If you’re looking for bucket list adventures, then participating in festivals around the world is the ultimate way to make memorable travel experiences.
Not only do you get to experience a new culture in the most intimate way by partaking in their traditions, but you can also make lifelong friends, learn more about yourself and your place in the world, and create long-lasting memories.
Each festival across the globe offers travelers something new and exciting. Whether you’re looking for a festival to bring color to your travels, or you just want to gain a deeper insight into a country’s culture through costumes, dancing, food, music, lights, and celebrations.
Wherever we are traveling, we always try to discover what festivals, big or small, are happening in the area, not only so we can join in on the fun, but so we can learn about the people. Sometimes, we even plan our trip around the world’s most famous festivals.
But if you’re not sure what world-famous festivals to add to your bucket list, then check out our favorite festivals from around the world below…
- Festivals Around The World
- 1. San Fermin (Running of the Bulls), Pampalona, Spain
- 2. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
- 3. Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand
- 4. St Patrick’s Day, Dublin, Ireland
- 5. Hogmanay, Edinburgh, Scotland
- 6. Holi Festival, India
- 7. Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- 8. Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru
- 9. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Mexico
- 10. Yi Peng Festival (The Lantern Festival), Chiang Mai, Thailand
- 11. Songkrang, Bangkok, Thailand
- 12. Mardi Gras, New Orleans
- 13. Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, USA
- 14. Naadam Festival, Mongolia
- 15. Semana Santa, Guatemala
- 16. Snow and Ice Festival, Harbin, China
- 17. La Tomatina, Bunol, Spain
- 18. Burning Man Festival, Black Rock Desert, Nevada
- Best Sporting Festivals Around The World
- Final Word on Festivals Around The World
Festivals Around The World
From the far eastern corners of Asia to the highest mountains in South America, to the sun-kissed shores of Europe, these are the most unmissable festivals for any traveler’s bucket list.
Remember you are guests at each of these festivals, so follow the local cultural etiquette of each. If you’re not sure, ask a local or research beforehand! You don’t have to like it or agree with it, but it’s not your role to change it!
1. San Fermin (Running of the Bulls), Pampalona, Spain
The San Fermin festival begins at midday on 7th July in Pamplona, Spain.
Thousands gather in the town square, dressed all in white with red sashes tied around waists or necks. They eagerly await the mayor’s announcement that the party has begun.
A rocket is launched, cheers ring out, corks are popped and champagne is sprayed around as eggs and flour are thrown in a warm gesture of ‘welcome to the party’ – Spanish style.
The day is spent dancing and drinking copious amounts of sangria on the streets.A popular place for many travelers to hang out is the Muscle Bar, where drunken idiots proceed to jump off a statue, expecting their equally drunk friends to catch them and prevent their fall onto the broken glass carpeted concrete.
My friends and I stayed here for about half an hour until the first ambulance was called, and decided we did not come all this way to see people die.
We high-tailed it out of there and instead found some little side streets, lined with small bars, and danced the day and night away with Spaniards and more mature travelers.
The next day we rose early to see the Running of the Bulls. It was fabulous to witness the joy and enthusiasm of the Spaniard men in the arena, whacking the ground with their papers, enticing the bulls to come out and run over the top of them.
Now that I’m a little older, I’m not sure I would attend the bull part of this Spanish festival. I’d rather hang out on the streets dancing with the locals. That’s where my memories are!
2. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
“I’m prosting, I’m prosting, Gadamusch, de clang!“… I sang these words from the pig pit, in the Hofbraeuhaus Tent and clanked my liter stein with people from all over the world for 2 days straight of beer drinking.
For two weeks in October, this festival is all about beer. Don’t come here expecting anything else, well apparently there are some parades and rides outside the tents.
Oktoberfest kicks off mid September in Munich, Germany and it is said that the wildest days of the festival are those in the first week.
Do your best to make it there for the tapping of the first keg at the opening ceremony. The oompha band starts playing, the crowds go wild and the beer flows steadily.
There are over 30 beer halls you to choose from to sit and drink, and I would make it a point to check out a couple of them.
