Top Belgian festivals 2017
From bears and Belgian beers to witches and pig bladders, the roundup of bizarre festivals in Belgium have long been a major part of Belgian culture. Here are the top Belgian festivals in 2017 that attract huge crowds every year.
Like many other European countries, Belgium is noted for its numerous Belgian festivals that take place all year round, from carnival to Belgium's music festivals, some of which are the biggest in the world. Festivals in Belgium celebrate many important dates in the calendar, from welcoming in the New Year, through to Easter celebrations, the public holidays of Labour Day and Armistice Day in Belgium and onto the popular Christmas period when several celebrations are conducted around December.
Aside from the widely celebrated Belgian national holidays, Belgium's festivals cover everything in the fields of arts, music, film, history – and even beer. History is played out during festivals in Belgium on Independence Day and in the Battle of Waterloo Re-enactment, Festival of Wallonia, Ommegang Festival and the Procession of the Holy Blood, while entertainment is the centrepiece of the Anima Festival, Zinneke Parade, Brussels Festival, the Gentse Feesten (Ghent festival) and Reiefeest.
How many top Belgian festivals will you cross off your list in 2017?
Top Belgian festivals
1 January: New Year's Day
Along with the rest of the world, the country ushers in the New Year on January 1 with huge celebrations in Belgium, which is a public holiday.
February: Carnival de Binche
The famous three-day Carnaval de Binche sees the town of Binche return to the 16th century. It features music parades through the town and the big climax sees the Gilles appear on the Grand Place before throwing oranges at spectators – to be hit is considered good luck. The next carnival programme runs 26 to 28 February, 2017. Events take place around the country, however, which you can read about in our guide to celebrating carnival in Belgium.
Late February–March: Anima Festival, Brussels
The International Animation Film Festival is for all of the family, with more than 300 different animation movies from around the world screened at the Flagey Centre in Brussels during Anima. In 2017, the festival takes place 24 Februart to 5 March.
Stavelot is the mid-lent carnival and the biggest festivities begin on the Sunday with the Blancs Moussis, which translates as ‘clad in white’, putting up posters on the streets. During the afternoon a procession of floats travel through the streets showering crowds with confetti and flogging them with pig bladders. The 515th Laetare Stavelot runs 25 to 27 March, 2017.
March: Carnival of the Bears, Andenne
After a nine-year-old boy killed a bear that was terrifying his grandmother the animal became the symbolic animal of the town and the inspiration for the Andenne Carnaval des Ours. Dozens of bears prance along, parading among the floats and the Giant Martin II. At the end of the parade, to the children's delight, the King and Queen of the Carnival throw hundreds of little bears into the crowd from the balcony of the town hall. Check their website for an announcement of the 2017 date.
April: Zythos Beer Festival, Leuven
You can taste more than 500 different types of beer from 100 brewers in just one weekend at this giant beer festival held in the city of Leuven, home to Stella Artois and also the longest bar in the world. Around the city you’ll also find restaurants offering dishes cooked with beer, beer walks and beer workshops. The festival is on 22 to 23 April, 2017.
April: Cavalcade of Herve
More than 50,000 people line the streets of Herve each year to witness the Calvalcade de Herve. The centrepiece of the festival is a procession of colourful horse-drawn carriages and it all ends with a fireworks spectacular. Check for the 2017 date.
25 May: Procession of the Holy Blood, Bruges
The largest religious procession, the Procession of the Holy Blood takes place in Bruges on Ascension Day each year. In 2017, Ascension Day falls on 25 May. Up to 100,000 people witness the procession and its biblical stories. It is an event now included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
May: Belgian Pride
The Belgian arm of the now worldwide Pride Festival takes place in Brussels each May – and in 2017 this will be on 20 May. A political statement for many minority sexualities and genders first and a festival second, Belgian Pride is a celebration of street parties, music and entertainment.
The city's association with cats stems from a gruesome tale of cat-throwing from towers to control the city's cat population, which was first introduced to catch the mice that hid and ate the textile of the city's main trade, several hundred years ago. Today Ypres is know as a cats' city not because of this history but due to Cat Parade started by locals in 1938. It is now held on the second Sunday of May every third year, and to kids' delight ends with a 'fool' throwing toy cats from the city hall tower. The 44th edition will be 13 May 2018.
May: Zinneke Parade
The Zinneke Parade is a biennial festival that takes place in Brussels every other year (on the even years) in May. Zinneke is the nickname for the people of Brussels, who get together to devise the theme of each Brussels festival. It is a colourful carnival with music performed without amplification. Check the 2017 festival date.
June: Battle of Waterloo Re-enactments
Each June, the historic Battle of Waterloo is re-enacted on the field of Waterloo where the original conflict took place in 1815. Visitors from across the world head for the iconic battlefield to witness unforgettable reprisals of the battle. The programme runs on the weekend nearest to 18 June, the historic date of the Battle of Waterloo.
July: 10 Days Off, Ghent
This 10-day music festival sees the best of the electronic music scene descend on Ghent. First held in 1995, this festival is staged indoors the Vooruit Arts Centre and coincides with the city's festivities, the Gentse Feesten (Ghent festival). Check the website 2017 dates.
July: Gentse Feesten, Ghent
A music and theatre festival which lasts for 10 days every July, the Gentse Feesten (Ghent Festivities) is said to be one of the biggest city carnivals in the world with approximately two million visitors. The festival is on 17 to 27 July, 2017 this year.
