Top 12 Festivals around the World

November 3, 2011 by

Asia, Europe, Festivals & Events, Middle East & Africa, North America

Need some help with your travel itinerary? Why not take inspiration from the world’s rich smorgasbord of festivals, and plan your next vacation around the dates and locations of some of the planet’s most exciting events. To get you started, here’s our top 12 far-flung festivities, one for every month of the year…

1. January: Viking Festival, Shetlands, Scotland

Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa fire festival in Scotland – photo courtesy of Vicky Brock via Flickr

Ritual bonfires and processions of axes are held during Lerwick’s annual Up Helly Aa fire festival, held on the last Tuesday in January in Scotland. There are also torch-lit parades and processions, culminating in dancing and the burning of a Viking galley to warm the Shetland Islands’ winter throngs.

Read more about things to do in Scotland

2. February: Carnevale, Venice, Italy

Masked participants at the Carnevale celebrations in Venice

February around the world means Carnevale, the madcap lead-up to Lent that takes the Latin world by storm. You could choose any number of locations to celebrate – Rio‘s Mardi Gras and Spain‘s Carnival spring instantly to mind – but we’ve selected Venicefor its sense of history, sequined masks, Casanova costumes and Vivaldi concerts.

Read more about the Venice Carnival

3. March: Holi, India


Holi festival in India – photo courtesy of Jeremy Nicoll via Flickr

The March full moon is the signal for sheer mayhem on the streets of India, and Little Indias across the globe. Known as the Festival of Colours, the final day of Holi sees adults and children alike hurl brightly coloured powder and balloons full of water at complete strangers. The result is highly coloured anarchy, and as a visitor you’ll be especially targeted during this free-for-all. Wear old clothes and expect to get very wet (and dyed).

Read more about Fairs and Festivals in Delhi

4. April: Semana Santa, Philippines

Semana Santa Philippines

Semana Santa in the Philippines – photo courtesy of azarius via Flickr

Holy Week in the Philippines is taken very literally, with Way of the Cross processions of self-flagellating true believers on Good Friday. Some devotees even go so far as to be crucified. A Passion Play is also performed on Good Friday, and Easter Sunday is celebrated with statue processions of Jesus and Mary, followed by Easter Mass. The town to head to for the most fervent Good Friday celebrations is San Fernando in the Pampanga region.

5. May: Rocket Festival, Thailand

Thailand rocket festival

Rocket Festival in Thailand – photo courtesy of Bernd Mechsner via Flickr

Yasothon, in northeastern Thailand, honours the rain god with the bun bang fai rocket festival. The rockets are displayed in colourful parades and on decorated podiums before being fired into the air to bring rain. Held in mid-May, the festival features competitions for the best rocket flight and highest explosion. Those firing less than spectacular rockets can expect to be unceremoniously thrown in the mud.

Read about more Thai festivals: Celebrating the Thai New Year with Songkran

6. June: Midsummer Festival, Sweden

Midsummer Festival Sweden

Midsummer Festival in Sweden – photo courtesy of Chris Battaglia via Flickr

After months of dark winter and a spring that takes a long time coming, summertime is something to really celebrate in Europe’s cold northern climes like Sweden. Maypole dancing, drinking songs and special menus of herring, potatoes, schnapps and strawberries are served. Midsummer is also celebrated with gay abandon in Finland with bonfires and saunas and in Estonia with the athletic tradition of fire jumping.

Read more about things to do in Sweden

7. July: Bastille Day, Paris, France

Bastille Day

Celebrate Bastille Day in France – photo courtesy of side78 via Flickr

Where else but Paris would you want to be on 14 July? The French capital goes nuts to celebrate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, with military parades down the Champs Elysees, concerts, the firemen’s ball, and to end the day in style, a spectacular fireworks display lights up the sky over the Eiffel Tower.

Read about more celebrations in France: New Year’s Eve in Paris

8. August: Tomato Festival, Pennsylvania, USA

Pittston Tomato Festival

Pittston Tomato Festival – photo courtesy of Kara Newhouse via Flickr

You don’t have to travel to the Spanish town of Buñol to engage in flying tomato fights. Pittston in northeastern Pennsylvania, USA is giving La Tomatina a run for its money during the town’s four-day Pittston Tomato Festival held around 20 August. Unlike in Spain, you’re provided with safety eye goggles if you get caught up in the pandemonium, and all proceeds go to charity. Along with the tomato fights there are games, rides, tomato tastings and a parade.

9. September: Festes de La Mercè, Barcelona, Spain

Festes de La Merce

Human tower at Festes de La Mercè – photo courtesy of Niorcs via Flickr

Celebrate the last days of summer during Barcelona‘s week-long extravaganza of concerts, parades of giant figures, human towers, foot races and competitions. Held a few days either side of 24 September, it’s the city’s biggest knees-up. Festivities are citywide, focusing on the Placa de Sant Jaume in the Gothic Quarter, and a special highlight is the noisy Correfoc, or Fire Run, of fireworks.

Read more about celebrations in Barcelona: Fiesta de Sant Medir in Barcelona

10. October: Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

Grab a beer and join the Oktoberfest festivities in Munich!

Prost! It’s time to clink beer steins at the world’s biggest beer fair, Oktoberfest in Munich. As well as foamy tankards of Lowenbrau and Hofbrau ales, Bavarians celebrate with wurst sausages, pretzels, potato dumplings, sauerkraut and bratwurst. The beer festival to end all beer festivals begins in late September and carries on until the first weekend in October.

Read more: Oktoberfest Dos and Don’ts

11. November: Dia de los Muertos, Mexico

A market altar from Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

People in Mexicoremember their beloved dead on the 1 and 2 November celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Graves are visited for all-night vigils, but the atmosphere is festive and celebratory rather than sombre, with picnics and mini shrines to the dead erected from flowers, mementos and the favourite foods of the departed. The festival’s signature sweets include chocolate skulls, candy skeletons and sugar coffins.

Read more: Planning Your Day of the Dead in Mexico

12. December: Christmas Mass, Bethlehem, Israel

Bethlehem Christmas mass

Christmas mass in Bethlehem – photo courtesy of Beautiful Faces of Palestine via Flickr

When the bells of Christmas begin to peal, you’ll want to be where it all began, Manger Square in Bethlehem. During December, the streets of Bethlehem are festooned with Christmas lights, Christmas markets are held and homes display Nativity scenes. The real celebrations begin on Christmas Eve, with processions through Manger Square to the Nativity Grotto in the Orthodox Basilica of the Nativity, followed by midnight mass at St. Catherine’s Church. On Christmas Day, worshipers make a pilgrimage to Shepherds’ Fields, where the Star of the Nativity was seen to shine over Bethlehem.

Read more: What to See in Bethlehem

Janet Austin

Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s Europe Holiday and Seasonal Tours or North America’s Holiday and Seasonal Tours.

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One Response to “Top 12 Festivals around the World”

  1. Mary @ Green Global Travel Says:

    Brilliant list! I’m inspired and there isn’t a single festival that I would absolutely *Love* to attend! Thank you! 🙂