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Summer festival fever - The best music and cultural festivals the world has to offer

Extreme inking, messy drinking, rocking out with your bits out – the choices are endless at one of these top summer festivals 

It’s nearly summertime which means one thing – you need to start planning how many weird and wonderful festivals you can pack into one long, hot season. Perhaps you’ll end up mingling with New York’s art scenesters or losing an important part of your brain, somewhere, in a field in Huntington. Nevada’s Black Rock Desert might be the spot where you figure out the meaning of life while sat around a campfire. Maybe you’ll turn yourself into a human canvas for top tattooists and bodypainters or, to let off some steam, hit up one of Europe’s favourite traditional boozy extravaganzas. Whatever cultural shenanigans you and your mates get involved in this summer, from the high brow to the low brow, or really, really low brow, at least you’ll know there are thousands of like-minded souls doing the same.

Burning Man, US

Got a freak flag to fly? Burning Man is the place to put it right out there. A giant get-together of hippies, radicals, thrill-seekers, nudists, artists and hedonists, Burning Mantakes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, and attracts tens of thousands of people. Black Rock City is the temporary venue where the festivities take place and is “dedicated to community, art, self-expression and self-reliance”. The culmination of the festival, which gives the event its name, is the ritual burning of a giant wooden effigy. You canbasically do whatever you feel like for a couple of days, but festival-goers are supposed to be guided by the 10 core principals of Burning Man, which include gifting, decommodification and radical self-reliance. Not sure how to go about all that? Just get your kit off and slap on some neon body paint – that should do the trick.

When: August 26-September 2
Get there: Fly from London Heathrow to Reno with British Airways from £731 return (

Tattoo Expo, Netherlands

As far as alternative festivals go, Amsterdammers don’t do anything by halves. This huge gathering of ink fans brings together renowned tattoo artists from all corners of theglobe, including New Zealand, Japan and the US, so you can expect all sorts of styles and influences to be showcased. Along with the artists themselves are their canvases andworks: tribal swirls, delicate flowers, inspirational quotes and seafarer-influenced designs will all be adorning the skins of those attending the festival. There will also be plenty of sideshows to keep you entertained from burlesque shows to street art workshops. Feel like joining the scene? Better grit your teeth, grip your bottle of Jack Daniel’s and prepare to go under the needle.

When: May 31-June 2
Get there: Fly from London to Amsterdam from £110 returnwith Royal Dutch Airlines (

World Bodypainting Festival, Austria

Thinking that maybe a full-body inking’s not quite the thing for you? Then this bodypainting fest is a much gentler alternative. Models are transformed into human works of art with little more than a lick of bodypaint, a sprinkle of glitter and a pot of hair dye, posing as everything from melting ice caps to wild tigers to grim reapers and all sorts of other surreal figures. Join the throng and check them out in the small town of Pörtschach in Austria, where there will be fashion shows, competitions and bodypainting classes held by top artists.

When: July 1-7
Get there: Fly from London Gatwick to Vienna from £119return with easyJet (

Midnight Sun Film Festival, Finland

During summertime in Finnish Lapland, the sun shines round the clock, so to pay tribute to their nightless nights, the Finns have come up with the ultimate film fest. In the village of Sodankylä, around 120km above the Arctic Circle, classic movies, cult favourites and contemporary blockbusters will be screened 24/7. If you’re a budding filmmaker, get yourself a ticket to one of the masterclass screenings, where leading film critics will be delivering talks on what makes great cinema. And as for the performers among you, there will be an opportunity for you to sing your heart out to your favourite musical movies in the karaoke screenings.

When: June 12-16
Get there: Fly from London Heathrow to Helsinki from £140return (

Frieze Art Fair, US

Don your thickest pair of tortoise-shell rimmed glasses, and prepare to wander thoughtfully around seminal artworks, making deeply intelligent comments. This way you’ll fit in a treat at Frieze New York. This exhibition of contemporary artwork from around the world includes about 1000 of the world’s leading artists, plus a busy programme of debates, discussions, workshops and lectures. The main hub is set up on Randall’s Island Park overlooking the East River. 

When: May 10-13
Get there: Fly from London Heathrow to New York with Virgin Atlantic from £378.15 return (

La Batalla Del Vino, Spain

If you consider yourself, well, the polar opposite of a wine connoisseur, then this is definitely the event for you. Forget sipping, swirling and sniffing – at Spain’s La Batalla Del Vino, it’s more about pouring buckets of cheap red plonk on top of each other. In the village of Haro, wine becomes a weapon during the annual wine battle, when it’s glugged from big aluminium wine bags (goon) and splashed over the streets.

When: June 29
Get there: Fly from London Stansted to Santander from £55return
with Ryanair (


Oktoberfest, Germany

Imagine the ultimate pub. There would be heaps of great lagers and ales on tap, big tables filled with people having a good time, and piles of hearty, stomach-lining grub, right?Well that’s basically Oktoberfest in a nutshell. A bierkeller, but bigger and better. There are Oktoberfest celebrations all over the world, but some of the best parties are in Munich. You’ll probably find yourself dressed in lederhosen or dirndls (depending on your gender and how drunk you are), and a stein full of beer in hand for the best part of a fortnight. Bring some paracetamol for the plane journey home.

When: September 21-October 6
Get there: Fly from London Luton to Munich with Monarch Airlines from £76.50 return (


Secret Garden Party, England

You’ve heard about English eccentricity. The Secret Garden Party could have been designed for the sole purpose of exhibiting the nation’s quirkier side. This gathering describesitself as “a temporary community that is as free, irreverent, friendly and engaging as it is possible to be”. Translated, that means it’s basically a four-day rampage of fancy dress, daft midnight games, impromptu theatre performances, parades, camping, the odd live music gig and sock wrestling in mud pits (obviously). If your mind can fathom all of those things in the one place, you’re already halfway there.

When: July 25-28
Get there: Take the train from London King’s Cross toHuntington from £40 return. Shuttle buses run from thereto the festival site.

Bulls To The Sea, Spain

Already run with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona? Try this alternative bull running festival in Denia on the Costa Blanca, where the beasts are released through the streets and directed towards a bullring which has a pier in place of a fourth wall. Runners are challenged to taunt the bull into charging off the pier and into the sea. We’re assured that people are on hand to help the bulls out of the water. The runs take place twice a day during the city’s Santísima Sangre festival, a religious celebration that also puts on parades and fireworks displays.

When: July 6-14
Get there: Fly from London Gatwick to Alicante from £116 return with easyJet(