Unusual festivals in Europe: Nine of the weirdest events

From cheese rolling to wife-carrying, here are the nine silliest antics Europeans have turned into a festival.

The Running of the Bulls, Spain

Part of the wider San Fermin festival, Pamplona's Running of the Bulls sees six bulls unleashed through the streets in July. And hundreds of people risk life and limb by joining them. The bulls, which have an average speed of 24km/h, are shepherded through the streets by steers that have been trained on the route. It is lined by buildings and wooden fences with enough space in the gaps for a human to slip through. Not all of them make it – gorings at the event are notorious, and participants take it on at their own risk. See sanfermin.com

The World Bog-Snorkelling Championships, Wales

On the Monday of the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of August, some of the world's hardiest swimmers descend on the small town of Llanwrtyd Wells to face their toughest challenge – snorkelling through a murky bog as quickly as possible. They're armed only with a snorkel, flippers and wetsuit, all of which need a darned good washing down with a hose afterwards. The twist is that they're not allowed to use any conventional swimming strokes – so significant creativity and improvisation is required. See green-events.co.uk

The World Wife-Carrying Championships, Finland

Every July, Sonkajarvi plays host to the weirdest of race meetings, in which muscular men carry their wives around a 250-metre track lined with all manner of obstacles. There's fierce debate among competitors about the best method for lugging the wife around – piggy back or thrown over the shoulder? There are also awards for best costume and funniest couple should, for some reason, some participants decide not to take the whole thing that seriously. See eukonkanto.fi

The Palio, Italy

The main square of Siena, surrounded by buildings, with sharp angles and elevation rises, is completely ill-suited to horse racing. Nevertheless, twice a year – on July 2 and August 6 – riders representing the city districts hurtle around it. The levels of pageantry surrounding the event are astonishing – it's a spectacle even if you can't see much of the race from the packed Piazza del Campo. Afterwards, the winning district will return home and bar outsiders from entering while it has a street party.

Up Helly Aa, Scotland

On the last Tuesday of every January, Shetland celebrates its Nordic heritage by getting everyone to dress up as a Viking. Then a massive wooden galley is carried through the streets of Lerwick, before being ceremonially burned by said people dressed as Vikings. Smaller versions of the Lerwick event take place on the other islands of Shetland, to mark the end of the Yule period.

Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling, England

The concept is pretty simple – the first to catch a cheese wins it. However, when that cheese is rolled down a steep hill in the Gloucestershire countryside, this requires chasing after it as gravity takes its effect. This race – which takes place every end of May bank holiday – leads to injuries pretty much every year. See cheeserolling.co.uk

La Tomatina, Spain

Held in the town of Bunol, near Valencia, on the last Wednesday of August, this ridiculous waste of perfectly good pizza topping sees thousands of people lobbing tomatoes at each other. It lasts for an hour, turns everyone into an absolute mess, and covers the streets in more than 100,000 kilograms of wasted tomatoes. Still, it sounds kinds fun, though, doesn't it? See latomatina.info

The Battle of the Oranges, Italy

Take La Tomatina, switch tomatoes for oranges and throw in a whole lot of history, and you've got the highlight of Ivrea's carnival every February. The giant food fight is celebrating the overthrow of an evil medieval duke – the oranges represent the stones thrown at the duke's castle during the rebellion. But the modern day version is basically just hundreds of people hurling fruit disturbingly hard at each other. See storicocarnevaleivrea.it

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, Germany

The town of Ludwigsburg is so obsessed with pumpkins that its festival celebrating them lasts for three months. During that time, pumpkins are put to every possible use – from making Germany's largest pumpkin soup to carving competitions and making massive sculptures out of them. The silliest event is saved for late September, though, when people attempt to canoe across a lake in hollowed-out pumpkins.


Take a look at Europe's silliest events in the photo gallery above.

See also: Twenty things that will shock first-time visitors to Europe

See also: The eight things you need to know before travelling in Europe