It’s time to get out of the house and travel again. International flight restrictions are being lifted while vaccination programs continue to be rolled out throughout the world. The only question: Where to go first? The following festivals are among the best excuses to book a flight to a new, exciting destination. Each event has its own unique identity, but all are vibrant celebrations of scenery, culture and inspiration.
The Mevlana Festival is a fascinating, spiritual celebration of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, a Persian philosopher who spent the last 45 years of his life in the Turkish city. The mystical event, also known as the Whirling Dervishes Festival, is based around dancing and music, which are credited for leading to a higher state of love, enlightenment and consciousness.
Each day of the festival leads up to a Sema, an elaborate dance performance divided into seven distinct themes. The final day is the largest and most celebratory. While everyone is welcome to enjoy the festive atmosphere, please keep in mind the Mevlana Festival is deeply religious to Muslims. It's important to be humble and respect local beliefs and customs.
Snow & Ice Festival
Every winter, the northern Chinese city of Harbin transforms into the Snow & Ice Festival, where more than 200,000 cubic meters of frozen water are used in a wide variety of sculptures. This city of ice lasts for about three months (or when it effectively melts away) along the Songhua River. Explore buildings and statues or take a ride down one of eight different slides.
A 40-minute show takes place three times a day, featuring aerialists, dancers, clowns, magicians, and other performers. The best way to enjoy the scenery is with a ride atop a giant Ferris wheel, designed to match the pattern of a snowflake. As can be expected the temperatures are frigid, so dress warmly in multiple layers.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call Rio Carnival the biggest party in the world. Millions line the streets of Rio de Janeiro each day in a city-wide celebration leading up to Lent. Parades are all about elaborate floats and costumes with the propulsive beats of samba music.
Top events include the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace hotel and a series of six different balls at the Scala Rio nightclub. The competition is fierce among the hundreds of Samba Schools with a grand champion determined in the Sambadrome. Events often sell out early, but even if you can't score tickets, Rio is full of parties with more than 400 anticipated around the city. After being canceled in 2021, the 2022 edition of Carnival will likely be bigger than ever.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Celebrate diversity and inclusion Down Under. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the biggest Pride celebrations in the world with three weeks of partying, culminating with the Mardi Gras Pride Parade at the Syndey Cricket Ground stadium. More than 6,500 participants will march alongside at least 160 decorative floats.
Partiers will also have fun at Fair Day, a family-friendly carnival in Victoria Park and the official Mardi Gras Party inside the Hordern Pavilion. Find time to check out the Mardi Gras Film Festival and Bondi Beach Drag Races. The festivities truly feel endless. International travelers should be aware that despite happening in February and March, Mardi Gras is actually taking place in Australia's summer season.
The annual Holi festival is celebrated across India to mark the arrival of spring, although the biggest version takes place in Mathura, believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna, a Hindu god. Also known as the Festival of Colors, the event actually gets underway the night before with religious ceremonies and bonfires. You may even see colored powders and water spread throughout city streets in the days leading up to Holi.
Just know this… Holi is messy. Revellers are drenched in rainbow colors while enjoying music and dancing, all centered around a message of positivity. Holi follows a theme of good triumphing over evil and Indians are encouraged to let go of negative energy. In addition to Mathura, celebrations are especially strong in Udaipur, Mumbai and Delhi, but the festival's presence is felt throughout the entire country of India.
St. Patrick's Festival
St. Patrick's Day is a global celebration of Irish culture and cuisine, so it only makes sense to enjoy the holiday to the fullest in Dublin, Ireland. The St. Patrick's Festival takes place on and around March 17 with the city coming alive with a street carnival and parades.
Of course, pubs throughout the city will be packed, so order beer and feast on traditional dishes like corned beef and cabbage, soda bread or Shepherd's Pie. Sports fans will want to check out the All-Ireland Club Hurling and Gaelic Football Finals in Croke Park. The Orchestra of Light is a drone show that illuminates the skies above Dublin.
Songkran isn't just a New Year's celebration in Thailand, it's also the world's biggest water fight. The concept was originally about splashing and soaking in water to cleanse the body of sin and impurities while looking ahead to new beginnings. But in recent years, the festival has become much rowdier with water balloons and Super Soakers sold by street merchants for those eager to "do battle."
