Top German festivals

Top German festivals 2017

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O’zapft is! With over 10,000 German festivals, Germany offers marvel to everyone from book lovers to beer drinkers. Here are the festivals in Germany that you shouldn't miss in 2017.

With more than 10,000 German festivals, including some of the world’s biggest and strangest, Germany is certainly a place sagacious souls can appreciate. From the raucous parties of Karneval and German music festivals to the acclaimed Berlinale film festival or the famous German Christmas markets, there are German celebrations for all tastes and ages.

Some of the traditional festivals in Germany include Bayreuth’s Richard Wagner music festival, Munich’s restrained commemoration of beer, Oktoberfest, the world’s largest trade fair for books in Frankfurt and the Munich Opera Festival.

Since the mid-1980s, however, there has been a rapid expansion of new, more niche-market festivals in Germany. Night owls and museum geeks can revel together during Berlin’s Long Night of the Museums, an evening when the city’s museums and cultural institutions stay open into early hours. Fans of avant-garde film can fill their heads with new, esoteric anecdotes at Videonale, Bonn’s German festival for art and experimental videos. Even secret Dungeons and Dragons lovers can find a home at Bavaria’s medieval re-enactment festival Festival-Medieval. This is also alongside a world-class range of German music festivals, some receiving thousands of international visitors.

Whether you’re just visiting Germany or have lived here for a while, attending German festivals can be an easy and exciting way to discover German culture and local German food. You can also check which German festivals coincide with German public and school holidays or read our pick of top 10 German festivals

To help get you started, here are some of the most important and interesting events on the German festivals list in 2017.

Top German festivals 2017

6 January: Epiphany

Epiphany is widely celebrated in Germany every year with churches and locals setting up Nativity scenes or sometimes, re-enacting the popular Bible story. Some volunteers dressed as the three kings even go house-to-house caroling and collecting donations for charities.

February: Berlin International film festival

The world’s second largest film festival after Cannes, the Berlinale draws together more than 19,000 film professionals from 115 countries. The festival showcases a wide variety of films, including big international movies, independent and art house productions, movies aimed at younger audiences, German productions and more experimental films. The 67th festival runs from 9 to 17 February 2017. 


Top festivals in Germany: Berlinale

Mid-February to April: Bonn Videonale festival 

One of the world’s oldest video art festivals, both stars and up-and-coming young artists of the international video-art scene can be found there. Launched in 1984, the biennial Videonale today counts as one of the oldest and most renowned festivals of video art in the world. The German festival is on 17 Februar to 2 April, 2017.


Mid-February to March: Karneval

The 40-day period before Ash Wednesday on 1 March, 2017 when Lent begins is also Karneval season in Germany. It’s a time when the typically orderly Germans let loose and party. Parades, costume balls and other such festivities take place throughout the country, often varying widely according to local traditions. Read Expatica's guide to celebrating Karneval in Germany

Best festivals in Germany: Carnival

Late-March: Leipzig Book Fair

The Leipzig fair is Europe’s biggest festival of literature and features more than 2,600 events held at 350 difference venues. An ideal communication platform, the Leipzig Book Fair provides extensive information about new publications as well as current and future trends in the German speaking and European markets. The next Leipzig Bookfair is 23 to 26 March, 2017. 


Top festivals in Germany: Leipzig Book Fair

Early April: Munich ballet week

Perhaps the most exciting time of the year for the Bavarian State Ballet is Munich Ballet Week (Bayerische Staatsballett), when they and other international companies put on a week's worth of performances that always succeed in enchanting audiences. Over the last few decades this event has become one of the most prestigious of its kind, drawing visitors from across Europe and beyond. Check online for this year's ballet week schedule. 


April to May: Thuringia Bach festival

The Thuringia Bach festival (Thueringer Bachwochen) specialises in Baroque music and performing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach in authentic sites. The festival appeals to music lovers and tourists alike. This year's festival will take place from 7 April to 1 May, 2017.  


