By Jim Ferri
One thing that all travelers have in common is love of food. The love is so universal it immediately breaks down cultural barriers. In the words of the celebrated American chef James Beard, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
Go to a food festival anywhere in the world and when you sit down with a group of total strangers you feel a bond, even if you don’t speak the same language.
There is no other place on earth where you have the opportunity to sample so many unique foods and cultures as you do in the multitude of food festivals across Europe. It is a bouillabaisse of countries, cultures and cuisines that keeps you coming back to the table for seconds.
This year, as last, we’ve put together a list of the best food festivals in Europe. Although many of these festivals are multi-faceted (many include music aspects, for example), to be included on the list a festival’s main focus must be food. We’ve removed one festival from this year’s list since it has begun to stray too far from that primary focus but have also made some delicious additions.
All are worthy of gourmet grazing.
Antwerp: Taste of Antwerp 2015 (Antwerpen Proeft)
May 14-17, 2015
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)
June 27-28, 201
Head to Oostduinkerke on the Flemish coast for a festival that heralds the fisherman who ride their horses into the sea 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.
Prague: Prague Food Festival 2015 (Praha Festival potravin)
May 29-31, 2015
Now celebrating its 9th years, the festival will be held in the Royal Gardens at Prague Castle that, fittingly, were originally medieval 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 delectable.
Copenhagen: Copenhagen Cooking
August 21 – 30, 2015
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 by paying homage to its food culture, Nordic cuisine and chefs from some of the city’s leading restaurants.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)
October 4-10, 2015
This is a bit of a niche festival but it’s 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 2015
June 11-14, 2015
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)
October 4-5, 2015
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 25-26, 2015
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.
http://www.fetedelacrepe.com (in French only)
Arles: Rice Festival (Féria du Riz)
September 11-13, 2015
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)
October 9-11, 2015
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
September 19-20, 2015
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 last year was the winner of “Best Event in Wales” in the National Tourism Awards.
Brighton: Foodies Festival 2015
May 2-4, 2015
Foodies Festival, said to be the UK’s largest celebration of food and drink, now celebrates fifth 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 2015
May 1 – 9, 2015
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
April 24-26, 2015
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
September 4-6, 2015
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. At the last festival the “Man vs Burger” (the burger being a 5-pounder) challenge was popular.
Békéscsaba: Csabai Sausage Festival (Csabai Kolbászfesztivál)
October 22-25, 2015
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 2015
May 21-24, 2015
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 restaurant in one place.
Dublin: Taste of Dublin
June 12-15, 2015
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
September 24-27, 2015
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)
September 24-27, 2015
This festival takes place in the Perugian town of Foligno and is all about such classic Italian food firsts as pastas, 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.
http://www.iprimiditalia.it (in Italian only)
Alba: International White Truffle Fair (Fiera del Tartufo)
October 11 – November 15, 2015
Alba is a small Piedmontese town that comes alive every October for the Truffle Fair. It’s a major 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)
May 13 -17, 2015
For one long weekend every year in Amsterdam gourmet-food trucks roll into the city’s Westergasfabriek park and turn it into a huge 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
June 4-7, 2015
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)
August 12-16, 2015
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 a side 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 10pm.
O Grove : Seafood Festival (Fiesta de Marisco)
October 2-11, 2015
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 biggest 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.
(Smaka på Stockholm)
June 3-7, 2015
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)
May 3, 2015
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)
October 2-4, 2015
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!