15 Festivals of the World You’ve Gotta See

All over the world people celebrate for the most beautiful, coolest and craziest things with the most beautiful, coolest and craziest events! Here are just a few of the events that you ought to add to your bucket list.

1. Snow & Ice Festival

“Harbin Ice and Snow World 2010” By Dayou_X – CC BY-SA 2.0

Where: Harbin, China

When: Between December 20th and late February

What: This is the world’s largest and most popular ice and snow festival, with sculptures 20+ feet high, full-sized buildings, and anything the local imaginations can think up, including decorations of colored lights and lasers. While you’re enjoying the sites, there are also participate in events and winter sports.

2. Holi

“Holi celebration in Mathura, India” By Jitenderasingh – CC BY-SA 4.0

Where: Hindu countries (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc), more jubilant events in Northern India, more solemn ones in Southern India

When: Full moon of the 12th month in the Hindu calendar (either late February or early March)

What: Also known as the “Festival of Colors” and the “Festival of Love,” this event celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s a time to forget all past resentments, to rejoice with friends and family and the neighborhood.

One does this by having a bonfire the night before and then invading the streets with Bhang Lassi (It’s not alcohol but has the same effects) and powdered colors on the day of Holi.

This is a party to remind you to love life and people and rejoice in the moment. It’s a great place to go with friends, though one should always be wary of intoxicated participants in the packed streets.

3. Cascamorras

“El Gobierno declara de Interés Turístico Internacional la fiesta de Cascamorras” By Jmaiba – CC BY-SA 3.0

Where: Baza and Guadix, Spain

When: Sept. 6 and Sept. 9

What: Based on a local legend, a working Guadix man named Cascamorras discovered the statue of “Virgen de la Piedad,” or Our Lady of Mercy,  in the ground.

The two towns of Guadix and Baza claimed the statue as their own.

Tribunals decided that the statue was to remain in Baza, but Cascamorras and his Guadix companions tried to take it back to Guadix anyway. They were stopped and the statue was returned.

It is said that, on Saint’s Day, if a designated man can reach the statue while remaining clean, Guadix may have the statue.

Five hundred years later, the Guadix are still unsuccessful as thousands of people run through the streets, covering each other in egg, flour, and black olive oil.

4. Carnevale

“CarnevaleVenezia2015” By Callejero Errante – CC BY 2.0

Where: Venice, Italy

When: Two weeks of events ending on Shrove Tuesday, February and/or March

What: For two weeks each year, Venice streets flood with colorful elaborate old-world costumes and hand-painted masks.

Join in the masquerade balls, concerts, and boat parades.

Enjoy the street performers and food stands and just take in all the crazy costumes filling the streets.

You can buy a mask for cheap or splurge on a hand-painted one. Rent costumes or design your own. Book your hotels and rentals early, because the prices can be astronomical and/or sold out.

5. Up Helly Aa Fire Festival

“Up Helly Aa 2011” By Vicki Brock – CC BY-SA 2.0

Where: Shetland Islands, Scotland (Largest event in Lerwick)

When: Last Tuesday in January

What: To mark the end of each Yule season, a procession of torches marches through the town dragging the replica of a Viking long ship.

The procession is lead by the Guizer Jarl and his Jarl squad, the rest of it made up by up to 45 other guizer squads.

At the end of the procession, the guizers surround the ship, sing the Up Helly Aa song, and throw their torches onto the ship, setting it ablaze.

Through the rest of the night, each squad will visit every large room in town and perform their own acts which can be historical, musical, satirical, and more.

It is unlike anything you will have ever seen before!

6. Mardi Gras

“Mardi Gras Parade, New Orleans, Louisiana (LOC)” By the Library of Congress – Public Domain

Where: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

When: Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (same day as Carnevale ends)

What: This is a crazy party on the streets of the USA’s most eccentric city, New Orleans, that consists of parades, music, thrown strings of beads, street food, and drinks.

The French Quarter is known for its incredible, classic atmosphere, but spring-breakers tend to gather here and on Bourbon Street after the parades and disturb this atmosphere with excessive alcohol. Please note that this is not the “traditional” Mardi Gras, and girls absolutely do NOT have to flash anyone.

