From religious ceremonies to hot air balloons, October is filled with a variety of festivals. The changing colors in many places, along with cooler days, and the refreshing calm before the hectic holiday season draw locals and travelers to some of the world’s most famous – and obscure – events. Since festivals often showcase local and traditional music, arts and crafts, dance and food, attending an event is one of the best ways to learn about regional traditions, customs, cuisines and values. Here’s a roundup of October festivals around the world.
The greatest fall festival of them all, Halloween combines ghoulish decorations and elaborate costumes for one of the biggest party nights of the year. Celebrated on October 31, Halloween is most popular in Western regions. In the United States, small children go door to door in their neighborhoods in costumes to collect candy; the tradition is known as “trick or treating.” But other countries have come to embrace the fun-loving, spook-filled holiday in recent years, as well. In Tokyo, costume contests and parades line the streets and malls, and dance clubs stay open all night.
Browse Halloween Tours in the US
Crescent City Blues & BBQ Fest – New Orleans, Louisiana
Add this one to your music bucket list this season: The Crescent City Blues and BBQ Fest celebrates the sounds, sights and tastes of New Orleans. With two stages featuring live blues, arts and crafts, food vendors and traditional southern barbecue, it’s a true soul festival. This year’s festival lineup includes Ruthie Foster, Marcia Ball, Jarekus Singleton, Denise LaSalle, Kenny Neal and Swamp Dogg as well as a special performance by The Funky Meters featuring the legendary Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas. The festival takes place October 16-18 in Lafayette Square in New Orleans’ central business district. The event is sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and is free and open to the public. Find the full musical lineup online here.
Guinness Cork Jazz Fest – Ireland
With over 400 performances in more than 60 venues throughout the city, an array of street bands, and fringe events, the three-day Guinness Cork Jazz Fest transforms the city into a musical set, with live bands and singers, and feet-tapping, hip-swaying numbers. Past talent includes Portico Quartet with renowned Swedish vocalist Cornelia, Courtney Pine and Dean Brown, a famous American guitarist. Today, more than 40,000 people from all over the world come to Cork to celebrate. Internationally famous jazz artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich and Lionel Hampton have performed at the Cork festival. The 2015 festival takes place October 22-26.
Chicago Marathon – Illinois
On October 11, over 40,000 runners will gather in Grant Park in Chicago and wait for the signal to start running. The Chicago Marathon is one of the top six marathons in the world, known as the World Marathon Majors, along with the Boston, New York, London, Berlin and Tokyo marathons. Runners come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Athletes run through 29 of Chicago’s neighborhoods. The course is known as a “fast” race for being mostly flat, drawing runners looking to best their own personal times. If you’re not ready to run 26.2 miles, bring a sign and a loud voice, and join the enthusiastic crowds that line the course to cheer on and congratulate the runners.
Dijon International and Gastronomic Fair (“Foire Internationale et Gastronomique”)
Known for its mustard of the same name, Dijon is the capital of the Burgundy (Bourgogne) district. The sophisticated, cosmopolitan city hosts the annual Dijon International and Gastronomic Fair, an elite food, wine, home and leisure event that caters to industry professionals and interested public. One of the top-ranked food fairs in France, the festival expects to draw approximately 200,000 visitors this year, as well as 600 exhibitors. Special events include cooking demonstrations, chef competitions, wine workshops and, of course, food and wine to taste and purchase. The festival takes place October 30-November 11, 2015, at the Parc des Expositions, Congress and Exhibition Center in Dijon, located 90 minutes from Paris by high-speed train.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – New Mexico
In October the skies above Albuquerque, New Mexico, come alive with hot air balloons of every color, size and shape. A whimsical and one-of-a-kind event, the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival draws thousands of people from around the globe, from hot air balloon enthusiasts to spectactors. The festival features flying competitions, special-shape balloons and the main attraction: a spectacular mass ascension of hot air balloons. The balloons launch at the 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. While balloons float above, a ground festival takes place with entertainers, food, fireworks and contests. This is a great festival for spectators of all ages, especially families and kids. The 2015 festival takes place October 3-11.
