“Food is our common ground, a universal experience,” said the celebrated American chef James Beard, And there’s no better place to walk this common ground than in the multitude of food festivals that annually take place all over Europe. Just grab a seat and take a bite of the local culture….
By Jim Ferri
I love food festivals.
They are not only superb opportunities to sample delicious regional specialties, all prepared with local ingredients, but are also great places to taste the local culture.
But there’s another element that’s just as important: food festivals are also wonderful places to meet the locals.
Sit down with a group of total strangers anywhere in the world and you’ll feel a bond, even if you don’t speak the same language. Food, after all, is the common language of mankind.
There’s no other place on earth where you’ll find so many festivals heralding unique regional foods as Europe. For the foodie in us all, it’s a bouillabaisse of countries, cultures, and gastronomies that keeps one coming back to the table for seconds and thirds.
This year, as we have for the last several, we’ve put together a list of the best food festivals in Europe. Although many of these festivals are multi-faceted (some include music aspects, for example), to be included on the list the festival’s main focus must be food. We haven’t included wine festivals or beer fests, although there is a multitude of them, or food festivals that have denigrated into massive food fights, such as La Tomatina in Valencia.
Although we’ve added a few additional festivals to this year’s list, it’s not all-inclusive since there is a multitude of smaller festivals scattered all over Europe, too many to include here.
And, finally, although this list is targeted at summer and autumn festivals, I’ve included several late-spring festivals that may be of interest when planning your travels in 2017.
As we’ve noted in past years, all are worthy of gourmet grazing.
Antwerp: Taste of Antwerp 2016 (Antwerpen Proeft)
Known to Belgians as Antwerpen Proeft, this is said to be Belgium’s largest and leading food festival. Last year tens of thousands of people attended this popular culinary event. More than 25 restaurants and caterers from in and around the city offer an astonishingly diverse range of cuisines ranging from classical Belgian-French to authentic African and Japanese.
Oostduinkerke: Shrimp Festival (Shrimpfeast and Shrimppageant)
Head to Oostduinkerke on the Flemish coast for a festival that heralds the fishermen who ride into the sea on their horses to trawl for shrimp. This way of shrimp fishing is so unique UNESCO recently added it to its world list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. At the Shrimpfest, held the last weekend of June every year, the catch is brought to shore where it’s cooked in any number of ways. Activities include a Shrimp Parade on Sunday afternoon.
Bruges has long been known not only for its beauty but also its cuisine. With 12 Michelin-starred restaurants, little Bruges is a Mecca for gourmets At Kookeet more than 30 of the city’s top chefs introduce you to some highly diverse gastronomic gems.
Prague: Prague Food Festival 2016 (Praha Festival potravin)
Now celebrating its 10th year, the festival is held in the Royal Gardens at Prague Castle that, fittingly, were originally ancient vineyards. Some two dozen of the capital’s best restaurants partake in the event, which last year was filled to capacity. It is Prague’s gastronomic event of the year where you’re offered appetizers, soups, main courses, desserts and a specially curated festival menu, along with tasting booths for coffee, chocolate, wines, beer and other delectables.
August 19 – 28, 2016
To spread word of Copenhagen as a world-class gastronomic destination, the Danes have launched one of the biggest food festivals in Northern Europe. It is an open-source festival that profiles Danish gastronomy as chefs from some of the city’s leading restaurants pay homage to the country’s Nordic food culture, You’ll find cooking workshops, wine tastings, and markets among the hundred or so events that take place around the city.
Helsinki: Baltic Herring Festival (Silakkamarkkinat)
Although a bit of a niche festival, Silakkamarkkinat is an ancient tradition in Helsinki. Every October fishermen bring their small boats to the wharf at the city’s Market Square to sell their catch. All about the square you’ll find plenty of herring prepared in a variety of ways, as well as other Finn foodstuffs. The fair activities include a competition for the best herring dish and a race of traditional sailing ships.
Helsinki: Taste of Helsinki 2016
Taste of Helsinki, the largest gourmet food and wine festival in the country, adds something unique to the food festival scene. At this festival, in addition to other events 12 of the best restaurants in the city, including three Michelin-starred establishments, prepare a picnic lunch for you. There’s plenty of wine, champagne, and beer to go along with it.
