Festivals are a great way to learn a lot about a city, country or culture very quickly. They are also a great way to jam a whole lot of experiences into a very short period of time. And, it should go without mentioning, but they are often the most fun you can have in any given place.
We’re firm believers in ambitious travel goals and we’re also staunch supporters of finding any excuse to travel, so we thought we would kill two birds with one post by giving you some travel goals as well as an excuse to hop on a plane sooner than you were planning! Here is a list of our 10 favorite festivals.
1. Carnival (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
It may have begun as a celebration of the beginning of Lent, but you wouldn’t assume that this festival had religious origins. Carnival is one of the largest annual gatherings in the world, and certainly the biggest street party, with five million visitors filling the streets each year to celebrate as only Brazilians can. Spirited samba music can be heard everywhere, soundtracking the dancing, drinking and general party atmosphere of the revelers, but also the competition between the more than 70 samba schools, culminating in a two-night samba spectacular as the top 12 schools compete for cash prizes and national renown. It’s a scene, man.
2. La Tomatina (Valencia, Spain)
For everyone who ever wanted to start a food fight in the cafeteria, but didn’t have the guts, La Tomatina’s got you covered — in tomato! This annual event, held on the last Wednesday in August just outside of Valencia, Spain, is a town-wide free-for-all, where tomatoes are hurled at buildings and one another, until the whole scene looks like the inside of a jar of Prego. The festival started, fittingly enough, when a disagreement during a different festival got out of hand and led to an impromptu food fight. The townspeople had so much fun that they have been celebrating La Tomatina nearly every year since 1945. Well, what are you waiting for? Grab a tomato and paint the town red!
3. Dia De Los Muertos (Mexico)
For a festival with origins potentially as old as 3,000 years, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has really only become an international destination within the past decade. Beginning with the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Mexico, the festival has celebrated the lives and legacies of friends and family members who have died. Traditions include building and decorating ornate altars called ofrendas, decorating with marigolds and calaveras (ornamental, often edible skulls), and consuming the favorite foods and drinks of the departed. With recognition by UNESCO in 2008, a memorable scene in the 2015 James Bond film, Spectre, and the success of the 2017 Pixar film, Coco, the festival has taken on a new life as an annual event with international appeal.
4. Mardi Gras (New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.)
Though Mardi Gras (French for “fat Tuesday”) is celebrated every year on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, to celebrate the beginning of the Lent season, Mardi Gras comprises a whole season of parades and parties for the two months leading up to the actual day. Expect lavish costumes and floats, tons of beads and an irresponsible amount of booze. And while the parades are “the main event,” the whole city is in party mode for nearly all of Mardi Gras season, so there is no shortage of fun to be had, wherever you end up in New Orleans.
5. Krampusnacht (Central Europe)
Forget about the threat of coal in your stockings, in Central European traditions, St. Nicholas is only concerned with the good kids. As for the bad kids? Instead of Santa’s rosy cheeks and jelly-belly, they’ve got a goat-horned, black fur-covered demon to deal with. That’s Krampus, and he’s been inspiring terror in bad and good children alike possibly since even before the Christmas tradition. On December 5th, the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas, people gather in the streets dressed as Krampus, complete with chains and a bundle of birch sticks, handing out (yes) coal and whacks from their birch bundles to “bad” little boys and girls. This is the festival for people who want to live their nightmares!
6. Sky Lantern Festival (Pingxi, Taiwan, Republic of China)
To chase Krampus out of your mind, how about something that feels like it’s straight out of a beautiful dream? During Taiwan’s Sky Lantern Festival, celebrating Chinese New Year, residents and visitors alike gather to scrawl their messages of hope for a new year and set them aloft in paper lanterns. Millions of these lanterns fill the night sky, making for stunning, somewhat surreal spectacle. Get ready to win Instagram for the day.
7. Holi (Mumbai, Delhi, India)
Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is a feast for the eyes as well as the soul. The Hindu celebration of spring is celebrated by people taking to the streets to drench each other with water balloons and squirt guns, then cover one another with brightly colored powders, all while raucous, lively music is supplied by roving marching bands. The cataclysm of colors is supposed to remind everyone of what brings them together. And everyone is fair game, so if you’re in India during Holi, be prepared to get a little extra color.
8. King’s Day (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
King’s Day is a street party, Amsterdam-style — which is to say, it’s really more of a canal party! Celebrated on April 27th, King’s Day observes the birth of King Willem-Alexander with a contagious party atmosphere, where people don orange (the national color of the Netherlands), share libations, and take to the streets in such great numbers, that the city becomes virtually a pedestrian zone. But, it’s Amsterdam, so they also take to the canals for an amphibious affair. It is also the one day each year that the country allows un-permitted street selling, which turns the whole country into a de facto flea market, with people selling their used goods.
9. Songkran (Chaing Mai & Bangkok, Thailand)
If King’s Day inspired you to look for more wet fun, check out the Thai festival of Songkran. Traditionally a celebration of the lunar New Year, Songkran has evolved into a three-day public water fight. Kids tote water guns, shop owners stand near their doorways with buckets of ice water and everybody gets everybody else wet. Again, this is a bit of crazy fun that began as a sober religious ritual, pouring water on statues of Buddha, in a symbolic cleansing ritual. Buddha statues are still “bathed,” but after the business is done, it’s wet and wild fun in the streets!
10. Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)
A tradition that has led to a fall “season of drinking” throughout the world, the original Oktoberfest is a two-and-a-half-week folk festival that has been held in Munich since 1810. Beginning in the late 1800s, beer and breweries began to take on a more significant role in the festival, until the proceedings became synonymous with steins of beer as big as your head. But it’s not just any beer: only six Munich breweries are allowed to be served during Oktoberfest. They just have to brew a whole hell of a lot, with over 2 million gallons of beer consumed during the festival every year. We’ll drink to that! Prost!
We hope you find even more festivals to keep you traveling the world! And, as always, make sure you book early, pack light and comfy. Cabeau is a proud partner in helping you arrive rested and ready, whether you’ve been planning your trip for six months, or whether you got halfway through this blog and found a hot, last minute deal to fly out tomorrow. Now, get on out there and start working through this list!