Europe’s must-see firework displays
It’s nearly 410 years since Guy Fawkes plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and Britain is gearing up for yet another night of gunpowder, treason and plot. As fireworks fever grips the country, we share our tips on where to watch the celebrations and pick out five more spectacular pyrotechnic shows from around Europe.
You might expect London to be the hub for Britain’s Bonfire Night celebrations, but it’s the sleepy town of Lewes close to the Sussex coast that really comes alive on 5 November. The county town’s cobbled streets draw crowds of up to 30,000 visitors every year for an evening of torch-lit processions, fabulously inventive fancy dress and fireworks. Health and safety often goes begging, as ‘bonfire societies’ from around the region burn banger-packed effigies, leap over flaming tar barrels and dance around gigantic fires.
Watch out for the plus-sized papier-mâché Guy Fawkes, who is dragged through the streets on a wooden cart before being consigned to the flames later in the evening to jubilant cries of ‘burn him!’ The processions usually begin at 5.30pm and converge on the War Memorial at the top of School Hill for a minute of silence and a rendition of the Last Post before heading onto their respective bonfire sites. The night ends with a bang, as the societies compete to put on the biggest and best firework display. Make like the locals and head up to Lewes Golf Course for a panoramic view of the dazzling night sky.
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
Bastille Day is the French equivalent of the Fourth of July. This firecracker of a national holiday marks the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789 – the event that kick-started the French Revolution and ultimately paved the way for democracy across Europe. Celebrations take place across the country, but nowhere lets its hair down in more explosive style than Paris. The party traditionally starts on the night of the 13th, when fire stations across the city open their doors for dusk-to-dawn knees-ups known as fireman’s balls.
If you can still stand the next morning then hobble on down to the Champs-Elysées for the grand Military Parade – a chance for visitors to rub shoulders with France’s premier political VIPs and enjoy shows from mounted and motorized troops. The festivities culminate in a knockout 35-minute firework display against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. If you want to quite literally push the boat out then river cruises run throughout the night and offer the best views in the city.
Fire and water
The Venetian Lagoon is a sight to soothe sore eyes at any time of year, but backlit by exploding rockets it verges on the miraculous. The most spectacular pyrotechnic display of the city’s calendar takes place on the third weekend of July – and like so many of Venice’s festivals, the Festa del Redentore revolves around the water. Each year, a rickety pontoon bridge is built over the Grand Canal from Zattere to the Redentore Church
Thousands of festivalgoers cross the bridge to give thanks at the church before hopping aboard a party boat and heading out onto the lagoon. Floating bars ply the merry-makers with food and drink, while on-board DJs get the crowd bopping. When the sun sets, an hour-long firework display bathes the city in psychedelic light. If you’re still sizzling with energy after the last bang, follow the crowds of young locals down to the Lido and carry the party on until dawn.
There’s no better way of cranking up a sky-searing firework display’s emotional impact than by adding some triumphant music into the mix. The Fireworks Concert that marks the end of the Edinburgh International Festival every August is officially the largest in the world, and it’s a must on every savvy traveller’s European bucket list. Against the backdrop of Edinburgh’s crenellated castle, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra belts out a programme that’s choreographed to the fireworks
Expect famous classical pieces such as Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Debussy’s Marche Écossaise. Only paying ticket-holders will be allowed into Princes Street Gardens to see the orchestra perform, but you’ll enjoy stellar views of the fireworks from atop Carlton Hill or Arthur’s Seat. Another spot that’s always popular with the locals is Inverleith Park, where crowds gather to watch the display and see a live screening of the concert.
Start spring with a bang
Sechseläuten Festival sees Zurich throw off its snowy winter cloak to welcome the cowbells and wildflowers of spring. On the third Monday of every April, processions of fancy dress-clad revellers, horse-drawn wagons and bands wind through the city streets towards Bellevue under the fascinated gaze of myriad spectators.
The event originally marked the first day of summer working hours in Zurich and culminates at 6pm sharp with the ‘burning of the Böögg’ – a traditional snowman-like figure that represents the season of fog and ice. When the Böögg figurine’s head explodes in a shower of rockets and sizzling pyrotechnics, the Zürcher consider winter to be officially dismissed. A programme packed with live jazz, cinema screenings, music and family entertainment complements the main festivities.
Cracking New Year
Can’t make it Down Under for Sydney Harbour’s legendary New Year firework display? A trip to Amsterdam is the next best thing, thanks to the Dutch capital’s party atmosphere and renowned waterfront pyrotechnic show. The official celebrations usually take place at Oosterdok. Street stalls selling scrumptiously sweet oliebollen and appelflappen mushroom up around the Scheepvaartmuseum, live bands entertain the revellers and spontaneous sing-alongs ripple through the crowd.
At the stroke of midnight, the sky erupts with blooms of colour as unofficial fireworks mingle with the main display. If Oosterdok is packed out then equally impressive light shows take place above the Nieuwmarkt Chinese district, Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein. The party continues after hours at hundreds of clubs and live music venues across the city.