Whether dancing with the living dead in the streets of Oaxaca or partying with Cariocas on the beaches of Rio, these carnivals, parties and events are a way to experience local cultures and customs – well worth booking a trip for.

1: Rio Carnival

Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: Every year before the Ash Wednesday (Usually at the end of February)

Rio Carnival in Brazil with Curious Travel

Rio Carnival Preparations – Image by Filipe Fraza

Known as ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’, parties don’t get much bigger than the Rio Carnival. The best events need the best performers; here, the 12 best Samba schools from across the city prepare for a year to create their often sequin-covered costumes, perfect electrifying moves and produce contagious rhythms to battle it out in the Sambodromo. But the explosive energy of 75,000 Sambodromo spectators and their drums and whistles flows far beyond the confines of the arena, with Carnival taking over the beaches and streets, turning every inch of space into a party.

Carnival is celebrated across Brazil, but Rio’s is considered the best, popular with locals and tourists.

Contact us for a private trip or the best group trips to see this amazing festival.

2: Holi

Where: All over India

When: A Full Moon day in February or March

Holi Festival in India with Curious Trave

Holi Festival – Image by Alexander Mazurkevich

Holi, also known as the ‘festival of colours’, celebrates the arrival of Spring. The traditionally held belief is that the blue-skinned god Krishna felt jealous of his sister Radha. Yashoda, their mother, playfully allowed Krishna to paint Rhada´s face in any colour. Today, at Holi, everyone splashes each other with a powder called Gaula, with vivid colours flying in the air, all of which has made it a favourite with photographers. It’s a fun-filled celebration, with women throwing water at men, kids playing, and men dancing in the streets. Everyone is united under the clouds of colour and beautiful chaos.

3: The Day of the Dead

Where: Oaxaca, México (Also Guatemala)

When: November 1 and 2

Day of the Dead in Mexico by Curious Travel

Day of the Dead in Mexico – Image by Diego Grandi

The Day of the Dead is a time for remembering lost loved ones, when, Mexicans believe, the souls of relatives who have passed away have a chance to reunite with their living friends and family on Earth. Those souls can still taste delicious dishes, left out for them on candle-lit altars, and listen to their favourite songs that their family have prepared for them. Picture the joy of a Christmas family reunion and a Spring carnival, with just a pinch of melancholy.

Despite the meaning behind it, the Day of the Dead is not a morbid affair. Locals dress in costumes, including skeletons and ghouls, honouring the dead in the cemeteries of Oaxaca and partying through the streets. Papier-mâché skeletons on stilts dance to the rhythm of loud trumpets and drums. Join the Mexicans here with a mezcal toast and dance the night away with the souls who came back to visit just for one night.

4: Glastonbury Festival

Where: Pilton, Somerset, England

When: The last week of June

Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival by Curious Travel

Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival – Image by Benny Hawes

The biggest open air, arts and music festival in the world has grown from its original hippy roots to now have around 175,000 attendants from around the globe taking over the farmland near Pilton, in south-west England, each year. The crowds sing along to artists from around the world, with indie, rock, hip hop, blues and more represented across the different stages. Headliners include the likes of David Bowie, Blur, Radiohead, Beyonce and Adele.

There’s plenty to check out beyond music, with theatre, comedy, circus, dance and more found throughout the massive site. Remember your rain gear and wellington boots, as mud is also often part of the experience.

Glastonbury is taking a break in 2018, but there are plenty of other musical options across the UK and worldwide, from Green Man in Wales to Malawi’s Lake of Stars.

5: Lake of Stars Festival

Where: Malawi

When: September 28-30

Lake of Stars Festival Performer by Curious Travel

Performer at Lake of Stars Festival – Image by Lake of Stars Festival

Commemorating their 15th anniversary this year, the three-day Lake of Stars Festival is set on a beach of golden sand, backed by green hillside. Artists come from all over Africa, such as Malawi´s afro dance duo The Very Best and South African group Mafikizolo, with Kenyan group Sauti Sol set to headline the 2018 edition. Recent guest acts from elsewhere include around the world English indie band Foals, Scottish hip-hop group Young Fathers and German producer Timo Maas. This magical music festival is also involved with communities, engaging with outreach programs, staging free concerts for local villages and raising funds for schools.