May: Wave-Gothic Festival, Leipzig

Goths, cyber goths, Ssteampunks and anyone else into the 'dark' arts may want to head for the Wave-Gotik-Treffen, to enjoy the best of dark music and culture, with bands, fairs and events with medieval and gothic themes. The event, now one of the world's largest of its type, was considered so subversive in the days of the German Democratic Republic that it was banned. The Wave-Gotik-Treffen will run from 2 to 5 May, 2017. 


Best German festivals:  Wave-Gothic Festival

Mid-May: International Dixieland Festival Dresden

Many a saintly visitor goes marching into Dresden in early May to check out the city's festival of Dixieland and early jazz music. Known particularly for its open-air events on the Elbe River, the festival boasts over 350 artists every year; this year is its 46th. Don't forget to drop by the Dixie parade and to catch a show by one of the city’s many street performers. This year's festival will take place from 14 to 21 May, 2017. 


May and August: International Africa festival

During this unique festival in Tubingen near Stuttgart, African artists and bands perform modern and traditional music and dance from their home countries. There is also a market with African crafts and works of art. In 2017, it’s on 7 to 13 July. You can also catch the Africa Festival Wurzburg, which runs earlier in the year from 25 to 28 May, 2017 and is one of the largest festivals in Europe for African music and culture. 


May–September: Rhein in Flammen

Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in Flames) is a series of spectacular firework displays lighting up the castles and vineyards on the banks of Germany's famous river in different locations in Bonn and St Goar. In 2017, thes German festival will have events taking place all over the country starting in May until September. You can view the shows from illuminated boats on the Rhine; ashore there are concerts, fairgrounds, food, drink and many other entertainments. Check the exact dates on their website.


Top German festivals: Rhine fireworks

May–October: Oberammergau Passion Play

After escaping the bubonic plague back in 1634, the villagers of Oberammergau gave thanks to God by vowing to perform their now world-famous 'Passion Play' every 10 years. Over 400 years later, they continue to do so. Of the 5,300 or so population, around 2,000 are involved in the play which re-enacts Christ's life leading up to his crucifixion and can last up to eight hours (including a three-hour interval). The next performance will be in 2020 but the Passion Play Theatre is open for tours and other cultural performances in the meantime. 


June: Rock am Ring and Rock im Park

These are two massive rock festivals that take place simultaneously over three days: Rock am Ring (Rock in the Ring) in Nürberg and Rock im Park (Rock in the Park) in Nuremberg. The same artists from a range of music genres appear at each venue, performing to combined crowds of around 160,000, making this one of the largest music festivals in the world. Check out the website for the line-up for the next festival which is 2 to 4 June, 2017.

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June: Kieler Woche, Kiel

Kieler Woche or Kiel Week is not only the largest sailing event in the world — with over 2,000 yachts, tall ships, dinghies, and surfboards taking part — it's also a massive open air music and cultural festival with an accompanying children's cultural festival. What started life as a one-day regatta 133 years ago is now a week-long event where you can watch Olympic and international sailors race, a windjammer parade of tall ships and take your pick from some 300+ musical events. Keiler Woche runs from 17 to 25 June, 2017. 


Top festivals in Germany: International Africa festival

June–July: Munich Opera festival

Held every year at the Bayerische Staatsoper (the Bavarian State Opera), the Opernfestspiele consists mainly of shows staged during the past year and always concludes with a piece by Wagner. In 2016, the festival opens on 19 June and runs until the end of July. 


July–August: Richard Wagner Festival (Bayreuth festival)

The month-long Bayreuther Festspiele is held annually in the Bavarian town of the same name. Wagner himself oversaw the construction of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the theatre where concerts from the composer have been performed since 1876. The 2017 programme starts 25 July and runs until 28 August. 


August: Long night of the museums

From its beginning in 1997, almost all of the city’s 180 museums and memorials have taken part in the long night. Each event offers a different combination of museums and a new programme (with ever more museums and initiatives joining in) so that visitors are guaranteed a diverse experience and new discoveries every time. In 2017, the event will take place on 26 August from 6–8pm. 


