Top Events

Christmas Markets December

Oktoberfest, Munich September

Carnevale, Venice February

Edinburgh International Festival August

Notting Hill Carnival, London August

January

Chilly and in some places snowy, the first month of the year isn't Western Europe's most festive. But museum queues are nonexistent, cosy cafes have crackling fireplaces and it's a great time to ski.

Hogmanay

An enormous, raucous Edinburgh street party, Hogmanay, sees in the new year in Scotland. It's replicated Europe-wide as main squares resonate with champagne corks and fireworks.

Vienna Ball Season

If you've dreamed of waltzing at Vienna's grand balls, you won't want to miss the Austrian capital's ball season, when 300 or so balls are held in January and February. The most famous is the lavish Opernball (Opera Ball).

February

Carnival in all its manic glory sweeps through Catholic regions of continental Europe – cold temperatures are forgotten amid masquerades, street festivals and general bacchanalia. Couples descend on romantic destinations such as Paris for Valentine's Day.

Carnaval

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.

Carnevale

In the pre-Lent perio9d before Ash Wednesday (14 February 2018; 6 March 2019), Venice goes mad for masks. Costume balls, many with traditions centuries old, enliven the social calendar in this storied old city like no other event. Even those without a coveted invite are swept up in the pageantry.

Karneval

Germany doesn't leave the pre-Lent season solely to its neighbours. Karneval (Fasching) is celebrated with abandon in the traditional Catholic regions of the country including Cologne, much of Bavaria, along the Rhine and deep in the Black Forest.

March

Leaves start greening city avenues and festivities begin to flourish. And days get longer – the last Sunday morning of the month ushers in daylight saving time.

St Patrick's Day

Parades and celebrations are held on 17 March in Irish towns big, such as Dublin, and small to honour St Patrick. While elsewhere the day is a commercialised romp of green beer, in his home country it's a time to celebrate with friends and family.

April

Spring arrives with a burst of colour, from the glorious bulb fields of the Netherlands to the blossoming orchards of Spain. On the southernmost beaches it's time to shake the sand out of the umbrellas.

Feria de Abril

The southern Spanish city of Seville's beautiful old squares come alive during this week-long party held in late April to counterbalance the religious peak of Easter.

Greek Easter

The most important festival in the Greek Orthodox calendar. The emphasis is on the Resurrection so it's a celebratory event – the most significant part is midnight on Easter Saturday (7 April 2018; 28 April 2019) when fireworks explode. The night before, candlelit processions hit the streets.

Koningsdag (Kings's Day)

On 27 April (26 April if the 27th is a Sunday) the Netherlands celebrates Koningsdag (King's Day), the birthday of King Willem-Alexander. There are events nationwide but especially in Amsterdam, where – uproarious partying, music and outrageous orange get-ups aside – there's a giant flea market.

Semana Santa

Procession of penitents and holy icons in Spain, notably in Seville, during Easter week (from 25 March 2018; 14 April 2019). Throughout the week thousands of members of religious brotherhoods parade in traditional garb.

Settimana Santa

Italy celebrates Holy Week with processions and passion plays. By Holy Thursday (29 March 2018; 18 April 2019), Rome is thronged with the faithful and even nonbelievers are swept up in the emotion and piety of hundreds of thousands of faithful flocking to the Vatican and St Peter's Basilica.

May

Outdoor activities and cafe terraces come into their own. The weather is especially pleasant in the south throughout the Mediterranean regions. Yachts ply the harbours while beautiful people take to the sun loungers.

Brussels Jazz Marathon

Brussels swings to around-the-clock jazz performances for three days over the second-last weekend in May during the Brussels Jazz Marathon (www.brusselsjazzmarathon.be). Free performances are everywhere from open stages in city squares to tight-packed cafes and pubs, and encompass everything from zydeco to boogie-blues.

Cannes Film Festival

Celebrities, would-be celebrities and plenty of starstruck spectators hit the French Riviera's glitziest seafront, La Croisette, during Cannes' famous film festival, held over two weeks in May.

Queima das Fitas

Fado fills the air in the Portuguese town of Coimbra, whose annual highlight is this boozy festival of traditional music and revelry during the first week in May, when students celebrate the end of the academic year.

Karneval der Kulturen

This joyous street carnival celebrates Berlin's multicultural tapestry with parties, global nosh and a fun parade of flamboyantly costumed dancers, DJs, artists and musicians over four days in mid-May.

June

The huge summer travel season hasn't started yet but the sun has burst through the clouds, the weather is gorgeous, and long daylight hours peak during the summer solstice (between 20 and 22 June).

Gay Pride

European Gay Pride celebrations take place on a summer weekend usually in late June but at times as late as August. Amsterdam hosts the world's only waterborne pride parade.

Festa de Santo António

In Portugal's capital, the Festa de Santo António (Festival of Saint Anthony), from 12 June to 13 June, wraps up the three-week Festas de Lisboa (www.festasdelisboa.com), with processions and dozens of street parties; it’s liveliest in the Alfama.

Festa de São João

Live music on Porto's plazas and merrymaking take place in Portugal's second city. Squeaky plastic hammers (available for sale everywhere) come out for the unusual custom of whacking one another. Everyone is fair game – don't expect mercy.

