35 Festivals Around the World You Don’t Want to Miss

While many adventurers enjoy visiting new places, the idea of going to a new city or country for a specific festival or celebration holds even more appeal for many savvy travelers. Whether you want to experience the dangerous or just the delightful, here are the top 35 world-famous festivals, events, and parties to mark on your globe-trotting calendar.

1. New Year’s Eve, Sydney Harbor, Australia

Sydney knows how to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a bang. The more than one billion people who tune in to watch Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show can’t be wrong. The fireworks weigh 7 tons, and are made up of 11 shells, 100,000 pyrotechnic effects, and 25,000 shooting comets. There is also a light parade of 52 boats, with over 3,000 additional boats in the harbor to watch the show.

2. Harbin Ice and Snow, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

January 5 – February 5, 2015

Now that’s ice! This annual winter festival began in 1963, during Harbin’s ice-lantern show and garden party. Not only can you see the most spectacular ice sculptures in the world, you can also enjoy alpine skiing, winter swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.

3. Up Helly Aa Fire Festival, Shetland, Scotland

January 27, 2015

Up Helly Aa refers to a variety of fire festivals held to mark the end of the yule season. This Lerwick celebration came from the older yule tradition of tar barreling. Young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town, until it was banned around 1884. However, permission was obtained to move to torch processions, with the first celebration of torches on Up Helly Aa taking place in 1881. The tradition has continued, with the procession’s finale culminating with torches thrown at a replica Viking longship or galley.

4. Carnival of Venice, Venice, Italy

January 31 – February 17, 2015

This is the event that celebrates the many masks we wear. The Carnival of Venice is an annual festival that ends with the Christian celebration of Lent. It is believed to have started in 1162, and continued until 1797, when both the festival and masks were outlawed by the King of Austria. During the 19th century, the masks gradually reappeared in private feasts. In 1979, the carnival was resurrected to bring back the history and culture of Venice. Today, three million people visit Venice to attend the carnival, sporting their best masks. There is a contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”), held on the last weekend of the carnival.

5. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

February 13 – February 18, 2015

This carnival draws the largest attendance in the world, with over two million people in the streets before Lent. This celebration began in 1723, and today includes floats, party goers, music, and costumes. Samba schools, or dancing schools, work together to build the best floats, themes, lyrics, and dances to portray their theme.

6. Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, Italy

February 14 – 17, 2015

If you enjoy a good food fight, this is the celebration for you! The largest food fight in Italy is used to reenact a story from the 12th or 13th century of a young miller’s daughter standing up to a tyrant who attempted to rape her on the eve of her wedding night. The woman fought back, and decapitated the rapist. The people then revolted and burned the palace. Each year, a girl is still chosen to play the part of this brave young woman who inspired a city to fight back. The orange handlers (or “Aranceri”) split into two groups, one group on foot representing the villagers, and one group in carts representing the tyrant’s soldiers. They throw oranges at each other to represent the ancient weapons and stones used during that time.

7. Chinese New Year, Celebrated Worldwide

February 19, 2015

Also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival in China, this centuries-old traditional holiday is a time set aside to honor deities and ancestors. It is celebrated in countries with significant Chinese populations, such as Mainland China, Hong Kong,[Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines, and also in Chinatowns world wide.
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8. Mardi Gras, New Orleans, USA

February 17, 2015

Mari Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French, and refers to the Tuesday before lent, which is the highlight of the season. The celebrations include parades, masquerade balls, and king cake parties. The festivities are concentrated in the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

9. National Pyrotechnic Festival, Tultepec, Mexico

Mar 1 – 12, 2015

This festival is held in the municipality of Tultepec, where about half of Mexico’s fireworks are produced. It began in the mid-19th century as a celebration to honor John of God, the patron saint of fireworks makers. Today, it is celebrated through concerts, amusement-park rides, the release of sky lanterns, and setting off fireworks attached to “castillos” (castles) or wooden bulls.

10. Molten Iron Throwing and Lantern Festival, Nuanquan, China

March 5, 2015

The locals in Nuanquan discovered that they could make fire explode by throwing molten metal against a cold stone wall. The legend goes that the villagers couldn’t afford the expense of fireworks for the annual Lantern Festival for the end of the festivities for the Lunar New Year. To remedy their lack of pyrotechnics, they melted down scrap iron and threw it against the walls. Today, the blacksmiths only protect themselves with sheepskin coats and flimsy hats while creating a beautiful cascade of fire.