The majority of halls you will find are filled with Germans and other nationalities sitting calmly around tables, drinking their steins,eating schnitzel, and engaging in quiet conversation.
When you enter the notoriously feral backpacker tent of the Hofbraeuhaus (Opera House), Beer-fest presents you with a whole different experience.
There is no calm and order in here. Bras are ripped off ladies who did not hear the rules about not wearing them before entering, Frauleins run madly around carrying three or four very heavy beers in each hand to accommodate the huge demand for beer. (Trust me these beers are heavy, I ended up with bruises on my hand from holding them all day.)
Drunken people fall all over each other, and stand on tables for prosting and dancing. This tent is full of Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans and Americans running amuck. Be warned.
3. Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand
This is one festival for the backpackers! I can’t even begin to imagine how insane this party must be now, all those years after I went in ’99. It was crazy back then.
Nowadays in Thailand they have a party for all phases of the moon, which dilutes the intention of the original one somewhat. I’d skip all the others and just head for the main event.
Make sure you book your accommodation way in advance, not that you will be doing any sleeping.
We watched from our bedroom window about midday the next day as hordes of people continued to rock the podiums lined along the beach, drinking whiskey buckets, and worshipping the exhausted moon’s replacement.
The full moon party is celebrated on the crescent shaped beach of Had Rin, with anything from 10,000-30,000 people.
The party starts at twilight with small candle lit tables set up on the beach and slowly progresses into a frenzied dance party. It’s not just a frenzied house dance party, there is music to suit all tastes, with each bar pumping out a different style.
This festival is all about drinking as many whiskey buckets as you can, dancing on as many podiums or tree houses as you can, hopping to as many bars as you can, while being entertained by night trippers, fire twirlers, jugglers and dancing lady boys.
4. St Patrick’s Day, Dublin, Ireland
St Patrick’s Day would have to be one of the most widely celebrated festivals around the world.
No matter where you are in the world, celebrating St Patrick’s Day on March 17th is a lot of fun. Experiencing it in Dublin, however, is a celebration to put on your festival bucket list.
You will definitely not be short of a pub to have a few pints of Guinness in. Despite the thousands of pubs that can be found, you will need to get in early to secure a seat because they will be jam packed with merry makers.
It is worth starting your day by joining the crowds of over half a million people lined up on the city streets to for the midday parade and watch street theatre troupes, artists, giant puppetry, leprechauns, dancers, and marching bands from Ireland and all over the globe.
Then, put a shamrock on your face, find a pub that has some traditional Irish music playing, grab a pint of Guinness and enjoy the Irish craic.
Read more travel tips for Ireland here.
5. Hogmanay, Edinburgh, Scotland
Said the be the second biggest News Years Party in the world after Times Square, New York.
Having been to both, I would say Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland, is the more enjoyable party of the two.
At Hogmanay you can walk freely around the streets of Edinburgh, drinking as much alcohol as you like, with plenty of port-a-loos available for you to relieve your burdens.
There is no giant ball dropping at midnight, but you will get a spectacular fireworks display over the Edinburgh castle as she sits lit up towering over the city. The street party can get crowds up to 80,000 revellers, who have all come to enjoy the live music, light and laser shows, and fireworks.
Other events are always happening in an around the area in the days leading up to the event.
You will need to purchase tickets before hand to have access to the city streets (10 pounds) , and come prepared with your winter woolies and alcohol (no glass bottles).
6. Holi Festival, India
Holi Festival is one of the most celebrated festivals in India and the second biggest event on the Hindu calendar, after Diwali. It’s a time for fun, frolic, and joyous celebrations, and is most famous for being the festival of color.
People in India have been celebrating the tradition of Holi since ancient times, and it is celebrated to mark the end of winter and the onset of spring season.
The Hindu festival has become world famous because it is celebrated by throwing colored water and powder paint at each other, causing the streets, and the people, to be awash of vibrant colors.
It’s also celebrated by eating sweets, singing and dancing to festive tunes, as well as burning a bonfire in honor of lord Vishnu.
