If you’re planning to go on a backpacking tour across Europe, it is but normal for you to ask when the best time to travel is. Travel agents will probably advice you against going on between the months of October and February, not for a dearth of activities, but because of the Europe’s cruel winter.
If Europe had a social calendar, you would see that every month is highlighted with activities, events and festivities, each distinct and special in its own way, and all of these simply must not be missed.
Winter warms up momentarily when the massive and colorful Grand Parade in Paris, is celebrated on the 1st of January. Three weeks later, all eyes will turn from Paris to Venice in Italy when beautiful costumes and masks are unveiled at the city’s annual Carnival. If you don’t like wearing fancy costumes and would rather enjoy the last vestiges of snow, then attend Sweden’s Kiruna Snow Festival. Here, you will be able to witness reindeer and dog sled races as well as watch talented sculptors create masterpieces from massive blocks of ice.
Norsemen devote the entire month of February to the Thorrablot Feast, an ancient Viking celebration where attendees get to partake of authentic Icelandic culinary delicacies. If you’re not that adventurous when it comes to food, and feel bad about missing out on Venice’s Carnival, then hop on a train to Germany. The cities of Cologne and Dusseldorf also have similar festivities. The Carnival at both cities starts off with a massive Rosenmonstagszug (parade) and is punctuated by dance, music, food and beer. The Ivrea Carnival in Italy is another colorful event, but instead of ending the festivities with a night of carousing, the whole town kisses the event goodbye by having a giant orange fight. When you’re tired of the color orange, fly off to Dublin where you will then turn green as the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in honor of the country’s patron saint.
Europe’s April schedule is packed with activities and all the events kick off in Seville, Spain when several parades mark the week long Semana Santa. Though Seville quiets down in Easter, things get hot in Italy during the Scoppio del Carro, an interesting cart-blowing celebration that occurs on Easter Sunday. Seville will grab the limelight again at the end of April during La Feria de Abril, an event marked with traditional dress parades, dancing, food and drinks.
What better way to commemorate the month of flowers by having a grand flower show. London’s Chelsea Flower Show boasts of 11 acres of landscaped gardens, and wonderful blossoms. On the 30th of May (same date yearly), cheer on as several small non-mechanized boats race along the canals of Venice in the annual Vogalonga. The following day, you can head on to the top of Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth, England and watch as several men hurl themselves down a hill in an attempt to catch rounds and rounds of delectable cheese.
A lot is in store for the backpacking traveler during the month of June. If you want to push a chariot around town, then go to Belgium and be part of The Golden Chariot and Battle of Lumecon. If you don’t want to act like a horse and just watch these magnificent animals race, then proceed to the Royal Ascot Horse Racing in Ascot. You have to bring your glamorous clothes though, as this event is the poshest of all events in the United Kingdom. Also held in the UK is the annual Stonehenge Summer Solstice, a fascinating midsummer night ritual that is held at the oldest architectural structure known to man. If you are in France during the month of June, you can attend Fete de la Musique, a giant musical event where both professional and amateur musicians jam to the delight of the crowd.
A strange event in Pamplona is one of the highlights of the month of July. Made popular by the writer Ernest Hemingway, Running of the Bulls is a dangerous event where six bulls are set free on the streets of Sanfermin. If you’re out to prove your manhood, then join the locals as they try to grab the bull by the horns (and not be gored by it). If you find this event too violent and would rather spread the love, then go to Berlin and be part of the Love Parade. It’s not a post-valentine’s event, but a place to dance to techno music! If that’s not how you wanted to spread the love, then wait around for the Christopher Street Day, a gay pride parade which is also held in Berlin. If you want to experience the macabre, go to Galicia, Spain and watch as survivors of near death experiences are carried around in a coffin in an event aptly called Fiesta of Near Death Experience.
Celebrate the end of summer and usher in fall in Valencia, Spain for the La Tomatina. This is the only time and place when you can hurl tomatoes at another person without being reported to the police.
Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration where you are can drink beer, beer and more beer actually starts mid September. It’s a valid excuse for you to get dead drunk — your last hurrah before you end your fabulous adventure.
Things settle down during the last three months of the year. This is probably due to the onset of winter. In case you’re still backpacking in Europe during these months, you can visit Finland and watch fishermen at the market square during the Helsinki Herring Fair. You can also go to Venice, Italy and light a candle for you and your family’s health at the Festa della Madonna della Salute. Finally, if you have enough funds, you can attend the Kaiserball in Vienna, Austria and usher in the New Year in style.
There are other events in Europe that you may want to be part of. Try to work your schedule around the dates so you can make the most out of your journey. It’s going to be well worth the effort.