One of the best parts of travelling is doing something that’s really special: something you couldn’t do the same way anywhere else on earth. These are the unforgettable experiences that let you feel as if you’re touching the face of history. And nowhere offers more of them than Europe.
Each summer, Europe is a hotbed of festivals and special events — there are so many that you could spend the entire season attending them. But among them, there are a few events that let you celebrate special moments in the very places where the history (or in some cases, the art) took place. If you’re lucky enough to be there, it’s something you’ll never forget.
Here’s a list of six unforgettable experiences taking place in Europe this summer.
See Shakespeare at the Globe
If you like theatre, one experience you’ll never forget is to attend a Shakespeare play in the very theatre where he presented them — or at least, as close as you can get. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, in London, is a faithful reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre, just down the street, where the bard’s plays were performed during his lifetime.
Each summer the theatre features Shakespeare plays in their original setting, with a thrust stage, a circular, open courtyard (which once served as standing room for the great unwashed), and no spotlights or amplified sound. Many of the performances are held during the day to take advantage of the natural light.
You can see Shakespeare performed in the theatre throughout the season: the summer lineup includes Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, and even Richard III performed in Mandarin!
Where Bankside, London
When Performances till September
Bloomsday in Dublin
Thursday, June 16, 1904, is the day depicted in James Joyce’s controversial, groundbreaking novel Ulysses, in which the central character, Leopold Bloom, makes his wayward way around Dublin. And each year on the same day, Dublin celebrates Bloomsday, an event that leads Joyce fans around the city on the same route as old Leopold.
The celebration includes visits to many of the sites mentioned in the book, and all the better if you show up wearing period clothing — particularly a straw boater hat. There are readings and performances, and this being an Irish event, a few pints in the pubs along the way.
If you want to be really authentic, you can fortify yourself beforehand with the Bloomsday Breakfast, which includes liver and kidneys along with the typical Irish fried breakfast (you might want to see your cardiologist right afterward). And if you can’t make it to Dublin, check around: Bloomsday is celebrated in cities in other countries too.
Where Dublin, and other cities worldwide
When June 16
Midsummer Night’s Eve in Sweden
One of the experiences that’s high on my bucket list is to be in Sweden during the annual Midsummer Night celebrations (are you listening, Swedish Tourist Board?). Maybe I was besotted by the romantic picture Ingmar Bergman drew in his movie Smiles of a Summer Night, but the real event looks to be just as much fun.
Midsummer Night (or Midsommar, as the Swedes call it) is an ancient festival, a celebration of high summer when the north blooms and basks under the midnight sun. The festivities include wearing a garland of flowers in your hair, singing songs and doing traditional dances around a decorated May pole, a fertility symbol that harks back to medieval times.
Of course, since the sun shines all night, you’re expected to eat and drink — especially drink — all night. And from what I hear, Swedes don’t disappoint on either score. If you’re not sure exactly how to participate, take a look at this informative Midsummer Night guide — don’t miss the funny video.
Where Rural areas in Sweden
When June 19
Hamlet at Elsinore Castle
Kronborg Castle, a hulking, brooding fortress overlooking the strait leading into the Baltic Sea (that’s it in the photo at top), is one of Denmark’s major attractions. That’s partly because it served as the model for Elsinore Castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And every summer the castle celebrates the connection with a Shakespeare festival.
This year’s festival takes place in early August, and if you attend you’ll see the Danish prince walk the same castle courtyard that Shakespeare envisioned when he wrote his famous play — which itself was based on a Danish story. There’s also some puppet theatre, a musical concert and a film version of The Merchant of Venice (in English with Danish subtitles). You can find the schedule here.
Where Kronborg Castle, Denmark
When August 1-9
Mozart in Salzburg
If you’re a fan of classical music, there’s no bigger name than Mozart. And if you’re going to see an opera by Mozart, why not see it in his home town? Every summer, you have the chance to do just that by attending the Salzburg Festival.
Salzburg was actually a noted musical centre even before Mozart was born there in 1756. In fact, it was probably the site of the first opera ever performed north of the Alps. The festival itself grew out of the strife of the First World War, as an attempt to bring people from around the world to a place devoted to music. It weathered hard times during World War II, but still survives.
This year’s program features Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, along with his Mass in C Minor and works by Bach, Beethoven and Haydn, performed by orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic. And it’s all set against Salzburg’s storybook backdrop, with a historic downtown, cliff-top fortress and mountain backdrop.
Where: Salzburg, Austria
When July 18 – August 3
August moon in Greece
August is a time for festivals in Greece, with music and cultural events happening all over the country, including popular tourist spots like Santorini. But the night of the full moon in August is a special time for seeing the country’s historic sites in a very memorable way.
In recent years, a number of Greece’s most famous historic sites, including the Acropolis in Athens, the original Olympic site in Olympia, the temple at Delphi and archaeological sites in the Cyclades islands have stayed open till midnight so visitors can tour them by moonlight. In some cases, music or theatrical performances added to the effect. Many of the country’s museums have stayed open as well.
At time of writing, there was little information available on this year’s full moon openings, and in past years some sites have only announced their plans when the date drew near. But the event will likely happen again this year, so keep watching the websites for the Greek Ministry of Culture or places like the Acropolis Museum that you might want to visit.
Where The Acropolis and other historic sites across Greece
When Aug. 29
Too often we visit historic spots just to say we’ve seen them. But a historic site is just a pile of rocks if we can’t imagine the momentous events that took place there, on the very spot we’re standing. Seeing them at these special moments can give them the extra meaning that makes it an unforgettable experience.