Best festivals in Germany: Long night of the museums

September: Festival-Mediaval

The Festival-Mediaval is a living history and re-enactment festival in Selb. The event includes performances of medieval music, fire shows, roaming performers such as witches and beggars, theatre groups and a medieval market. If you've ever had a hankering to try your hand at archery while munching on a medieval snack, then this festival is for you. This year's festival will run from 7 to 10 September, 2017. 


September: Beethovenfest in Bonn

Each year a grand German music festival is held in the town of Bonn, incorporating concerts, workshops and events in the Beethovenhalle concert hall. International and local visitors descend upon Bonn to hear a number of internationally acclaimed guest articles and orchestas. The next important step is working up to 2020, Beethoven's 250th birthday, when Bonn will play an important role in the German celebrations as Beethoven's birthplace.


September to early October: Oktoberfest

One of Germany’s most famous festivities and the world’s largest fair, Oktoberfest is a 15-day celebration of Bavarian beer. More than six million people come to drink beer, eat chicken legs and pork sausages and engage in general revelry. Join them from 16 September to 3 October, 2017. 


Top festivals in Germany: Oktoberfest

October: Frankfurt book fair

The history of world's largest trade fair for books dates all the way back to 15th century, when Johannes Gutenberg first invented movable type just a few kilometres away from Frankfurt. Soon after, local booksellers held the first book fair. The Frankfurt fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) is now primarily for people in the industries surrounding books, although it does have some more layman-accessible events, such as its award for the oddest book title of the year. In 2017, the Frankfurt Bookfair is on from 11 to 15 October. 


11 November: St Martin’s day

St Martin’s Day is the feast day of Martin of Tours, who began his life as a Roman soldier and ended up a monk. St Martin’s most famous deed is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, thereby saving the beggar’s life. That night, Martin dreamed that the beggar he had helped was Jesus.

On St Martin’s Day, which is celebrated in many areas in Germany, children go from house to house with paper lanterns and candles and sing songs about St Martin in return for treats. Many places also have public festivals to celebrate the saint that include re-enactments of St Martin’s donation of his cloak and the serving of the traditional dish of roast goose, or Martinsgans.

December: Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkts)

Nearly every German city and village sets up a Christmas market during the Advent season. Giving you a reason to brace the cold, visitors can ride a Ferris wheel, browse through the stands selling handicrafts, wooden toys and ceramics, sample the hot mulled wine (glühwein) and hot chestnuts or just absorb the merry atmosphere. These fairs have proven so popular that other countries have started copying the German-Austrian tradition. Notable Christmas markets are in Berlin, Munich, Nuremberg, Lubeck, Munster, Stuttgart and Heidelberg. Read our guide to German Christmas markets.

Top festivals in Germany: Christmas markets

Experience more top festivals in Europe and abroad:

 to the top of our German festivals guide.



Photo credits: Zeitfixierer (thumbnail, Holi party), Siebbi (Berlinale), Danny Soztny (Wave-Gothic Festival), mLu.fotos (Rhine fireworks), David R. Tribble (Africa festival), Mateusz War. (Long night), Bayreuth2009 (Oktoberfest), charley1965 (Chrictmas market).


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2 Comments To This Article

  • Erin posted:

    on 31st March 2017, 16:49:20 - Reply

    Love this list. I'm studying abroad in Germany, so many to add to my list! I'm actually going to Fruhlingfest, like a mini Oktoberfest-style festival, next month!

  • Kim posted:

    on 18th September 2016, 16:55:33 - Reply

    How could the Beethovenfest in Bonn have been left off of this illustrious list? That is absolutely ridiculous! From the beginning of September to the beginning of October every year, Bonn celebrates the birth of their favorite son through concerts, parades, special guest speakers, and much more. Tourists flock from all over the world to celebrate the Beethovenfest!