Círio de Nazaré – Belém, Brazil
One of the largest Catholic processions in Brazil and around the world, over two million people join Círio de Nazaré, a celebration of and pilgrimage for the Virgin Mary. The festival takes place in Belém, where pilgrims walk 3.6 kilometers from the cathedral to the Nazaré basilica. The spectacular procession is marked by intense emotion and devotion. In conjunction with the walk, hundreds of boats participate in a water procession. The event takes place every year on the second weekend of October.
Fantasy Fest Key West – Florida
If you’re looking for a street party that rivals Mardi Gras in New Orleans, head to Key West, Florida, for Fantasy Fest. The 10-day celebration includes balls, a parade, costume competitions, body painting, drag queen contests and costume parties that draw more than 100,000 people. One of the highlights of the festival is the naming of the Conch King and Queen. Derived from the local Key West nickname for residents — “conchs” — the king and queen are chosen based on who raises the most money in a fundraising competition for AIDS Help. Thousands of dollars in prize money are up for grabs in the costume contests. The 2015 festival is held October 23-November 1, and the theme is “All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show.”
Vegetarian Festival – Thailand
From eschewing meat and embracing values of honesty and practicing good deeds to impaling cheeks and piercing skin, the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand is a traditional religious and cultural celebration. Rooted in Chinese traditions, the festival is held in Thai cities with large Chinese populations, particularly Phuket. It’s closely associated with the Chinese Nine Emperor Gods Festival and honors the “mah song,” or people with the spirit of the gods in them. The mah song walk on coals and pierce their skin while in a trance and have little bleeding or scarring after. In 2015, the festival is estimated to be held October 12-21.
Frankfurt Book Fair – Germany
Discover new trends in publishing and emerging literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s the world’s largest trade fair for books, based on the number of publishing companies represented as well as visitors. It’s also the world’s most important book fair for international deals and trading. There over over 7,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries and more than 286,000 visitors. History abounds at this fair, begun over 500 years ago at the time of Johannes Gutenberg’s inventions. This year, the festival runs October 14-18, with the first three days reserved for industry only and the last two open to the public.
Dashain – Nepal
A 15-day national religious festival in Nepal, Dashain honors the goddess Durga with offerings, community gatherings and animal sacrifices. Dashain celebrates the victories of the goddess over demons, good over evil. Nepalese people around the world gather wherever they are to pay respect, and many return to Nepal. It’s the longest and most important festival on the Nepalese calendar. All government offices and schools are closed during the festival period.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup in Bumthang – Bhutan
Jampa Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, located in Bumthang. Founded by a Tibetan king in the seventh century, the temple was built to appease and subdue a demoness said to live in the mountains. The site is recognized as sacred across the country. Relics reside inside the temple, including a Buddha statue and more than 100 statues of the gods of Kalachakra. The festival of Jambay Lhakhang Drup takes place near the temple, and is internationally known for its fire rituals. A naked dance takes place around the fire displays. The festival lasts for five days.
Insomnia Festival – Tromso, Norway
The sun rarely sets during October in Norway, providing a great backdrop for all-night music and dance parties. The Insomnia Festival is the largest and most important electronic music festival in Norway and takes place in the city of Tromso. The festival’s name stems from a Norwegian movie of the same name — eventually remade by Hollywood and also of the same name. The festival targets clubbers but also includes seminars, workshops and exhibitions around techno culture. It takes place this year October 16-24.
Treasure Island Music Fest – San Francisco, California
Music festival enthusiasts describe the Treasure Island Music Fest in San Francisco as an intimate, laid-back event with excellent music options and plenty of standing and sitting room. It’s a small, two-day festival that brings in relatively well-known musical acts. The festival is held on Treasure Island, where bands play against a backdrop of palm trees and the San Francisco skyline. A free shuttle service is provided. The music festival takes place October 17-18, 2015.
— Contributed by Cyndi Waite