Glastonbury Festival

One of England's favourite outdoor events is Glastonbury's long, muddy weekend of music, theatre and New Age shenanigans. Tickets usually go on sale in autumn, and always sell out within minutes.

Luxembourg National Day

Held on 23 June, Luxembourg National Day is the Grand Duchy's biggest event – a celebration of the birth of the Grand Duke (though it has never actually fallen on a Grand Ducal birthday).

July

Visitors have arrived from around the world, and outdoor cafes, beer gardens and beach clubs are hopping. Expect beautiful – even scorching – weather anywhere you go.

Bastille Day

Fireworks and military processions mark France's national day, 14 July. It's celebrated in every French town and city, with the biggest festivities in Paris, where the storming of the Bastille prison kick-started the French Revolution.

Gentse Feesten

The charming Belgian city of Ghent is transformed into a 10-day party of music and theatre; a highlight is a vast techno celebration.

Il Palio

Siena's great annual event is the Palio (2 July and 16 August), 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).

Montreux Jazz Festival

It's not just jazz: big-name rock acts also hit the shores of Lake Geneva during the first two weeks of July. The cheaper music festival Paleo (http://yeah.paleo.ch) takes place in Nyon, between Geneva and Lausanne, in the second half of July.

Sanfermines (aka 'Running of the Bulls')

From 6 to 14 July, Pamplona, Spain, hosts the famous Sanfermines festival (aka Encierro or 'Running of the Bulls'), when the city is overrun with thrill-seekers, curious onlookers and, yes, bulls.

Festival d’Avignon

In France's lavender-scented Provence region, hundreds of artists take to the stage and streets of Avignon during July's world-famous Festival d’Avignon. The fringe Festival Off (www.avignonleoff.com) runs from early July to early August.

August

Everybody's on the move as major European city businesses shut down and residents head off to enjoy the traditional month of holiday. If it's near the beach, from Germany's Baltic to Spain's Balearic, it's mobbed.

Edinburgh International Festival

Three weeks of innovative drama, comedy, dance, music and more, held in Edinburgh. Two weeks overlap with the celebrated 3½-week Fringe Festival (www.edfringe.com), which draws innovative acts from around the globe. Catch cutting-edge comedy, drama and productions that defy description.

Notting Hill Carnival

For three days during the last weekend of August, London's Notting Hill echoes to the beats of calypso, ska, reggae and soca at London's most vibrant outdoor carnival, where the local Caribbean community shows the city how to party.

Salzburg Festival

Austria's renowned Salzburger Festspiele attracts international stars from late July to the end of August when it stages some 200 productions spanning theatre, classical music and opera.

Street Parade

In Switzerland, it's Zürich's turn to let its hair down with an enormous techno parade. All thoughts of numbered accounts are forgotten as bankers and everybody else parties to deep-base thump, thump, thump.

September

It's cooling off in every sense, from the northern countries to the romance started on an Ibiza dance floor. But it's often the best time to visit, with sparkling days and reduced crowds.

Festes de la Mercè

Barcelona knows how to party until dawn and it outdoes itself around 24 September for the Festes de la Mercè: four days of concerts, dancing, castellers (human-castle builders), fireworks and correfocs – a parade of firework-spitting dragons and devils.

Oktoberfest

Germany's legendary beer-swilling party originates from the marriage celebrations of Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810. Munich's Oktoberfest runs for the 15 days before the first Sunday in October. Millions descend for whopping 1L steins of beer and carousing that has no equal.

Venice International Film Festival

The Mostra del Cinema di Venezia is Italy's top film festival and one of the world's top indie film fests. Judging is seen as an indication of what to look for at the next year's Oscars.

Galway Oyster Festival

Oyster-opening championships are just the start of this spirited seafood festival in Ireland's colourful west-coast city of Galway, which also has tastings, talks, cooking demonstrations and plenty of live music and merrymaking.

October

October heralds an autumnal kaleidoscope, along with bright, crisp days, cool, clear nights and excellent cultural offerings, with prices and visitor numbers way down. Daylight saving ends on the last Sunday morning of the month.

Belfast International Arts Festival

Belfast hosts the UK's second-biggest arts festival over two weeks in late October/early November in and around the city's Queen's University.

November

Leaves have fallen and snow is about to in much of Europe. Even in the temperate zones around the Mediterranean it can get chilly, rainy and blustery. Most seasonal attractions have closed for the year.

Guy Fawkes Night

Bonfires and fireworks flare up across Britain on 5 November recalling the failed antigovernment 'gunpowder plot' from 1605 to blow up parliament (Fawkes was in charge of the explosives). Go to high ground in London to see glowing explosions erupt everywhere.

December

Twinkling lights, brightly decorated Christmas trees and shop windows, and outdoor ice-skating rinks make December an enchanting month to be in Western Europe, where every region has its own traditions.

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are held across many European counties, particularly Germany and Austria. Germany's best is Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt. Warm your hands through your mittens holding a hot mug of mulled wine and find that special present.

Natale

Italian churches set up an intricate crib or presepe (nativity scene) in the lead-up to celebrating Christmas. Some are quite famous, most are works of art and many date back hundreds of years and are venerated for their spiritual ties.