Top Events

Carnival February

Las Fallas de San José March

Easter late March or April

Cannes Film Festival May

Il Palio July

January

As the New Year celebrations die down, the winter cold digs in. This is a fine time to hit the ski slopes with good, fresh snow in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Skiing, Regionwide

Fresh snowfalls mean excellent conditions for skiing and snowboarding. The region's most famous resorts are in the French and Italian Alps but there's also excellent – and cheaper – skiing in the Pyrenees and Balkan countries. Slovenia and Bosnia & Hercegovina both offer exciting pistes.

February

The cold weather continues to provide ideal skiing conditions, while the winter quiet is shattered by high-spirited Carnival celebrations. Book accommodation if you're heading to a big Carnival destination.

Carnival, Regionwide

In the run-up to Lent, Carnival is celebrated with wild processions, costumed parties and much eating and drinking. Events are held all over, but festivities are particularly exuberant in Cádiz (Spain), Rijeka (Croatia), Nice (France) and Venice (Italy).

March

The onset of spring brings blooming flowers, rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall. Unless Easter falls in late March, it is still fairly quiet, even in the mountains where the ski season is starting to tail off.

Las Fallas de San José, Spain

Valencia is the place to be in the week leading up to 19 March. The city's annual party marathon, held to celebrate St Joseph, is an explosive event of revelry, pageants and fireworks, culminating in the torching of hundreds of giant effigies.

April

Weather-wise April is glorious – sunshine and pleasant temperatures – but it can be busy, depending on when Easter falls. If travelling over Easter, expect crowds, memorable celebrations and high-season prices.

Easter, Regionwide

Across the region, Easter week is marked by parades, solemn processions and passion plays. In Rome, the Pope leads a Good Friday procession around the Colosseum and, on Easter Sunday, he gives his traditional blessing in St Peter's Square.

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Italy

The curtain goes up on Italy's oldest arts festival, a month-long spectacle of opera, theatre, classical music, jazz and dance held at Florence's Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in May.

Music Biennale Zagreb

Held every odd-numbered year, Zagreb's headline event is one of Europe's top contemporary music festivals. Since it was established in 1961, it has grown in reputation and now attracts world-class performers from a range of musical backgrounds. See www.mbz.hr.

Feria de Abril, Spain

April is a festive time in Seville. The week before Easter, Semana Santa is marked by sinister processions, while the Feria de Abril is a week-long fiesta of folklore, flamenco, tapas and sherry.

May

Beautiful sunny weather makes this a wonderful time to visit the region. Life on the coast is slowly starting up as hotels begin to open for the season and the festival calendar moves into top gear.

May Day, Regionwide

A public holiday across much of the region, May Day traditions differ from country to country: the French give each other muguets (lilies of the valley), the Greeks gather wild flowers, and the Italians descend on Rome for a vast open-air rock concert.

Queima das Fitas, Portugal

In the week following the first Thursday in May students and townsfolk in Coimbra raucously celebrate the end of the academic year. Events kick off with a traditional fado serenade and climax with a parade of extravagantly decorated floats.

Cannes Film Festival, France

Mid-month, the world's most influential and glamorous film festival rolls out the red carpet for the Hollywood A-list. Onlookers crowd la Croisette to catch a glimpse of their celluloid heroes and debate potential Palme d'Or winners.

Fiesta de San Isidro, Spain

From the Friday preceding 15 May until the following Sunday, Madrid celebrates its patron saint with typical abandon. Roll up for costumed processions, concerts, bullfights and plenty of late-night revelry.

Druga Godba, Slovenia

Ljubljana's flamboyant festival of alternative and world music features everything from new jazz to contemporary folk music. Alongside a rich concert program, there are also film screenings, workshops, debates and seminars. See www.drugagodba.si.

June

The summer has arrived and with it hot, sunny weather and a full festival schedule. This is a great time for sunning yourself on the beach before the holiday hordes descend and prices skyrocket.

Palio delle Quattro Antiche Repubbliche Marinare, Italy

Historic rivalries are rekindled in the form of boat races between Italy's four ancient maritime republics: Pisa, Genoa, Amalfi and Venice. Before the races, representatives from each city don medieval garb and parade through the host city.

