Location: Valencia, Spain. The fireworks displays are in Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Dates: 12–19 March



Description: Exuberant and anarchic, Las Fallas is Europe’s wildest spring party, which is a pretty big deal for what is essentially a glorified puppet show. It’s a time when the city is all but taken over by the fallas, which are huge sculptures of papier-mâché on wood, built by teams of local artists. Each neighbourhood sponsors its own falla, and when the town wakes after the plantà (overnight placement of the fallas) on the morning of 16 March, more than 350 have been erected. Reaching up to 15m in height, with the most expensive costing more than €350,000 to build, these grotesque, colourful effigies satirise celebrities, current affairs and local customs.

Though the festival begins on 12 March, it doesn’t really get going until after the plantà. The fallas are placed at various locations around the city and you have four days to wander about checking out the displays as well as revelling in the around-the-clock festivities, which include street parties, paella-cooking competitions, parades, open-air concerts and bullfights.

What Las Fallas truly prides itself on is fireworks, with afternoon shows that also reach their peak on 16 March. Valencia considers itself the pyrotechnic capital of the world and each day at 2pm a mascletà (more than five minutes of deafening thumps and explosions) literally shakes the city, so much so that pregnant women are banned from attending a mascletà…this could be one of the loudest events you’ve witnessed.

Unsurprisingly, Las Fallas’ grand finale involves fireworks when, at midnight on the final day, each falla goes up in flames in another fiery explosion, with months of work turning to ash in seconds. Thirty minutes after midnight, it’s the turn of the falla judged the festival’s best to be burned. It’s hardly the spoils of victory.

Las Fallas is held in honour of St Joseph’s Day (19 March), though it’s said to trace its origins to a pagan celebration of the spring equinox. The first records of the festival are from the late 15th century. Banned in the mid-19th century, and then taxed almost out of existence, the fallas were revived in the 1880s. Today, the festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Essentials: Come prepared for a manic few days. Maps are available to guide you between the fallas displays – pick one up at the regional tourist office at Calle Paz 48.

Local Attractions: Visit the aesthetically stunning Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts & Sciences), which is mostly the work of local architect Santiago Calatrava, designer of the new World Trade Center site in New York. Inside, you can go marine at the Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium.

More Info: 
Valencia Tourism & Convention Bureau (www.turis valencia.es)

Source: worldnomads.com

Location: Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Dates: 12–14 June


On the feast day of St Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon, the Portugese capital goes sardine crazy. The winding streets and steep staircases in Alfama, the city’s oldest quarter, fill with the smell of sardines being grilled outside little houses and restaurants.

Even by the standards of a coastal country where the population lives on fish dishes, the grilled treats consumed in honour of Anthony of Padua are a tasty snack. The tradition relates to a remarkable event that occurred while the 13th-century Catholic saint was in Rimini, Italy. Depressed that the locals would not listen to his sermons, he wandered to the shore to confide in the fish. Suddenly, row upon row of fish raised their heads above the waves, from nippers in the shallows to sizable listeners in the deep water. Rimini’s townsfolk flocked to witness the fish, which bowed their heads and opened their mouths to show their reverence to the wandering missionary.

There is a parade along Avenida de Liberdade and balconies everywhere are draped with coloured lights, streamers and paper lanterns. And the quirky practices don’t end with sardines. Single girls carry out all sorts of rituals to implore Anthony, known as the matchmaker saint, to help them find a worthy husband. The girl might fill her mouth with water until she hears a man’s name mentioned, or write her suitors’ names on pieces of paper, roll them up and place them in a bowl of water under her bed. In the morning, the piece of paper that has unfurled the most indicates the lucky man.

If girls are really sick of being single, they stand a small statue of Anthony upside down and bury its head, returning it to its proper position only when the hard-working saint has placed their case at the top of his long list of lonely hearts. Men, meanwhile, present the Portugese pomme of their eye with a basil plant containing a love poem. This is a popular practice, and balconies across the city sport pot plants and paper carnations with messages of affection for Anthony or the recipient.

 Unsurprisingly, a popular soundtrack for these activities is fado, the melancholy Portugese music imbued with a sense of longing. Bands often play alongside an image of the saint.

The matchmaking ploys must work. Mass marriages, known as St Anthony’s Weddings, take place in his church, where you can also see the tradition of St Anthony’s Bread. People write prayers and press them, with a small bread roll, into the frame of the saint’s portrait. The practice relates to a woman who agreed to give the poor an amount of wheat equal in weight to her drowned child, who Anthony revived.


Local Attractions: One of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Lisbon has architecture from Baroque to Art Deco on its seven hills.


More Info: www.visitportugal.com




WorldNomads.com - an essential part of every adventurous traveller’s journey. Check out more world festivals at WorldNomads.com

Location: Heimaey, Westmann Islands, Iceland


Dates: Verslunarmannahelgi (first weekend in August)


All over Iceland, bonfires are lit and vodka is shared to celebrate the ratification the country’s constitution in 1874, but Heimay hosts the mother of all parties. Some 10,000 people make like the local puffins and flock to the only inhabited Westmann island for a music festival on the edge of the world.

