From bears and Belgian beers to witches and pig bladders, festivals in Belgium have long been a major part of Belgian culture. Here are the top Belgian festivals that attract huge crowds every year.
Like many other European countries, Belgium is noted for the numerous 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: welcoming in the New Year, Easter celebrations, Labour Day and Armistice Day in Belgium and, of course, the ever-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, as part of its national pride, 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.
Best festivals in Belgium
February: Carnival of 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 2018 carnival programme runs 11–13 February. Carnival celebrations take place around the country, however, so there’s always a place to celebrate carnival in Belgium.
Late February to March: Anima Festival, Brussels
The Brussels 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. In 2018, the festival takes place 9–18 February.
Stavelot is a mid-Lent carnival, and the biggest festivities begin on the Sunday with the Blancs Moussis, (‘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 516th Laetare Stavelot runs 10–12 March 2018.
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.
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 2018 edition of this Belgian beer festival takes place 28–29 April.
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 spectacular firework display. The event will take place from 30 March to 2 April 2018.
10 May: Procession of the Holy Blood, Bruges
A large religious procession, the Procession of the Holy Blood takes place in Bruges on Ascension Day each year. In 2018, Ascension Day falls on 10 May. Up to 100,000 people witness the procession – a UNESCO World Heritage List item – and its biblical stories.
May: Belgian Pride
The Belgian arm of the now worldwide Pride Festival takes place in Brussels each May – and in 2018, this will be held from 4–20 May, with the parade falling on 19 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 textiles of the city’s main trade several hundred years ago. Today Ypres is known as a cat city not because of this history but due to the 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 held on 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. The 2018 edition will be held on 12 May.
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 at the Vooruit Arts Centre and coincides with the city’s festivities, the Gentse Feesten (Ghent festival). The 2018 festival runs from 17–27 July.
July: Gentse Feesten, Ghent
A music and theatre festival which lasts for 10 days every July, the Gentse Feesten (Ghent Festival) is said to be one of the biggest city carnivals in the world with approximately two million visitors. The festival is held 13 to 22 July 2018.
July: Ommegang Festival, Brussels
This pageant of colour and grandness dates back to 1549, when it was 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. In 2018, this Belgian festival will take place from 4–6 July.
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.
July: Beselare Witch Parade
Inspired by a witches’ trial that apparently took place in the town, the local people commemorate the Heksenstoet (Witch Parade), featuring more than 1,000 costumed participants showcasing witches from well-known fairy tales, as well as local legendary characters such as 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 28 July 2019.
Tomorrowland, the largest and most outrageous electronic music festival in the world, is held in a small Belgian town appropriately called Boom for two weekends in the summer. Tickets for this Belgian music festival sell out fast – sometimes within an hour – so act quickly if you want to attend the 2018 edition of this Belgian music festival, which takes place from 20–22 July and 27–29 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 2018 festival are 14–18 August.
August: Brussels Flower Carpet
Every two years (on the even years) in mid-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. In 2018, the Brussels Flower Carpet will be held from 16–19 August.
August: Dinant International Bathtub Regatta
A long weekend around 15 August marks the annual Régate Internationale de Baignoires (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 of over €10,000 keeps it interesting.
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 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.
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, but you don’t have to spend all your time there: there are plenty more Christmas markets 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).