Great Festivals of the World

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 28th, 2010

Festivals. A place where people looking to have a great time can dance, listen to great music, celebrate, party, have fun, and relax. They happen all over the world for many different reasons. Some celebrate religion, some the new year, some art, some the harvest- whatever the reason, every month, somewhere in the world, you’ll find people descending on a location to celebrate and share a common experience. If you don’t like crowds, they probably aren’t for you. But if you feel like getting wet, dirty, staying up late, dancing, or just want to enjoy the energy of tens of thousands of people, check out some of these festivals:

Carnival (February)
celebrating carnival
Carnival is a giant party held right before the Christian holiday of Lent. Brazilian Carnival is the most famous and attracts the most numbers of people to it, with their dancing, parades, and floats, music, and drinking. Vegas may be sin city but this is the sin holiday. Alternatively, if you can’t get down to Brazil, you can always head to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Holi (March)
getting colored at holi
Holi is a Hindu holiday celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March and glorifies good harvest and fertility of the land. Moreover, Holi also celebrates the triumph of good over evil, at least according to a legend involving the god Krishna. It can last up to 16 days, depending on where in the world you celebrate it. There is music, food, and, of course, throwing paint on each other.

Songkran (Mid-April)
Songkran, Thai New Year
Thai New Year is one of the most fun events I’ve ever been to. For three days the country basically shuts down to party. Songkran is three day water fight that engulfs the whole country, you can’t walk two seconds out of your house without getting wet. No one is safe. The young and the old participate equally and there is nothing like having a little old lady say sorry and then dump a bucket of cold water on you. The most fun I ever had was riding in a Tuk Tuk and having a mobile water fight with the people in the lane over.

Bay to Breakers (May)
bay to breakers in san francisco
The Bay to Breakers is an annual footrace which takes place in San Francisco, California on the third Sunday of May. The complete course is 7.46 miles long. The footrace is more of an excuse to drink and dress in weird costumes along the way. It’s a very large event and is more like a moving party than a footrace. Also expect to see a lot of people running in the nude.

Glastonbury (June)
glastonbury festival in england
Every summer in June, Pilton, England becomes the stage for one of the largest music festivals in the world. Glastonbury is best known for its contemporary music, but also features dance, comedy, theater, circus, cabaret and many other arts. About 175,000 people come to this area for a few days of music, mud, and mayhem. The fields turn into giant tent cities as everyone camps out looking to have some fun!

Swedish Midsummer (June)
celebrating the midsummer
During the summer solstice, Swedes come out and celebrate the start of the summer. It doesn’t get warm often this far north so when it does, people like to celebrate it. Local Swedes head out into nature, dance around a pole, eat lots of fish, drinks lots of beer, and stay up to enjoy the longest day of the year. After all, the sun doesn’t set until about midnight. (The Swedes also have a good festival to celebrate spring too.)

Running of the Bulls (July)
the running of the bulls
During July, Pamplona is filled with white clothed and red scarf wearing people who quench their thirst with sangria and the daring few try to out run some angry bulls. It’s usually a recipe for one or two people getting hurt and not something I’d ever consider doing but the atmosphere and celebrations are not to be missed. By the end of the day, your white shirt will soon be sangria red.

La Tomatina (August)
spain's la tomatina
For one hour, 20,000 people engage in a tomato fight in Bunol, Spain during the last Wednesday of August. The whistle blows and the tomatoes of La Tomatina fly. It’s fun, it’s dirty, it’s the food fight we all dreamed about as a child. After you have your fill of tomatoes, you go wash off in the river and then join the dance party in town where the sangria and food flow.

Burning Man (August)
burning man
At the end of August, tens of thousands of people head out in the Nevada desert for 6 days of alternative living. Burning Man brings out the arty, the alternative, and the eccentric. It’s 6 days of camping (bring lots of water!), art, and music. At the end, a giant wooden man is set on fire (hence the name).