Scandinavian bands like Sigur Rós take to the stage, but the music is perhaps the least remarkable aspect of the event. For starters, the stage is in the shadow of a volcano, which last erupted in 1973. The chilly climate induces an extreme degree of heart- and hide-warming camaraderie, with singsongs rolling across the site between sets. At night, the festival hotfoots it to the huge bonfire halfway up the volcano. 

Not that there’s much night, of course. Due to its position at the top of the map, Iceland experiences almost endless daylight during the summer, a situation that’s cruelly reversed during the winter. At the festival, roving bands of ‘sleep police’ kindly encourage catnappers not to waste the day. The gangs’ job is easy – most people are more interested in warming themselves with a bottle of vodka or a fellow Arctic beauty.


Essentials: Bring your thermal underwear and a strong constitution.



Local Attractions: Surtsey Island was thrown up by a volcanic fissure in 1963.



More info: Reykjavic Tourist Information Centre: (   +354 590 1550   )




WorldNomads.com - an essential part of every adventurous traveller’s journey. Check out more world festivals at WorldNomads.com

Location: Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, London, England


Dates: Last Sunday and Monday in August


The British capital’s top summer knees-up, a celebration of the local Caribbean community, has enlivened this part of town since the 1950s. During the end-of-August bank holiday, the neighbourhood featured in the Hugh Grant film Notting Hill explodes with reggae sound systems and Rastafarians smoking what one of Grant’s characters might call ‘wacky baccy’. Also featuring calypso and soca, samba dancing, sassy costumes and animistic sculptures, the display of vibrant Caribbean culture attracts two million party animals to West London, making it one of the world’s largest street festivals. A steel-band competition and Children’s Day are among the events reflecting the city’s multiculturalism and love of a good boogie. It all climaxes on Monday with a 3-mile parade of floats and revellers in feathered headdresses, Lycra suits and other costumes not normally spotted on London’s streets. Ravers can fuel themselves at stalls selling Jamaican patties, jerk chicken and curries.


Essentials: Make sure you have deep pockets for your dosh – street crime is a feature of the weekend.


Local Attractions: As well as the coolest bars found west of the city centre, narrow Portobello Road has a market from Monday to Saturday. It’s the city’s best market for rummaging through antiques and curios, and for getting kitted out like a trendy Londoner.


More info: www.londoncarnival.co.uk

Location: Barcelona, Spain

Dates: Four days around 24 September


The Catalan capital’s festa major, a final burst of prewinter madness for the Mediterranean city, is dedicated to its co-patron saint, the Virgin of Mercy. Nostra Senyora de la Mercè, whose image lies in the church of the same name on Plaça de la Mercè, was named co-patron after she single-handedly beat off a plague of locusts in 1637! Then in 1714, as Barcelona faced defeat in the War of the Spanish Succession, the obviously desperate town elders appointed her commander in chief of the city’s defences.

Some 600 events take place, most of them in the city centre. There’s a swimming race across the harbour, a fun run and a series of free concerts. Adding to the local colour are the essential ingredients of all self-respecting Catalan festivals: sardana (folk dancing from northern Catalonia) and parades of gegants (giants), dancing in synch with the costumed groups carrying them. Brave combatants known as castellers compete to form the highest human pyramid; the towers rise up to eight storeys high. The correfoc (fire run) is a pyromaniac’s dream. Crowds hurl themselves along Via Laietana before ‘devils’ and other fire-spurting beasts, not to mention kids armed with firecrackers.


Local Attractions: Take the opportunity to visit Barcelona’s museums for free and to sample the local Cava (sparkling wine).


More Info: www.bcn.es/merce



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Every year on the last Wednesday in August a little town called Buñol in the Valencia region of Spain plays host to the world’s largest food fight. During La Tomatina, tens of thousands of people throw around 150,000 tomatoes (equal to 90,000 pounds or 140 tons) at one another for an hour in the city’s streets.


La Tomatina is a week-long festival featuring music, parades, dancing, fireworks, and a paella-cooking contest the night before the big fight. A number of stories have been offered up explaining the origins of La Tomatina in the mid-1940s. Not officially recognized until 1952, it was also banned during the Spanish State period under Francisco Franco for its lack of religious significance. The festival is held in the honor of the town’s patron saints, San Luis Bertràn and the Mare de Déu dels Desemparats.


There is limited accommodation for those who travel to Buñol for La Tomatina. Many opt to stay in Valencia and take the 38km bus or train trip in for the festival. In preparation for the dirty mess that will ensue, shopkeepers use huge plastic covers on their storefronts in order to protect them. Firefighters use water cannons to wash down the streets after the festival. Oddly enough, little evidence of the tomato battle remains afterward as the acidity in the tomatoes has a way of cleaning the street.


