Every year Europe is host to some of the biggest festivals on Earth, as well as some of the strangest. From men dressed as Spanish devils jumping over babies for El Colacho to the annual wife-carrying championships in Finland, whatever curious after-work hobby you might have, some quasi-religious pagan saint will have come up with the celebration for it centuries ago. But if baby hopping isn’t your thing, here are five weird Woodstocks for the art, music and nature lover.
June 9 to 18, 2017
For ten days, the entire Dutch island of Terschelling in the Wadden Sea becomes the stage for an eclectic arts festival with an astounding range of theater-style performance art and music spread throughout the island. From the dunes and beaches to the woods, dikes and villages, as you bike around the island you may come across a 20-person performance piece strewn throughout the sand dunes or a half-naked group of wolfmen playing cellos in the woods. What’s real, what’s performed and whether the couple walking on their hands behind the bushes over there are an act or on mushrooms, make the experience surreal.
Founded in 1982 and with more than a hundred thousand tickets sold each year, Oerol has become one of the major art festivals in the world, and one of the strangest temporary societies this side of Burning Man.
Meadows in the Mountains
June 9 to 11, 2017
Polkovnik Serafimovo, Bulgaria
Started by two British brothers at a home bought by their parents in the Bulgarian Rhodope mountains, Meadows in the Mountains is a festival set at the top of a mountain with an unbelievable view. Think, mist-shrouded fairyland populated by beautiful 20-somethings listening to house music from a floating pirate ship as the sun slowly rises over the surrounding mountains, and you’ll get an idea.
Getting there is a challenge, with a four-hour bus ride from Sofia to the rural town of Polkovnik Serafimovo and a short trek up the mountain to the event location. But this remoteness keeps the crowds to a minimum, and with around 1,000 festival goers per year, the intimacy of the event is one of its draws. The festival is also an eco-friendly, community-involved affair that aims to promote sustainability and improve the economy of the area. So, expect yoga seminars, compostable toilets and groups of earth-children practicing meditation, probably on MDMA.
August 9 to 16, 2017
A festival set on an island in the middle of Budapest, Sziget combines impressive headlining acts, Gypsy music and interactive art exhibits for a weeklong camping bonanza in one of the world’s great cities. Wandering around between the space-age chill tent, mud-wrestling Eastern European models, circus acts and carnival games, you may not remember who you are or where you’re from. Drink some water and go talk to the mermaid over there, you’ll be fine.
As one of Europe’s biggest and most popular festivals, Sziget is by no means under the radar, but the sheer number of people from all over the world camping on the so called island of freedom is what makes this festival so unique. Not to mention the ability to explore Budapest while you’re at it.
Festival No. 6
September 7 to 10, 2017
Set in the whimsical resort village of Portmeirion on the coast of Wales, Festival No. 6 was founded in 2012 and got its name from the main character, prisoner “Number 6,” of the British television show The Prisoner that was filmed there. This blending of fact and fiction is at home in Portmeirion, where a mash-up of various colorful Mediterranean, Victorian and Baroque architectural styles designed by a single architect, Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, provide the backdrop for the festival overlooking the bay and the Irish Sea.
Alongside musical acts, the festival showcases writers, speakers and comedians performing across the festival's 25 venues located throughout 70 acres of forests, meadows, rivers and mountains that surround the village. Dance on a platform in the woods above a stream, watch a DJ spin out of a tree-fort stage then follow the torchlight procession to refuel with a gourmet seafood feast at one of the upscale restaurants. Festival No. 6 is for the intellectual festival connoisseur with some extra spending money. This year's line-up includes The Flaming Lips, Goldie, Bloc Party and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra celebrating Sgt. Pepper's and the Beatles.
August 3 to 5, 2017
Are the festivals mentioned above too festival chic for you? You don’t shop at H&M for Native American-style headbands?Then head to Germany’sWacken Open Air festival for one of the world’s biggest, muddiest gatherings of head-banging metal lovers. Every summer this tiny village is overrun by 75,000 metalheads in all their studded vest-wearing, tattoo-covered, goth-loving glory.
If your neck is sore from too much head-banging, head to the medieval village and catch up on those crossbow skills of yours. Thirsty? This is Germany, so find the nearest Oktoberfest-style beer tent and grab a liter of liquid gold. And maybe the weirdest thing about this festival is that it’s family friendly… even more so if you idolize the Osbournes.