20 Festivals Worth Traveling for in January

January 9, 2015 by

Festivals & Events, Places to Go, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

If you aren’t partied-out after New Year’s Eve, the rest of January awaits you. Consisting of some of the world’s most interesting – even controversial – festivals, the rest of the month puts New Year’s Eve to shame.

World Buskers Festival – Christchurch, New Zealand

World Buskers Festival. Photo credit: Dave Catchpole via Flickr.

World Buskers Festival. Photo credit: Dave Catchpole via Flickr.

Serving as a sort of street performance convention, this beloved and rowdy New Zealand festival calls on street performers from all over the world to entertain revelers for 10 days in January.

Sundance – Park City, Utah

America’s largest independent film festival attracts some of the best filmmakers, actors and producers in the world. While screenings and events occur in a few U.S. cities during Sundance, filmmakers strive to get their work showcased in snowy Park City, Utah, which serves as the festival’s main stage. The winter wonderland turns into a 24/7 party for about 10 days in January as celebrities, wealthy investors, press and film geeks gather to celebrate moving pictures.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – U.S.

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial in D.C.

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial in D.C.

On the third Monday every January Americans celebrate one of the world’s greatest heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., with a federal holiday. Schools and businesses are closed and the government encourages people to spend this day volunteering and giving back to their communities, as MLK Jr. so often did. Parades and services are held all over the country to honor his memory and celebrate his life, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade and the Kennedy Center’s Let Freedom Ring concert, both held in Washington, D.C.

The Big Day Out – Australia and New Zealand

Big Day Out is Australia’s most prominent music festival. A mix of international and local talents, the traveling show features eclectic musicians, innovative art shows and unique dance acts as it moves through Australia and New Zealand. Artists at previous shows have included Kanye West, Girl Talk and Foster the People.

Up Helly Aa – Lerwick, Scotland

Up Helly Aa. Photo credit: Vicky Brock via Flickr.

Up Helly Aa. Photo credit: Vicky Brock via Flickr.

A tradition that began in the 1880s, Europe’s largest fire festival happens annually in Lerwick and marks the end of Yule Season and Shetland’s long dark winter. This unique event attracts huge crowds as locals dress up in Viking gear and march through town with torches as they drag a ceremonial Viking longboat. At the end of the procession, the longboat is set ablaze and the partying begins.

Ati Atihan – Kalibo, Philippines

Held in honor of the Santo Niño, Ati Atihan is one of the wildest versions of Mardi Gras in the world. The weeklong street party peaks on the third Sunday in January. The open-air masses, painted faces and elaborate costumes make this one of the most unique and fun religious celebrations in the Philippines.

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival – Harbin, China

The jaw dropping talent showcased in this festival will put your best snowman to shame. Visit the “Ice City” of Harbin any time in January to witness snow sculpting that will blow your mind.

International Snow Sculpture Championships – Breckenridge, Colorado

Snow Championships. Photo credit: David Shankbone via Flickr.

Snow Championships. Photo credit: David Shankbone via Flickr.

If trekking to China is out of the question, stay local and check out massive snow sculptures just as impressive at the International Snow Sculpture Championship in Breckenridge, CO. The sculpting goes on for a few days and then viewing week begins, both of which are interesting times to visit.

The Cayman Cookout – Grand Cayman Island

Celebrate food and wine with some of the best chefs in the world at the Cayman Cookout on Grand Cayman Island. Whether you are looking to refine your cooking and drink mixing skills or just want a good meal, your appetite will be satiated.

The Wellington Cup Carnival – Trentham, New Zealand

Horse racing during the Wellington Cup

Horse racing during the Wellington Cup

The Wellington Cup Carnival consists of three days’ worth of events surrounding the famed horse race. What makes these races unique is that they are held in a carnival atmosphere. Colorful marquees, celebrity guests, fashion shows and live music accompany top tier thoroughbred horse racing.

Northern Lights Festival – Tromso, Norway

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights

During the last week of January, the small town of Tromso, Norway is transformed into a musical extravaganza. The only stars more impressive than the immense talent flocking to Norway for this festival are the Northern Lights glaring above you.

Ivrea Carnival/ Battle of the Oranges  — Ivrea, Italy

If you didn’t enjoy food fights as a kid, this festival probably isn’t the one for you. Ivrea’s version of Carnival is unique and has the perfect amount of zest. Be sure to bring your mushiest oranges to pelt at other participants in this recreation of the historic fight between Ivrea’s townspeople and their tyrant.

Polar Bear Plunge – International

Polar bear plunges are held all over the world but are most popular in the U.S. and Vancouver. On the first day of the New Year, revelers gather together near a body of water and dive in despite the freezing cold January temperatures.

Festival in the Desert – Essakane, Mali

Often described as the world’s most remote music festival, the Festival in the Desert occurs every January on a patch of desert in the Sahara, miles from civilization. The music plays for three days, so be sure to stay hydrated!

Bikaner Camel Festival – Bikaner, India

In India, camels have always worked hard for their country and its civilians, so they deserve a few days of praise, which is exactly what the Bikaner camel festival is. These are the two days of the year you get to see camels like you’ve never imagined, all dolled up.

Kaapse Klopse – Cape Town, South Africa

Held in Cape Town, Kaapse Klopse might be the loudest, most sparkly and longest carnival in the world. The festivities kick off on Jan. 2 with the Cape Minstrel Competition, consisting of dancing, singing, wild costumes, and a massive parade.  Can’t make it on that day? Don’t worry, the luminous competition occurs every Saturday night all month long.

Gasparilla Pirate Fest – Tampa, Florida

Yarr! There will be pirates in Tampa

Yarr! There will be pirates in Tampa

Every January, pirates invade Tampa. But don’t worry, these are fun pirates. Tampa’s annual pirate party celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate captain who operated in Southwest Florida. The party starts when the impressive pirate ship pulls into Tampa. The fun continues with parades, film festivals and pirate ship tours.

Carnaval de Blancos y Negros (Carnival of Blacks and Whites) – Pasto, Colombia

Blackface might be illegal in the U.S. but the tradition is brought back in Pasto, Colombia for two days every January in a harmless way. To remember the time when masters would paint their faces black to show they approve of their slaves partying on Jan. 5 and in turn slaves would paint their faces white the next day, the tradition is upheld over these two days every year. Prepare to get your face painted by a stranger as you take in the parades, enjoy the feasts and party with the locals during this authentic cultural event.

Chinese New Year – International

Chinese New Year is celebrated in many cities around the world.

Chinese New Year is celebrated in many cities around the world.

In China, major cities burst in color as they prep for the Lunar New Year. Of course fireworks and parties take place on the eve of the New Year. The famous parades take place on the first day of the New Year and in some Chinese cities, the celebrations continue for the next seven days. If you can’t make it to China to celebrate, stay local by visiting the closest Chinatown to you. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and London go all out for the Chinese New Year as they have large and prominent Chinatowns.

Niagara Icewine Festival – Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Ontario’s award-winning and historic wine region comes to life for three weekends every January for the Niagara Icewine Festival. Consisting of galas, winery tours, and chestnut roasts, this outstanding culinary and wine event is the perfect time to visit charming yet cosmopolitan Ontario. When you are icewine-d out, check out Niagara Falls or head to nearby Toronto.

-Maggie Parker

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