Festivals are a time of great joy and happiness and each place has its own way of celebrating festivals. A life without any festivals is a very drab one indeed, with no joy or colour to infuse one’s soul with a bright, luminescent aura of bliss. If you want to truly experience a destination, there is no better way than to immerse yourself in their culture during a time of celebration with the locals; experience the local flavour in a unique and different way. All over the world, people celebrate several hundred festivals every month – and if you’re willing to go take part in the festivities, there’s plenty to choose from, so much so that you’ll have a full calendar for travel throughout the year! We’ve tried to put together a collection of the Best Festivals around the world taking place from January till December, of course we’ve only listed our favourites; but we’re confident you’ll love them too.
But be forewarned, your wanderlust will not only be fuelled but set ablaze - and you might just find that your bucket list has suddenly taken on gigantic proportions!
All these festivals are eye-catching and a must visit, but as always we need to be practical and decide on the ones that are doable. But don’t worry if you can’t go to one right now; as we said these happen all over the world throughout the year, you can always plan for later. Only thing you shouldn’t do is never go there!
1. WAKAKUSA YAMAYAKI
Where: Nara, Japan
Wakakusa Yamayaki when translated to English literally means ‘The Mountain Roast’ and that is exactly what happens every year on the 4th Saturday in January! The dead grass on Mount Wakakusayama’s hillside is set ablaze – so you’re met with the sight of a great fire rolling across the hills until the end of an epic fireworks display which also brings the fire to an end after an hour. There precise origin of the festival is unclear but it has been celebrated for hundreds of years; one among the several theories state that that the burning of the mountainside was instigated during boundary conflicts between Nara’s great temples (Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple), while other stories say the fires were started to drive away wild boars. The festival officially begins at noon with several events taking place at the base of the mountain along with a competition for throwing Sembei (giant rice crackers which are also used as food for the wild deer).
2. Snow & Ice Festival
Where: Harbin, China
The Snow and Ice festival in Harbin, China is the largest of its kind in the world, and features magnificent ice sculptures, lofty but exquisite carvings of birds, animals and deities soaring over 20 feet in height and full-size buildings, fortresses and palaces made from gigantic blocks of ice. Additionally these sculptures are beautifully lit with colourful lights making it a magical winter wonderland dream come true. Don’t forget to check out the ice lanterns, a windproof lantern made completely of ice with a candle lit inside which traces back to the ancient times of the Qing dynasty.
3. CARNIVALE DI VENEZIA
Where: Venice - Italy
Venice is a city that has always been renowned for its parties and this romantic Italian city is still pretty much the same; but come February and it’s time for the Venice Carnival, the city takes on a whole new festive fervour that is unmatched. The colourful costumes, the elaborate Venetian masks and gaily frolicking performers all add to the atmosphere. Wander around the ancient streets among those clad in costumes from the 18th century – it’s straight out of a period drama. Try to avoid the busy streets around San Marco Square which is jam packed with the partying folk; it might get claustrophobic – but the relatively quieter areas of Cannaregio and Dorsoduro offer some amazing party spots filled with locals, particularly at night when most day tripping crowd leaves.
4. MARDI GRAS
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana - USA
Laissez les bons temps rouler (Let the good times roll) is the only motto for New Orleans during Mardi Gras, which unsurprisingly is probably the wildest party in the United States because it’s synonymous with hedonism and debauchery. Actually celebrated as the official final celebration before the period of Lent, which is the Catholic period of introspection and sacrifice; but Mardi Gras turns it into one hell of a party and no matter what your religion is- you’re welcome! All you need is some festive glitter, purple, green and gold (official colours of Mardi Gras representing justice, faith and power) outfits that are outrageously fun, masks and whole lot of party spirit and just step on the streets to experience one of the biggest parties of your life. Fill yourself up with King Cake, beignets and other Creole goodies sold all over the place specially for the festival, participate in the parade and wave at the King and Queen of Mardi Gras. Even if you aren’t a party person, Mardi Gras and the locals will turn you into one.
