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Summer festivals: Vibrant performance, film, culinary and family events brighten up the season

Zomer Van Antwerpen
14:51 20/06/2024

There is more to Belgium’s festival season than musical gatherings. Explore the country’s myriad theatre, cinema, gastronomy, street performance and dance festivities that provide colour all summer long.

Antwerp’s summer entertainment programme is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Drop by the daily parties at the port city’s biggest graffiti space, drink cocktails under trees, catch some summer sounds, cirus thrills at the Zomerbar or head to the docks for theatre or film screenings. Don’t miss Architects of Air in Timisien (05.07-14.07) a gigantic light and castle show in the Operaplein. Everything is possible at Zomer van Antwerpen (main image), a season-long festival of endless activities. Some things require a ticket, but most of it is free of charge. Until 1 September, across Antwerp

Asia

Enjoy an exotic experience whatever the weather in Belgium this summer. The Amazing Asia Festival is a lively traveling festival that is already underway in towns and cities across Flanders. It brings together music, dance, a market, workshops, Thai massage, street food and tropical drinks designed to inspire you to travel to one of many eastern destinations. Until 15 September, across Belgium

sand

Get your global travel fix without leaving home! This year’s Sand Sculpture Festival at the Belgian coast is themed ‘Around the world in sand’. The Middelkerke phenomenon transports visitors to the Sphinxes in Egypt and wild animals in Africa, not to mention such sights as the Taj Mahal, Japanese temples and the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Artists the world over fly in to create these massive sculptures every summer. Kids obviously love this event, but adults are also suitably impressed at the level of skill involved in the tiniest of details. There’s also a bouncy castle for little ones in the play zone and a beach bar for some further grown-up downtime. Until 8 September, Middelkerke beach, Arthur De Greefplein

Chefs on Wheels

If your favourite part of summer festivals is the alfresco street food, we have good news for you. Chefs on Wheels is a dedicated food truck festival that travels around towns in Flanders! Well, there’s music, too, but its secondary compared to the grazing that is at the heart of this nomadic event. You’ll find everything here, from Asian to Mexican to Belgian frites. Until 29 September, across Flanders

Design sans titre (9)

In addition to its habitual screenings, the Palace cinema presents the special summer programme Sun Screens. It’s a chance to catch unreleased, must-see and classics as well as enjoy special events. Two themes infuse the programming this year that invite audiences to explore seaside resorts and dystopian worlds. See Animal by Sofia Exarchou, How to Have Sex by Molly Manning Walker and Parasol by Valery Rosier, along with many other titles. Until 18 August, Boulevard d’Anspach 85

alice_obee_-_maybe_we_are_a_trace_in_the_snow_2024_cmichael_depestele

The annual Watou Arts Festival mixes poetry and art installations big and small across the picturesque town of Watou, a district of Poperinge. Grab a walking or cycling map to find them all, some in the rural open-air and some in Watou’s old houses, churches and factories. The theme for this edition is “Landscape of the Imagination”, with poets and artists exploring the imagination as a psychological landscape existing between people and their physical environments. Until 1 September, across Watou (West Flanders)

leuvenzingt-web

Leuven tells it like it is with the aptly titled summer festival Het Groot Verlof (the big holiday). The city puts on all kinds of entertainments, all absolutely free. These range from the simple Picnic in the Park and open-air cinema to much bigger values such as concerts by the likes of Bart Peeters, Sergio and 10cc. In the midst of all this is the four day M-idzomer music and culture festival, music festival Beleuvenissen and outdoor sing-a-long Leuven Sings on 27 July. Until 9 August, across Leuven

BruxellonsKarreveld

Bursting back onto the capital’s summer cultural scene with some 25 shows is the annual Bruxellons! festival. Proudly presenting some of the best French-language productions of the past season, its big draw is a French-language version of the new musical comedy Come from Away. The show, complete with a live orchestra, runs from 13 July to 30 August. Other highlights in the eclectic programme include Yasmine Reza’s Le Dieu du carnage, Ladies Night by Anthony McCarten, Steven Sinclair and Jacques Collard, as well as circus and comedy. The festival, now in its 26th year, is a city summer favourite, offering a perfect evening out, complete with a pre-show buffet to enjoy in a wonderful water-side setting. Until 24 September, Château du Karreveld, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Brussels

jeanne-arc

The annual outdoor theatre romp at Villers Abbey presents Bernard Shaw’s Le Procès de Jeanne d’Arc. It is directed by Hélène Theunissen and the story of the French martyr is a perfect fit for the atmospheric ruins of this Cistercian site. This is an outdoor promenade performance, which is postponed if the weather conditions are unfavourable. Until 10 August 21.00, Rue de l’Abbaye 55, Villers-la-ville (Walloon-Brabant)