7. Oktoberfest

“München, Schützen-Festzelt, Oktoberfest 2012” By Bayreuth2009 – CC BY 3.0

Where: Munich, Germany

When: Last week in Sept. to the first weekend in October

What: The largest folk festival in the world started in the early 19th century as a horse race in honor of a royal wedding. By the end of the century, it was an annual event with music, street performers, food (like roasted chicken), events, and the beer tents were set up to meet demand.

Since then, the festival has become more family-friendly during the day and keeping the rowdiness restricted to the evening.

This, of course, does not mean that you can’t enjoy your day with the food, rides, performers and dancing.

To really get into the spirit, gentlemen can pull on their lederhosen, charivari and loferls while the women braid their hair and slip into their dirndls complete with blouse, hat, apron, and leathers shoes with a cuban heel. (Ladies, remember that tying your apron on the left means you’re available and looking. Tying on the right means you’re attached or uninterested. Choose wisely!)

8. Carnaval

“Carnaval 2014 – Rio de Janeiro” By Nicholas de Camaret – CC BY 2.0

Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: 4 days in March or February or both

What: The event was brought to Brazil by the European colonists and the locals clashed and challenged the event with their own style of music, dance, and dress. Eventually, the two styles of these two peoples converged, and the Samba was introduce in the early 20th century.

It is a day where all conventions drop, dress however you want, as whoever you want, wear as much or as little, dresses or pants, and just dance and celebrate and live without worry. Hakuna Matata!

You can join one of the twelve best Samba Schools to compete in the Sambódromo competition, get tickets to balls held all over the city, join the street parties/parades also called blocos or banda, and just party away in the colors, glitter, and feathers. 

9. Coachella


“Bassnectar’s traditional “family photo” taken at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival 2013.” By Drew Ressler – CC BY-SA 3.0

Where: Indio, California

When: in April, exact dates vary

What: Just two hours outside of Los Angeles, California, a rapidly growing music and arts festival is held in the desert for two weekends in April.

Celebrities, social media influencers and every trendy individual believes Coachella to be a must-attend.

Dress traditional bohemian with high-waisted shorts, crochet crop top, and a flower crown; or a lacy dress, gladiator sandals, and beach waves. Or be a trendsetter and go in something totally original.

Explore a wide variety of local and ethnic foods; there’s something for the carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, health-conscious, and your cheat day.

Between sixty and seventy artists perform each day, so make sure to plan your day to see all your favorites.

Also, load up on the wet wipes and sunscreen, the sand and sun are no joke!

 

10. Dia de los Muertos

“Dia de los Muertos” By Jenny Huey – CC BY 2.0

Where: Mexican locales in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Mexico, though the biggest is in Mexico City, Mexico

When: Nov. 1

What: It started thousands of years ago with the Aztecs, Toltec, and Nahua peoples who believed mourning was disrespectful and that it was far better to celebrate them.

So, on the “Day of the Dead,” people come together to celebrate All Saints day and honor their lost loved ones, who return to Earth on that one day each year. (Anyone seen Coco? Would definitely recommend!) 

Participants don wild skeleton masks (or this beautiful face paint to imitate skulls) and elaborate black, red and white costumes and attend parties, parades, dance, sing, and make offerings to lost loved ones.

Local families will build altars – not to worship, mind you – in their homes or cemeteries, to welcome family spirits with water, food, photos and candles for each loved one, all decorated with marigolds. 

11. Running of the Bulls

“Encierro del10 de julio” By Asier Solana Bermejo – CC BY-SA 2.5

Where: Pamplona, Spain

When: July 6-14, part of the Fermin Festival

What: It began when butchers had to bring the bulls from the ranches to the arena in the morning of each fiesta. Apprentices would run in front of the bulls to entice them through the city, and it became popular with the general public.

Now six fighting bulls and six tame bell-oxen will run through the streets on an 875-meter fenced-in course while men run ahead.

Anyone can participate provide they are over 18, not intoxicated, and refrain from any excessive antics. Runners must be gathered by 7:30am and ready to run by 8:00. 