Contact us for a private trip or the best group trips to see this amazing festival.

6: Oktoberfest

Where: Munich, Bavaria, Germany

When: From Mid September to the first Monday of October

Oktoberfest in Germany by Curious Travel

Inside an Oktoberfest Tent – Image by Takashi Images

The Wiesn, as locals call it, started in 1810 as a celebration of a royal wedding, topped up with a horse race. Today, it´s the biggest beer party in the world. More than six million attendees enjoy the spectacles and amusement rides to the sound of people shouting “Prost” (German for “cheers”). Many different kinds of beer are served by the litre or in glasses with cool, arty designs, with culture and traditional food also coming to your table during this 17-day festival.

 

7: Sapporo Snow Festival

Where: Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

When: One week in February

Temple Snow Sculpture at Sapporo Snow Festival by Curious Travel

Temple Snow Sculpture at Sapporo Snow Festival – Image by Dr Flash

Admiring 25-metre high ice sculptures, ice-rafting and jumping into a snow slide is a standard day in Sapporo Snow Festival. Sapporo Snow Festival started in 1950 when high school students built statues in local Odori Park. Now, with more than two million visitors from Japan and the world, the night lights up with concerts and colourful, technically impressive ice creations, from dinosaurs to palaces. Bring your winter weather gear, and stay on in Hokkaido to explore more of this beautiful and remote region.

8: Mid-Autumn Festival

Where: Across Vietnam

When: On the Full Moon of late September or early October

Lantern at Mid Autumn Festival in Vietnam by Curious Travel

Lantern at Mid Autumn Festival in Vietnam – Image by K Le

Parents originally created this festival to catch up with their children after the summer harvest was completed. The streets are invaded with the colour of the lanterns and tiny edible figures made out of rice. Children play in the moonlight with their families and enjoying a meal together, as well as offering sacrifices to the ‘God of Earth’. They run through the lit streets with their friends, holding a carp-shaped lantern, knocking on the neighbour´s doors; if the person answering the door accepts the little ones’ offer, children perform a ‘lion dance’ for them and get ‘lucky money’.

Contact us for a private trip or the best group trips to see this amazing festival.

9: Carnival of Venice

Where: Venice, Italy

When: The final weekend before Lent (from Thursday to Tuesday).

Carnival of Venice by Curious Travel

Carnival of Venice – Image by Samot

During the Carnival of Venice, the city has an atmosphere of pure magic, converting locals and tourists into fantastic masked creatures joined together in a gown extravaganza. Nowadays, no matter if you dress like an 18th-century royal or Tarzan, the party is everywhere, on land, on water and even up in the sky. Cheer to a waterborne parade on the Cannaregio Canal, indulge in street food and doughnut treats, and raise your head to look up for the ‘Flight of the Angel’, a costumed character on a wire over Piazza di Marco.

10: St. Patrick´s Day

Where: Dublin, Ireland

When: 17 March

Irish Garland for St Patricks Day by Curious Travel

Garland for St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland – Image by Delpixel

The Colosseum in Rome, the London Eye, the Empire State building and many more epic sites around the world all turn green on this day remembering St Patrick, a fifth-century missionary and bishop in Ireland.

In Dublin, buildings across the city turn green, too. For locals and the many travelling guests, Dublin sees everyone ready to celebrate Ireland’s saint, with the biggest St Patrick’s parade in the world, live music, costumes and dancers. Head to the always popular Temple Bar or many other pubs across the city to enjoy a proper pint of Guinness. Join the crowds by dressing in green, as you party, drink and eat traditional Irish food.

11: Mardi Gras

Where: New Orleans, USA

When: 5 days before Lent.

