unites the historic buildings of Cambridge with a long list of classical music performances. The sheer length of the festival allow for events like a day filled with all the works of Brandenburg or a series of concerts that cover all six of Bach’s trio sonatas for the organ.

Gilroy Garlic Festival

California, USA
27-29 July

If there is ever an excuse for garlic breath, this is it. What started as a way of sharing garlic-enhanced recipes, turned into a three-day festival with a special gourmet alley and over 60 stalls, all of which have that one ingredient in common.

Mud Olympics

Brünsbuttel, Germany
29 July

If you happen to be in Germany’s Brünsbuttel and you happen to enjoy rolling around in good, honest mud, then you should definitely look into entering the Mud Olympics. Events include football, skiing and a range of other slippery team sports.



National Mustard Day

Wisconsin, USA
4 August

The National Mustard Museum celebrates this rather special day every year on the first Saturday in August. The two main draw cards seem to be free mustard sampling and free hot dogs. I think it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t request any other condiment for your hot dog.

Sidmouth Folk Week

Sidmouth, UK
3-10 August

This small coastal town comes alive once a year for a week of celebrating everything folk – dancing, singing, Ceilidh bands and thrilling torch processions.

The Great Fish Day

Davlik, Iceland
First or second Saturday of August

On this day, everyone is invited to a massive fish buffet at the harbour of Dalvik. From 11h00 until 17h00 there will be fish for everyone – for free. And the only real reason why the people from Iceland do this, is to get as many people together as possible to eat a plate of fish; as simple as that.

Reading Festival

Leeds, England
24-26 August

If you faithfully attend RAMfest, Rocking the Daisies and Oppi Koppi every year and you grab at any chance to see an international band play, then you’ll understand that Reading is one of those bucket list music festivals. Maybe this year you should just book a flight to the UK to experience this unbelievable line-up for yourself.

Performers include The Black Keys, Kasabian, The Cure, Foo Fighters, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Shins and Bullet for my Valentine.

The World’s Longest Yard Sale

Michigan/Alabama, USA
2-5 August

True to the American culture of hosting junk sales on the front lawn, this particular sale grew a little out of its skin and is now 690 miles long – that’s about 1110km. It starts in Michigan and ends in Alabama and lasts all weekend.

Rototom Sunsplash

Benicassim, Spain
16-22 August

Celebrate everything red, yellow and green at this week-long reggae festival. But know that it’s not just about the music; it’s about the culture of peace and solidarity.

The festival uses biodegradable plastic, recycles everything and sources their products locally. All the money raised goes to charity – the perfect place to get your hippie on.


Kazantip, Portugal
20 July – 26 August

If you can imagine five weeks of 24-hour electronic music and extreme sports on a giant lake, then you’re close to understanding Kazantip. This is Portugal’s largest outdoor music festival and it’s held on the shores of Grand Lake Alqueva – the largest dam in Europe.

These natural surroundings are literally transformed into a party land where much fewer and much different rules apply. There is no official line-up of dj’s and events, inspiring a relaxed and carefree state of mind.

*Photo courtesy of Ausnahmezustand.


Read more about the festivals that are a bit closer to home here

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