Honfleur: Shrimp Festival (La Fête de la Crevette)
Held annually in one of the prettiest old ports in Normandy, Honfleur’s Shrimp Festival attracts thousands who come to town for the great shrimp-peeling competition. There are also concerts, an arts and crafts market, and plenty of sea shanties as old sea vessels gather in the port. In addition to crevettes and other seafood, on the festival menu you’ll also find cheeses, meats, pastries and bread as well as plenty of Calvados and cider.
Gourin: Crêpe Festival (Fête de la Crêpe)
July 30-31, 2016
If you’re looking for a small-town festival with a food connection, on the last weekend in July visit the Brittany town of Gourin for its annual Crêpe Festival. Feast on crêpes as well as galettes, the region’s famous buckwheat pancakes and watch the contest to cook the world’s biggest crepe. There’s plenty of music and dancing in traditional costumes, as you might expect.
Arles: Rice Festival (Féria du Riz)
September 16-18, 2016
During this three-day celebration, the old Roman city of Arles adopts a decidedly Spanish flavor with the running of the bulls through its streets and bullfights in the old Roman arena. There’s also plenty of seafood paella cooked in huge pans as well as churros and tapas for sale. The festival celebrates the harvest of the region’s distinctive red Carmargue rice with parades, music and men galloping about on local Camargue horses.
Weimar: Weimar Onion Market (Weimarer Zwiebelmarkt)
Munich may have its Oktoberfest but Weimar, a small town southwest of Leipzig, has an onion market that is 150+ years older. It’s a huge market with more than 500 stalls selling everything and anything having to do with the popular bulb. There’s plenty of other foods (sausages, spiced Lebkuchen cakes) and drink too, along with entertainment through the city.
Abergavenny: Abergavenny Food Festival
With 200 exhibitors from Wales and England coming together for cooking demonstrations, workshops, talks, tastings and competitions, Abergavenny has been called the “biggest date in Wales’s gourmet calendar.” Visit the five festival sites about town and try everything from Welsh onion bread to Herefordshire cider. It attracts nearly 30,000 visitors and has been the winner of “Best Event in Wales” in the National Tourism Awards.
Brighton: Foodies Festival 2015
The Foodies Festival, said to be the UK’s largest celebration of food and drink, now celebrates its sixth consecutive year. Top chefs will show their skills in the Chef’s Theatre, with wine, beer and cocktails served in the Drink’s Theatre. This year there aill also be a Feasting Tent and a Vintage Tea Tent that will hold daily tea dances.
Bristol: Bristol Food Connections
This 9-day food festival takes place throughout the city of Bristol. Its program is broad and includes everything from good food walks and cookery classes to demos and debates. Since the city is It is the production home of the BBC Food & Farming Awards, the network has a special role in the festival.
Exeter Food and Drink Festival
The Exeter Food & Drink Festival is held in the courtyard of Exeter Castle and the surrounding Northernhay Gardens, right in the center of Exeter. The Festival also includes two “Festival After Dark Events” featuring live music and chef demonstrations.
Nantwich: Nantwich Food & Drink Festival
This wide-ranging festival brings together producers from Cheshire, Wales, the Marches and he northwest England. Set in two main venues and smaller ones scattered about the town, it has tastings of beer and wine, sausages and vinegar, foraging walks, cookery demonstrations, jam judging, even a cocktail workshop.
Guernsey International Food Festival
23 September – 2 October 2016
Guernsey, the largest of the British Channel Islands right off the coast of Normandy, is the venue for the International Food Festival. As might be expected it mainly features local products, especially those provided by the island’s namesake Guernsey cow, so be prepared for plenty of creamy milk, butter and ice cream. The island also boasts some of the freshest seafood in the UK.
Békéscsaba: Csabai Sausage Festival (Csabai Kolbászfesztivál)
This festival, about 3 hours by car southeast of Budapest, celebrates the paprika-spiked Hungarian Csabai sausage. The highlight of it is the sausage-making contest in which about 500 teams compete. There are also traditional pig-feast meals, a stuffed cabbage-making competition, folk music and a wine festival. It’s attracted about 10,000 visitors in recent years.
Budapest: Gourmet Festival 2016
If you enjoy Hungarian gastronomy, this is the festival for you. According to the organizers, almost the entire list of the top chefs in Hungary will be at the festival, including those from the countryside as well as super-stars from Budapest. The aim of the festival is to allow people to sample all of the country’s best restaurants in one place.
