By now, you’ve probably gorged yourself silly on gingerbread and Glühwein at Germany’s Christmas markets and are wondering what to do next. (No? Is it just us who drank too much Glühwein in December? Oh well. It was worth it.) Never fear: the fun doesn’t stop in Europe just because it’s below freezing outside. From an epic New Year’s Eve party in Scotland to a citrus-centered fête in France, here are seven cool winter festivals in Europe you need to add to your bucket list.
7 Cool Winter Festivals in Europe You Need to Check Out
Looking for the perfect place to party or even a party vacation for New Year’s Eve in Europe? In our humble opinion, nothing can hold a candle to Hogmanay, or Scottish New Year. Interestingly, Christmas didn’t become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958 — you can thank the Protestant Reformation for that — so the Scots had their family celebrations at Hogmanay instead. What makes this party different than the rest is that it lasts all the way through January 2 (which is also a public holiday in Scotland). That’s right: you get a whole extra day or two of merrymaking and good cheer!
Though Hogmanay celebrations take place all across Scotland, we’re partial to the festivities in Edinburgh, the country’s capital, as it happens to be the biggest. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay commences with a ginormous parade on December 30 and features musical performances from up-and-coming acts to established rock stars. This year, Scottish indie rock band Franz Ferdinand (you may know their song “Take Me Out”) is headlining at the Concert in the Gardens main stage.
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2. Up Helly Aa
Speaking of Scotland, once you’ve recovered from Hogmanay, you’ll want to attend Up Helly Aa. With such an awesome-sounding name, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that it’s another one of the coolest winter festivals in Europe. Taking place on the last Tuesday in January each year, these fire festivals are held in the Shetland Islands of Scotland to mark the end of the yule season and celebrate Shetland’s Viking heritage. The largest of these takes place in Lerwick and features up to a thousand guizers, or performers in various costumes, marching through town with torches (this festival is lit, y’all). The best part? It culminates with the burning of a Viking longship — perhaps the most epic bonfire you’ll ever see.
3. Amsterdam Light Festival
Amsterdam is one of our favorite European cities to visit any time of year, but there’s something truly magical about strolling through Amsterdam and its canals in the wintertime. Case in point: the Amsterdam Light Festival, which runs this year from November 29, 2018 until January 20, 2019. Every year, this winter festival returns with 30 artworks all across the city center that illuminate and transform Amsterdam’s streets and waterways in beautiful and surprising ways. Past light installations here have featured renowned international artists, including Ai Weiwei. This year’s works are shaping up to be nothing short of spectacular, from the Spider on the Bridge (not as creepy as it sounds, we swear) to the Action>Reaction 2.0 installation.
4. Fête du Citron
You’ve got to love a French festival that celebrates lemons, mon cherie! The Fête du Citron, or Lemon Festival, takes places in Menton, France every February. Over 240,000 visitors flock to this French Riviera town for a potential dose of sunshine and exhibitions and parades featuring citrus creations. A whopping 140 tons of citrus fruit — that’s 280,000 pounds! — is used for the gardens and floats in this lemon-filled extravaganza, which runs from February 16 to March 3 in 2019. Normally, a festival featuring lemons wouldn’t sound like a compelling reason to visit Europe, but just take a look at these pictures. We’re pretty sure you’ll be convinced otherwise.
Mention the word “Carnival,” and we bet that Brazil and its colorful celebrations come to mind. But did you know that there’s several noteworthy winter festivals in Europe celebrating Carnival?
OK, maybe this one is cheating, since we aren’t just talking about one festival. But can you blame us when there are so many unbelievable options? In Venice, Italy, distinctive masked revelers can be found in Saint Mark’s Square and beyond during Il Carnevale. Carnaval de Nice in France is another major Carnival celebration attracting over one million visitors annually. Not to be outdone, Cologne, Germany and Binche, Belgium host incredible Carnival events as well. Regardless of where you celebrate it, though, this is one party you definitely don’t want to miss.
6. Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival
It wasn’t Colin Farrell’s style in the movie In Bruges, but his character was a cranky, fidgety hit man who didn’t know how to have fun anyway. Most people have lists of reasons why they adore the charming city of Bruges, Belgium — from delectable beer to mouthwatering chocolate — and here’s another one to add: their yearly Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival.
The popular Belgian festival, which has been around for over 25 years, features a different theme each winter. One year revolved around the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris and included ice sculptures of Buzz Lightyear and Aladdin (who, given his residence in the fictional desert city of Agrabah, probably wouldn’t do so hot in a freezing European city). One thing’s for sure, though: these brilliantly lit ice sculptures will take your breath away, whether or not you have a Chimay tripel beer in hand.
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7. La Tamborrada
Familiar with San Sebastián in northern Spain? You may know it because of its global reputation as a foodie capital — how on Earth will they have room to cram yet another Michelin-starred restaurant into this city? — but San Sebastián also knows how to turn the winter blues into a celebratory party.
Every year on January 20 at midnight, lively crowds gather in San Sebastián’s Constitution Square for a full 24 hours of non-stop drumming. Over 15,000 drummers belonging to more than a hundred bands participate in this marathon drum session, marching across the city and sparking joy wherever they go. If you’re one of the few tourists who’s in town for the festival, forget your earplugs — you’ll be up all night partying anyway!
What are YOUR favorite winter festivals in Europe?
Check out our tours for some European partying inspo!
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