International İstanbul Music Festival, Turkey

Catch a classical concert in a sultan's palace or a jazz jam in a 4th-century church during İstanbul's month-long music fest. In 2012 some 750 performers participated including top orchestras from Berlin and Vienna. See http://muzik.iksv.org/en.

Estate Romana, Italy

Between June and September, Rome's ruins, piazzas and parks stage events organised as part of this sweeping annual festival. The program is eclectic featuring everything from film screenings to children's concerts, book readings and theatrical performances.

T-Mobile INmusic Festival, Croatia

One of the Balkans' top music festivals, this two-day event near Lake Jarun in Zagreb features a strong international line-up – in recent years Franz Ferdinand, Gorillaz Sound System, Massive Attack, and Lily Allen have all played. Details from www.inmusicfestival.com/en

Festa de Santo António, Portugal

On 12 and 13 June, Lisbon commemorates St Anthony with parades, street parties and unfeasible quantities of grilled sardines. The event is part of the wide-ranging cultural event, Festas de Lisboa.

Hellenic Festival, Greece

The ancient theatre at Epidavros and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus are the headline venues of Athens' annual cultural shindig. The festival, which runs from mid-June to August, features music, dance, theatre, and much more besides. See www.greekfestival.gr.

Oil-wrestling Championship, Turkey

Huge crowds gather in Edirne in late June/early July to cheer greased-up wrestlers as they slap each other around during the Kırkpınar wrestling festival. Dating back to the 14th century, this is the world's oldest wrestling event. Get details on www.kirkpinar.com.

Festa de São João, Portugal

One of Portugal's top festivals, the Festival of St John sees Porto's streets taken over by crowds of revellers wielding plastic hammers. Celebrations continue through the night of 23 June with fireworks, bonfires and beach parties.

July

Temperatures start to peak as schools break up for the long summer vacation. The coastal resorts are pretty busy by now and there are any number of festivals to check out.

Festival d'Avignon, France

Avignon's renowned arts festival is the oldest of its type in France and one of Europe's most famous. A month-long feast of drama, music, dance and poetry, it runs alongside the alternative fringe festival, Festival Off (www.avignonleoff.com). See www.festival-avignon.com.

Baščaršijske Noći, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Dance, music and theatre take to the streets of Sarajevo for the month-long Baščaršija Nights festival. All tastes are catered to with everything from ballet and opera to film screenings, book readings and kids' events.

Zagreb Summer Evenings, Croatia

Zagreb's Upper Town buzzes to the sound of music and drama for much of July. The city's traditional summer festival showcases a range of musical forms from classical to blues, jazz and world music.

Ljubljana Festival, Slovenia

Thousands flock to Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, for the country's most important arts festival. Held throughout July and August, it has something for everyone, with world-class concerts, dance performances, lectures, children's workshops and exhibitions. Check out the website, www.ljubljanafestival.si.

Il Palio, Italy

Siena's legendary horse race Il Palio is held twice annually, on 2 July and 16 August. Accompanied by great pomp and medieval festivities, it's a ferocious affair, contested by jockeys riding bareback around the city's central square. For more information see www.ilpalio.org.

Sanfermines, Spain

The Fiesta de San Fermín (Sanfermines) is the week-long nonstop festival and party in Pamplona with the daily encierro (running of the bulls) as its centrepiece. Anything can happen, but it rarely ends well for the bull. The anti-bullfighting event, the Running of the Nudes, takes place two days earlier.

Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Croatia

Dubrovnik's beautiful streets set the scintillating stage for Croatia's biggest summer arts festival. Local and international musicians, actors and artists perform at venues across the city throughout July and August. Get details at www.dubrovnik-festival.hr.

Festa del Redentore, Italy

On the third weekend in July, gondola regattas serve as the build-up to a spectacular fireworks display in Venice. The much beloved festival was inaugurated in the 16th century to give thanks for the end of a plague epidemic.

Mostar Bridge Diving Competition, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Crowds throng the rocky banks of the Neretva River to watch daredevil divers leap off Mostar's iconic bridge, Stari Most, and plunge into the green waters 21m below.

Nice Jazz Festival, France

International jazz greats lead this week-long party on the French Riviera. Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and BB King have all headlined here, and the festival is a key date on the European jazz calendar. See www.nicejazzfestival.fr.