June 16-19, 2016
Held in Dublin’s stunning Iveagh Gardens, Taste of Dublin brings together the top chefs of Dublin and Ireland. There are interactive master classes, live entertainment and more than 120 artisan producers. Restaurants will fashion special menus of starter-sized dishes for the festival.
Galway: Galway Oyster Festival
The Irish know how to party, and they throw one of the largest in Galway every September. It’s said to be the most internationally recognized Irish festival after St Patrick’s Day. You can down countless pints of Guinness and beer while consuming copious amounts of oysters and other seafood. It all kicks off with a traditional parade on Friday and continues with the World Oyster Opening Championship and music and parties throughout the weekend.
Foligno: The First of Italy (I Primi d’Italia)
This festival takes place in the Perugian town of Foligno and is all about such classic Italian foods like pasta, gnocchi, soups and rice. It’s a lively festival that includes tastings, demonstrations, master classes and even the creation of traditional medieval foods for sampling. It also embraces some quirky food events such as pasta sculpture and food clips from classic movies.
Alba: International White Truffle Fair (Fiera del Tartufo)
Alba is a small Piedmontese town that comes alive every October for the Truffle Fair. It’s an important event for which some of the world’s most famous chefs fly in for the annual truffle auction. The auction is an invitation-only event where the exotic truffles can go for more than $1,200 a pound. Beyond the auction, it’s a festival that showcases the foods of Piedmont including roast pork, salami, polenta, etc. Mangia!
Amsterdam: Rolling Kitchens (Rollende Keukens)
For one long weekend, every year in Amsterdam gourmet-food trucks roll into the city’s Westergasfabriek park and turn it into an enormous open-air kitchen. You’ll find quite a variety of food including Indian cuisine, suckling pig and American barbecue. Add music, dancing and rides for the kids and the whole event takes on the atmosphere of a county fair.
Amsterdam: Taste of Amsterdam
Taste of Amsterdam; For four days in early June in Amsterdam there will be plenty of eating and drinking (along with entertainment) as 15 of the city’s best restaurants cook and dish up their finest in an alfresco gourmet feast. Restaurants will offer special menus of starter sized dishes, and there are interactive cooking programs.
Portimão: Sardine Festival (Festival da Sardinha Portimão)
If you love sardines Portimão’s Sardine Festival on the Algarve may be your nirvana. Here you’ll find countless sardines charcoal-grilled and dusted with sea salt with sides of potatoes, perfect to down with a cool, crisp vinho verde. While competitive eaters can enter the festival’s sardine-eating contest, everyone can enjoy the music when the festivities morph into a music concert at 10 pm.
O Grove : Seafood Festival (Fiesta de Marisco)
O Grove is a Spanish town in Galicia, on the Atlantic coast near the Portuguese border. It’s not a big town but every October it hosts one of Europe’s largest food festivals dedicated to seafood (including shrimp, crabs, clams, scallops, even barnacles) and chefs compete to come up with an innovative mussel dish. It’s all infused with a lot of dancing and folk music.
Stockholm: Taste of Stockholm (Smaka på Stockholm)
The Swedes bid farewell to spring at the beginning of June when they host the Taste of Stockholm, six wonderful days of food and music that attract hundreds of thousands of people. About 25 of the city’s best restaurants set up outdoor stalls in the Kungsträdgården (the King’s Garden park), where the Taste of Stockholm food and drink festival proves that there is more to Swedish cooking than little meatballs and lingonberries.
Gruyères: Gruyere Cheese Festival (Fête du Fromage à Gruyères)
What better place to sample Gruyère cheese than in the little medieval village of Gruyères, northeast of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. And what better time than at the annual Gruyère Festival? This one-day festival, now in its seventh year, serves up its famous cheese amid the fanfare of Alpine horns, music and flag throwing. There are cheese demonstrations and regional handcrafts for sale.
Lugano: Autumn Festival (Festa d’Autunno)
Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, celebrates its grape harvest every year with a huge street food fair in Lugano. In addition to performers and street musicians offering traditional entertainment, you’ll also find stalls offering roast pork, risotto, gnocchi, polenta, minestrone and other Ticinese specialties. And, of course, plenty of vino. Delizioso!