While many adventurers enjoy visiting new places, the idea of going to a new city or country for a specific festival or celebration holds even more appeal for many savvy travelers. Whether you want to experience the dangerous or just the delightful, here are the top 35 world-famous festivals, events, and parties to mark on your globe-trotting calendar.
1. New Year’s Eve, Sydney Harbor, Australia
Sydney knows how to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a bang. The more than one billion people who tune in to watch Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show can’t be wrong. The fireworks weigh 7 tons, and are made up of 11 shells, 100,000 pyrotechnic effects, and 25,000 shooting comets. There is also a light parade of 52 boats, with over 3,000 additional boats in the harbor to watch the show.
2. Harbin Ice and Snow, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China
January 5 – February 5, 2015
Now that’s ice! This annual winter festival began in 1963, during Harbin’s ice-lantern show and garden party. Not only can you see the most spectacular ice sculptures in the world, you can also enjoy alpine skiing, winter swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.
3. Up Helly Aa Fire Festival, Shetland, Scotland
January 27, 2015
Up Helly Aa refers to a variety of fire festivals held to mark the end of the yule season. This Lerwick celebration came from the older yule tradition of tar barreling. Young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town, until it was banned around 1884. However, permission was obtained to move to torch processions, with the first celebration of torches on Up Helly Aa taking place in 1881. The tradition has continued, with the procession’s finale culminating with torches thrown at a replica Viking longship or galley.
4. Carnival of Venice, Venice, Italy
January 31 – February 17, 2015
This is the event that celebrates the many masks we wear. The Carnival of Venice is an annual festival that ends with the Christian celebration of Lent. It is believed to have started in 1162, and continued until 1797, when both the festival and masks were outlawed by the King of Austria. During the 19th century, the masks gradually reappeared in private feasts. In 1979, the carnival was resurrected to bring back the history and culture of Venice. Today, three million people visit Venice to attend the carnival, sporting their best masks. There is a contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”), held on the last weekend of the carnival.
5. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
February 13 – February 18, 2015
This carnival draws the largest attendance in the world, with over two million people in the streets before Lent. This celebration began in 1723, and today includes floats, party goers, music, and costumes. Samba schools, or dancing schools, work together to build the best floats, themes, lyrics, and dances to portray their theme.
6. Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, Italy
February 14 – 17, 2015
If you enjoy a good food fight, this is the celebration for you! The largest food fight in Italy is used to reenact a story from the 12th or 13th century of a young miller’s daughter standing up to a tyrant who attempted to rape her on the eve of her wedding night. The woman fought back, and decapitated the rapist. The people then revolted and burned the palace. Each year, a girl is still chosen to play the part of this brave young woman who inspired a city to fight back. The orange handlers (or “Aranceri”) split into two groups, one group on foot representing the villagers, and one group in carts representing the tyrant’s soldiers. They throw oranges at each other to represent the ancient weapons and stones used during that time.
7. Chinese New Year, Celebrated Worldwide
February 19, 2015
Also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival in China, this centuries-old traditional holiday is a time set aside to honor deities and ancestors. It is celebrated in countries with significant Chinese populations, such as Mainland China, Hong Kong,[Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines, and also in Chinatowns world wide.
8. Mardi Gras, New Orleans, USA
February 17, 2015
Mari Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French, and refers to the Tuesday before lent, which is the highlight of the season. The celebrations include parades, masquerade balls, and king cake parties. The festivities are concentrated in the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.
March 5, 2015
This traditional annual event is held every Easter in the town of Vrontados. A rocket war is held between two rival parishes, St. Mark’s and Panaghia Ereithiani, that sit on hilltops 400 meters apart. The parishioners try to hit the belfry with homemade rockets made from wooden sticks containing gunpowder and launched from grooved platforms.
12. Holi Festival, India
March 6 – 7, 2015
This Hindu religious spring festival is also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love. It begins with a Holika bonfire the night before the main event, where people sing and dance. The next morning, the carnival of colors literally paints the town. Participants throw dry powder and colored water on each other, with water guns and colored, water-filled balloons adding to the rainbow-mayhem magic.
13. Taiwan Lantern Festival, Pingxi District, Taiwan
March 5 – 15, 2015
This celebration follows the firecracker ceremony of the Wumiao Temple. The Yanshui Fireworks Display was originally used to ward off disease and evil from the town. The sky lanterns followed the fireworks, to signal to everyone that the town was now safe and cleansed.
14. Saint Patrick’s Day, Ireland
March 17, 2015
What better place to celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick than in Ireland? The date commemorates the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who was said to use three-leafed shamrocks to explain the Christian trinity theology to the local people. Celebrations include parades and festivals, honoring Irish culture, and lots and lots of green.