Gentse

Gentse Feesten is the largest outdoor theatre and music festival in Europe. The sprawling 10-day event occupies numerous stages in parks and squares with concerts, performances and  street theatre, but it goes far beyond that. You’ll find food, guided tours, boat trips, circus acts, exhibitions, readings, sport and endless other curiosities day and night. Create a schedule from the detailed programme or simply play it by ear and let it surprise you. Until 28 July, across Ghent

For its summer tour in castles and various heritage sites, Tournée des Châteaux, the Théâtre royal des Galeries is staging De la neige en été. The cult vaudeville comedy is directed by Martine Willequet and relates the fallout of a misunderstanding between two couples. 24 July to 5 September, various locations in Brussels and Wallonia

TAZ

Ostend’s performance festival TAZ is a multidisciplinary celebration that adds to the holiday attractions of the busy seaside resort. There are 500 theatre, musical theatre and dance productions in 40 different locations, including a few in English. There are separate programmes for children and for young people, and the WonderWaai in Leopold Park hosts a free daily programme of family-friendly performance and workshops. 31 July to 10 August, across Ostend

Intra muros

Listen to beautiful music in idyllic surrounds thanks to the Intra Muros Festival at Alden-Biesen castle. A full day of Belgian and international soloists and ensembles perform a diverse programme on lute, violin, harp and other early music instruments. Guests are also invited to explore the grounds and indulge in on-site food and drink. 5 August, Kasteelstraat 6, Bilzen (Limburg)

Belgium’s other big pride event is in the port city, where official and fringe events and activities take to the streets, culture centres and clubs for five days in August. Antwerp Pride’s theme this year is ‘Many Voices. One Pride’ to reinforce inclusivity and the power of the collective voice. The big Pride Parade and Love United Festival are on 10 August. 7-11 August, across Antwerp

retro 2

A free festival at the Belgian coast, Retro Sur Mer brings together a vintage market, old-timer cars, retro beauty makeovers and a family day with rock’n’roll, ices and waffles. Prepare to boogie on the boardwalk to local and international bands like Lucy & The Heartbreakers (NL), Mike Sanchez & Drew Davis Combo (Sp/Fr) and Rob Heron & the Tea Pad Orchestra (UK) on Saturday, and Harvesters, The Caezars (UK ), Los Moustros (Mex) and Memphis Rose on Sunday. Vintage food trucks and a summer bar also serve up a slice of the period action. 9-11 August, Graaf Jansdijk, Wenduine (De Haan)

It's the 51st edition of the Paulusfeesten in Ostend, a music and street theatre festival that gets the whole city partying. The whole family will have a great time here amidst upbeat bands and playful activities against the backdrop of sand and sea. Free entrance. 13-19 August, Sint-Petrus & Paulusplein, Ostend

nomads

With four days of street theatre in the magical setting of Bois de la Cambre, Théâtres Nomades is an eclectic and free festival guaranteed to entertain all ages. Although it has evolved over the years, the popular event by the Compagnie des Nouveaux Disparus remains committed to its original nomadic character and a programme that’s environmentally and socially engaged. It brings together more than 35 companies from various artistic disciplines, such as theatre, circus, storytelling, puppetry and dance and showcases in particular emerging Belgian talents as well as international artists. 15-18 August, Bois de la Cambre, Brussels

Anoraks chasseîerre

Family favourite The Festival International des Arts de la Rue celebrates its 50th edition in the village of Chassepierre in the Gaume region. Set in the heart of the village – one of the prettiest in the country – it promises two days of entertaining theatre, circus, dance and music. Some 50 companies come to perform 200 shows, promising a magical weekend for children and adults in this breathtakingly bucolic setting (pictured: Cie Anoraks in juggling show Drache National). 17-18 August, Chassepierre (Luxembourg province)

NAOW

It’s a magical scene. As dusk descends on the River Meuse, the floating stage of the NAOW Festival  lights up with music, theatre, poetry and a sound and light show. Each member of the audience is equipped with a headset to enjoy the entertainment from their deckchair seating. The second edition of the Nature Arts on Water festival promises to be an even bigger success at the pop-up site, which is a seasonal place to be, offering a holiday air with its beach setting and activities. 28 August to 1 September, Boulevard de Meuse 160, Jambes (Namur)

Now in its 12th year, L'Intime festival in Namur has firmly established itself on the Walloon capital’s literature and arts scene. The francophone event invites writers, actors and performers to read, recite and discuss contemporary literature. There’s plenty of opportunities for the public to meet and chat with writers. 30 August to 1 September, Théâtre Royal, Galérie du Beffroi, Le Delta, Namur

See The Bulletin's guide to music festivals here.

Photos: Watou, Alice Obee, Maybe we are a trace in the snow 2024 (c)Michael Depestele

Written by Sarah Crew and Lisa Bradshaw