5. SKY LANTERN FESTIVAL
Where: Pingxi, Taiwan - Republic of China
Legend has it that the origin of the Sky Lantern Festival dates back to the Xing Dynasty, more than two thousand years ago. The elders of Pingxi say that the lowland villages were frequently attacked by bandits and outlaws, compelling the inhabitants of these villages to take shelter in the mountains. After the bandits left, the village watchmen signalled the villagers suing “fire balloons” which meant that their houses were safe once again and they can return to their homes. The present day lanterns which are a reminder of the days of old have scribbled messages of the hopes and dreams of the purchaser who releases them into the night sky hoping those dreams come true; also these lanterns symbolize the end of the Chinese New Year period and the shedding of outdated ways and embracing the future.
The festival was recently highlighted as one of the best festivals in the world and something everyone should try and experience once in their lifetime by a show on Discovery Channel called ‘Fantastic Festivals of the World’. Participate in this festival because it symbolizes something good and if nothing else you’ll come back with a magical vision stamped on your brain forever.
6. RIO CARNIVAL
Where: Rio De Janeiro - Brazil
Much like Mardi Gras in the U.S, the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a festival held before Lent every year. With over two million people per day crowding the streets of Rio every single day during the carnival, it comes as no surprise that it is considered to be the biggest carnival in the world. The streets are filled with revellers, performers in elaborate and colourful costumes, extravagantly adorned floats from Rio’s numerous samba schools and all these amazing dancers parade through the Sambadrome; not only that, the Copacabana Palace hosts official balls & parties. Meanwhile the streets come alive, with formality and structure are left far behind as festival grips the city you’ll find mini festivals instigated by locals where music and dancing and loads of fun are the order of the day.
Where: Varanasi (Benaras) - India
“Holi” is the Hindu festival celebrated to welcome spring, the ending of winter and the triumph of good over evil; it’s also popularly known as the “festival of colours” or “festival of love”. This festival known for its vibrant display of colour shows you the beautiful meaning of unity, as today there is no caste, creed, religion or station; just everyone blending in with a myriad of bright colours on them. It’s a crazy, colourful and almost out of control party with amazing food, fun and laughter. Make friends with a few locals and you can continue the festivities at private house parties till late in the evening. While Holi is celebrated all across Northern India, the celebrations in Varanasi are quite unlike anything you’ll witness anywhere in India.
8. ST PATRICK’S DAY
Where: Dublin - Ireland & New York - USA
New York City has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th since 1762. Suddenly, you’ll find that the whole city has turned green, green shamrock painted on faces, and even the Empire State Building gets into the festive mood and looks bright in green lights. Irish immigrants and everyone else pack into the Irish pubs and celebrate this fun holiday with traditional soda bread, shamrock shakes and cupcakes. This really big green party is one of the most fun days of the year in NYC with parades, fun and frolic and good cheer.
If you think NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day is out of this world, then you should head over to the place where it originated to see how the locals celebrate it, because it is not the same as the American version. The emerald isle or Ireland as it is commonly known is already green enough one would think, but come St. Patrick’s Day everything from people to cities to dogs, all turn green. Take part in the parade, especially in Dublin which has over 500,000 participants each year and afterwards you can head to a pub for a pint of Guinness and live music.
Where: Mayrhofen - Austria
Every year in April, Mayrhofen in Austria hosts the biggest party in the snow called Snowbombing. Contrary to the name this is actually a snow sports festival which over time has morphed into the biggest music festival in the mountains with some great snowboarding competitions. In fact it is billed as a Ride N Seek event (a snowboard competition unlike any other) where you can catch the pros in the industry throwing some serious moves in the park by day and at night the same arena showcases an eclectic mix of music acts.