Rules of the “Fight”


 A cannon is fired to signal the beginning and end of the tomato-throwing. According to the official La Tomatina website, there are just five rules:

1. You must not bring bottles or other objects that could cause an accident or injury.

2. You must not tear or throw t-shirts.

3. To avoid hurting people, you must squish tomatoes before they are thrown.

4. You must be careful around any trucks or vans.

5. After hearing the second shot, you must stop throwing tomatoes.

The “simple rules of civic responsibility and cohabitation,” as the website states, are meant to ensure the safety of La Tomatina participants.

La Tomatina Festival Tips


Thinking of joining in the food-flinging fun at La Tomatina? Here are a few bits of advice…

  • Choose a pair of shoes that you’re okay with ruining. You probably want to leave your  new, $150 cross-trainers at home. Go for lace-ups over slip-ons, if you want to keep them, that is.
  • Wear old clothes you don’t intend to use again.
  • Swim goggles are a good idea. The acid in the tomatoes can sting your eyes.
  • Use a waterproof camera if you want to take pictures.
  • Don’t miss the soap stick, a pole smeared with soap that has a ham hanging at the top. Whoever gets to the ham first, keeps it.
  • Enjoy yourself! Doing something as absurd as throwing tons of tomatoes at one another  for an hour isn’t something you do everyday!
Source: worldnomads.com

Location: Brocken, Harz Mountains, Germany

 30 April

Description: What better way to see out April than on a mountain top in the company of witches and warlocks. According to local mythology, said witches and warlocks gather on Walpurgisnacht (which takes its name from Saint Walburga, whose feast day is 1 May) at locations throughout the Harz Mountains before flying off to 1142m Brocken on broomsticks or goats. There they recount the year’s evil deeds and top off the stories with a bacchanalian frenzy, said to represent copulation with the devil. Frightened peasants used to hang crosses and herbs on stable doors to protect their livestock; ringing church bells or cracking whips were other ways to prevent stray witches from dropping by. Today, however, people come to be with the witches not to escape them.

One of the best places to celebrate Walpurgisnacht is the town of Thale, where not-so-pagan hordes of 35,000 or more arrive for colourful variety events and the Walpurgishalle museum tells you all you need to know about sacrifices, rituals and local myths. People dress as witches and toss away all reserve as they dance around fires. Wherever you are, expect to see the dawn in with some very strange characters!

If it wasn’t enough that one mountain should claim to be haunted, there are other such Walpurgisnacht events elsewhere in Europe. In the Czech Republic the local variation is Carodejnice (Burning of the Witches), which sees huge bonfires lit all over the country (including on Pet?ín hill in Prague) and an effigy of a witch thrown onto the pyres. Old brooms are also burnt and there’s partying through the night.

Sweden, too, has a few witches in the broom closet. Here, the celebration is known as the Feast of Valborg and is nowadays treated more as a spring welcome than a time of witches, being marked with bonfires and choral singing across the country. The largest celebration is in Stockholm’s Skansen open-air museum, where a festive concert runs from mid-afternoon to around midnight. In Gothenburg, students from the Chalmers University have for the last century conducted the Cortège parade, with floats showing mock scenes from major events over the past year. More than 200,000 people line the streets to view the parade.

Essentials: In the Harz Mountains, the town of Schierke is the best starting point for Walpurgisnacht treks to the Brocken. The Cortège parade in Gothenburg is alcohol free.

Safety Tips From The World Nomads Travel Safety Team:

Germany’s festivals are well known for being some of the safest in the world. However, don’t annoy a witch or she will turn you into a newt!

Local Attractions: In Thale, the wooden museum Walpurgishalle has exhibitions and paintings on all matters heathen (the interpretations are in German only), including the Opferstein, a stone once used in Germanic sacrificial rituals. In Gothenburg, head to Liseberg, one of the world’s largest amusement parks, with 35 stomach-churning rides.

More Info:
 Harzer Verkehrsverband (www.harzinfo.de); Gothenburg Tourist Office (www.goteborg.com); Czech Tourism (www.czec htourism.com)

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

30 April (if 30 April is a Sunday it’s celebrated on 29 April)

Description: Birthday celebrations for queens are supposed to involve tea and polite conversation, but the Dutch like to give their queen a more rollicking party. This nationwide holiday honours Queen Beatrix (though it’s held on the birth date of her mother Queen Juliana) and in Amsterdam in particular it’s a crazy, wonderful madhouse celebration. There’s a free market throughout the city (anyone can sell anything they like), street parties, live music, dense crowds and lots of beer. The canals fill with boats and the streets with people, who come from all around the country and beyond. The entire city is given over to partying, so that it’s a rambling, disorganised, exhilarating day in the city streets, which are all but turned orange as people wear anything and everything in that colour. This is less because it’s the national colour than the fact that the Queen’s royal lineage goes back to William of Orange. Happy birthday, ma’am.