As humans, we like to admire and create beauty by using all sorts of materials, even from something as frail as sand, to create fun sculptures. When we talk about sand sculptures, we immediately think of building endless sand castles by the beach. However, innovative artists maximised on the uniqueness of sand by the beach and attempted to compete in creating magnificent sculptures, which led to the invention of sand festivals.
In this article, we will introduce you to this entertaining form of celebration. As we trot the globe looking for the best sand festivals to bring you, we’re sure this sunshine and summer-filled ride will be up to your liking.
What is a Sand Festival? When did these festivals start?
A sand festival is an exhibition where artists from around the world attempt to create different sculptures by using sand. These sculptures are more intricate than our regular playing-by-the-beach sculptures, as artists try to create sculptures that we’d otherwise see built from more sturdy material, such as stone, marble or wood. A sand festival normally comes in a form of a competition, at the end of which a winner is chosen.
While some allege the Ancient Egyptians initially built a model of the Pyramids out of sand before using actual stone, especially since nothing supports this unusual thought. Others cite that amateur sand sculpting originated in 14th-century India at the hands of poet Balaram Das.
Sand festivals are considered environment-friendly since sand is a renewable source of material and is the only material the artists are allowed to use to create their artwork. By the end of the festival, they can take down their sculptures, or they can just let the waves wash them away.
How long do sand sculptures last? What’s the secret?
Professional sand sculptures can last for months for you to enjoy. The trick is to use construction sand, which has a different structure than beach sand. The grains of this type of sand are angular, which helps the granules to stick together. Additionally, construction sand has silt and clay, which helps in keeping the structures intact. Another trick is compacting vast amounts of sand together, which presses the granules together. On many occasions, the sculptor will use damp sand to shape the new piece and compact it so that the water molecules keep the sand sculpture intact.
Sand Festivals Around the World
Sand festivals might take place at the beach, but there are also several exhibitions around the world that host this fun form of art. Either way, the fun is double, and we’ve chosen for you an interesting combination of both. Let’s get to it!
Haeundae Sand Festival – South Korea
Haeundae Beach in Busan is a mesmerising beach and acts as the location of this yearly sand festival. The city is home to many other renowned festivals, such as Busan’s International Film Festival. Haeundae Beach is a major tourist attraction for local and international tourists, so this is a perfect opportunity to kickstart your summer vacation. This sand festival is an entertaining gig for all the family, with sand workshops for everyone where you can build your own sculptures in cooperation with the participating artists, local food stalls, entertaining music and dazzling fireworks.
In 2005, after the APEC summit in South Korean cities, including Busan, local authorities started the Haeundae Sand Festival as an honourary event after the summit. The festival attracted large numbers of visitors, which encouraged the authorities to turn it into a yearly event. Each year, the festival would have a specific theme; the latest in 2023 was Expo Sand Ocean Toward the Future 2030, in coherence with Busan’s 2030 developmental vision. Visitors to the latest festival version saw the future challenges South Korea, and the world, will face.
- Duration: 19 May to 22 May.
- Location: Busan.
The International Sand Sculpture Festival – Portugal
The world’s largest sand festival takes place in the spellbinding Portuguese region, Algarve. This region is famous for its heart-stealing beaches, turquoise sea water and rugged terrain. Locally referred to as FIESA, this sand festival started in 2003 and turned into a yearly event afterwards. Almost 60 worldwide artists create outstanding sand sculptures that are interesting, to say the least. In the 2009 version, one riveting sculpture was of Sigmund Freud sitting on an office chair with a patient lying on the sofa in front of him.
Sculptures vary from one year to the other in FIESA, but one common feature is the massive size of these sculptures. Accompanying the festival are music shows, workshops, food stalls, a children’s area and an activities area. At the end of the festival, a World Champion is chosen based on several criteria, such as technical skill, design originality and finesse.
- Duration: 1 July to 1 October.
- Location: Algarve.
The European Championship Sand Sculpture Festival – The Netherlands
Master sand sculptors have met in the annual sand sculpting festival and competition in Zandvoort since 2011. Sponsored by the World Sand Sculpting Academy, sculptors from Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are just an example of the size of this championship. These master sculptors create massive sand sculptures that follow the 3.5x3x3, which translates to 3.5 metres high, 3 metres wide and 3 metres deep, to qualify in the competition.
Each year, the festival has a different theme, and the sculptors compete for the title of World Champion, chosen at the end of the festival. The latest edition of the festival had the theme of Zandvroot Goes Wild, which artists interpreted as they saw fit and incorporated the village’s magical beauty. After the festival finishes, the sculptures are painted with a special material, also eco-friendly, to preserve them for as long as possible so visitors will enjoy seeing them for months to come.
- Duration: Unfortunately, after the 2022 edition, no future edition has been announced.
- Location: Zandvoort aan Zee.