July: Ommegang Festival, Brussels
This pageant of colour and grandness dates back to 1549, when first held for Emperor Charles V and his honoured guests. Tiered stands are set up in and around the Grand Place to witness a historic festival that includes horses, jousting and flag processions. Check for 2017 dates.
21 July: Independence Day
Belgium celebrates Independence Day on 21 July each year, the date the country gained independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The occasion is marked with parades and fireworks across Belgium.
Inspired by a witches’ trial that apparently took place in the town, the local people commemorate the Heksenstoet or Witch Parade, featuring more than 1,000 costumed participants showcasing witches from well-known fairy tales, as well as local legendary characters like Sefa Bubbels, Meele Crotte and Leeme Caduul. Music and dancing goes on all night, culminating with the nail-biting recreation of a witch trial. Held every two years on the last Sunday of July, the next one is on 30 July 2017.
Tomorrowland, the largest and most outrageous electronic music festival in the world, is held in a small Belgian town called — very appropriately — Boom. Tickets for this Belgian music festival last year sold out within 40 minutes. The Belgian music festival's 2017 dates are 21–23 and 28–30 July.
August: Brussels Summer Festival
First held in 2002, the Brussels Summer Festival is a music festival held in the city during August. More than 250 concerts are held during this Brussels festival with music covering an array of sectors. Theatre performances and street entertainers provide more attractions during the festival. The dates for 2017 are 6 to 15 August.
August: Brussels Flower Carpet
Every two years (on the even years) on the weekend of 15 August, the Grand Palace in Brussels comes alive with the colour of more than half a million begonias, set up in just four hours by some 100 volunteers. Since 1971, Brussels has created this intricate Flower Carpet, measuring 74m long and 24m wide. A concert is also held each evening, with a spectacular light and sound show. The next date for this Brussels festival is in 2018.
August: Dinant International Bathtub Regatta
The long weekend around 15 August marks the annual Régate Internationale de Baignoires or International Bathtub Regatta, a wacky event taking place over six days. The regatta is made up of a fleet of floating bathtubs with unusual and original decorations. These remarkable vessels sailing down 1km of the Meuse make an interesting contest for the 25,000 souls who turn up to watch. A prize fund of over EUR 10,000 keeps it interesting.
August: Reiefeest, Bruges
An open-air spectacle held every five years (the last one was in 2013 and the next in 2018), Reiefeesten is the ‘festival of the canals’. More than 600 musicians, dancers and actors provide the entertainment.
Late-August: Ath Parade of the Giants
Always held on the fourth weekend of August, this medieval pageant celebrates the wedding of Monsieur and Madame Gouyasse (Goliath). The festival includes a ceremony at Saint Julian's church, after which Goliath fights the shepherd David in front of the town hall. During the Sunday parade, onlookers throw coins at the dancing giants for good luck. Don't leave without buying a traditional Masteilles tart.
September: Festival Kanal
This relatively new festival was created to provide an exploration into the Brussels canal zone through art and cultural projects. Held over five days in the area between Sainctelette Square and the Anderlecht Abattoirs, visitors are invited to a range of activities and entertainment. Check for 2017 dates.
September: Festival of Wallonia
Although the Festival of Wallonia or Fêtes de Wallonie celebrates the entire region, it actually centres in Namur, which welcomes around 250,000 people during the festival. It was introduced in 1923 to celebrate the revolutionary days of the 1800s and among the attractions are a stilt-walking contest and a moving and funny mass. Check the website for 2017 dates.
1 November: All Saints' Day
A public holiday for the whole of Belgium to celebrate all Christian saints. In Belgium, many people place flowers on the graves of dead relatives on this day.
11 November: Armistice Day in Belgium
Armistice Day in Belgium is a public holiday and a solemn day when the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany bringing World War I to an end.
Late November–early January: Christmas Market, Brussels
Christmas markets are popular all over Belgium but the popular Christmas Market in Brussels, best known as Winter Wonders, is regarded as one the most original in Europe. Over 2km of stalls, attractions and activities await the visitor in the heart of the city at the Grand Place and around the Bourse. It is open seven days a week throughout the period. Read more about Christmas markets in Belgium in Expatica's guide.
5 December: St. Nicholas' Eve
The first of the two celebrated Christmas days in Belgium, St Nicholas’ Eve is known as Sinterklass. It is the day when children receive their presents and is sometimes celebrated on 6 December, which is St Nicholas’ Day. Read how the Belgian celebrate Christmas in Belgium.
25 December: Christmas, Belgium
All of Belgium celebrates Christmas, the day being a public holiday where families gather together to share big Belgian christmas feasts.
Experience more top festivals in Europe and abroad:
- Dutch festivals
- French festivals
- German festivals
- Festivals in Luxembourg
- Portuguese festivals
- Russian festivals
- South African festivals
- Spanish festivals
- Swiss festivals
- UK festivals
Click to the top of our Belgian festivals guide.
Photo credit: Véronique Mergaux (Binche), spencerrasson (Stavelot), Cbl62 (Bruges holy blood procession), Cedric Dubois (cat parade), D_M_D (Zinneke), Stijn Debrouwere (Ghent Festival), www.heksenstoet.be (witch parade), Wouter Hagens via Wikimedia Commons (flower carpet), via Wikimedia Commons GFDL (Ath giants), EDEN (poppy flowers, Ypres).
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