7 Small Nations With Big Festivals
By Christine Potter
Gear Up For The Gathering
Next year, 2013, is the Big One for the Irelands – Northern Ireland and the Republic – when anyone claiming Irish ancestry might feel the tug to attend The Gathering, a year-long festival celebrating Ireland and its people.
Meanwhile, this year, Belfast honours the centennial of the Titanic tragedy. The ship was designed, built and launched in Belfast and exhibitions about the vessel and Belfast’s maritime history can be seen at the Titanic Quarter, a new $160-million visitor attraction. The building resembles the bows of three luxury liners: Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic – all built in Belfast.
The city is also part of the Olympic Games, with the Torch Relay on June 3, beginning its route to more than 60 towns across Northern Ireland, including passing such iconic locales as the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and into Derry-Londonderry (next year’s UK City of Culture).
Dublin, capital of the Republic, is designated European City of Science for 2012, and in July hosts a huge science conference and a number of science-driven events through the year.
While you’re in Dublin, don’t miss a visit to the Guinness factory, Trinity College with its ancient library and the magnificent Book of Kells, and Grafton Street, Dublin’s smartest shopping area. More from www.tourismireland.com
Think Holland, think flowers, think Floriade, the World Horticultural Exposition staged once every 10 years. It runs from April 5 to October 7 in Venlo (near the German and Belgian borders) and complementing the stunning array of plants is a daily program of visual and performing arts, plus sustainable architecture and environmental displays. Another famous Dutch horticulture event is the annual show of flowering bulbs in Keukenhof Gardens, this year from March 22 to May 20 with a Flower Parade April 21. Named the most beautiful spring garden in the world, Keukenhof covers more than 32 hectares with 4.5 million tulips. Its 15 kilometres of footpaths can be explored on foot or by bicycle. (Rentals are available.) And it’s not only about flowers. Keukenhof is also Holland’s largest sculpture park, with art set among thousands of trees.
Passengers with long layovers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport will welcome the Floating Dutchman, a boat-bus designed for tourists, daytrippers, and transferring air passengers. The amphibious vehicle embarks at Schiphol Plaza, drives to Amsterdam, and enters the water at the Splash Zone near Nemo Science Centre, continuing its journey as a water launch through the canals. (Check out the YouTube video!) After the trip, the bus returns to the airport. Bookings can be made through www.floatingdutchman.nl and at the airport. More from www.holland.com.
Vienna is in love with Gustav Klimt, especially in this, the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth.
His work made waves around the world, and his best-known piece, The Kiss, resides in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum, home to the world’s largest Klimt collection. A series of exhibitions runs through the year. (www.klimt2012.info)
It’s easy to fall in love with Vienna and there’s always so much happening. Current highlights include the 29th Vienna City Marathon on April 15 taking runners through 42 kilometres of favourite sites while some 250,000 fans cheer them on. The Vienna Festival – May 11 to June 17 – draws thousands to City Hall Square for world-class concerts. Standbys like the Vienna Boys Choir or the famed Spanish Riding School with its magnificent Lipizzaner stallions continue to grow in popularity.
Across the rest of the country celebrations include the August Salzburg Festival of classical music and La Strada Street Theatre Festival in Graz, during the first week of August with performers including puppeteers and acrobats.
Graz is also the locale for Steirischer Herbst in early October, a showcase for contemporary art (performing and visual, including drama, film, music and literature) in unusual venues such as abandoned factories, swimming pools, and mine tunnels. More from www.Austria.info.
Switzerland is tiny but packs a big punch for year-round tourism with some of the best snow sport locations in the world and charming summer attractions.
Check out historic hiking routes (put together in a neat website package) like the hike from the Rhine in Basel to the Hungfraujoch or “Top of Europe.”
You might catch an Alpine cattle drive in summer, or one of many open-air performances around the country. You might help celebrate the centenary of the amazing Jungfraujoch railway spiralling into the mountains.
Lucerne is known as a city of festivals and offers a year-round program rich in culture and cuisine and this year plays host to the World Cup Final of International Rowing (May 25 to 27).
In winter, take advantage of a SnowCard package, saving up to 30 per cent on ski passes and accommodation in 13 ski areas. Find out more from www.myswitzerland.com.
The Czech Republic resounds with music, especially in summer. Prague Spring is one of the country’s top music events and this year the line-up features 50 concerts with guest performers from around the world. (May 12 to June 3.)
Smetana’s Litomysl international opera festival runs from June 14 to July 8 and the renowned International Music Festival in Cesky Krumlov, the picturesque UNESCO town, brings in top-line artists to the historical setting. (July 20 to August 25.)
Other events range from costumed medieval festivals – like Cesky’s Five-Petal Rose Festival (June 17 to 19) with knights, jesters, and costumed nobles – to an international bagpipe festival (August 23 to 26 in Strakonice) which, they say, overcomes all language barriers.
A unique show in Prague is the Invisible Exhibition running through April 1, 2013. It’s an interactive journey into an invisible world where your guides are blind or partially sighted. It’s intended to give sighted people an understanding into the world of the blind. (neviditelna.cz/en)
For more information go to www.czechtourism.com.
In Sweden, you can now explore Stockholm with the ABBA City Walk, following in the 1970s footsteps of the dynamically popular group.
The entire country commemorates the 100th anniversary of August Strindberg’s death, the writer known as the father of modern Swedish literature. Sixty plays and more than 30 works of fiction bear his name, and the Strindberg Museum in Stockholm has a wealth of information: about the man, the writer, and the social activist.
This year Stockholm’s Tekniska Museet (National Museum of Science and Technology) stages its biggest exhibition to date: 100 Most Important Innovations showing the greatest change-making events of all time. (www.visitsweden.com)
Easter is definitely different in Norway’s north, where the Sami people celebrate with World Championship reindeer races. Dress in warm layers and watch the Sami “cowboys” prepare their reindeer. It’s an adventure seen this year from April 4 to 8.
Norway’s patron saint St. Hallvard (May 15) is commemorated with folkloric concerts and family entertainment throughout the country. In Henningsvar, Codstock (May 25 to 27) has nothing to do with fish but is a blues festival with a big following.
Extreme Sports get their own festival and competition in Voss, when Extremsportveko (June 24 to July 1) showcases skydiving, rafting, kayaking, hang gliding…you get the picture.
A maritime nation like Norway naturally celebrates the bounty of the sea, and the narrow, cobbled streets of Mandal are filled with long tables of shellfish, cray fish, and other ocean delicacies from August 9 to 12, accompanied by lively entertainment. Finally in December, along with the Christmas markets, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo from December 10 to 12. (www.visitnorway.com)