This is a great opportunity to travel to India and experience colorful traditions that are unique to this country. Holi allows foreign visitors to connect with locals and tap into the rich cultural heritage of India.
7. Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is one of the most celebrated festivals in Brazil. This vibrant event takes place for four days before Lent and is an important Christian holiday, though for Brazilians, it is more celebrated as a festival of love more than for religious reasons.
In fact, they even move Valentine’s Day to April, and call it Love Day, as the Rio Carnival overlaps with February 14th.
The celebration features colorful parades, lively samba music, fireworks, and flamboyant costumes.
Over two million people flock to the streets of Rio to experience the vibrant sights and sounds of carnival.
It has a long history that dates back to 1641, when John IV of Portugal was coronated, and public street parties took place to celebrate this.
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is an event that should not be missed. It’s a great opportunity to witness one of the most energetic, captivating and euphoric events in the world.
8. Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru
Inti Raymi is the most important festival in Cusco, Peru. It celebrates the winter solstice and takes place every year in June.
The festival honors the Incan sun god, Inti, and involves a procession of thousands of people dressed in traditional costumes, dancing to festive music, and offering food to honor Inti.
The origin of this celebration dates back to Incan times, when it was held as a way of thanking the gods for a plentiful harvest and praying for good health and fortune.
Taking part in this festival is an amazing experience – it’s a great opportunity to witness ancient rituals performed with pride while marvelling at Cusco’s incredible beauty. If you have the chance, make sure to visit Cusco during Inti Raymi Festival!
9. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Mexico
Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican celebration that honors and remembers deceased loved ones. It takes place every year in October – November time, and is a time for families to come together, light candles, and create altars with offerings such as flowers, food and photographs.
This holiday has a rich history that goes back centuries, to the time of ancient Aztec ritualistic traditions.
The festivities involve colorful decorations, parades, music and dancing in the streets.
Visiting Mexico during this unique and meaningful festival is an experience unlike any other. It’s an opportunity to witness one of the most extraordinary cultural celebrations in Latin America and see how people from across Mexico commemorate those who have passed away.
10. Yi Peng Festival (The Lantern Festival), Chiang Mai, Thailand
Yi Peng Festival, otherwise known as The Lantern Festival or Festival of Lights, is an annual event held in Thailand. It takes place on the full moon of the 12th lunar month, which usually falls around November each year.
This beautiful festival has its origins in ancient Buddhist rituals, and it symbolizes hope and renewal, as well as honors the Buddha’s enlightenment.
During the festival, thousands of lanterns are released into the sky to create a breathtaking sight. While it is celebrated across the country, many people flock to Chiang Mai to see it as more than 10,000 lanterns are released into the sky.
As well as letting off lanterns, the locals celebrate with music and dancing, fireworks, and releasing krathongs (a floating lantern made of flowers) into the river.
Visiting Chiang Mai for the Lantern Festival is an incredibly unique experience and one of the most unmissable festivals around the world.
11. Songkrang, Bangkok, Thailand
Another festival in Thailand not to be missed is Songkrang, otherwise known as the Thai New Year. Songkran is an important festival that usually takes place in mid-April, following the Thai lunar calendar.
It is celebrated in a variety of ways but is most famous for its water fights. The throwing of water is said to wash away the bad luck, and cleanse you ready for a new year of good luck.
It’s also a time when people coming together to pay respects to Buddha, elders, friends and family members.
During this three-day holiday, visitors can expect to see street processions and parades, water fights and music performances.
Because there is also a strong focus on cleansing and purification, many take the time to go to temples for blessings and give offerings of food to monks.
The best places to witness Songkrang is in the cities where it’s more populated, such as Khao San Road in Bangkok which has incredible water fights. If you’re visiting Thailand in April, make sure you don’t miss out on all the fun!
Read all our travel tips for Bangkok.
12. Mardi Gras, New Orleans
Mardi Gras is an exciting annual festival celebrated in across the world, but is most famous for its celebrations in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana.