Umbria Jazz, Italy

Music aficionados flock to the medieval town of Perugia mid-month for Italy's premier jazz festival. A winter edition is also staged in the last days of December in the cliff-top town of Orvieto. Check www.umbriajazz.com for details.

Split Summer Festival, Croatia

Music, drama and dance enjoy top billing at Split's annual culture fest, held from mid-July to mid-August. Shows cover the full range from classical music concerts and opera to experimental theatre performances and puppet shows.

Bastille Day, France

Fireworks, balls, processions and a military parade in Paris mark France's national day, 14 July. Celebrated across the country, it excites much patriotic fervour and plenty of festive feasting.

August

The height of the summer. Much of the region is on holiday – most people in France and Italy take their annual vacation this month – making for packed resorts, quiet cities and traffic jams on coast-bound roads.

Feast of the Assumption, Regionwide

Celebrated on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption is the busiest holiday day of the year. Across the region, beaches are jam packed, cities slow to a standstill, and everyone basks in the summer sun.

Sarajevo Film Festival, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Since it was inaugurated in 1995, the Sarajevo Film Festival has become one of the largest film events in Europe and a major showcase for southeastern European movies. Commercial and art-house flicks are screened, almost all with English subtitles. For details see www.sff.ba.

Mostra del Cinema di Venezia, Italy

At the end of the month, movie big shots alight at Venice for the world's oldest film festival. The focus of attention is the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido, a small slither of an island in Venice's lagoon.

September

September is a lovely month to be on the Med. The August crowds have gone home but it's still hot enough for sunbathing and swimming and there's great hiking in the region's many national parks.

Bienal de Flamenco, Spain

Give yourself up to the passion of Spain's largest flamenco festival, held in Seville every even-numbered year. The world's top flamenco stars strut their stuff before passionate fans in venues across the city.

Festes de la Mercè, Spain

Barcelona's great annual bash is a bombastic affair, held over four days around 24 September. Highlights include eight-storey human towers and a procession of dragons which parades through the streets accompanied by deafening fireworks and bangers. See www.bcn.cat/merce.

Hiking, Regionwide

Autumn, along with spring, is the ideal period for hiking. At higher altitudes, peaks are usually free of snow between June and September, making for great trekking in the Italian Dolomites, Slovenia's Julian Alps and the Spanish Pyrenees.

October

As coastal resorts wind down for the season, the focus returns inland. Warm weather and autumnal colours make for pleasant sightseeing, particularly in southerly areas, and accommodation rates start to drop.

Romaeuropa, Italy

Established international performers join emerging stars at Rome's autumn festival of theatre, opera and dance. Events, staged between late September and October, range from full-on raves and avant-garde dance performances to installations, multimedia shows, recitals and readings. Get details on http://romaeuropa.net.

Adventure Race Montenegro

Montenegro's gruelling Adventure Race is not the only way to enjoy the Bay of Kotor's dramatic beauty, but it's certainly the toughest. Held in late September/early October, it involves an entire day of kayaking, mountain biking, trekking and orienteering. Check out www.adventureracemontenegro.com.

November

The wettest month of the year, November is a quiet time with not a whole lot going on. On the plus side, accommodation is cheap and there are few tourists around.

International Jazz Festival, Bosnia & Hercegovina

One of the few events in November, Sarajevo's week-long jazz fest has a strong international reputation. Well-known musicians from around the world perform to enthusiastic crowds across the Bosnian capital. Get program details on www.jazzfest.ba.

Tirana Film Festival

Held in late November/early December, Albania's main film festival showcases features, shorts and works by local directors with prizes for best short fiction, animation, documentary and experimental. Get details at www.tiranafilmfest.com.

December

The build-up to Christmas is a jolly time as crowds brave cold temperatures to shop at markets and enjoy the festive lights that adorn many towns and cities. Up in the mountains, the ski season kicks off mid-month.

Fête des Lumières, France

A public holiday in many countries, 8 December is an important religious date, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In Lyon it coincides with the Festival of Lights, a spectacular sound and light show in the city's historic centre.

Christmas, Regionwide

Christmas is accompanied by the usual gift-giving traditions and family get-togethers. Highlights of the Christmas period include Strasbourg's famous Christmas market, the Marché de Noël, and Naples' elaborate presepi (nativity scenes).