However, there are also parades, dancing, and traditional folk entertainment. Many wear decorative floral print outfits. Songkran is celebrated throughout Thailand with some of the biggest festivals taking place in Bangkok, Khon Kaen, and Chiang Mai. The weather is hot this time of year, so make sure to explore the nation's famous beach culture and nightlife.
San Francisco: 420 Hippie Hill
Light up with others to celebrate 4/20 on Hippie Hill. Food trucks line the pathways to provide relief from the munchies and you can pick up products in multiple forms from some of San Francisco's best dispensaries. Over 10,000 people come out to get high together, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1960s and the flower child life that Hippie Hill is named for. People bring various games and entertainment, so join in on a game of Cards Against Humanity, Frisbee, or an impromptu musical performance. Considering the nature of the event, it comes as no surprise that most attendees will go home with new friends from this community event.
When do the Dutch celebrate King's Day? Well, it depends on who's in charge. The holiday honors the birthday of the current monarch, currently King Willem Alexander, and has been known as Queen's Day and Princess' Day in the past. The occasion is marked by parties, pop-up street markets and visits by the King himself to cities throughout the Netherlands.
The biggest celebration is in Amsterdam, where the city closes off to traffic and thousands gather to pack nightclubs, dance and enjoy open-air concerts. To honor the ruling House of Orange-Nassau, it's become tradition to wear orange, dye your hair orange and drink orange beverages, especially a liquor called Orange Bitter.
Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes Film Festival is synonymous with A-list movie stars, glamour and style. For the first time this year, the celebration of celluloid is a summertime affair, taking a "proactive environmental approach" with all proceeds going to carbon offset initiatives.
Boasting 7,000 attendees in 2019, Cannes itself is highly exclusive and invitation-only. Yet the south of France comes alive with mixers, parties, screenings, networking opportunities and endless celebrity spotting. Marché du Film, held in conjunction with Cannes, is one of the largest film markets in the world. Of course, the beautiful beachside weather along the French Riviera isn't bad either.
Electric Daisy Carnival
After numerous delays throughout the pandemic, the world's largest electronic dance music festival returns to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. More than 140,000 fans will party from dusk to dawn, enjoying music from top EDM stars on nine different stages. Performances also take place outdoors at Camp EDC (and a nearby pool) for select guests.
EDC is a futuristic world of colorful lights, carnival rides, art cars and other attractions. You can even get hitched at the on-site chapel. The festival is a great excuse to visit Las Vegas, where nightclubs and dayclubs on the Strip roll out their biggest parties all week long.
In the sometimes rainy and always muddy fields of Tennessee, Bonnaroo continues to thrive as one of the most iconic annual music events of the last 30 years. The key to its success is the variety of musical genres. Throughout the four-day weekend, there's truly something for everybody. Bonnaroo-goers can experience acts as disparate as the Grand Ole Opry, Megan Thee Stallion and Flogging Molly (all of whom are on the lineup this year).
There's more to the weekend than just music. From a "big-ass inflatable waterslide" to the new air-conditioned darkroom tents, Bonnaroo remains one of the most incredible U.S. festivals to experience. Without a doubt, there'll be a lot to love at the Roo in 2021.
Take part in one of Milwaukee’s most popular events. Summerfest is celebrating its 55th anniversary with three weekends of musical entertainment.
Summerfest includes 12 stages featuring over 1,000 performances and 800 acts, making this a festival unlike any other. Enjoy the musical stylings of local artists and famous musicians such as Zach Bryan and Imagine Dragons.
In addition, Summerfest presents numerous food vendors, beverage options, and a unique shopping selection. Other interactive experiences include face painting, henna, and tie-dye.
Summerfest takes place June 22-24, June 29-July 1, and July 6-8, 2023, from noon to midnight. There are multiple ticket options, ranging from general admission to multi-day passes.
Haro Wine Festival
Celebrate one of Spain's favorite beverages at the Haro Wine Festival, where the vino pours freely. The event begins with a procession to the Hermitage of San Felices, then a short mass, before the main event - a massive, all-encompassing battle with wine as the ammunition. Water guns, water balloons, and even buckets are used to douse everyone in sight. After everyone has been dyed red in the fight, you can watch safe and fun "bullfights" using heifers - minus the killing of the traditional event. While in Haro, make sure to take a moment to admire the architecture and history - the entire town has been named a Historic-Artistic site.