Usually there are 200-300 people injured during this event, though most are concussions due to falling or running into someone/thing.

I don’t think I have what it takes, but I’m happy to watch behind the fence!

12. Burning Man

“Burning Man 2009” By Mindaugas Danys – CC BY 2.0

Where: Black Rock City, Nevada

When: End of August, beginning of September

What: “A temporary metropolis dedicated to art and community,” Burning Man started in 1986 and is this eclectic, mind-bending world constructed in the desert to make you think and wonder and debate and experience.

This event represents all that makes us human, the questions of the universe we cannot answer.

At the same time, it evokes a sense of unity with the other 70,000 people that camp, create art, appreciate art, and just wander the desert.

Every year, an art theme is chosen and artists are challenged to create thought-provoking pieces.

To be clear, though, and their website emphasizes this, Burning Man is not a festival, it is a collaborative experience in which every individual is to participate, share, give, and follow the 10 Principles of Burning Man. Make sure to research this one before you go. It’s a doozy, but absolutely worth it if you give it a shot!

13. Lantern Festival

“Loi-Krathong-09777” By Visions of Domino – CC BY 2.0

Where: Pingxi, Taiwan

When: Fifteenth day in the first lunar month, usually late February, early March

What: Also know as the Yuan Xiao Festival, the Lantern Festival is to honor the past, make wishes, and see one of the most beautiful, iconic sights one could ever witness. (Tangled, anyone?)

Lanterns were originally invented to send military messages during the Three Kingdoms period.

Now people decorate them and send their dearest wishes to the sky, wishes for a good crop year, to birth a strong son, a blessed marriage, a good grade on school tests, or anything that is important to anyone.

Beyond the floating lanterns, there is live music, street food, and traditional games.

Be prepared for crazy crowds and a late night (if you don’t have children with you). Otherwise, just take the evening to breathe and smile and enjoy.

14. Chinese New Year

“China-Shanghai-YuGarden-the Lantern Festival-2012 1834” By North sea deamer – CC BY-SA 3.0

Where: Anywhere there is a Chinese community but largely in China

When: Last day of the last month on the Chinese calendar to the 15th day of the first month (end of January, through February)

What: Chinese families celebrate the new year and the coming spring with paper dragons, parades, fireworks, traditional clothing, flowers, lanterns, and an overall color of red.

Save as much room in your stomach as you can for the spring rolls, dumplings, noodles, steamed fish or chicken, Nian gao (“New year’s cake), veggies, hot pot, rice balls, and basically any kind of traditional chinese food available. (A Chinese friend of mine said I could eat something different every meal for a year and still never try all the different Chinese dishes. Sounds like a challenge to me!)

Send a red pocket to a dear friend, your parents, your children, as a sign of well-wishes for the coming year.

There’s also a Lantern Festival here too!

But above all, remember, it is a time to be together with family. For all the food and fun, it is still to be respected and honored.

15. White Nights Festival

“Firework on Scarlet Sails, 2007.” By Marina Lystseva – GFDL 1.2

Where: St. Petersburg, Russia

When: June to July, though events take place before and after the official dates

What: During the time of the near-midnight sun (because St. Petersburg is so close to the arctic circle), this three-month summer festival is a long series of opera, ballet, and symphonic performances and premiers with big-name casts, performers, and composers turning out each year.

A series of carnivals take place throughout the festival, often performing in the Palace Square.

The festival ends with the Scarlet Sails celebration on the shortest night of the year with an crimson-sailed ship surrounded by epic pyrotechnics. This is to represent the end of the school year based on the children’s book by Alexander Grin, “Scarlet Sails.”

This is a festival that takes longer to enjoy, so take some time in St. Petersburg, attend the opera, the ballet, and the Scarlet Sails celebration.

What a way to take in this beautiful, old-world Russian culture!


So there’s a small peek at the world’s festivals you should definitely add to your bucket list. This isn’t a task one does in a single year, though, so plan wisely and build your lifelong itinerary of the world’s most incredible festivals.

I hope you check some – or all! – of them out.

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