International Antalya Sand Sculpture Festival – Turkey
More than ten-thousand tons of sand magically transform into various landscapes, world landmarks and familiar and unfamiliar faces at Lara Beach in the Turkish Capital of Tourism, Antalya. Here, at Sandland and with the sponsorship of the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, world-renowned sand artists flock to Antalya to showcase their best work, interact with visitors, and teach them about sand sculpting techniques and tricks. Every day at nighttime, the organisers play a documentary detailing the secrets behind sand sculpting and the evolution of this unique form of art.
The festival theme is generally a loose translation from one idea; if you think Hollywood, for example, how would you interpret that in your sculpture? The sculptures take ln another dimension at night; when lit up with LED lighting, the scene transforms greatly into a wondrous one. The latest edition in 2023 explored the theme Space Adventure, and it paralleled a number of space and star-watching sets near the exhibition space for visitors to enjoy. What distinguishes Sandland from any other sand festival is the sculptures on display here remain open to the public all year long.
- Duration: All year round.
- Location: Antalya.
The Sun and Sea Festival – The USA
A competition like no other, where sculptors use nothing but sand and water to build life-size castles, world-renowned monuments and even mix real-life characters with fictional worlds, all to win the Sun and Sea Festival Competition. The one-day event is packed full of events and workshops; sculptors work from 8:00 am to late afternoon and can only hope to win the competition. There’s a kids’ competition as well, Kids n Kastles, where kids from ages 5 to 12 can attempt to create their best work.
The last edition of the Sun and Sea Festival in 2022 brought wondrous castles to life in the festival. Three winners were chosen at the end of the festival, from the professional competition and the kids’ competition. One of the best awards at the festival is the People’s Choice Award, where visitors vote for their favourite piece among the beautiful masterpieces.
- Duration: 15th-16th July.
- Location: Imperial Beach, California.
Blue Water SandFest – The USA
The Blue Water SandFest is a joyful gathering of artists from all sides of the spectrum. Sand sculptors, professional and amateur, meet up with award-winning musicians to bring you a colourful and unforgettable event. The festival began in 2012 as a fundraiser for the local Fort Gratiot County Park, which continues to this day due to the unprecedented large number of visitors. Each year’s edition includes additional festivities besides the sand and music festivals.
In addition to competing sculptors, the upcoming Blue Water SandFest edition will feature live music, sand sculpting workshops, and free sculpting lessons; amateurs can take a quick lesson and try their hand at the Amateur Competition. Moreover, kids also will have fun at a special place designed for them, the Kids Zone; there’s sumptuous food and refreshing drinks too.
- Duration: 4th-6th August.
- Location: Port Huron, Michigan.
Beyond the Sand Arts Festival – Australia
Watch as Surfers Paradise becomes the stage for exquisite sand sculptures, workshops, art installations, music and entertaining shows. Formerly known as Sand Safari Arts Festival, the festival began in 2012 to attract sand sculptors from Australia and around the world. The festival works under the motto of showcasing the colourful artistic and cultural scene of the Gold Coasts.
The festival works under a different theme every year, but all aim to highlight the Gold Coasts’ cultural scene. The latest edition in 2021 had a fun theme and show; the Circus theme brought so much joy to both the artists and visitors. There were circus performances, sculpting activities and workshops for everyone to enjoy. Additionally, Australian artist, Amanda Parer, brought her biggest installation to life at the beach, decorated with scattered flowers here and there.
- Duration: 13 March to 21 March.
- Location: Surfers Paradise, Queensland.
Sandcastle Days – The USA
Escape from everyday hustle and bustle to this tropical gem in southern Texas. South Padre Island holds one of the oldest sand festivals in the world; it’s more than 30 years old. Local residents Walter McDonald and Lucinda Wierenga wanted to highlight the importance of protecting the island’s shores and preserving the maritime and ecological system on the island. Year after year, the event grew to become a yearly festival that welcomes more than 30,000 visitors every year.
Visitors at the Sandcastle sand festival will enjoy the uniqueness of sand sculptures, live music, and various art booths, and the cherry on top is amazing food. This year’s edition will feature an amateur competition where everyone from kids to groups can participate, and the winner will be announced on 7 October. Additionally, the festival will feature different fun activities for kids, families and groups, with water slides and sand workshops.
- Duration: 5 October to 8 October.
- Location: South Padre Island, Texas.
Sandworld Sand Sculpture Festival – The UK
This fun, entertaining and interactive sand festival in Dorset is the UK’s only sand festival. In 2011, Weymouth hosted its first sand sculpting event, which went on to become an annual affair. The festival includes, besides sand sculpting workshops, massive sand pits for playing, quizzes, a sand play area for kids and a café.
The latest edition started back in April with the theme of Science Fiction, and the sculptures created are a must-see. Sculptors created pieces based on favourite TV and film characters such as Dr Who, Alien vs Predator and Avatar. During the festival’s running time, sculptors continue to add new pieces, so you might want to schedule a visit a bit later than the opening time.
- Duration: 8 April to 12 November.
- Location: Weymouth, Dorset.
If you’re close to any of the locations we mentioned above, we strongly recommend you prepare your bucket and shovel and prepare to have some fun.