Carnevale, Venice February
Hellenic Festival, Athens June
White Nights, St Petersburg June
Edinburgh International Festival, August
Oktoberfest, Munich September
It's cold but most towns are relatively tourist-free and hotel prices are rock bottom. Head to Eastern Europe’s ski slopes for wallet-friendly prices, with Bosnia and Bulgaria your best bets.
Orthodox Christmas, Eastern Europe
Christmas is celebrated in different ways in Eastern Europe: many countries celebrate on Christmas Eve (24 December), with an evening meal and midnight Mass. In Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Christmas falls in January, as per the Julian calendar.
Kiruna Snöfestivalen, Sweden
In the last weekend of January this Lapland snow festival (www.snofestivalen.com), based around a snow-sculpting competition, draws artists from all over Europe. There’s also a husky-dog competition and a handicrafts fair.
Küstendorf Film & Music Festival, Serbia
Created and curated by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, this international indie-fest (http://kustendorf-filmandmusicfestival.org) in the town of Drvengrad, near Zlatibor in Serbia, eschews traditional red-carpet glitz for oddball inclusions vying for the 'Golden Egg' prize.
Carnival in all its manic glory sweeps the Catholic regions. Cold temperatures are forgotten amid masquerades, street festivals and general bacchanalia. Expect to be kissed by a stranger.
Pre-Lent is celebrated with greater vigour in Maastricht than anywhere else in northern Europe. While the rest of the Netherlands hopes the canals will freeze for ice skating, this Dutch corner cuts loose with a celebration that would have done its former Roman residents proud.
In the period before Ash Wednesday, Venice goes mad for masks (www.venice-carnival-italy.com). Costume balls, many with traditions centuries old, enliven the social calendar in this storied old city. Even those without a coveted invite are swept up in the pageantry.
For colourful costumes and nonstop revelry head to Rijeka, where Carnival is the pinnacle of the year’s calendar (www.rijecki-karneval.hr). Zadar and Samobor host Carnival celebrations too, with street dancing, concerts and masked balls.
Germany doesn't leave the pre-Lent season solely to its neighbours. Karneval is celebrated with abandon in the traditional Catholic regions including Bavaria, along the Rhine and particularly vibrantly in Cologne (www.koelnerkarneval.de).
Spring arrives in southern Europe. Further north the rest of the continent continues to freeze, though days are often bright.
St Patrick’s Day, Ireland
Parades and celebrations are held on 17 March in Irish towns big and small to honour the beloved patron saint of Ireland. While elsewhere the day is a commercialised romp of green beer, in his home country it’s time for a parade and celebrations with friends and family.
Budapest Spring Festival, Hungary
This two-week festival in March/April is one of Europe’s top classical-music events (www.springfestival.hu). Concerts are held in a number of beautiful venues, including stunning churches, the opera house and the national theatre.
Ski-jumping World Cup, Slovenia
This exciting international competition (www.planica.si) takes place on the world’s largest ski-jumping hill, in the Planica Valley at Rateče near Kranjska Gora. Held the third weekend in March, it's a must for adrenaline junkies.
Spring arrives with a burst of colour, from the glorious bulb fields of Holland to the blooming orchards of Spain. On the most southern beaches it’s time to shake the sand out of the umbrellas.
Semana Santa, Spain
There are parades of penitents and holy icons in Spain, notably in Seville, during Easter week (www.semana-santa.org). Thousands of members of religious brotherhoods parade in traditional garb before thousands of spectators. Look for the pointed capirotes (hoods).
Settimana Santa, Italy
Italy celebrates Holy Week with processions and passion plays. By Holy Thursday Rome is thronged with the faithful and even nonbelievers are swept up in the emotion and piety of hundreds of thousands thronging the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica.
Orthodox Easter, Greece
The most important festival in the Greek Orthodox calendar has an emphasis on the Resurrection, so it’s a celebratory event. The most significant part is midnight on Easter Saturday, when candles are lit and fireworks and a procession hit the streets.
Feria de Abril, Spain
Hoods off! A weeklong party in Seville in late April counterbalances the religious peak of Easter (http://feriadesevilla.andalunet.com). The beautiful old squares of this gorgeous city come alive during the long, warm nights for which the nation is known.
Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), Netherlands
The nationwide celebration of Queen's Day on 27 April is especially fervent in Amsterdam, awash with orange costumes and fake Afros, beer, dope, leather boys, temporary roller coasters, clogs and general craziness.
May is usually sunny and warm and full of things to do – an excellent time to visit. It's not too hot or too crowded, though you can still expect the big destinations to feel busy.
Beer Festival, Czech Republic
An event dear to many travellers’ hearts, this Prague beer festival (www.ceskypivnifestival.cz) offers lots of food, music and – most importantly – around 70 beers from around the country from mid- to late May.
