Summer in Brittany is always very lively, being home to a diverse range of events and festivals. Take your pick from rock, jazz, opera, food, boats, Celtic music, literature, photography or traditional cultural events. There is sure to be something to suit everyone’s mood and taste here.
Brittany is home to many of France’s biggest and best-known festivals and celebrations. The Breton calendar is packed with local events and fêtes which draw international stars and spectators, so whenever you visit, you are likely to find something of interest going on. You will find detailed listings of forthcoming events online and in the listings magazines, so, this post will simply offer a brief run through of 25 festivals that are definitely worth your time exploring while in Brittany.
Panoramas Festival in Morlaix : 10-12 April 2020
Top names sit side-by-side with up and coming bands, making this a great event to attend if you want to dive into the French contemporary music scene. This year, the beautiful town of Morlaix sees some 50 acts coming together to deliver a festival packing a mix of rock, rap and electro. However, due to the social restrictions imposed as part of the efforts to control the spread of coronavirus some concerts have been cancelled while others remain in doubt.
Fête de la Coquille Saint‑Jacques in Erquy : 18-19 April 2020
The Bay of Saint-Brieuc lays claim to some of the best king scallops in Europe. To celebrate the end of the scallop fishing season, the ports of Saint-Quay Portrieux, Erquy and Paimpol take it in turns to organise this annual festival. This event is always a lot of fun; there is much to see and do, including boat trips, bustling arts and craft markets and cooking exhibitions. There’s lots of diverse music across a number of outside stages and, needless to say, there are tons of fresh scallops to enjoy! Sadly, this year’s event has just been postponed.
Classique au Large in Saint-Malo : 30 April-3 May 2020
A well-established festival focused on classical music with many free performances to enjoy in various venues both indoors and outdoors across the charming coastal town of Saint-Malo. Unfortunately, this year’s event, the twelfth edition, has now been cancelled.
Fête de la Bretagne (Festival of Brittany) : 15-24 May 2020
Over 300 events organised across Brittany and beyond showcasing Breton culture, from the most traditional of customs to the latest youth trends. There are a range of concerts, exhibitions, walks, street entertainments and artisan markets to dip into. Regrettably, this year’s event was cancelled earlier this week but next year’s festival will take place from 14 to 24 May 2021.
ArtRock in Saint-Brieuc : 29-31 May 2020
Not your standard music festival but an artistic celebration with dance, video, theatre, circus and contemporary arts sharing the limelight with the music. This year’s festival – the 37th edition – in the coastal city of Saint-Brieuc features over fifty concerts, several special exhibitions, and many dance shows, street art displays and new screenings.
A food festival – Rock’n Toques – runs concurrently, with the big names of Breton gastronomy offering visitors an amazing take on street food. As well as Michelin-starred chefs and other great cooks, the participation of so many pâtissiers, artisan boulangers and creative crêpe makers make this a real gourmet fest.
Hellfest in Clisson : 19-21 June 2020
This is one of the biggest heavy metal music festivals in Europe, boasting consistently impressive line-ups. Over 130 acts are set to appear this year. Although no longer, strictly speaking, in modern administrative Brittany, Clisson is at the heart of historic Brittany. Be warned, this is a very busy festival and the campsites for it are massive!
Lieux Mouvants (Festival of Moving Places) in Lanrivain : 14 June-30 August 2020
This quirky festival takes place over a dozen weekends in the heart of Brittany around Lanrivain and combines innovative shows, major performers and artists, naturalists and pop-up exhibitions. Events are staged in villages and gardens that are off the beaten track and quite magical. You can expect thought-provoking art installations and shows that have been created on-site or exhibited in highly unusual ways. The artists are most often present and are happy to discuss their works.