Montreux Jazz Festival
Great music and the beauty of nature come together in one place at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The annual two-week event has only grown since 1967. As the name suggests, it's one of the largest gatherings in the world for jazz musicians and aficionados, but the lineups have evolved to welcome all styles and genres. 2023 artists have yet to be announced but past names included Elton John, Radiohead and Janet Jackson.
From June 30, 2023 through July 15, 2023, the entire festival takes place along the picturesque shores of Lake Geneva with the Swiss Alps as a backdrop. With over 350 concerts, 11 stages, and 55 bars and stands, this is one event you want to see. The Montreux Jazz Festival offers various ticket packages.
It's hard to find a festival more appropriate for 2021 than Gion Matsuri. Not only does the month-long event celebrate health and purification from disease, it also symbolizes strength in overcoming the challenges of years' past. Originally founded in response to the Plague, Gion Matsuri has gradually evolved into less of a religious festival and much more of a party.
The event dominates the Gion district of Kyoto in July, notably on the 17th and 24th of the month when parades take place. Streets are lined with food vendors and women dressed in kimonos. In a personalized touch, historic homes in the area often open their front doors, welcoming guests to view art and other family heirlooms.
Running of the Bulls
We've all seen videos of people running with bulls through the streets of Pamplona -- and sometimes getting gored in the process. It may look crazy, but you don't have to put your life at risk to enjoy the thrill of Spain's most famous annual tradition. The running of the bulls is just one part of the weeklong San Fermin Festival, which takes place July 7-14. The first two days are the busiest with an opening ceremony and rocket launch. But no matter when you attend, expect lots of singing, dancing, and sangria. Many tours offer balcony seating to overlook the chaos of the morning bull runs.
Electric Love Festival
Electronic dance music fans know all about the Electric Love Festival, which draws more than 100,000 people to the Salzburgring race track near the historic town of Salzburg. The lineup has yet to be fully announced for 2023 (which is scheduled July 6-8). While visiting, take the opportunity to explore Salzburg, which is on the German border and decorated with beautifully preserved Old World architecture. It’s also the birthplace of Mozart with a museum and other sites dedicated to his legacy.
Embrace Caribbean culture in Toronto at Caribana, the largest street festival in North America. The event was founded by immigrants of Caribbean heritage in 1967 and has become a touchstone to cultures lost during slavery. Attendees can enjoy live theatre performances, live music, culturally significant food, art exhibits, and handcrafted markets throughout the 5-day festival. Pre-plan the fetes you want to attend - there are so many, it's impossible to hit them all. You'll also want to ensure you go to at least one J'Ouvert, a morning party similar to a Color Run, involving colored powders, water, and a lot of ruined clothes. During the final weekend, no one will want to miss the Grand Parade, featuring a parade of live bands competing to be the King and Queen of the Band, as well as dancers and other costumed participants. Caribana is an all-encompassing, wild event that everyone can enjoy.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the most eclectic and expansive art festivals in the world. With a vast lineup of performances showcasing theater, comedy, opera and soooo much more, it's almost hard to wrap your head around everything's that going on within a three-week span.
The variety is reflected in the venues, which range from large theater buildings to street corner stages. Some events are for profit. Others are free. One things is certain, the entire city of Edinburgh embraces the festival and envelops much of its identity around it. While the Festival Fringe dates are set, at last check, the event may still be all or part digital, so make plans with caution until more details are finalized.
Reading Music Festival
Europe is known for its large-scale outdoor live music events, but the Reading Music Festival is one of the most famous and historic, hosting buzzworthy performances from the likes of Nirvana and the Stone Roses over the years. After a hiatus in 2020, the three-day event returns August 27-29 with Post Malone, Liam Gallagher of Oasis, and British rapper Stormzy among the headliners. In a unique twist, the same lineup plays the Leeds Music Festival (about 200 miles north) the same weekend, but with performers swapping days. Most out-of-town visitors will prefer Reading, due to its proximity to London.
Burning Man is one of the most unique and eclectic festivals in the world. The nine day event wraps around Labor Day Weekend with tens of thousands traveling to the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada to create a temporary pop-up city. Organizers have long resisted commercializing the event, preferring to stress art, inclusion and expression. Despite its size, Burning Man remains very much an "underground" event, which is part of the reason it's so compelling.
