Summer festivals that are huge events generally involve music, and summer music festivals do, indeed, account for the biggest and best in the world. However, there are extremely important fairs and festivals celebrating other things around the world. These include prestigious film festivals, rodeos, art festivals, and hard-to-categorize quirky festivals.
One of the best summer festivals that routinely appears on international newscasts every year is the weeklong San Fermin Festival (also known as the Running of the Bulls) held during July in the town of Pamplona, Spain. It still clings to its original medieval beginnings honoring the Spanish Saint Fermin, and the most important day of the festival is July 7 when a statue of the saint makes a procession down the street followed by thousands of street entertainers, dancers, and revelers. The infamous Running of the Bulls and bullfighting did not appear as part of the festival until the late sixteenth century, and the festival's worldwide fame began with the 1926 publication of Ernest Hemingway's book The Sun Also Rises.
The best summer festivals for art include the Edinburgh Fringe, which coincides with several other festivals held in the capital of Scotland over three weeks in August. This is largely a performing arts festival, and because it is not a juried event you can view some of the cutting-edge experimental art before it becomes main stream.
The Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, is a similar, albeit more genteel and elegant arts event and considered one of the most important of summer festivals its kind in North America. It is held throughout the month of May and into June, and this is a wonderful time to visit the city, as there are street fairs, mimes, and street entertainers throughout the historic district.
Huge outdoor summer music festivals that were born during the Woodstock period must begin with the Glastonbury Festival (pictured) held in that small town in the green hills of Somerset, England during July. If 1969's Woodstock had become an annual festival, it would probably look something like "Glasto," which is considered one of the largest open-air festivals in the world. It was begun in 1970 (ironically, the day after Woodstock performer Jimi Hendrix died) and is held on 900 acres in the Vale of Avalon. Technically, it is a performing arts festival with an entire city of different villages featuring different disciplines, including a dance area, a theatre and circus area, a poetry area, a cinema area, and even a kids area. But headliner music like U2 that draw the largest crowds.
More internationally important summer music festivals include the eclectic four-day Bonnaroo held in Manchester, Tennessee. Like Woodstock, it is held on a farm (700 acres of it) and draws around 100,000 people each year. Attendees are treated to comedy from the likes of Conan O'Brien, yoga gatherings, and film viewings. But it is the music that draws most, with headliners like the Dave Matthews Band, Jay-Z, and Stevie Wonder.
Head for Chicago in August for one of the best of the summer festivals held in more northern climes. It can be very hot in Chicago in August, in spite of the city's location on Lake Michigan. But Lollapalooza offers VIP cabanas accommodating 25 to 45 people and featuring luxurious amenities like air-conditioning, golf cart shuttles, private viewing platforms, and a personal staff serving cold drinks. City ordinances require that the concerts, held in Grant Park, end by 10:00 p.m. Thus, there are numerous after parties and small concerts held around the city.
Some of the best summer festivals celebrate the quirky. Find the summer tour schedule of the Red Bull Flugtag competition for some great fun. Flugtag means "flying day" in German, and this odd event was invented by the Austrian owner of Red Bull, with the first event held in Vienna, Austria in 1991. The competition is among teams who have built handmade, human-powered flying machines, and the event has been held in more than 35 cities around the world to the delight of upwards of 100,000 spectators. The longest flight has been close to 200 feet, but the ingenuity of the contraptions is what is most fun. Take off is from land, but the landing is in water. Therefore, one of the rules it that all components of the machine must be biodegradable.
If you want a taste of the Old West, one of the summer festivals for rodeo and related activities is the Cheyenne Frontier Days, held at the end of July in that Wyoming town. More than 500,000 folks attend this most American of shows. In addition to traditional rodeo events, there is great country and rock music and an authentic Native American village. Or you could head to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the EAA AirVenture Show, one of the world's largest air shows.