10 of the top festivals you should add to your bucket list

Festivals are a fantastic way to experience local cultures and add some colour to your world travel plans. With so many exhilarating festivals occurring throughout the year, you may find that you’re spoiled for choice.

Whether it’s celebrations of food and drink, musical performances, or even religious festivities, there’s something for everyone.

So, from parties in the desert at Nevada’s Burning Man to impressive icy monuments at the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, here are 10 exciting festivals around the world that you could add to your bucket list.

1. Burning Man, Nevada, US

A sojourn in the desert, vast flaming effigies, huge electronic music acts – Burning Man in Nevada truly has it all. Think Mad Max, but with less post-apocalyptic chaos and more a celebration of self-expression and creativity.

The event is held every year in late summer, and encourages festival-goers to explore, and even take part in, a plethora of artistic spectacles, such as experimental and interactive sculptures, performance art, and fantastic musical acts.

If your artistic side needs some honing, the festival has plenty of other activities to enjoy, including wine-tasting events, ziplining, tattoos, and even massages.

Just be sure to stay hydrated – a stint in the hot Nevada sun, paired with the excitement of the festival, is sure to take its toll.

2. International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, Harbin, China

If you’d rather avoid the oppressive heat of the desert, the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China, may be more up your street.

The festival, held throughout January, is home to some of the largest ice sculptures in the world. The Ice and Snow World is a particularly gorgeous sight – colourful lights illuminate grandiose sculptures, and even whole buildings, made entirely from ice.

After taking in the sights of impressive ice monuments, try your hand at alpine skiing, or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, take a dip in the ice-cold river.

Be sure to wrap up warm – frigid winter winds blow in from Siberia, resulting in temperatures well below zero.

3. Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

These days, Rio de Janeiro is almost synonymous with its world-famous Carnival; there’s a reason it’s often labelled “the greatest show on Earth”.

Attracting roughly 5 million people to the picturesque city, Carnival takes place every year in either February or March over the five days preceding Lent, which begins 40 days before Easter.

The festival is an eruption of colour, light and sound –you’ll be able to witness vibrant costumes, electrifying dancing, and unforgettable Latin music. The event itself lasts for two nights and promises an extravagant celebration of life.

4. Mardi Gras, New Orleans, US

If you’re yearning for a Carnival-like experience, but feel that two days just isn’t enough, then Mardi Gras in New Orleans could be the perfect answer.

The US version of Carnival is held every year on the day before Ash Wednesday, and while Mardi Gras refers specifically to one day –Shrove Tuesday – the merrymaking lasts anywhere from four to eight weeks.

The parades are the heart of Mardi Gras; this year, 40vibrant processions will pass through the streets of New Orleans, all with vast, exciting floats. On top of the many parades, you’ll be able to see extravagant costumes, eat fantastic southern-style food, and of course, wear your fair share of beads.

5. La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain

La Tomatina in the Valencian town of Buñol is the world’s biggest food fight that allows you to embrace your inner child.

The festival, which originally started in 1945 after some young boys reportedly played a prank on a performer, usually occurs in August every year. Roughly 20,000 people take part in the battle, with over-ripe tomatoes being used as ammunition for an hour.

The event has become a huge tourist attraction for the town, and it’s easy to see why – the quaint Spanish town becomes a pulpy warzone and is a spectacle to behold.

6. Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Mexico

Blending ancient Mesoamerican and European-Catholic traditions, Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead”, puts your typical Halloween celebration to shame.

The festival is more than just a spooky celebration – it instead gives people the opportunity to pay respect to the dead through parties and merrymaking.  

Indeed, Mexican people get together at the end of October to celebrate their departed loved ones by bringing colour and vibrancy to the streets, creating gorgeous altars known as “ofrendas”, hosting costume parties and, most importantly, paying homage to the dead.

7. St.Patrick’s Day, everywhere!

On 17 March every year, people around the world celebrate all things Irish by marking the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

While notable St. Patrick’s Day celebrations occur in Dublin, you shouldn’t need to travel far to take part in the raucous celebrations. Many cities around the world, including New York and Boston in the US, celebrate the day.

In fact, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other festival.

The partying usually involves public parades, lively ceilidhs with traditional Irish folk music, lots of whisky, and, of course, plenty of shamrocks and green clothing.

8. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

Speaking of rowdy parties with copious amounts of drinking, Oktoberfest is another festival you should add to your bucket list.

The event, which brings roughly 6 million tourists to Munich each year, starts in mid-September and usually lasts until the first weekend in October. While the largest Oktoberfest festival can be found in Munich, cities around the world often celebrate the event.

In true German fashion, there is always plenty of fantastic beer to be had. Even if you’re not a big drinker, there are lots of other activities on offer, such as traditional fairgrounds, costume processions, and an abundance of delicious food.

9. Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland

The combination of breath taking scenery and fantastic music makes the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland a must-see event.

Indeed, it’s one of the oldest music festivals in the world, and is held in an area that overlooks the picturesque shores of Lake Geneva. You can expect to see some of the masters of jazz at the festival, and it attracts musicians such as Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and John Schofield.

If jazz isn’t your thing, the festival is still worth visiting – musicians from all genres attend, and more than half of the concerts are often free to enjoy.

10. Holi Festival, India, Nepal, and Pakistan

Between late February and mid-March, cities in India, Pakistan and Nepal explode with colour, as the ancient Hindu festival, Holi, takes place. The celebration has been labelled “the festival of colours” with good reason.

Festival goers cover friends and strangers alike with vibrantly coloured powders to celebrate good triumphing over evil and, while the event only lasts for a day, it isn’t one to miss.

As well as a barrage of vivid colours, the festival is kicked off by huge bonfires, and even includes marching bands, dancing, and plenty of delicious Indian foods.  

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