A great way to get to know more about people and place is by attending colorful, cultural festivals that celebrate their art, food, history, music and more. Here are some fun festivals from around the world. We’d love to keep adding to this list – tell us about your favorite or one that is on your bucket list!
Chinese New Year
At the turn of the Chinese lunisolar calendar (usually in January or February)
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is the most important holiday of the year in China. It is a special time to honor ancestors and deities and it is when families come together to feast and reconnect. The festival is celebrated all over China as well as in many countries with significant populations of Chinese people such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines.
The Chinese believe that a good start to the year will lead to luck and prosperity during the rest of the year. Some of the traditions associated with Chinese New Year include giving lucky red envelopes of money to children, cleaning the house to sweep away any bad fortune, and visiting friends and relatives. Many families have a big meal together, enjoy lion and dragon dances in the street with colorful costumes, and fireworks to ring in the New Year.
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in China
Begins January 5th and lasts one month.
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is the largest celebration of ice and snow in the world. Taking place during the coldest months of winter in Harbin, China, the festival showcases beautiful works of art carved with ice from the Songhua River. Harbin is in Northeast China and it gets bitterly cold winter wind coming down from Siberia. Within the winter wonderland of the festival, you will see thousands of ice sculptures, as well as an amusement zone, music, food and special activities and events such as swimming in the frozen river, skiing and an ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.
Desfile de las Mil Polleras, Las Tablas, Panama
This annual event is a celebration of music, dance, food and culture, all centered around the national dress of Panama. The pollera is two pieces, a shirt and skirt, and often a petticoat is used on for formal occasions. Polleras are made entirely by hand and can take many months to complete because of the detail involved. There is a specific pollera for every region in Panama. Variations exist depending on its use; the pollera de gala is worn for formal occasions while the pollera montuna is more suited for everyday wear. The outfit is completed by elaborate beaded headpieces called tembleques. In the first parade, there were 1,000 ladies wearing the national dress, hence the name Parade of 1,000 Polleras which includes men in their typical traditional montuno.
Our parent company, Panama Travel Consultants lists many customizable vacation package ideas for travel to Panama. Accommodations are limited in Las Tablas for Desfile de las Mil Polleras, so make sure to book in advance.
Havana International Jazz Festival
January, 5 days mid-month
The first Havana Jazz Festival was held in 1978 and soon renowned artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Charlie Haden, Roy Hargrove, Jack DeJohnette, Danilo Perez became part of the Havana scene on a regular basis. Since then, jazz musicians and aficionados have been coming together every January in Cuba for the legendary Havana International Jazz Festival. Cuba is a nation of intense rhythms, colors, emotions, aromas, and flavors, but often what travelers remember most is its ubiquitous pulsating music and the passionate, friendly islanders who make and revel in it. From Afro-Cuban beats, Latin jazz and swirling salsa, dizzying son to rumba – come experience the musical vibes of Cuba.
If you would like to experience this festival, please reach out. We offer tours that follow the official Jazz Plaza programs of the Cuban Institute of Music and the Cuban Ministry of Culture. And our Cuba tours are legally compliant with U.S. State Department requirements, proper paperwork is provided, and you are accompanied by a knowledgeable and experienced Cuban guide. For more information, check out our blog post on How Americans Can Legally Travel to Cuba.
Carnevale di Venezia (Carnival in Venice)
Take place for 2 weeks prior to Lent.
Carnival in Venice is most famous for its elaborate and very distinctive masks. and the festival began from a victory of the Venice Republic against the Patriarch of Aquileia. In honor of this triumph, the people of Venice began dancing and gathering in San Marco Square. The festival became official during the Renaissance and it grew into a lavish baroque carnival.
The masks are an important icon of the festival and these beautiful works of art are made of porcelain, leather and glass and decorated with gold leaf, flowers, feathers and gems. The winding canals and historic buildings of Venice are incredibly beautiful, but during Carnevale, when they come alive with masked and costumed revelers, the city becomes even more stunning and ethereal. The highlight is the Grand Masquerade Ball which is a sumptuous, decadent recreation of how the nobles used to party.
5 days, from Friday to Ash Wednesday before Lent.
Although Carnival is celebrated in cities and towns throughout Brazil and other Catholic countries, Rio de Janeiro is considered the Carnival’s capital city. A rambunctious riot of music and color, the Rio Carnival is one of the biggest parties in the world. Held 40 days before Easter, it is one last hoorah before the restraint and control of the Lenten season. This carnival’s roots can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greek festivals to honor Dionysus, the god of wine and good times.
While the festivities take place all over Rio, the main attraction is at the Sambadrome – the stadium of Samba. With seating for 70,000 people, it showcases extravagant performances put on by Rio’s numerous samba schools. The dances are big, bright, vibrant and sensual and the costumes show a lot of skin and are bedecked with feathers, sequins, tassels and much more. Carnival also includes the Balls, lavish celebrations held at the hotels and nightclubs around the city. And if you can’t afford tickets to a Ball, you can also watch and listen to the street bands along the Avenida Rio Branco in the downtown city center.
Holi Festival in India
Begins on the Full Moon Day of the Hindu Month of Falgun (usually February or March)
Holi is the Hindu Spring Festival, also known as the Festival of Colours. It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, the arrival of spring and the end of winter. The celebrations begin on the night before with an enormous bonfire, accompanied by religious rituals to cleanse away evil. As the flames die down, everyone reaches into the fire with metal trays and takes a piece of the embers for their hearth at home. The next morning is the Rangwali Holi, the carnival of colors. Everyone goes wild in the streets throwing colored powder and dyed water at each other. Some carry water guns or water balloons filled with colored water and anyone is fair game – from children to elders to friends to strangers. By the end of the day, everyone is covered in bright and vibrant shades of purple, pink, blue, yellow and green.