Fêtes Historiques (Historical Festival) in Vannes : 13-14 July 2020
A great opportunity to soak up the medieval atmosphere at the heart of a city full of character (there are almost 300 listed buildings within the town’s ancient ramparts). Enjoy the performances and side-shows as you meander through the rampart gardens and the cobbled streets of the old town. There’s also a vast range of medieval living-history on show, including smithies, cobblers, coopers, coin-makers, falconry displays and artillery demonstrations. As dusk settles, enjoy the spectacle as dancers, acrobats and fire-eaters take to the streets.
National Day : 14 July 2020
Known simply as ‘le quatorze juillet’. On France’s National Day you will find all manner of celebrations taking place, even in the smallest villages, and usually ending with a fireworks display and a Fest Noz (a night-time party with lots of live music). Or for something a little different, you might wish to head across to Mahalon for the World Wheeled-Bed Racing Championships.
Temps Fête Festival in Douarnenez : 15 to 19 July 2020
A great array of tall ships and other traditional vessels from all parts of the world form the backdrop to this long-running biennial festival. The quaysides of the town’s four ports are packed with entertainers and musicians, artisanal markets and food stalls, creating a convivial and cosmopolitan atmosphere. There are plenty of activities to get involved in such as tying sailors’ knots or climbing sail rigging.
In the years that this festival is not staged, a similar and equally impressive one, La Semaine du Golfe Morbihan, is mounted around the myriad of charming ports, islands and islets in the Gulf of Morbihan; the next event will run from 10 to 16 May 2021.
Les Vieilles Charrues in Carhaix-Plouguer : 16-19 July 2020
Now in its 29th year, this is France’s largest music festival. This friendly festival consistently boasts an array of international star names and bands just breaking through into the big time. The organisers seem to have the knack of creating a melting pot of musical styles and generations that suit the cosmopolitan audience.
Fête des Remparts (Festival of the Ramparts) in Dinan : 18-19 July 2020
Held every other year, this colourful festival takes in the pretty medieval town of Dinan. Lots of locals and visitors dress in quite elaborate medieval costumes adding to the fun atmosphere. It is a packed weekend with a big medieval market, jousting tournaments and a spectacular grand parade.
Jazz en Ville in Vannes : 20-25 July 2020
This is largely a free music festival with concerts and performances staged amidst the ancient town ramparts and in clubs and venues in the city centre. While the focus of the festival is strongly on jazz music, it also includes a line-up of folk, blues, soul and rock performers.
Festival Le Cornouaille (Festival of Cornwall) in Quimper: 21-26 July 2020
This is probably Brittany’s most important cultural event and certainly the most well-established. Some 180 concerts, shows and events featuring performers from all over the world, celebrate Breton music and culture. For the duration of the festival, the beautiful city of Quimper is filled with street performances, art exhibitions, market stalls and artisanal food & drink vendors.
Fest Jazz in Châteauneuf-du-Faou : 23-26 July 2020
This is a rather laid-back festival that attracts artists and spectators from across the world. The performances are usually stretched across five venues on the banks of the River Aulne; all of which are within easy walking distance of each other. The festival programme places emphasis on young musicians and lively, danceable jazz but other styles are well represented.
Festival Lyrique en Mer in Belle-Ile-en-Mer : 28 July-19 August 2020
Brittany’s answer to Glyndebourne takes place in the beautiful setting of Belle-Isle-en-Mer. Now in its 22nd edition, the festival grows from strength to strength and attracts the best international talents to its line-ups. This year’s varied programme is centred around Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Le Son et Lumière de Bon-Repos in Laniscat : 29 July-8 August 2020
Over two hours, the history of Brittany from the Roman invasion to the French Revolution is brought to life in eight vignettes. Projected onto a two hectare stage using the historic abbey walls as its backdrop, this state-of-the-art sound and light show uses almost 400 actors, 2,300 costumes and hundreds of chariots, carriages, horses and farm animals; accompanied by pyrotechnic special effects and music to deliver an amazing spectacle complete with jousting, battle scenes and the burning of a village!