Many camp or travel in RVs. The grounds are decorated in elaborate art installations and temporary pop-up businesses emerge, operating under a bartering system. There's even an airstrip for private planes. Although Burning Man was cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic, about 20,000 still turned up for an unofficial version. Expect the event to return in full form in 2022. Many Burning Man visitors use Reno as a home base before and after the festival with affiliated activities taking place around the city.
London Notting Hill Carnival
Enjoy this Caribbean cultural festival in West London, featuring live music, amazing island food, tropical drinks, and more. From Trinidad to Haiti, a number of islands are represented and everyone is welcome to learn about and embrace the cultures. Steel bands and skilled dancers fill the streets, and the aroma of spicy, bold foods will whet your appetite, no matter which way you turn. Performers wear a variety of extravagant, bright costumes as they dance, act, and perform amazing talents through the streets. Finish the weekend with the Grand Finale parade, featuring an assortment of bands playing reggae and other music, dancers, and intricate floats. Use the Notting Hill Carnival app to keep up to date on all the festivities so that you don't miss a thing.
It's best to think of La Tomatina as the biggest food fight in Spain. The wild celebration takes place in Buñol, a Valencian town near the Mediterranean coast. Participants gather in the streets on the last Wednesday in August and pelt each other with tomatoes for no reason other than pure entertainment. The battle lasts an hour and follows a few strict rules. Participants are only allowed to throw tomatoes and must step on them to soften the texture before tossing them toward anyone else.
The whole thing is a spectacle. Typically, more than 40,000 people take part, throwing more than 150,000 tomatoes, leaving the town streets a river of tomato juice. Firefighters traditionally use hoses to wash down both the streets and competitors afterwards. The week leading up to La Tomatina includes parades, fireworks and paella cooking contests.
Full Moon Party
If you’re looking for flexibility when traveling this year, put a Full Moon Party on your bucket list of travel experiences. The all-night celebration takes place on Haad Rin Beach on Koh PhaNgan Island in the Gulf of Thailand during full moons (generally once a month), Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve. The parties began in the ’80s with a small group of friends and expanded dramatically over the years, now welcoming thousands of tourists to enjoy food, drinks, and electronic dance music.
There are countless Oktoberfest celebrations all over the world, but nothing beats the original in Munich. If the coronavirus is under control, millions will visit during the event on September 16-October 3. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest volksfest, which celebrates Bavarian culture with traditional German food, a carnival atmosphere, and what feels like endless servings of beer. Get lost visiting Munich’s famous breweries and beer gardens, including the historic Hofbrauhaus beer hall.
Life Is Beautiful
Life is Beautiful is an annual music, art and culinary festival in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas, returning for its 10th anniversary September 22-24. Life is Beautiful is known for a diverse lineup of musicians, as well as art installations, food and drink options and other experiences. Expect to see 75 artists on seven different stages, including headliners like The Killers, Kendrick Lamar, Khalid and The 1975.
Hermanus Whale Festival
September is the best time of the year for whale watching off the Cape Whale Coast of South Africa. Enjoy the spectacle to the fullest with the Hermanus Whale Festival, which is expected to return in 2022 with tours, an eco-friendly expo, and more. The fishing village of Hermanus is just southeast of Cape Town and comes alive for the family-friendly event as more than 100,000 people gather on land and boats to watch southern right whales swim the warm waters of Africa after migrating from Antarctica. You may even see dolphins and other marine life as well.
Unless a major tropical storm is coming through, there's never a bad time to visit Key West. But you may want to set your sights on Fantasy Fest, an annual street party scheduled October 21-30 in Florida's southernmost key. Think of it as 10 straight days of costumes, parades, and drinking leading up to Halloween. In your downtime, enjoy some sunbathing on the beach, take part in a boat tour, and explore the former home of Ernest Hemingway.
Dia de los Muertos
Dia De Los Muertos is celebrated all across Mexico during the first two days of November each year. The name translates to "Day of the Dead" and while the imagery is heavy on skulls and skeletons, the festival is actually a colorful celebration of life and love for the departed.
Expect to dance and party in the streets with brilliant pageantry, fantastic food and plenty of drinks. And yes, tequila will be in ample supply. While the largest celebrations are in Mexico (especially Oaxaca and Mexico City), Dia de los Muertes is a major holiday throughout Latin America and has a growing presence in the United States, where it arrives on the heels of Halloween.