Oktoberfest (September)
getting drunk at oktoberfest
Though really in September this two week beer festival in Munich attracts people from all over the world with its beer halls, lederhosen, giant steins of beer, and huge pretzels. No one I know ever lasted the whole two weeks but the 3 or 4 days you are there will be the haziest of your life. It’s the best place in the world to celebrate one of God’s greatest gifts- beer.

Day of the Dead (November)
day of the dead
With paper mache skeletons and candy skulls, Mexico’s carnavelesque Day of the Dead is one of the world’s most familiar festivals. Participants devote a day to cleaning their family graves, decorating them with candles and flowers, having picnics and dancing to mariachi bands. It’s an odd combination of remembrance and festivity.

All around the world and no matter what month of the year, you’ll find people celebrating. I’ve been to a large number of these festivals and my goal is to see them all. Not only are festivals fun they are also a great way to do something different than the normal sightseeing we do when we visit places. The next time you are looking for something wild, crazy, and festive, plan your trip around these celebrations of life.

comments 42 Comments

Fabulous round-up Matt! Have you been to all of these festivals? I’ve only been to one myself (Burning Man), but hope to squeeze Bay to Breakers in before too long. Maybe next year …

What a great post!!! I looooove festivals. Another great one to add to your list is Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala. It’s really incredible. I can’t wait to go to Carnival one year!

Yeah, this is really cool. You should also add the Swiss Fasnacht, which takes place in February every year. I was in Luzern, Switzerland last year when it was taking place… and it was amazing! Everyone dresses up in costume and there are marching bands that play all through the day and night for several days straight. You can see some of the photos I took from the festival.

Kate @ Watsons Unleashed

Thanks for the great list!

One thing to note: The sponsors of Bay to Breakers have put the kibosh on beer and nudity.
http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-02-12/news/17187531_1_indecent-exposure-ocean-beach-footrace

It is seriously my life mission to go to all of these.

Yes, I was at Bay to Breakers this year and it was insanity. Loved it. Might not be around much longer given the San Francisco city council’s agenda.

amazing shots! love Holi, Songkran and Glastonbury ~

Umm…I need to make it to every one of these within the next 5 years I think. I’ve already hit Bay to Breakers and Oktoberfest, and doing La Tomatina next month. But those other ones look unbelievable!

With one single blog post you’ve made my partner want to go to India. She’s even putting Holi on her bucket list. I’m holding you personally accountable for the rainbowification of my DSLR :P

Great Carnival/Festival summarize and photos – especially the first photo – we wanna visit everyone! The Swedish one is the only one we’ve been at so far actually, so we have a lot left to experience obviously… Yay!

Awesome! I haven’t encountered any of this, but I hope I do at some point!! I’ve been intrigued by the holi and la tomatina, I have seen a lot of pictures of the event in the web, looks fantastic!

Michaela

I agree the Palio in Siena Italy should REALLY be included! The 2nd Palio of the year occurs in August and has elaborate parades, practice horse races, an extremely intense competitive atmosphere and it’s by far the most fun I’ve ever had! The history and traditions are amazing to learn about all while having the best time of your life.

Thats a great list..incidentally Deepavali is a bigger festival than Holi in India..

Arup Ghosh

UNPUTDOWNABLE………………………..

holi is the festival of love,good harvest and fertility of the land. nice information about festival,But those ones look unbelievable, thanks for sharing.

Athena Bohm

I know the girls in the wedding dresses in your Bay to Breakers picture!! Another random coincidence!

NomadicMatt

Why is it we know so many of the same people around the world? LOL

NP

Love this post!

Rupen Der Boghosian

I’ve only been to one of these events. I almost made it to Oktoberfest but was very disappointing when I learned it was held in September. That name is really confusing!

I think my next stops will be the Spanish events since I have a tradition of visiting the World Cup champions after they win!

Bay to Breakers is also pretty insane.. did it twice!

Rupen
http://www.qtripper.com – backpackers guide to the world

Harry March

Interesting, though I love to travel I guess I am not that into this sort of experience because I started reading this list and realized though I have had opportunities to attend some of these events, I usually avoid them.