St. Patrick’s Day Ireland
When you think of St. Patrick’s Day you probably think of drinking beer and wearing green, right? While the Irish festival these days is a big party, it actually has its roots as a religious celebration. It was a Christian feast day in the early 17th century, commemorating Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. As well as being celebrated as a public holiday in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is also celebrated by Irish people living all over the world including in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, USA, Canada and the UK. Over the years, St. Patrick’s Day evolved from a religious-focused festival to a secular celebration of all things Irish. The festival usually includes public parades, Irish traditional music sessions, dances, banquets and much more. One of the largest celebrations takes place in New York City with more than 2 million people gathering for the city’s grand parade.
Semana Santa in Guatemala
Week Before Easter
Semana Santa (The Holy Week) in Guatemala is celebrated with elaborate religious processions down the street that feature colorful floats and depictions of Christ and saints. This festival combines the old Catholic traditions imposed during the Colonial era by the Spanish with the mysticism of the Mayan religion.
This week is the most fascinating time to be in Guatemala and the celebrations in the streets of Antigua are something to behold. The huge wooden floats are paraded through the streets for up to eight hours and they are followed by bands playing religious songs. The people of Antigua make beautiful carpets of pine needles and dyed sawdust along the route, which are trampled by the procession as it goes by.
White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia
May – July
From May to July the city of St. Petersburg in Russia comes to life with nighttime cultural performances, including ballet, music, opera and much more. During these summer nights in St. Petersburg the sun hovers around the horizon but never fully sets, providing a glowing light at all hours for these celebrations. You can walk around at midnight and it will still be bright outside.
The Palace Square is a popular spot for large scale shows and some artists who have performed there include the Scorpions, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. There will be a mock pirate battle on the Neva River, an appearance of a tall ship with scarlet sails and a huge firework extravaganza.
Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
Takes place July 6th – 14th. You can visit Pamplona our Best of Northern Spain Tour.
The Running of the Bulls is a traditional Spanish Festival that involves letting a small group of bulls loose in a sectioned-off street in the town. Young adults attempt to race in front of the bulls and avoid getting hurt. The run stretches from Santo Domingo to the bullring where the bulls will fight that afternoon and the streets of the old town are walled off so that the bulls cannot escape. It is thought that this festival dates back as far as the 13th century. This festival has caused a lot of controversy over the years because it is quite dangerous – to both the human and animal participants. Fifteen people have died and over 200 have been seriously injured since 1924. So, you’ll want to think twice before participating in the running of the bulls.
Gay Pride Parade in Amsterdam
First Weekend in August
The vibrant city of Amsterdam is known for its open-minded atmosphere and it is the heart of one of Europe’s biggest Gay Pride festivals. The goal of the festival is to create public awareness for LGBT rights in the Netherlands and around the world. The event includes a broad range of art, culture, sports, religious and debate activities including a choir performance, conferences, sporting events and much more.
There are many gay pride festivals throughout the world but Amsterdam’s celebration unique with a parade of boats that make their way through the canals of the city. During the final four days of the festival it becomes the biggest street party in Amsterdam and the last night features a fantastic concert. The festival brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Amsterdam and is one of the biggest public events in the Netherlands.
Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
Mid or late September to the First weekend in October.
Beer lovers from all over the world unite at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival and fair. Held in Munich, Bavaria, this 16- to 18-day festival brings more than 6 million people every year. An important celebration of Bavarian culture, Oktoberfest has been held since 1810. The festival begins with the Mayor of Munich tapping the first keg at the official opening ceremonies. A major highlight of the festival is the Oktoberfest Costume and Riflemen’s Parade, which happens every year on the first Sunday. Other festival highlights include dancing and music, food and beer, the Oktoberfest Mass and the Parade of Oktoberfest Landlords. Travel to Bavaria during this time of year and celebrate a long history of beer brewing and in this friendly and beautiful part of Germany.
Dia de los Muertos in Mexico
October 31st -November 2nd
Everything about the Mexican Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) revolves around the spirits of the dead and letting them know that their loved ones left behind on earth still think about them and care about them. Some of the typical Dia de Los Muertos traditions include laying out offerings for the dead, creating beautiful and elaborate altars for them, cleaning and decorating gravestones, making crafts and having parades. The offerings for the dead include fresh flowers, photographs, the favorite food and drinks of the deceased, statues of saints, skulls made of candy and other items. However, although this festival honors loved ones who have passed away, it isn’t a completely somber affair. It can be fun and humorous as people relate funny memories and anecdotes of their dearly departed.
New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour
One of the best places in the world to be when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve is in Sydney Harbor. At 9pm there will be a Family Fireworks Display, so that the little ones can see the sky lit up without having to stay up until midnight. Then later on there is the main attraction – the midnight fireworks display with 12 minutes of jaw-dropping pyrotechnics and 30,000 effects. The fireworks show brings 1.5 million spectators and is broadcast all over the world to an audience of one billion.
Along with the fireworks, there are plenty of other New Year’s celebrations in Sydney including parties, live music, art exhibitions, banquets and much more. Sydney is not only one of the first places to celebrate the New Year, it’s also one of the best!