10. STARS OF THE WHITE NIGHTS
Where: St Petersburg - Russia
White Nights is actually a collection of events from mid-May to mid-July, basically around midsummer when they have the longest days of the year. St. Petersburg already known for its love of arts absorbs the festival spirit with gusto and you’ll see an extravaganza of the arts — music, opera, ballet, films, concerts, parties and outdoor celebrations including the star attraction, the symbol of the White Nights: Scarlet Sails based on a popular Russian children’s book is a mock pirate battle culminating with an extravagant gunpowder-packed fireworks show and the appearance of the red-sailed, tall ship; all in the flamboyant Russian style. Spend the warm summer days with long, leisurely walks along the River Neva among the roving gypsy bands, jugglers, sword swallowers, fire eaters, even stoic Russian mimes. Experience the irresistible zhizni radost – the peculiar Russian brand of joie de vivre in St. Petersburg when the city is at its lustrous best!
11. SAN VINO WINE FIGHT
Where: Haro - Spain
Imagine a festival which is about a battle; and the weapon being used, Red wine! Incredible, right? Head straight to Spain for the annual Batalla de Vino, or Wine Battle, one of Europe’s most unique and underrated festivals. The festival happens in the small village of Haro, where every year on June 29th, thousands of revellers converge on a hill just after sunrise to wage war on each other using red wine! Grab the water guns, insect sprayers, buckets or whatever is available, fill them with wine and start waging war. But don’t think the night is going to be boring, because the party really gets started after sunset the day before the festival. Stay up all night with locals, drink and dance on the streets till the wine fight begins early in the morning.
Where: Boom - Belgium
It will come as no surprise that Tomorrowland is one of our favourites; in fact, we’re ready to bet that it’s on almost everyone’s bucket list. This ultimate EDM festival is an annual celebration in Belgium and is definitely one of the best festivals for music lovers and party animals.
A few renowned DJ’s started the festival in 2004, but now it attracts thousands if not millions of EDM lovers from across the globe. The festival with its extravagant psychedelic motifs and arenas and eminent DJs like - Tiesto, David Guetta, Hard well, Afrojack performing every year among other equally talented people add to the sheer delight of the huge crowd of fans.
There are tents and camps spread all around an open field where people can rest and sleep awhile in between. Tomorrowland is the perfect place to meet new, like-minded people from around the world.
13. LA TOMATINA
Where: Bunol, Valencia - Spain
The La Tomatina Festival is one of the craziest food festivals in the world. And by food festival we don’t mean the eating kind. A tiny Spanish town called Buñol in Valencia hosts La Tomatina every year. Basically you throw around tomatoes at the participants while you get splattered with tomatoes too! It all starts at 10 am, with a few small trucks entering the town, bringing with them loads of tomatoes for you to fight your fun battle with. When the tomatoes are dropped to the ground, it signals the start of the party. You´ll definitely get dirty, but you’ll have the kind of fun you haven’t indulged in since you were a kid waging food wars. The locals join in with people from all over the world to hurl tomatoes at each other for an hour after which the fire trucks will hose down the debris from the streets, you can join in the hosing down to get yourselves clean too and have fun splashing water around!
14. GANESH CHATHURTHI
Where: Mumbai – India
This Indian festival is all about the Elephant-headed god, Ganesha. And in Mumbai this is more than just a festival, it is their pride and joy and no expense is spared for this festival celebrating the birth of Lord Ganesha. All over India, every Hindu family will install a clay idol of the God who is considered to be the harbinger of good fortune in their homes and offer prayers for a period of 3-12 days after which the idol is immersed in water. Moreover you’ll find pandals with huge statues of the God in every street and Mumbai alone will have a staggering 7000 pandals. It’s not just about praying, it’s about people coming together, celebrating together and the pandals also host several cultural events, with song, dance and theater being regular features. The 12th day, or the day of visarjan the people bid a fond farewell to their deity and take the statue to the immersed in the sea, it tends to be pandemonium but you can head over to Chowpatty beach to see how India bids farewell to its favourite deity!
