The 10 Weirdest Festivals You Can Go To In Europe
For the oddball in your life.
Contiki is about unexpected adventures, inspiring places & lifelong friendships. Most of all, it's living life out loud #NOREGRETS
Ah Europe. What you have done for the world in culture, food, drink, democracy, and Eurovision, you have also done for us in some of the most befuddling festivals on the face of the earth. There’s really something for everyone here: you can race down rivers in either pumpkins or Yorkshire Puddings, you can hurl tomatoes at each other, you can eat a metre long piece of black pudding, or watch men jump over babies in the street. Whatever your festival jam, Europe has already done it centuries ago, so here are ten of the best.
#1 Bog Snorkelling – Llanwrytd Wells, Wales
Now a renowned international event, the Welsh bog snorkelling tournament in Llanwrytd Wells attracts hundreds of competitors from all over the globe. Generally taking place in late August, it’s a race through a 55 metre water filled peat bog. Now run as a triathlon, with relay and individual races, the race requires that competitors must wear flippers and snorkels, and not use any conventional swimming strokes. If that’s not your jam, you can also go in the bike race, whereupon you have to cycle through a six-foot-deep bog.
#2 Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race – Brawby, England
Yes. Actual Yorkshire puddings. The flour, water and egg kind. Then made giant, covered in varnish for waterproofing purposes, and raced down a river by children wielding paddles. This glorious race was dreamt up by a guy called Simon Thackray, as he sat in a pub (again…because alcohol would have had to be involved), looked out at the river and wondered what it would be like to boat down it in a pudding. It takes place early June, in the town of Brawby, North Yorkshire. BYO pudding/boat.
#3 Pumpkin Festival – Ludwigsburn, Germany
In a similar vein, if you’ve ever felt like paddling down a river in a giant pumpkin, Ludwigsburg has got you covered. The annual pumpkin festival showcases around 400,000 (YES 400,000 PUMPKINS), from 500 different varieties, arranged into immense sculptures according to the year’s theme. The themes in previous years have ranged from Jurassic Park (dinosaur pumpkins), Egyptian (Pharoah pumpkins), and the ocean (whale pumpkins). If that’s not enough pumpkin for you, then take part in the boat race, where you can hollow out your own giant pumpkin. They can weigh up to 300 kilos, so the race really just becomes a “who can stay afloat and not die in a giant pumpkin” race.
#4 La Tomatina – Bunol, Spain
It’s well known by now, but La Tomatina still ranks as one of the nuttiest days on the festival calendar. The food fight takes place on the last Wednesday in August, in the tiny town of Brunol, near Valencia. To begin, participants gather in the main square at 11am and the game of ‘palo jamon’ is played. The object is to climb a greased pole and knock the slab of pork off the top. To add to the difficulty, the crowd blasts you with hoses. Once someone finally knocks it off, the tomatoes are released from the trucks, and mayhem ensues. Whatever you do, wear goggles, and don’t wear anything that you’re not going to throw away.
#5 Cheese Rolling Festival – Cooper’s Hill, England
Presumably, way back when, some ingenious person hiked up to the top of the steep Coopers Hill and had this thought: ‘Gee you know what would be great here? Hurling a nine pound double Gloucester cheese down here and running after it. By Jove that sounds great!’ The real origins are hazy (some people think it’s linked to the Pagan ritual of rolling things down hills as a fertility rite), but the history isn’t as important anymore, as the annual spring bank holiday event now draws over 15,000 people to compete for the cheese.
Essentially each race goes like this: the cheese is thrown from the top, the players fall down the hill after it, and the ambulances sit at the bottom waiting for them. The injury rates are alarming, broken limbs are almost by the by. It’s this reason that the famed event is now under threat from health and safety authorities.
#6 El Colacho – Castrillo de Murcia, Spain
Another one for Spain, this annual event involves the not-at-all-puzzling practice of men, dressed as the devil, jumping over rows of babies in the street. It began in 1620 to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi – the practice is meant to cleanse the babies of original sin and guard them against evil spirits. It’s not for the public though: the Men of The Brotherhood of Santísimo Sacramento de Minerva are the ones that have the dubious honour of running around town jumping over babies.
#7 Wife Carrying World Championships – Sonkajärvi, Finland
It pretty much is how it sounds; this festival involves carrying one’s wife to win a relay race. It’s not just a race, it’s a full on obstacle course with fences, sand, and a pool to go through. Only certain ways of carrying are allowed: piggyback, fireman’s hold (over the shoulder), and Estonian-style (wife hangs upside down with legs wrapped around the husband’s head, with arms around their waist). What’s the prize, you say? You win your wife’s weight in beer.
#8 Ivrea Orange Festival – Ivrea, Italy
More food – this time, the residents of the small town of Italy dress up in Medieval costume and re-enact an ancient battle. Although this time, they’re only allowed to use oranges to hurt each other. Historically, it’s meant to be based on the liberation of the town from the city’s tryant, who was decapitated by a young woman when he attempted to assault her. It’s also said that the oranges are meant to represent the removed testicles of the tyrant. The more you know.
#9 Pourcailhade (Festival of the Pig) – Trie Sur Baïse, France
Much like the pumpkin madness of Ludwigsburg, Trie Sur Baïse hosts a in August each year “honouring the humble swine”. Among the festivities, which involve eating competitions and piglet racing, is the highlight: Le Championnat de France du Cri de Cochon, whereupon contestants are charged with doing pig impressions at varying stages of a pigs life. Oh and there’s also a black pudding eating competition, where players have to eat ONE METRE OF BLACK PUDDING.
#10 Up Helly Aa – The Shetland Islands, Scotland
The worlds greatest fire festival Up Helly Aa is 24 hours of Viking madness at the edge of the world. Every year the town of Lerwick is consumed by raging Vikings as they drag a galley through town (a new one is constructed each year), which 500 town men dressed as Vikings then burn to the ground. After the galley has turned to ash, it begins a 24 hour period of drinking and Viking revelry. If you feel like racing up an ice covered mountain after a bottle whiskey, you can do that! If you feel like running around with a fiery torch dancing whilst dressed as a Nordic warrior…well that’s actually compulsory so definitely do that.
(Lead image: Up Helly Aa)
If all of the above floats your boat, let Contiki take you there. They’ve got over 130 trips across Europe from Germany, to Spain, Italy and France. No matter how weird these festivals can get – Europe is always a a good enough reason to go. Find your next adventure with Contiki here.