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The world's most creative sand sculpture festivals

Turns out that there’s a lot more to sand than sunbathing and trying to avoid getting it in your ice cream. Why not try something a bit different this summer and check out these sand sculpture festivals?

International Sand Sculpture Festival in Algarve, Portugal

Sand sculptures on Algarve beach

Sand sculptures on Algarve beach


If you subscribe to the philosophical school of thought that ‘bigger = better’, make a beeline for the International Sand Sculpture Festival in Algarve, Portugal. This festival has been running since 2003 and today it is the biggest sand sculpture festival in the world. Inspired by the year’s chosen theme, a group of international sand sculptors work together to create 12-metre-high sculptures, including models of people, buildings, animals, and entire tableaux.

The location of the festival has become known as Sand City and while the professional sculptors are the highlight, there’s still more than enough to keep amateurs entertained. Workshops, demonstrations, and film screenings run throughout the festival. And if you’re planning to stay nearby, check into the self-catered Villa Bora-Bora, just a short walk from Sand City.

The Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition, Vancouver Island, Canada

Ambitious architecture at the seaside

Ambitious architecture at the seaside


The Vancouver-based Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition attracts Master Sand Sculptors from all over the world and is an official qualifying event for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting. Competitors have 30 hours over the course of four days to create their sculptures and the (voluntary) entrance fees are donated to local not-for-profit groups.

There’s also a Coastal Community Sculpting Zone for amateur sculptors, and in a fit of daring hubris the festival site is right next to a waterpark. Unlike a lot of sand sculpting festivals, this Canadian competition is wheelchair friendly and provides chairs for visitors with limited mobility. Planning to stay nearby? The Beach Club Resort is only a 1-minute walk from the beach.

European Championship Sand Sculpture Festival, Zandvoort aan Zee, The Netherlands

A sand sculpture of the artist Rembrandt at Zandvoort

A sand sculpture of the artist Rembrandt at Zandvoort


The 6th edition of the European Championship Sand Sculpture Festival will be hosted by the Dutch coastal town of Zandvoort aan Zee, just half an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam city centre. Sculptors from all over the continent come to compete, with structures required to be roughly 3.5 metres high, 3 meters deep, and 3 metres wide to qualify.

Around 200 tonnes of sand are required during the festival’s run (from June to November) and the latest theme is Dutch Masters. In order to make sure you get a good view of Van Gogh’s Sandflowers, book into the Studio at Sea and ask for a room with a balcony overlooking the ocean.

Sand Sculpture Festival, Weston-Super-Mare, UK

A sculpture of The Hobbit at Weston-Super-Mare

A sculpture of The Hobbit at Weston-Super-Mare


The upbeat, atmosphere at the Weston-Super-Mare Sand Sculpture Festival is thanks both to the organisers, and the festival’s regular visitors and sculptors who, for one week every year, have been creating stupendous and surreal sand sculptures since 2005.

Previous themes include fairy tales, ‘under the sea’, Hollywood, and ‘when I grow up’ and the 15 professional sculptors use 4000 tonnes of sand to create the festival exhibits. If you’re planning to make repeat visits to see how your favourite sculptures are coming along, the Victoria Mansions Hotel Apartments are only a 1-minute walk from the beach.

International Antalya Sand Sculpture Festival, Antalya, Turkey

An artist sculpts Alice in Wonderland

An artist sculpts Alice in Wonderland


Nicknamed ‘Sandland’, the International Antalya Sand Sculpture Festival is organised by Turkey’s Global Design Art Works and uses over 10 thousand tonnes of sand. Every year has a new – and even more ambitious – theme, with 2017 focusing on ‘14 Wonders of the World & Mythology.’

Work spaces are also provided for amateur sculptors and past exhibits include the Egyptian sphinx, ancient warriors, political commentary, and a giant Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. At night the festival organisers use LED lighting to illuminate the sculptures. Make sure to catch the best of the festival, day and night, by checking into the cruise-ship-shaped Titanic Beach Lara.