This one’s for the culture vultures. With a blend of creativity and culture, the combination of an art festival with a trip abroad is a recipe for a truly inspirational holiday for both a travel and art-lover. From the ‘Olympics of the art world’, to paintings in Irish pubs, here are three of the best art festivals that Europe has to offer (as well as a few recommendations of budget accommodation nearby, so that you can save your time and money for more important arty exploits).
ARCOmadrid is one of the most well-attended art fairs in the world, attracting over 90,000 people and hundreds of galleries to the Spanish capital each year. As Spain’s main contemporary art event, it brings together the most innovative members of the art-world for five days each year, and has proved equally enticing for critics, collectors, and members of the general public alike. In an interview for artnet earlier this year, director of the festival Carlos Urroz said that it has ‘created a larger awareness among the general public about the relevance of contemporary art,’ with people who never go to galleries of museums attending and mingling with some of the biggest names in the sector. In previous years, ARCO has featured a guest country, and has worked with local curators to spotlight its art. This year, however, this was replaced with a thematic model, with the theme of the “Future”, and the anxieties that surround it, structuring the festival. Urroz notes that this ‘connects with the fair’s long history of innovation’ – ARCO was the first fair to work with curators in selecting the galleries which would take part, as well as being one of the first to integrate a seminar into the fair in their aim to ‘foster an informed public that contributes to the dialogue around all contemporary art events, not just ARCO.’
Where to stay on a budget: D’hostel Madrid. Situated at the very heart of Madrid, just 700m from the main Atocha train station, D’hostel Madrid is unrivalled in terms of location. With a bed in a mixed dorm for only €15, including breakfast, it’s unrivalled in terms of price, too. Each bed has a curtain surrounding it for privacy, as well as an individual light and plug, and there’s free WiFi. Large shared spaces – including a TV room and kitchen – mean that you have plenty of room to sit around and plan your day, and to relive memories of all you’ve seen when you return in the evening.
Where to stay on a budget: Basel BackPack. An attractive and modern urban loft style establishment ten minutes from the town’s main train station, Basel BackPack is rated as the best value accommodation in Basel by Booking.com. The Bar-Café is open for everything from a quick breakfast to a late-night cocktail, and free WiFi is included if you want to spend some time reading up on the town’s history or find out about events happening nearby. A bed in a shared dorm costs around £20 to £30 per night, depending on the month of your visit.
The festival is hosted in the medieval city of Basel, which lies on the river Rhine, and for the duration of the fair this beautiful historic city comes alive with many smaller cultural events and pop-up exhibitions.
Kilkenny Arts Festival (Ireland)
If you want something a little closer to home then the Kilkenny Arts Festival is the destination for you. What makes this festival truly exceptional is its location; rather than a museum or art hall, the exhibitions are located in the city’s historic buildings – from townhouses and churches, to castles and courtyards. According to the festival’s website, this offers ‘a magical setting for unique collaborations and intimate encounters between audiences and artists. Founded in 1974, this festival has always been inclusive of many art forms, featuring Seamus Heaney giving a reading of his work in its first year. In terms of visual arts, works are commissioned for the event from local and international artists and are showcased throughout the city, and the giant inflatable sculptures from Architects of Air are a permanent fixture. Around 40,000 people attend the ten-day festival annually, packing the streets for the grand parade through the city centre which kicks off the event.
Where to stay on a budget: Kilkenny Tourist Hostel. With dorm beds from £15 a night, you can’t really go wrong with this independently owned hostel, located right at the centre of the city. It’s located in a pristine three storey Georgian townhouse – with many of its original features still intact – and offers free WiFi, free lockers, and no curfew. The owners are knowledgeable about Kilkenny, and are more than happy to give you advice on how to make the most of your time in Ireland’s medieval capital.