I was in San Francisco during the last Bay to Breakers and spent the day with friends in the East Bay to avoid the mayhem, and though I have several friends who make annual Burning Man pilgrimages I have very little interest in joining them. I also prefer small quiet bars to loud and crowded nightclubs. I guess I prefer spending time with a few people I know well, rather than hundreds of strangers. Great post though, and good decision to order them chronologically.

NomadicMatt

Sadly, I’ve yet to go to Burning Man. I was going to go this year but some stuff came up. I’m crossing my fingers for next year!

Burner at Heart

Bin to Burning Man 3 Times love it every time… would have bin my 4th year but due to injure ( Fractured Spine and need surgery) and lack of money ( because i can’t work with injure) I am unable to attend…

NomadicMatt

Me = jealous!

kira ford

burning man is 7 days. and at the end they burn a temple, after the man. nice list, just seems like the info is remote to the festivals. like green screening your journalism report. (where you are supposed to be on location.)

Michaela

Excellent list — I look forward to making my way to each one!

Although one I’ve recently experienced and should 100% be here is the Las Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain each spring!! Huge $80,000-$100,000 dollar cartoon floats are displayed throughout the city, there is a contest, street parties, and it all ends with La Crema on Friday.. which is essentially the burning of all these floats! Its madness.. I’d equate it to Time Square during New Years! But so much better :)

Joe

How about Sasquatch! Music Festival in Washington state

It’s simply the best in every way :)

Bonita

Don’t forget Queens Day in Amsterdam! One of the best.. not to mention St. Patricks Day in Ireland!

NomadicMatt

Queen’s Day is one of my favorite. It’s a great holiday, though I’m not sure I’d classify it as a festival. But semantics.

piya

Really great job. I have celebrated diwali and holi and they are real fun . I’m looking forward to attending all the other enticing fests around the globe.

These festivals look like a lot of fun and a great way to learn about a culture. My boyfriend recently went to visit friends in Louisiana for Mardi Gras. They didn’t go to the hoopla in New Orleans, but instead they went to a much more traditional Creole festival in the country called “courir”. A community gathers and asks neighbors for food and chase a chicken. Lots of drinking, merriment and eating of delicious food then ensues!

There is a festival in New Zealand called Beachhop – a retro celebration of the 50s – 70’s, that I think should be on your list.
It’s in its 12 year and this year over 100,000 people attended. The event features over 5000 cars from the period and rock n roll and rockabilly artists playing in over 20 venues.

The event is called Beachhop because it’s held in Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula – who’s normal population is just 4000.

Travellers come from as far away as the USA to attend – many hundreds from Australia too! we believe Beachhop is the biggest festival of its kind in the Southern hemisphere.

Check it out online at beachhop.co.nz

Wally

Songkron is the worst holiday ever invented. Drunken tourist seem to enjoy the eye infections and dysentery , but for the people who are over 25 and sober detest the week long torture. Don’t even try and argue this point.

NomadicMatt

You clearly have never hung out with Thais during the festivity because they love the holiday, even those way OLDER than 25. Don’t even try and argue this point. :)

Tim

Running of the Bulls is not a festival. This activity is just one small part of the larger Fiesta de San Fermin, a celebration of the patron Saint of Pamplona. The festival itself is absolutely insane on its own even if you don’t consider the running of the bulls aspect. I’ve been and ran four times with the bulls, but that is just a small part of the fiesta – which makes Mardi Gras look like new Year’s Eve in a retirement home.

Chuck

Whoever put this together has obviously never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Great to see a festival from India up there. Not really a festival in the music sense of the word, but certainly one to indulge the senses is the Jinju lantern festival, South Korea. We really enjoyed it on a recent trip.

MrM

La Guelaguetza and the Cervantino in Mexico are not to be missed.

I love how you’ve arranged them chronologically. now I can just print this and I have my itinerary ;-) I’d love to travel according to festivals for a bit – see them all. I’m a bit concerned about the Holi Festivals though, since I am a female solo traveller, but it is also on top of my list, so I guess I’ll brave it. Thanks for sharing, Matt.

Anurag

Why is Glastonbury in this list, shouldn’t this list be more of a cultural thing ?

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