French festivals

Top French festivals 2017

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Be surprised by the wide array of top French festivals that celebrate religion, art, chocolate, citrus, wine, film, music and even puppets. See the top festivals in France in 2017, including trendy French music festivals and colourful French celebrations.

French festivals are vibrant and plentiful, offering a delight of regional French food specialities, cultural ties and historical stories. Several festivals in France coincide with French national and school holidays, although there are many more celebrations in France throughout the year, alongside a happening scene of French musical festivals.  

Get a taste of the main festivals of France with our pick of famous French festivals, or immerse yourself deeper with our detailed list of festivals in France below. See which le festival or la fête (festival in French) to cross of your list in 2017.

Top French festivals

End of January: Cirque de Demain, Paris

Once a year, circus actors from the best circus schools in the world compete at the Circus of Tomorrow under the Big Top of the Cirque Phénix according to age groups and professions. The new, young talented discovered here will be the famous artists of tomorrow. The great crowds of spectators enjoy the animal trainers, clowns, acrobats and jugglers who perform in both traditional and modern acts. This is a marvellous experience for the whole family. The 38th festival will take place from 26 to 29 January, 2017. 

Website: www.cirquededemain.com

Mid-February: Nice Carnival

The Nice Carnival is one of the largest carnivals in the world. There are 15 days (and nights) of carnival parades with fantastically decorated floats and gigantic papier-mâché figurines made by the Carnavaliers. During the Flower Parade, extravagantly dressed characters throw 100,000 flowers into the crowd along the Promenade des Anglais and more than 1,000 dancers and musicians from around the world perform at the carnival. By night the floats are illuminated for the Parade of Lights. The 2017 carnival, with the theme ‘King of Media’, will take place 11 to 25 February. If you’re coming from outside Nice, book accommodation as far ahead as possible as the place will be packed out. 

Website: www.nicecarnaval.com

Top French festivals: Nice Carnival

Mid-February to early-March: Menton Lemon Festival

Held in the second half of February, this carnival-like festival, the Fête du Citron, sees more than 200,000 visitors enjoying the work of 300 professionals who use 145 tons of citrus. For two weeks the Biovès Garden in the centre of Menton is filled with huge statutes, models and tableaux, all made from citrus oranges and lemons. The streets belong to the giants, the wind musicians, acrobats, drummers and the masked crowds that dance to the music of the parades of citrus-decorated floats. Treat yourself to a glass of delicious fresh lemonade, some lemon vinegar or even your very own lemon tree. There are shuttle buses to take you into the centre of town. In 2017, the 84th year of the festival runs from 11 February to 1 March. 

Website: www.fete-du-citron.com

April: Berck-Sur-Mer Kite Festival

The town of Berck-Sur-Mer has held an international kite festival (Rencontres internationales de cerfs-volants) for more than two decades. People come from all over the world to fly kites of every colour and shape — from giant pandas and crabs to state-of-the-art stunt kites. There are usually around half a million spectators but there’s plenty of room up on the sand dunes to get a good view. The next festival is 1 to 9 April, 2017. 

Website: www.cerf-volant-berck.com

April to early-November: International Garden Festival

Every year since 1992, the gardens of Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire play host to the annual Festival des Jardins, a garden festival with up to 30 themed gardens. From over 300 proposals, 20 to 30 gardens are selected for inclusion in the festival, with contributions from the UK, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. The displays are also illuminated allowing visitors the chance to explore the gardens by night. The chateau is also enhanced by the glow of over 2,000 candles. Check the festival website for 2017 dates.

Website: www.domaine-chaumont.fr

Top French festivals: International Garden Festival

May: Cannes Film Festival

This International Film Festival was created by a French Minister of Education and Fine Arts who was keen to establish an international cultural event in France to rival the Venice Film Festival. Today, more than 30,000 professionals from all over the world meet at the festival. The festival is a social as much as a professional event and hundreds of thousands of guests enjoy the atmosphere. Worth a trip even if it’s just to star spot. There’s also an open-air cinema on the beach showing Cannes classics: get tickets from the Cannes Tourist Office. The 70th Festival de Cannes will take place from 17 to 28 May, 2017. 