Mardi Gras Float, New Orleans by Curious Travel

Mardi Gras Float – Image by GTS Productions

New Orleans is not just the foodie capital of the United States, but the host of one of the biggest parades. Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, goes overboard for five days before the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent. This massive celebration is organized by the krewes (social clubs) who create carts ornamented with balloons, confetti and neon lights. The carts are normally related to clowns, kings and other characters. From those rolling parties-in-motion, the krewe members toss gifts and prizes out to the watching crowds, including necklaces of plastic beads and stuffed puppets. A party atmosphere dominates the city for days, even more than usual in this famously musical city.

12: Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Where: Edinburgh, Scotland

When: August for about 25 days.

Artist Performing at Fringe Festival in Edinburgh by Curious Travel

Artist Performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Image by Tana888

With more than 300 venues taking part and more than 3000 shows each year, the Fringe is one of the world’s biggest and most exciting arts festival. The Fringe started in 1947 when eight theatre companies were not invited to the ‘official’ Edinburgh festival and decided to perform in alternative venues. Taking over the Scottish capital every year, alongside the main Edinburgh Festival and other summer festivals, everyone from big-name comedians to small, little-known theatre groups come here to try new material or win over crowds. There’s theatre, children’s entertainment, opera and musicals, but comedy is the dominant art form to enjoy.

Contact us for a private trip or the best group trips to see this amazing festival.

13: International Balloon Fiesta

Where: Albuquerque New Mexico, United States

When: Nine days in early October

Hot Air Balloons at International Ballon Fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico by Curious Travel

Hot Air Balloons at International Balloon Fiesta – Image by Manamana

The largest balloon festival in the world takes place in early October, with hot air balloon-related events, both airborne and on land. The fun starts early in the morning with a Dawn Patrol to check the wind conditions before the rest of the participants start flying. The day passes by with fun challenges, like dropping a marker from the sky to fall as close to a target on the ground as possible. Nights usually feature fireworks and laser shows.

14: Loi Krathong

Where: All around Thailand

When: The eve of the full moon of the 12th Thai Lunar calendar (November)

Lantern Boats and Monks at Loi Krathong festival in Thailand by Curious Travel

Lantern Boats and Monks at Loi Krathong festival in Thailand – Image by Anekoho

Loi Krathong sees little lotus flower-shaped boats ornamented with flowers and lit candles released on waterways across Thailand to honour Siddartha Gautama, the original Buddha. This is the perfect night to witness a beautiful, vibrant and memorable scene. Flickering candles illuminate people’s smiles, as they make wishes and release their handmade floating flowers.

On the eve of the Full Moon, tourists and families from all over the world reunite to create little boats out of banana leaves and set them on a journey.

15: Junkanoo

Where: Nassau, Bahamas

When: Boxing Day and New Year´s Day

Dancer at Junkanoo, Bahamas by Curious Travel

Dancer at Junkanoo – Image by Erkki & Hanna

Although everyone in the Bahamas will tell you something different, the common belief is that this festival developed from the years of slavery, when slaves would be granted three days off around Christmas. Starting as early as 2am, a troupe of nearly 1000 dancers will move their feet to the rhythm of hypnotic goatskin drums, cowbells and horns. The streets of Nassau turn into a colourful dance floor splashed with people wearing incredible and elaborate handmade costumes.

16: International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival

Where: Harbin, China

When: January 5 and on for a month.

Sculptures at International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, China by Curious Travel

Sculptures at International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, China – Image by Kikujungboy

With winds coming from Siberia and average temperatures of -12C, the city of Harbin is the perfect host for the largest festival of ice and snow sculptures in the world. Full-size buildings are made with ice blocks brought from the Songhua river, making the city look majestically white.

During the night, the frozen cities radiate colours through their thick frozen walls. If this is not enough for your adventurous spirit, you can participate in alpine skiing or even take a winter swim in the river.

Contact us for a private trip or the best group trips to see this amazing festival.

 

 

Andrea Moreno is a travel writer and photographer for international publications, including Wanderlust, Luxury Latin America and Luxury Travel Magazine. 

 

 

 

 

 

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