It used to be that traveling focused on sightseeing, shopping and beaches. Which was all well and good, except that in this way the traveler missed two important aspects of knowing a place: community and specialized knowledge. Festivals, those time-honored events that bind a community, have sprung up everywhere. Greece is one of the paramount festival destinations, hosting hundreds each year on every conceivable topic: gastronomy, rock music, jazz, classical concert, theater, performance, video art, dance, literature, film and animation. There is surely a festival that will fix your destination in your memory forever.
Athens and Epidaurus Festival 2016
The Athens and Epidaurus Festival is what all festivals want to become when they grow up. It’s a sprawling three-month extravaganza featuring dozens of concerts, opera, ballet, classical drama, performance, dance and parallel events. The crown jewels, of course, are the theater performances in the ancient theater of Epidaurus, where ancient Greek drama is reinvented. This year, festival-goers will enjoy Aristophanes’ Plutus and Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus Rex, among others.
Ideal for: Nearly everyone
When: June 10-Aug. 20
Where: Multiple venues in Athens and Epidaurus
More info: greekfestival.gr
Kalamata International Dance Festival
Greece has long been considered the intersection between space and light. Dance is the intersection of body and space. It is fitting, then, that the town of Kalamata hosts an important dance festival that encompasses the entire spectrum, from traditional to modern dance and everything in between. Twelve days and 20 performances guarantee that you will find something that suits your tastes.
Ideal for: Dance lovers
When: July 15-26
More info: kalamatadancefestival.gr
Bonus: Festival Miden (video art festival, November TBA)
3rd Corfu Beer Festival
You know the saying: It’s either my way or the rye way. Well, Greece was not particularly known for its beers, but everything changed in the last 10 years with the microbrewery explosion. Beer turned into a gourmet endeavor, like wine, and now Greece is home to some amazing artisanal beers. One of the most active scenes is in Corfu, whose beer fest honors a different beer-producing country each year. This year it’s Italy, so festival-goers will sample the offerings from three top Italian breweries. The festival also includes foodie treats, chef demonstrations and live music.
Ideal for: Beer lovers, Italians (this year)
When: Oct. 12-16
Where: Arillas, Corfu
More info: corfubeer-festival.com
Molyvos International Music Festival
Molyvos is a village in Lesvos, an island near the Turkish coast that is a major entry point for refugees. This year the festival’s theme is “Crossroads,” choosing to find the things that unite us instead of those that divide us. The festival is divided into four parts: North, South, East, and West, and features classical-music concerts by world-class musicians and composers from all points of the compass.
Ideal for: Classical-music admirers
When: Aug. 16-19
Where: Molyvos, Lesvos
More info: molyvosfestival.com
22nd International Short Film Festival in Drama
For five days each year, the international short-film community gathers in Drama (absolutely no connection with drama queens). Hundreds of short movies are screened and compete for the jury prizes. Along with the film program, you can also find a master class, literary readings, and a “pitching lab” for young directors.
Ideal for: Movie buffs
When: Sept. 19-24
More info: dramafilmfestival.gr
24th Sani Music Festival
Sani Resort, a five-star resort in the beautiful region of Chalkidiki, is home to not one but two festivals (the other being Sani Gourmet, held in May). The Sani Music Festival takes place on the green slope of Sani Hill in front of a medieval tower. Time and again it’s proven itself to be the ideal setting for jazz, classical, and Greek entechni (“artistic”) music. This year the festival will feature soul darling Joss Stone, jazz pianist Yaron Herman, Japanese musician Hiromi and the Michael Wollny Trio.
Ideal for: Jet setters and hotel lovers
When: July 8-Aug. 13
Where: Sani Hill
More info: sanifestival.gr
Each Greek island has its own vibe, and UP, a nomadic music festival, takes advantage of that by tailoring its lineup to suit each year’s hosting island. This year it is Amorgos, which offers a stunning combination of rocky cliffs, arid slopes and deep blue waters. What better way to cap off a day at one of its majestic beaches than with a festival focusing on upbeat music? UP opens with the folk/stoner rock of Villagers of Ioannina City, meanders through the pop of Σtella and Foivos Delivorias, and closes with DFA darling boy Larry Gus and the indie legend Pavlos Pavlidis. It’s like a strong summer cocktail, only in festival form.
Ideal for: The fun crowd
When: July 14-16
Where: Aigiali, Amorgos
More info: upfestival.gr
10th Festival of Cycladic Gastronomy “Nikolaos Tselementes”
What would Middle-earth be without lembas, Vietnam without pho soup, and NYC without cheesecake? Food is one of the most important ingredients of any successful voyage, and the Cyclades, with its inimitably simple (but not uncomplicated) diet, is a gourmet paradise waiting to be discovered. Every year the island of Sifnos hosts the “Nikolaos Tselementes” gastronomy festival, where you can sample traditional (and not-so-traditional) recipes from various Greek islands, participate in cooking workshops and visit a traditional foods market. Time to treat yourself with fava, sour cheese and watermelon pie!
Ideal for: Foodies
When: Sept. 8-10
Where: Ermonas, Sifnos
More info: tselementes.sifnosps.gr
9th Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora
It’s been a long time since animation was considered just “for kids.” Nowadays there are many festivals around the world dedicated to the art and technique of animation (computer-generated, stop-motion, Claymation, you name it). Animasyros is one of the most important. Well-attended and well-organized, the festival hosts a slew of screenings, workshops and events amid the neoclassical architecture of Ermoupoli, the capital of Syros, and the Cyclades.
Ideal for: Animation enthusiasts
When: Sept., dates TBA
Where: Ermoupoli, Syros
More info: animasyros.gr
In the volcanic island of Santorini you can find hidden away (in a former captain’s basement, no less) Atlantis Books, a tiny bookshop that is consistently ranked among the most beautiful in the world. Its small terrace, where some of the festivities take place, has the most stunning views you will ever see — no exaggeration. For the past few years the Atlantis crew has invited some of the best writers and poets working today, like David Sedaris, Billy Collins, Ali Smith and Paul Murray. For those of the literary persuasion, this is one moveable feast you don’t want to miss.
Ideal for: Literati
When: Fall, dates TBA
Where: Oia, Santorini
More info: atlantisbooks.org