Website: www.festival-cannes.com

Mid-May: Festival Medieval de Sedan

Sedan Castle is one of the great European castles and is a worthy host for the thousands of people who come here to experience the atmosphere of the Middle Ages for this medieval festival. Traditional banquets, fairs, tournaments, wrestling competitions and sword duels await festivalgoers. The medieval fest runs from 20 to 21 May in 2017.

Website: www.chateau-fort-sedan.fr

Top French festivals: Festival Medieval de Sedan

May: Paris Fringe Festival – international theatre festival in English

The second edition of the Paris Fringe festtakes place from 18–28 May 2017, with more than 70 English-language shows including theatre, comedy, musicals, mime and more. International artists and companies come to Paris to take part in the events, workshops and discussions.

Website: www.parisfringe.org

June: Pentecost Feria, Nîmes

Don’t miss out on the Feria de Pentecôte. Held for the first time in 1952, the five-day festival runs from Thursday to Whit Monday. A huge carnival parade starts festivities, winding its way through the city streets and culminating in a large firework display in the arenas, launching the mass celebrations of the million people who come. The world’s best toreros demonstrate their skills in corridas in the ancient Roman amphitheatre, before the streets fill with revellers enjoying the open-air concerts and dance parties that go on throughout the night. In 2017, the Feria de Pentecôte will run from 31 May until 5 June.

Website: www.ot-nimes.fr

June to early-August: Chorégies d’Orange

The Chorégies d’Orange festival dates back to 1860 and is the oldest festival in France. The festival of opera and classical music takes place in a beautifully preserved Roman Theatre in Orange. The 9,000 spectators enjoy not only the incredible historic atmosphere of the ancient building but also, because it has retained the original stone stage wall, amazing natural acoustics. In 2017 the festival, which includes Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, is long and runs from 19 June to 5 August (dress smartly). 

Website: www.choregies.fr

June to August: Carcassone Festival

The extremely well-preserved medieval city of Carcassonne is always worth a visit, especially during its summer-long festival. A mix of music, theatre and dance is performed among the walled city's historic buildings, including the Grand Théâtre and Basilique Saint-Nazaire. This year is the 10th anniversary of the festival. Check the festival website for 2017 dates.

Website: www.festivaldecarcassonne.fr

Top French festivals: Carcassone Festival

June 21: La Fête de la Musique, throughout France

La Fête de la Musique is a street musical festival held every year on 21 June, the day of the summer solstice throughout the whole country. Thousands of musicians gather in the streets, bars, and cafes giving free performances of all kinds of music, from jazz to rock and from hip-hop to electronic music.

Website: www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr

July 14: Bastille Day

A day of national celebration for the French, this public holiday commemorates the day that Parisian commoners and peasants stormed the fortress and prison of Bastille, provoking events that would end the monarchy and usher in the age of liberty, fraternity and equality. There are celebrations all over France but the place to be is the capital. Celebrations start in Paris on the night of 13 July, when many firestations have all-night parties. Next day there’s a traditional military parade along the Champs Elysees and there is a festival atmosphere throughout the day, finishing with the city night-sky turned bright by magnificent and noisy fireworks shows. Festivities last until the late hours. 

Website: www.parisinfo.com

Top French festivals: Bastille Day

July: Festival of Avignon

The annual Festival d’Avignon is one of France’s oldest and most famous festivals. Every year there are around 40 different shows in venues around the city, both French and non-French, in a variety of art forms — theatre, dance, music and cinema, many of them world or French premieres. This year, the festival will take place on 6–26 July, 2017.

Website: www.festival-avignon.com

August: Lorient Interceltic Festival

Each summer, over 800,000 festival goers flock to Lorient in Brittany to celebrate the Festival Interceltique Lorient, a celebration of the region's unique Celtic tradition in France and also in the British Isles and northern Spain. Since its inception in 1971, the festival becomes the temporary centre of the Celtic world with 10 days and nights of non-stop song and dance. The festival's 2017 edition will take place from 4 to 13 August, 2017.

Website: www.festival-interceltique.bzh

Mid-September: Mulhouse Beer Festival

The city of Mulhouse in North East France holds an annual beer festival (Modial de la Bière Mulhouse) lasting three days and with a variety of events and shows. As well as drinking beer participants can watch beer contests, exhibitions on making beer and beer and cheese workshops. Check the website for 2017 dates.