Brussels Jazz Marathon, Belgium
Around-the-clock jazz performances hit Brussels during the second-last weekend in May (www.facebook.com/brusselsjazzmarathon). The saxophone is the instrument of choice for this international-flavoured city’s most joyous celebration.
Queima das Fitas, Portugal
Coimbra’s annual highlight is this boozy week of fado music and revelry that begins on the first Thursday in May (www.queimadasfitascoimbra.pt), when students celebrate the end of the academic year.
The huge summer travel season hasn’t started yet, but the sun has broken through the clouds and the weather is generally gorgeous across the continent.
Karneval der Kulturen, Germany
This joyous street carnival (www.karneval-berlin.de) celebrates Berlin's multicultural tapestry with parties, global nosh and a fun parade of flamboyantly costumed dancers, DJs, artists and musicians.
Festa de São João, Portugal
Elaborate processions, live music on Porto’s plazas and merrymaking all across Portugal’s second city. Squeaky plastic hammers (for sale everywhere) come out for the unusual custom of whacking one another. Everyone is fair game – expect no mercy.
White Nights, Russia
By mid-June the Baltic sun just sinks behind the horizon at night, leaving the sky a grey-white colour and encouraging locals to forget routines and party hard. The best place to join the fun is St Petersburg, where balls, classical-music concerts and other summer events keep spirits high.
Glastonbury Festival, Britain
The town’s youthful summer vibe peaks for this long weekend of music, theatre and New Age shenanigans (www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk). It’s one of England’s favourite outdoor events and more than 100,000 turn up to writhe around in the grassy fields (or deep mud) at Pilton's (Worthy) Farm.
Roskilde Festival, Denmark
Northern Europe’s largest music festival (www.roskilde-festival.dk) rocks Roskilde each summer. It takes place in late June but advance ticket sales are on offer in December and the festival usually sells out.
Festa de Santo António, Portugal
Feasting, drinking and dancing in Lisbon’s Alfama in honour of St Anthony (12–13 June) top the even grander three-week Festas de Lisboa (www.festasdelisboa.com), which features processions and dozens of street parties.
Hellenic Festival, Greece
The ancient theatre at Epidavros and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus are the headline venues of Athens’ annual cultural shindig (www.greekfestival.gr). The festival, which runs from mid-June to August, features music, dance, theatre and much more.
One of the busiest months for travel across the continent with outdoor cafes, beer gardens and beach clubs all hopping. Expect beautiful – even steamy – weather anywhere you go.
Il Palio, Italy
Siena’s great annual event is the Palio (2 July and 16 August; www.thepalio.com), a pageant culminating in a bareback horse race round Il Campo. The city is divided into 17 contrade (districts), of which 10 compete for the palio (silk banner), with emotions exploding.
Sanfermines (Running of the Bulls), Spain
Fiesta de San Fermín (Sanfermines) is the weeklong, nonstop Pamplona festival (www.bullrunpamplona.com) with the daily encierro (running of the bulls) as its centrepiece. Anything can happen, but it rarely ends well for the bull. The antibullfighting event, the Running of the Nudes (www.runningofthenudes.com), takes place two days earlier.
Bastille Day, France
Fireworks, balls, processions, and – of course – good food and wine, for France’s national day on 14 July, celebrated in every French town and city. Go to the heart of town and get caught up in this patriotic festival.
EXIT Festival, Serbia
Eastern Europe’s most talked-about music festival (www.exitfest.org) takes place within the walls of the Petrovaradin Citadel in Serbia’s second city, Novi Sad. Book early as it attracts music lovers from all over the continent with big international acts headlining.
Gentse Feesten, Belgium
Ghent is transformed into a 10-day party of music and theatre (www.gentsefeesten.be), a highlight of which is a vast techno celebration called 10 Days Off.
Medieval Festival of the Arts, Romania
The beautiful Romanian city of Sighişoara hosts open-air concerts, parades and ceremonies, all glorifying medieval Transylvania and taking the town back to its fascinating 12th-century origins.
Bažant Pohoda, Slovakia
Slovakia's largest music festival (www.pohodafestival.sk) represents all genres of music from folk and rock to orchestral over eight different stages. It's firmly established as one of Europe's biggest and best summer music festivals.
Ultra Europe, Croatia
Held over three days in Split's Poljud Stadium, this electronic music fest (www.ultraeurope.com) includes a huge beach party.
Slovakia's standout folk festival, Východná (www.festivalvychodna.sk) is held in a village nestled just below the High Tatras.
Paléo Festival Nyon, Switzerland
More than 250 shows and concerts are staged for this premier music festival (http://yeah.paleo.ch) held above the town of Nyon.
Everybody’s going someplace as half of Europe shuts down to enjoy the traditional month of holiday with the other half. If it’s near the beach, from Germany’s Baltic to Spain’s Balearics, it’s mobbed and the temperatures are hot, hot, hot!
