If you’re the kind of traveller who seeks out off-the-beaten experiences, then you’ll want to check out some of Europe’s lesser-known festivals. From a bonfire of huge puppets in Valencia to an underwater bike race through a cold Welsh bog, here are five of Europe’s most vibrant and eccentric events.
Thorrablot Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland
Culinary adventurers can taste ancient Viking fare such as ram’s testicles, rotten shark, whale blubber, boiled sheep’s heads, and seal flippers at the annual Thorrablot festival, which starts in mid-January. Or you can swig down some Brennivin, a potent local brew made with potato and caraway, and sample more palatable dishes at Reykjavik restaurants. This midwinter festival commemorates Thor, the Norse god of Thunder, with a month of feasting, storytelling and merriment.
Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland
Mark the birth of summer with drumming, fire displays and pagan drama at Beltane Fire Festival, held at the end of May in the ruins of a replica Parthenon overlooking Edinburgh. Inspired by the ancient Gaelic traditions of the Beltane festival, this riotous celebration features a procession of mythical characters, including the May Queen and mischievous Red Men. Watch their elemental story play out with 12,000 or so other revelers.
Mountain Bike Bog Snorkeling, Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales
For absurdist comedy, an underwater bike race through a cold peat bog is hard to beat. Each August Bank Holiday, near Britain’s smallest town of Llanwrtyd Wells, spectators gather to watch the moving snorkels of submerged cyclists on weighted mountain bikes. Watch bog side, or join the race with an attention-grabbing wetsuit and a bike that is re-engineered to sink. For more of a challenge, you can even enter the Bog Snorkelling Triathlon.
Calcio Storico, Florence, Italy
If you think today’s soccer stars are divas, then Calcio Fiorentino offers an insight into the brutal and bloody game played by their medieval predecessors. Italian aristocrats and even Popes once played this game, which is now only played in Florence in the third week of June. Head to Piazza Santa Croceto see the off-field parading and on-field WWF moves of these modern day gladiators.
Las Fallas de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Anyone harboring vaguely pyrotechnic passions will love Las Fallas, an exuberant week long fiesta in May that features daily parades and fireworks, all-night partying, and morning marching bands. Around 350, multi-storey puppets known as ninots are placed around the city, and set dramatically set alight at the stroke of midnight on the final night of the festival. One traveler described the scenes as “a cross between a bawdy Disneyland, the Fourth of July, and the end of the world!”