Website: festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca

September: World Puppet Theatre Festival, Charleville-Mézières

Every two years the Festival Mondial des Théâtre de Marionnettes or World Puppet Theatre Festival is held in the town of Charleville-Mézières in the Champagne-Ardennes region of France. For 10 days, 250 troupes from around the world perform around 200 shows — main festival, fringe, street shows — to 150,000 spectators. You’ll find every sort of puppet from glove, through string marionettes and shadow puppets to the latest puppetry innovations. The next festival is on 16–24 September 2017. 

Website: www.festival-marionnette.com

Top French festivals: puppet festival

Early Oct: The Grape Harvest Festival, Montmartre

Clos Montmartre vineyard, nestled in the hills of Montmartre, is a tiny relic of the once abundant vineyards that flourished all over this northern Parisian neighbourhood. But once a year, in early October, all of Montmartre celebrates the Fete des Vendanges de Montmartre — the Grape Harvest festival. Check for 2017 dates.

Website: fetedesvendangesdemontmartre.com

Mid-October: Autumn Festival of Lanvellec

The music festival of Lanvellec celebrates the magical music of Brittany. Taking place over some two weeks, the gentle sounds of the Dallam’s Organ, which was built in 1653, transport the listeners on a journey into the heart of traditional French music. The festival also sees a range of artists from around the world participate in what is a relaxed festival before the winter storms. Check the website for 2017 dates.

Website: www.festival-lanvellec.fr

Late-October to early November: Le Salon du Chocolate, Paris

Chocolate lovers who visit Paris at the end of October can enjoy the delights of dozens of chocolatiers and see how chocolate is produced from the picking of the cocoa beans to the end product. Manufacturers from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Japan, Canada to name a few come and present their wares on more than 400 stands. A heavenly delight for children and sweet lovers of all ages. The next Salon du Chocolat is on from 28 October to 1 November, 2017, Porte de Versailles. 

Website: www.salonduchocolat.fr

Top French festivals: Salon du Chocolat

November to December: Lille Christmas Market

Get into the festive spirit with Lille's month-long Christmas Market. The Place Rihour is taken over by stalls selling arts and crafts. There's entertainment for children plus a Ferris wheel and traditional Christmas delicacies to try or take away. Visitors with children can have photos taken with Father Christmas, who attends the market and participates in a spectacular event on the Saturday before Christmas — when he ‘falls’ from the Chamber of Commerce's 80-metre-high Belfry. Check for 2017 dates. Read Expatica's guide on Christmas markets in Europe for other Christmas markets you can visit during the winter season.

Website: www.noel-a-lille.com

Early December: Le Grand Tasting

The Louvre in Paris hosts Le Festival des Meilleurs Vins. This is a unique meeting of winemakers and lovers of wine. The wines presented are approved by Bettane and Desseauve before being accepted for the Grand Tasting. Check for 2017 dates.

Website: www.grandtasting.com

Early December: Feast of St. Nicholas, Nancy

Each year, several countries in Europe celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas in December. In Nancy, France, the festival is growing in popularity and has been transformed into a fairytale, taking you in to the legendary and magical world of Saint Nicholas. An equestrian parade, a craft market, exhibitions, theatrical performances and concerts are also on the agenda, not to mention a spectacular firework display. The festival is on 2–3 December 2017 this year. Read about celebrating Christmas in France.

Website: en.nancy-tourisme.fr

December 5 to 8: The Festival of Lights, Lyon

France expresses gratitude towards Mary, mother of Jesus, on 8 December each year. This uniquely Lyonnaise tradition dictates that every house place candles along the outside of all the windows to produce a spectacular effect throughout the streets. With over four million tourists coming to Lyon for this event, La Fête des Lumières includes other activities based on light and usually lasts four days, with the peak of activity occurring on 8 December. 

Website: www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr

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Photo credit (CC-Licence): Mark Fischer (Nice Carnival, Bataille des Fleurs), GIRAUD Patrick via Wikimedia Commons (International Garden Festival), Clelie Mascaret (Festival Medieval de Sedan), Jean-Baptiste Bellet (Festival de Carcassonne)Irene (Bastille Day)G.Garitan via Wikimedia Commons (puppet festival), Christelle Paris (Salon du Chocolat).

 
 


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