Au Pont Du Rock in Maelstroit : 31 July-1 August 2020
The longest-running summer rock festival in Brittany is now in its 30th year. Staged in the historic town of Maelstroit, the event’s focus is on rock music but rap, reggae and electro also feature.
Festival du Chant de Marin (Sea Shanty Festival) in Paimpol : 13-15 August 2021
This is a biennial festival celebrating seafaring traditions and values. Hundreds of traditional sailing ships descend on the harbour, providing a backdrop for art and craft exhibitions, food and drink, music and dancing. There’s more than just sea shanties to be heard – the last event featured about 150 bands and international stars such as Marianne Faithfull have performed here previously.
Festival Interceltique (Celtic Festival) in Lorient : 7-16 August 2020
One of the biggest annual festivals in France – expect around 200 events and shows (over half of these are free!) and up to 5000 performers celebrating the best of Celtic culture. There’s truly something for everyone here, from bespoke harp workshops to a grand parade which regularly attracts over 50,000 spectators.
Fête du Bruit in Landerneau : 7-9 August 2020
Now in its 12th year, the young gun of the Brittany music festivals scene has quickly established a history of staging strong international line-ups alongside emerging talent. The organisers also run a sister festival in Saint Nolff, near Vannes, which this year runs from 10 to 12 July 2020.
Festival de la Saint-Loup in Guingamp : 18-23 August 2020
This is one of the oldest traditional festivals in Brittany with origins stretching back to the early 19th century. You can expect a real celebration of Breton dance and music featuring some 2,500 artists from across Brittany and the Celtic nations. There is a lot to see and do – Breton dance workshops, Breton games, parades and concerts run throughout the week, with the National Breton Dance Competition a real highlight.
Festival des Filets Bleus in Concarneau : 12-16 August 2020
Named after the blue sardine-fishing nets that once covered the quays of picturesque Concarneau, this vibrant and colourful festival has been around for over a hundred years. Wandering around, you can soak up the atmosphere of the performances, parades and food stalls. The music concerts are free and The Stranglers are performing this year. If you are feeling adventurous try a bout of gouren (Breton wrestling), a game of palets (boules Breton-style) or learn a few Breton dance steps. Be warned, parking is challenging at this town centre festival.
Route du Rock in Saint-Malo : 19-22 August 2020
Now in its 29th year, this is an internationally acclaimed alternative music festival staged in the picturesque town of Saint-Malo where big names and breakthrough acts share several stages. Kraftwerk 3D will feature on this year’s programme.
Fête de l’Oignon de Roscoff in Roscoff : 22-23 August 2020
The beautiful coastal town of Roscoff celebrates its famous pink onions every summer with a two-day festival. There will be food and music until the early hours and an interesting market spread along the quayside selling many different onion flavoured products, from tarts and sausages to chutney and beer.
Yaouank (Youth Festival) in Rennes : 6-21 November 2020
Now in its 22nd year, this festival continues to grow and evolve but its core aim remains to inject fresh blood into traditional Breton music. You should therefore expect lots of musical fusions! A fortnight of events and concerts culminate in the biggest Fest Noz in Brittany – from 5pm on Saturday to 5am on Sunday. It’s a great reason to visit the Breton capital, Rennes – a town which enjoys a wonderfully vibrant nightlife.
If you prefer to take the road less travelled, you could live like a local and drop-in on a village get-together. Signs you are likely to see on your travels around Brittany include Repas Jarret-Frites (usually roast pork shank and chips), Repas Moules-Frites (bowls of muscles with chips), Jambon-Frites (farm fresh ham and chips), Soirée Crêpes (often offering a wide choice of crêpes) and Fest Noz (a night-time party with plenty of food, drink, live music and dancing). These are friendly, convivial evenings where visitors are welcome.
If you should find yourself headed to a Jarret-Frites for the evening, be prepared. Some events include a cri du cochon, or pig-squealing championship, where contestants have to make different pig noises from the various stages of the pig’s life. Be warned – some folks take this quite seriously and there is even a national championship to aim for!