11. Rouketopolemos, Vrontados, Greece

March 18 – April 30, 2015

This traditional annual event is held every Easter in the town of Vrontados. A rocket war is held between two rival parishes, St. Mark’s and Panaghia Ereithiani, that sit on hilltops 400 meters apart. The parishioners try to hit the belfry with homemade rockets made from wooden sticks containing gunpowder and launched from grooved platforms.

12. Holi Festival, India

March 6 – 7, 2015

This Hindu religious spring festival is also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love. It begins with a Holika bonfire the night before the main event, where people sing and dance. The next morning, the carnival of colors literally paints the town. Participants throw dry powder and colored water on each other, with water guns and colored, water-filled balloons adding to the rainbow-mayhem magic.

13. Taiwan Lantern Festival, Pingxi District, Taiwan

March 5 – 15, 2015

This celebration follows the firecracker ceremony of the Wumiao Temple. The Yanshui Fireworks Display was originally used to ward off disease and evil from the town. The sky lanterns followed the fireworks, to signal to everyone that the town was now safe and cleansed.

14. Saint Patrick’s Day, Ireland

March 17, 2015

What better place to celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick than in Ireland? The date commemorates the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who was said to use three-leafed shamrocks to explain the Christian trinity theology to the local people. Celebrations include parades and festivals, honoring Irish culture, and lots and lots of green.

15. Onbashira, Shimo-Suwa, Japan

April 1 – June 15, 2016

Apparently, to prove your bravery in this event, you just need to ride huge logs down steep mountains. Among the most dangerous festivals in Japan, this celebration is held every six years in the Lake Suwa area of Nagano, Japan. Teams of men drag huge logs from the mountain, ride them down steep embankments, and use them to renew the Suwa Taisha or Suwa Grand Shire by supporting the foundation. This festival has gone on uninterrupted for 1200 years.

16. Naghol Land Diving, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

April 5 – June 28, 2015

If you have ever wondered where bungee jumping got its start, look no further. Land diving is a ritual where the local men jump off wooden towers almost 100-feet tall, with only two tree vines wrapped around their ankles. This feat is done without any safety equipment. According to the Guinness World Records, the g-force the men experience on the lowest point of their dive is the greatest ever felt by humans in the non-industrialized world.

17. Songkran Water Festival, Thailand

April 13 – 15, 2015

This celebration coincides with the New Year of many South and Southeast Asian calendars. The traditional water throwing is meant to wash away all of the bad, and many times the water is filled with fragrant herbs. Besides the cleansing symbolism, who doesn’t want to get sprayed in the face by an elephant?

18. Cooper Hill’s Cheese Rolling Festival, Gloucester, England

May 26, 2015

How can watching people chase a nine-pound round of Double Gloucester cheese down a hill not be entertaining? The first person to reach the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. This running of the cheese has been going on since the fifteenth century, and has two debated origins. The first story is said to have evolved due to a requirement to maintain grazing rights on the common. The second story centers around the pagan origins for the custom of rolling objects down the hill. It is believed that bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down the hill to represent the birth of the New Year after winter.

19. Governors Ball, Randall’s Island, New York, USA

June 5 – 7, 2014

New York is known for its many music festivals, but perhaps the most popular is the Governors Ball. This event’s concoction of electronic music, rock, and hip hop boasts some of the world’s biggest acts.

20. Summerfest, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Jun 24 – 28 & June 30 – July 5, 2015

Boasting the rights to the largest music festival in the world, drawing crowds of over 900,000, Summerfest is the backdrop for some of the industry’s hottest stars, local favorites, and emerging talent, with more than 800 different acts and over 1,000 performances.

21. Infiorata di Genzano, Genzano, Italy

June 21 – 23, 2015

If you ever wanted to see streets made from flowers, then travel to the flower festival of Genzano, which dates back to the eighteenth century. Participants make floral carpets to prepare for the feast of Corpus Christi. Each beautiful panel is chosen by a special committee who also chairs the organization of the event, and generally illustrates civil or religious reproductions of famous works of art.

