The definitive list of the world’s absolute must-do festivals
We uncover the top 10 festivals across the globe to add to every traveller’s bucket list.
It seems every country has one major event on the annual calendar that claims to trump all others. But with almost 200 countries across the globe, experiencing every single one is near impossible for most us – despite how much we’d like to go!
Here we’ve boiled down the options to the absolute top 10 events to add to your bucket-list.
1. Carnival — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
From feathery costumes, elaborate parade floats to a non-stop extravaganza of drums, dance and debauchery, few things say festivity like ‘Carnival’! Although it’s celebrated right across Brazil and other Catholic countries, Rio de Janeiro has long been regarded as the place to experience Carnival, drawing millions of event-goers every year.
2. Burning Man – Black Rock City, USA
August – September
It doesn’t get any more hair-curling, baton-twirling, mind-swirlingly spectacular than Burning Man, which has been described as a ‘City of Art’. For one week this experimental community in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert challenges its 60,000 ‘participants’ to express themselves and rely on one another, while incorporating the annual theme in some way – think performances and art installations to otherworldly costumes and handmade gifts from strangers.
February – March
A rainbow of colour and Hindu traditions combine to create this celebration of love, springtime fun and good triumphing over evil. You’ll mostly see the spectacle across India and Nepal, but also in other areas with large Hindu populations. Kicking off with a night-time bonfire where people gather, sing and dance, the next day is carnival of colours where everyone frolics about throwing dye powder, squirting water guns and coloured water-filled balloons, uniting friends and foes, rich and poor, children and big kids at heart.
4. Oktoberfest – Munich, Germany
Millions of litres of Oktoberfest beer are just the beginning of this 15-day Bavarian fair, which takes over Munich every year. Having started in 1810 to celebrate a royal wedding, the event is still held on the original site, dubbed Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”). As well as your fill of Löwenbräu pints, there’s also amusement rides, market stalls, games and a bounty of traditional food to sample from pretzels, dumplings and cheese noodles to all manner of sausages and roasted meats.
5. Mardi Gras — New Orleans, USA
French for “Fat Tuesday”, Mardi Gras is a two-week overload of inhibition-less frivolities that end the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when traditionally abstinence prevails. So before the self-restraint kicks in, New Orleans becomes a hub for masquerade balls, glittering beads and excess booze, with some cracking parades across the city.
6. Il Palio – Siena, Italy
July – August
Twice a year the Tuscan town of Siena harks back to its medieval past with a bareback horse race in the local ancient square. Each of the 17 horses in the race (and of their course riders), represent one of the city’s contrade (or districts), adding to the roar of the crowd. And to make things even more entertaining, jockeys are allowed to do anything to their opponents other than tug their reins, so expect as many spills as thrills
7. Dia De Los Muertos – Mexico
October – November
Translated to ‘Day of the Dead’, this seemingly morbid festivity is a day to celebrate and remember those who have passed away with parades, costumes, paper decorations and edible skulls. It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their families on October 31 and leave on November 2, so many spend this time visiting cemeteries – where there is often music and dances to honour the spirits.
8. Snow & Ice Festival — Harbin, China
January – February
Harbin is transformed into a winter wonderland with seismic ice sculptures across the city, adorned with lights and lasers, drawing thousands of artists and art-enthusiasts alike. And if that’s not enough to tickle your fancy, there’s also the Ice Lantern Art Fair, dog sledding to watch and our favourite, “winter swimming watching”.
9. La Tomatina — Buñol, Spain
Tomato fiends get their fill on the last Wednesday of August as over 100,000kg of tomatoes are hurled, squished and splattered in the town square. It’s the culmination of a week-long celebration of Buñol’s patron saint, which leaves the town in a bright red smattering like a horror film scene. We don’t envy whoever has to clean up that mess!
10. Glastonbury Festival —Pilton, England
The mother of all music festivals, Glastonbury has been running for over 40 years, and has been crowned one of the largest music festivals in the world, now attended by some 150,000 people. As well as promising the latest and greatest in pop and rock music performances, event-goers are also treated to dance, comedy, theatre and circus acts. And like all good music fests – expect gumboots, loud music and plenty of mud.