Where: Munich - Germany
Who hasn’t heard of Germany’s infamous Oktoberfest? It’s so famous that pubs and bars in countries all over the world celebrate Oktoberfest when it’s happening in Germany. But where’s the fun in that? Because if you’re a true lover of beer you’ve got to go there at least once in their life! Drink your fill of the all the different kinds of beer on offer, go tent hopping because that means drinking even MORE beer. More than 6 million people attend this festival annually and beer is not the only attraction here, you’ll find amusement rides, side-stalls and traditional food. And if you’re tired of the beer, head to the cafe tent and sober up with coffee and a slice of the decadent Black Forest cake, and then dive in again until you’re ready to drop!
16. DURGA PUJA
Where: Kolkata – India
You think you’ve experienced religious fervour? Try a whole new kind of religious flavour in Kolkata, India during October when the whole state of West Bengal gears up to worship their favourite deity, Durga Maa during Durga Puja. The ten long days of the Durga Puja festival celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. The Bengalis install great, big statues of the Goddess in elaborately decorated pandals across the city and state and they even compete for the best pandal decorations. At the end of the festival the statues are carried away to be immersed in the sea or rivers. Kolkata otherwise also has a great food scene, but during Durga Puja you’ll see specialities being whipped out made especially for the festival. Mingle with the locals and go pandal hopping in the evenings to check out some amazing craftsmanship and then later stuff your tummy full of the delicacies on offer.
17. DIA DE LOS MUERTOS (DAY OF THE DEAD)
Where: Mexico City - Mexico
The Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos is a festival in celebrate in Mexico’s central and southern regions. It is a day of prayer and remembrance for the friends and family members who are dead. Families gather together to pray for dead to help support them on their spiritual journey. They build private altars to honour the dead, visit grave sites and leave gifts for the dead. And instead of remembering their loved ones in a gloomy fashion, the Mexicans celebrate their lives and honour them with music and dancing in colourful costumes and lots of food. While the locals tend to celebrate in private with their families you can many public displays and then there’s the parade, a recent tradition which started in 2016 involving revellers dressed in costumes and skeleton masks or holding effigies of the Calavera Catrina, or ‘Dapper Skeleton’, performers and people waving flags. It might be a festival to honour the dead, but the Mexicans make that one into a celebration too.
Where: Tyrol - Austria
Krampus is a mythical being who is a horned, half-daemon, half-goat is apparently someone who whip children into being nice at Christmas. Doesn’t sound like a nice person now, does he? And to the poor uninitiated soul, this might be more than a little terrifying.
The anti-St. Nicholas Krampus is a horned, fanged creature with long, dark fur with a chain and bells, he lashes chain and bells about along with a bundle of birch sticks supposedly to swat naughty children into behaving better. And then he hauls the bad kids down to the underworld. Not the kind of bedtime story you want to read, but that’s how the story goes! A parade full of Krampus take to the streets of the Austrian Alps, walking on the snow covered streets with their chains rattling, carrying torches of fire and whipping unsuspecting passersby. Go prepared. Might not sound like Rio’s Carnival; but it should be fun and after all travel is all about experiencing different cultures also right?
Where: Edinburgh - Scotland
After the previous one, this is an absolute breeze, a scene that we are completely used to but still can’t resist. Hogmanay gets the core of the city bustling with people jumping from one stage to the other as 5 bands play simultaneously in the city, partying and marvelling at the impressive fireworks display at midnight. Even if the weather isn’t great you’ll end up having a blast with all the dancing, skating in the ice rink, Christmas markets, a Ferris wheel, a torchlight procession on the 30th, a proper music festival on the 31st, the nuts Loony Dook race which includes swimming in the freezing waters by the Forth bridge on the outskirts of the city as well as an art explosion taking over 9 bizarre venues. Edinburgh sure knows how to ring in the New Year! And there’s no better place you can usher the New Year in too!
So, there’s that exhausting list with The Best Festivals and Cultural Experiences in the World or at least the ones we think are the best and needs to go on your bucket list. Now that you have everything you need to know, get packing and go! If you’ve been to any of these and have any reviews to add, please do let us know. You can also let us know if you’ve been to an amazing festival that isn’t listed above, but should be.
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