22. Roswell UFO Festival, Roswell, New Mexico, United States

July 3 – 6, 2015

Both UFO enthusiast and skeptics are invited to this unique celebration of one of the most debated incidents in history. Whether or not you believe in aliens, you will certainly enjoy the guest speakers, entertainment, costume contests, pet costumes, parade, and other family-friendly activities.

23. San Fermin, Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain

July 6 – 14, 2015

The most famous event of the festival of San Fermín is the running of the bulls, but the entire event draws over one million people each year and is now the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain.

24. Boryeong Mud Festival, Boryeong, South Korea

July 17 – 26, 2015

If you ever wanted the chance to get dirty in public, then this is your party. This festival was created to promote the Boryeong mud, which is used in cosmetics. During the festival, people can play in a mud pool, mud slides, mud prison, and participate in mud skiing competitions. Colored mud is also used for body painting.

25. Tomorrowland, Boom, Belgium

July 24 – 26, 2015

This music festival has been called the largest electronic music festival in the world. The festivities include 15 stages with over-sized flowers, active volcanoes, explosive butterflies, giant disco balls, smoke cannons, and confetti. More than 400,000 music enthusiasts attended the 2014 concert.

26. La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain

August 27, 2015

If you ever felt the urge to throw smashed tomatoes at complete strangers, then this event is your cup of salsa. Every year, just for the fun of it, the people in this Spanish town throw over 40 metric tons of tomatoes at each other.

27. Scottish Highland Games, Braemar, United Kingdom

September 5, 2015

While the highland games are held throughout the year in Scotland, the most famous event is in Braemar. This event draws more than 20,000 people sporting their kilts, ready to watch international athletes compete in tug-of-war, hammer throwing, stone putting, the long jump, a hill race, and the most famous event, the caber toss. There is also plenty of Highland dancing, children’s sack races, and pipers.

28. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

September 19 – October 4, 2015

Oktoberfest began as a German wedding reception between Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony on October 12, 1810. The entire city of Munich was invited to the party. Today, the event is celebrated worldwide, but no where better than in Bavaria, Germany, where more than 6 million people attend the festivities.

29. Concurs de Castells, Tarragona, Spain

September 28, 2015

The strongest and tallest human towers are created in Spain every two years, drawing a crowd of over 20,000 spectators. If you aren’t already impressed with watching thousands of people form themselves into towers, you can also enjoy the parade of dance, fireworks, and street performances, or take in the live music and concerts.

30. Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, Texas, USA

October 2 – 4 & 9 – 11, 2015

This outdoor music festival consists of two consecutive weekends, drawing over 75,000 people each day. Many different genres, including rock, indie, country, folk, electronic, and hip hop make up the event. While the music performances are spectacular, you can also enjoy an art market, a kids’ area, and plenty of food options.

31. Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

October 3 – 11, 2015

The largest hot-air balloon festival in the world, which began in 1972, draws around 750 balloons and over 100,000 participants each year.

32. Day of the Dead, Celebrated in the US, Canada, Europe, and Mexico

November 1 – 2, 2015

Known as the “Día de Muertos” in Spanish, this Mexican holiday focuses on loved ones gathering together to pray for those who have died. Many participants build private alters, and honor the deceased with sugar skulls, marigolds, and their favorite foods and beverages. They also visit their graves and leave offerings. The holiday originates from the Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl.

33. Pirates Week Festival, George Town, Cayman Islands

November 6 – 16, 2014

The swash-buckling events of this eleven-day festival include music, street dances, competitions, games, local food and drink, kids’ day, a glittering parade, sports events, Heritage Days, a pirate invasion, and fireworks. It was started in 1977 as a way to boost tourism during the country’s slower season.

34. Burning the Clocks, Brighton, England

December 21, 2014

Held on the shortest day of the year, people make their own paper and willow lanterns and carry them through the city. The parade has over 2,000 participants and draws over 20,000 spectators each year. When the procession reaches Brighton beach, the lanterns are joined together to create a bonfire while the spectators enjoy a dazzling fireworks show.

35. SantaCon, San Francsico, California, United States

Start Date: December 13, 2014

Grab your Santa suit and hit the streets! This bar crawl originated in San Francisco in 1994, but it has since spread to over 44 countries around the world. The Christmas event happens annually, and is described by organizers as a nonsensical Santa Claus convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason.

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