If you have ever wondered where bungee jumping got its start, look no further. Land diving is a ritual where the local men jump off wooden towers almost 100-feet tall, with only two tree vines wrapped around their ankles. This feat is done without any safety equipment. According to the Guinness World Records, the g-force the men experience on the lowest point of their dive is the greatest ever felt by humans in the non-industrialized world.
17. Songkran Water Festival, Thailand
April 13 – 15, 2015
This celebration coincides with the New Year of many South and Southeast Asian calendars. The traditional water throwing is meant to wash away all of the bad, and many times the water is filled with fragrant herbs. Besides the cleansing symbolism, who doesn’t want to get sprayed in the face by an elephant?
18. Cooper Hill’s Cheese Rolling Festival, Gloucester, England
May 26, 2015
How can watching people chase a nine-pound round of Double Gloucester cheese down a hill not be entertaining? The first person to reach the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. This running of the cheese has been going on since the fifteenth century, and has two debated origins. The first story is said to have evolved due to a requirement to maintain grazing rights on the common. The second story centers around the pagan origins for the custom of rolling objects down the hill. It is believed that bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down the hill to represent the birth of the New Year after winter.
19. Governors Ball, Randall’s Island, New York, USA
June 5 – 7, 2014
If you ever wanted to see streets made from flowers, then travel to the flower festival of Genzano, which dates back to the eighteenth century. Participants make floral carpets to prepare for the feast of Corpus Christi. Each beautiful panel is chosen by a special committee who also chairs the organization of the event, and generally illustrates civil or religious reproductions of famous works of art.
Both UFO enthusiast and skeptics are invited to this unique celebration of one of the most debated incidents in history. Whether or not you believe in aliens, you will certainly enjoy the guest speakers, entertainment, costume contests, pet costumes, parade, and other family-friendly activities.
23. San Fermin, Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain
July 6 – 14, 2015
The most famous event of the festival of San Fermín is the running of the bulls, but the entire event draws over one million people each year and is now the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain.
24. Boryeong Mud Festival, Boryeong, South Korea
July 17 – 26, 2015
If you ever wanted the chance to get dirty in public, then this is your party. This festival was created to promote the Boryeong mud, which is used in cosmetics. During the festival, people can play in a mud pool, mud slides, mud prison, and participate in mud skiing competitions. Colored mud is also used for body painting.
25. Tomorrowland, Boom, Belgium
July 24 – 26, 2015
This music festival has been called the largest electronic music festival in the world. The festivities include 15 stages with over-sized flowers, active volcanoes, explosive butterflies, giant disco balls, smoke cannons, and confetti. More than 400,000 music enthusiasts attended the 2014 concert.
26. La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
August 27, 2015
If you ever felt the urge to throw smashed tomatoes at complete strangers, then this event is your cup of salsa. Every year, just for the fun of it, the people in this Spanish town throw over 40 metric tons of tomatoes at each other.
28. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
September 19 – October 4, 2015
Oktoberfest began as a German wedding reception between Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony on October 12, 1810. The entire city of Munich was invited to the party. Today, the event is celebrated worldwide, but no where better than in Bavaria, Germany, where more than 6 million people attend the festivities.
29. Concurs de Castells, Tarragona, Spain
30. Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, Texas, USA
October 2 – 4 & 9 – 11, 2015
This outdoor music festival consists of two consecutive weekends, drawing over 75,000 people each day. Many different genres, including rock, indie, country, folk, electronic, and hip hop make up the event. While the music performances are spectacular, you can also enjoy an art market, a kids’ area, and plenty of food options.
31. Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
October 3 – 11, 2015
The largest hot-air balloon festival in the world, which began in 1972, draws around 750 balloons and over 100,000 participants each year.
32. Day of the Dead, Celebrated in the US, Canada, Europe, and Mexico
November 1 – 2, 2015
The swash-buckling events of this eleven-day festival include music, street dances, competitions, games, local food and drink, kids’ day, a glittering parade, sports events, Heritage Days, a pirate invasion, and fireworks. It was started in 1977 as a way to boost tourism during the country’s slower season.
34. Burning the Clocks, Brighton, England
December 21, 2014
Held on the shortest day of the year, people make their own paper and willow lanterns and carry them through the city. The parade has over 2,000 participants and draws over 20,000 spectators each year. When the procession reaches Brighton beach, the lanterns are joined together to create a bonfire while the spectators enjoy a dazzling fireworks show.
35. SantaCon, San Francsico, California, United States
Start Date: December 13, 2014
Grab your Santa suit and hit the streets! This bar crawl originated in San Francisco in 1994, but it has since spread to over 44 countries around the world. The Christmas event happens annually, and is described by organizers as a nonsensical Santa Claus convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason.