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@NatGeoTravel Staff Picks: Summer Festivals

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The suns sets on the crowd at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. (Photograph by Tyler Metcalfe)

In the mood to celebrate among the masses? There’s nothing quite like an outdoor festival to make the summer season seem official.

Here are a few of the @NatGeoTravel team’s favorite open-air festivals to inspire your next trip:

“Serbia’s annual Exit Festival grew from a student protest against the Milošević regime into one of Europe’s summer headliners. When I lived in Novi Sad, I joined the crowds climbing the 18th-century Petrovaradin Fortress for live music until dawn against the backdrop of the Danube river. Like the rest of Serbia, this festival has come a long way in the past 15 years.” —Christine Blau (on Twitter @Chris_Blau and Instagram @christineblau), researcher, National Geographic Traveler magazine

“My favorite summer festival is always the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which happens in Washington, D.C., on the National Mall. In 2013 the festival highlighted the country of Wales, and I spent a lot of time in the music tent listening to Welsh singers. They were mesmerizing. During one song by Gwyneth Glyn, a bird flew into the tent and perched on her shoulder. Gwyneth didn’t miss a beat!” —Marilyn Terrell (on Twitter @Marilyn_Res), chief researcher, National Geographic Traveler magazine

“The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is usually the highlight of my summer. For more than four decades the annual event, timed to coincide with the summer solstice, has gathered together the world’s best bluegrass musicians against the backdrop of Colorado’s beautiful San Juan Mountains. Die-hard attendees like me return year after year to participate in unique festival traditions—early morning runs set to the tune of live bagpipers and costumed parades among them—and for the opportunity to sit around late-night campfires with festival musicians well after the night’s main stage performances have ended. Though traveling to the festival can be tricky (the closest major airport is more than 60 miles away, in Montrose, Colorado), the drive in to Telluride, which takes you through towering mountains and scenic valleys, only adds to the experience. Another perk? If you want to take a break from the nonstop music, you can ride the local gondola into the mountains and take advantage of one of the many scenic hiking trails overlooking the city.” —Tyler Metcalfe, associate photography producer, Nat Geo Travel

“If you’re a fan of Canada, the French language, and laughing in any form, you’re bound to love Juste Pour Rire (Just for Laughs) in downtown Montreal. For much of July the French Canadian city acts as a magnet for comedic acts of nearly every stripe. In addition to heavy hitters like Neil Patrick Harris and Wanda Sykes, the streets are veritably paved with stages where lesser known comedians try their hand at winning over open-air audiences while local food vendors offer delicious eats nearby. Bizarre-looking puppets roam the streets and music programming is scattered throughout the schedule, providing plenty of (mostly family-friendly) entertainment. The best part? Unless you’re attending one of the more popular shows inside a theater, the outdoor programming is all free. So grab a local beer, sit back on the Place des Arts steps, and watch the hilarity ensue.” —Becky Davis, associate producer, Nat Geo Travel (on Twitter @Beckylane123 and Instagram @beckydavis1234)

Stromness Shopping Week has very little to do with shopping and very much to do with celebrating the heritage of the Orkney Islands—not to mention that it’s flat-out fun. An island highlight since 1949, the festival takes over the port town of Stromness, on the west coast of Orkney’s main island (aptly called Mainland), filling the third week of July with three-legged races, crabbing competitions, circus performers, beauty pageants, sailing regattas, the burning of a traditional Viking ship, horse trekking, pipe bands, and food and drink of every flavor. Shopping Week peaks on the last day, when bagpipers, costumed revelers, and creative floats parade through the town’s narrow streets. The final night sees a street party like none other, as Stromness lets its hair down and revels in fast-paced music, full-throttle dancing, and perhaps a little too much imbibing (heads up for breaking bottles)…culminating in an impressive fireworks extravaganza over the harbor.” —Larry Porges, editor, National Geographic Travel Books

“The Irvington Crab Festival in Northern Neck, Virginia, is a summer highlight. People gather elbow-to-elbow at long tables covered in brown paper and dig into steamed blue crabs (all you can eat) dusted with Old Bay seasoning, a mid-Atlantic staple. There are sides of vinegar and butter to dip the crab into, but it’s best just plain. If you go, wear a shirt you don’t mind getting dirty; pounding crabs with mallets is a messy delight.” —Susan O’Keefe, associate editor, National Geographic Traveler magazine

“The Gower Peninsula is a south Wales beauty queen, known for its golden beaches, dramatic headlands, and narrow lanes hemmed in by tall hedgerows. And for two weeks in July, it’s also known for the nearly 40-year-old Gower Festival, which brings top-notch chamber music performers to a different, ages-old church or village hall each evening. (A young Bryn Terfel gave a song recital at Oystermouth in 1981.) Gower’s village churches stand in steadfast stone; their austere interiors contrast with the lush music that rises to the rafters. One evening may find you walking past a graveyard to reach a tiny chapel dating to 1100 to hear a virtuoso harpist. Another evening it’s a soprano performing in a 14th-century church overlooking a bay bathed in waning summer light. You sit on wooden pews, in intimate spaces that make concerts feel like performances just for you and a few dozen of your friends. And during intermission you toast with a glass of crisp white wine the good fortune of getting a ticket to one of these uniquely Gower experiences.” —Amy Alipio (on Twitter @amytravels and Instagram @amyalipio), features editor, National Geographic Traveler magazine

“During summer visits to New York City, I always make the L train pilgrimage to Williamsburg for Smorgasburg, an outdoor gourmet food court open weekends starting in April. Venturing into known hipster territory may sound intimidating, but it’s worth it for local culinary offerings like banh mi hot dogs, banana salted caramel whoopie pies, and Caesar salad schnitzel sandwiches. The East River waterfront views of Manhattan go down pretty smoothly, too.” —Hannah Sheinberg (on Twitter and Instagram @h_sheinberg), assistant editor, National Geographic Traveler magazine

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