The Best Festivals and Celebrations in Eastern Europe
Festival of the Kukeri (Bulgaria): The days between New Year's and Lent are known as Mrasni Dni ("Dirty Days"), a time when it is said that the gates to heaven and hell are left open and demons walk the earth. To scare away evil, villagers all over Bulgaria don terrifying masks and belts sagging with huge bells while brandishing wooden weapons as they patrol the streets, making noise. You can see the best examples and photos of kukeri costumes in Sofia's Ethnographic Museum. For the ultimate kukeri show, plan to visit in an even-numbered year during the last weekend in January, when some 3,500 revelers participate in Bulgaria's largest Festival of the Kukeri in Pernik.
The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Czech Republic): This is the place to see and be seen. Each summer (in early July), the country's film stars, celebrities, and wealthy folks, supported by a cast of international luminaries, can be spotted taking part in one of Europe's biggest film festivals. Nine venues screen more than 300 films during the 10-day festival.
Easter (Hollóko[da], Hungary): The entire town dresses in traditional Easter garb to reenact the religious event, and it's a magical experience. These rural Palóc people speak an unusual Hungarian dialect, and they have some of the more colorful folk customs and costumes.
September Wine Festival (Budapest, Hungary): The first weekend of September celebrates the first wheat harvest of the season and the crushing of the grapes. A parade of traditionally costumed dancers and musicians starts the celebration with a march up to Castle Hill, signaling the opening of the weekend-long wine festival. Each year a different country is invited to share its wine heritage. Entertainment, wine tasting, food, and crafts fill the weekend with fun for the entire family. Check with TourInform, as events change from year to year due to bridge construction.
Winter Customs Festival (Maramures, Romania): Countless festivals occur throughout the year, but a favorite is over the Christmas holidays when the small town of Sighet, near the Ukraine border, comes to life on December 27 for the Winter Customs Festival, good old-fashioned fun filled with folkloric symbolism. Participants dress up in traditional costumes and young men run around with grotesque masks, cowbells dangling from their waists.
New Year's Day (Russia): This is the major holiday of the Russian year. It's a family event centered on a fir tree, a huge feast, and gift-giving traditions transferred by Soviet leaders from Christmas to the more secular New Year's Day.
White Nights in St. Petersburg (Russia): Two weeks of festivities in late June celebrate the longest day of the year, when the northern sun never dips below the horizon. The White Nights are more than a party; they're a buoyant, carefree attitude of summer-ness. Ride a boat through the canals as the sunset melts into a languorous sunrise, and you'll never want to go south again.
Pohoda Music Festival (Trencín, Slovakia): Every year in mid-July, the normally industrious town of Trencín lets its hair down for 3 days of independent folk, rock, and pop. The festival has grown in recent years and now lures some of the best bands around. But don't just think traffic jams, mud, and long lines for beer: The word pohoda means "relax," and that's the whole idea.
The Kurentovanje Festival (Slovenia): Each winter in Ptuj, revelers don crazy masks and take to the streets in a positively pagan celebration that once had some bearing on trying to control the climate. Now it's a spirited reminder that Slovenes love to party.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.