Amsterdam Gay Pride, the Netherlands
Held at the beginning of August, this is one of Europe's best GLBT events (www.amsterdamgaypride.nl). It's more about freedom and diversity than protest.
Salzburg Festival, Austria
Austria’s most renowned classical-music festival (www.salzburgfestival.at) attracts international stars from late July to the end of August. That urbane person sitting by you having a glass of wine who looks like a famous cellist, probably is.
Zürich Street Parade, Switzerland
Zürich lets its hair down with an enormous techno parade (www.streetparade.com). All thoughts of numbered accounts are forgotten as bankers, and everybody else in this otherwise staid burg, party to orgasmic, deep-base thump, thump, thump.
Notting Hill Carnival, Britain
This is Europe’s largest – and London’s most vibrant – outdoor carnival (www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com), where London’s Caribbean community shows the city how to party. Food, frolic and fun are just a part of this vast multicultural two-day celebration.
Edinburgh International Festival, Britain
Three weeks of innovative drama, comedy, dance, music and more (www.eif.co.uk). Two weeks overlap with the celebrated Fringe Festival (www.edfringe.com), which draws acts from around the globe. Expect cutting-edge productions that often defy description.
Guča Trumpet Festival, Serbia
Guča’s Dragačevo Trumpet Assembly (www.guca.rs) is one of the most exciting and bizarre events in all of Eastern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of revellers descend on the small Serbian town to damage their eardrums, livers and sanity in four cacophonous days of celebration.
Sziget Music Festival, Hungary
A week-long, great-value world-music festival (www.sziget.hu) held all over Budapest. Sziget features bands from around the world playing at more than 60 venues.
It’s cooling off in every sense, from the northern countries to the romance started on a dance floor in Ibiza. Maybe the best time to visit: the weather’s still good and the crowds have thinned.
Venice International Film Festival, Italy
The Mostra del Cinema di Venezia (www.labiennale.org) is Italy’s top film fest and one of the world’s top indie-film fests. The judging here is seen as an early indication of what to look for at the next year’s Oscars.
Despite its name, Germany’s legendary beer-swilling party (www.oktoberfest.de) starts mid-September in Munich and finishes a week into October. Millions descend for litres of beer and carousing that has no equal. If you didn’t plan ahead, you’ll have to sleep in Austria.
Dvořák Autumn, Czech Republic
This festival of classical music (www.kso.cz) honours the work of the Czech Republic’s favourite composer, Anton Dvořák. The event is held over three weeks in the spa town of Karlovy Vary.
Festes de la Mercè, Spain
Barcelona knows how to party until dawn and it outdoes itself for the Festes de la Mercè (around 24 September). The city’s biggest celebration has four days of concerts, dancing, castellers (human-castle builders), fireworks and correfocs – a parade of fireworks-spitting dragons and devils.
Another good month to visit – almost everything is still open, while prices and visitor numbers are way down. Weather can be unpredictable, though, and even cold in northern Europe.
Belfast International Arts Festival
After 50 years of being hosted at Queen's University, this huge arts festival (www.belfastinternationalartsfestival.com) reinvented itself in 2015 and is now held at a wider cache of Belfast venues. The city sheds its gritty legacy and celebrates the intellectual and the creative without excessive hype.
Wine Festival, Moldova
Wine-enriched folkloric performances in Moldova draw oenophiles and anyone wanting to profit from the 10-day visa-free regime Moldova introduces during the festival.
Leaves have fallen and snow is about to in much of Europe. Even in the temperate zones around the Med it can get chilly, rainy and blustery. Most seasonal attractions have closed for the year.
Guy Fawkes Night, Britain
Bonfires and fireworks erupt across Britain on 5 November, recalling the foiling of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the 1600s. Go to high ground in London to see glowing explosions erupt everywhere.
Iceland Airwaves, Iceland
Roll on up to Reykjavík for Iceland Airwaves (www.icelandairwaves.is), a great music festival featuring both Icelandic and international acts.
Despite freezing temperatures this is a magical time to visit Europe, with Christmas decorations brightening the dark streets. Prices remain surprisingly low provided you avoid Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Italian churches set up an intricate crib or a presepe (nativity scene) in the lead-up to Christmas. Some are quite famous, most are works of art, and many date back hundreds of years and are venerated for their spiritual ties.
In December, Christmas markets (www.christmasmarkets.com) are held across Europe, with particularly good ones in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Czech Republic. The most famous are in Nuremberg (the Christkindlmarkt) and Vienna. Warm your hands through your mittens holding a hot mug of mulled wine and find that special (or kitsch) present. Slovak Christmas markets are regarded as some of Europe's best and a great opportunity to taste medovina (mead) and lokše (potato pancakes).