It usually takes place for 2 weeks between February and March, and marks the beginning of lent, culminating on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. However, you can expect Mardi Gras festivities to take place from as early as January 6th, the twelfth night after Christmas and the beginning of Carnival season.
The festival has a rich history that dates back to the 1600s, when it was initially brought over by French settlers as a way of celebrating life during Carnival season.
During Mardi Gras, there are numerous parades with floats, costume parties, music performances, fireworks displays and the throwing of beads.
For an authentic experience, you should certainly visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras – you won’t regret it!
13. Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, USA
The Balloon Fiesta is an incredible annual event held in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a week in October. It brings together hundreds of hot air balloons from all over the world.
It was first started in 1972, and has become one of the most celebrated events in the USA.
During the fiesta, huge fields are filled with colorful balloons, which take to the skies at dawn and dusk to create breathtaking displays in the sky.
Visitors can also take part in tethered balloon rides, enjoy live music performances and special events.
14. Naadam Festival, Mongolia
The Naadam Festival is an exciting traditional celebration held for three days in July in Mongolia. Its origins date back to 1639 century when it was primarily used as a form of worship for the High Saint Zanabazar..
During Naadam, the main attractions are horse racing and wrestling, accompanied by traditional music and costumes.
Visitors can also enjoy archery competitions and unique performances like throat singing or Kazakh dancing.
If you’re looking for a truly unique cultural experience, there’s no better place than Mongolia during Naadam – you won’t regret it!
15. Semana Santa, Guatemala
Semana Santa is a week-long celebration of Easter observed in many Latin American countries, and most notably in Antigua, Guatemala.
During the festival, people come together to honor Jesus’s suffering and death during Holy Week with religious processions and activities.
Colorful parades take place in the town square featuring locals dressed in traditional attire while bands play music to commemorate Jesus’s sacrifice.
The largest event takes place on Good Friday when a procession of hundreds walk through the streets of Antigua.
It’s also famous for the Carpets of Semana Santa, which is when a large array of colorful “carpets” adorn the procession route.
It is said that it takes the residents months to prepare their hand-made carpets which are offered during this holy festival.
16. Snow and Ice Festival, Harbin, China
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is an annual celebration held in Harbin, China, which begins in December and lasts for around 2 months.
Dating back to 1985, the festival has become an iconic symbol of winter culture in the region. During the two month-long celebration, guests can explore magical snow sculptures and take part in incredible activities such as skiing or snowmobiling.
There is also an ice lanterns exhibition featuring intricate designs that are illuminated at night for a truly breathtaking experience.
Read more: Essential Things to know before visiting China.
17. La Tomatina, Bunol, Spain
La Tomatina is a one-day annual festival held in the small town of Bunol, Spain every August. It’s a beloved tradition among locals and tourists alike, and dates all the way back to 1945.
During La Tomatina, thousands of people gather to throw over-ripe tomatoes at each other in a playful yet chaotic atmosphere.
The event has become more organized over the years but it still remains a lot of fun for all involved.
While the throwing of tomatoes is what the festival is most famous for, it is also part of a week-long celebration in honor of Luis Bertran, the town’s patron saint, as well as the Mother of God of the Defenseless and the Virgin Mary.
If you’re looking for a unique cultural experience, visiting Bunol to take part in this tomato-throwing spectacle is highly recommended – it’s an experience you won’t forget!
18. Burning Man Festival, Black Rock Desert, Nevada
Burning Man Festival is an annual event held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, and the festival takes place in August or September each year.
It’s an extraordinary celebration of art and culture, and has been happening since 1986, bringing together thousands of people for a week-long exploration of art, music, and self-expression.
During the festival, guests can expect to experience eclectic performances and installations, as well as dance to music and see live performances.
For a week, you can say Goodbye to technology and WiFi and take part in the many activities available to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience full of creativity and surprise, attending Burning Man Festival is an experience like no other.
Best Sporting Festivals Around The World
Even if you are not a great lover of sports, it is well worth attending a world cup or global sporting event just for the carnival like atmosphere.
I’ve celebrated in the streets of Sydney during the 2000 Olympics, cheered on the Wallabies at the World Cup in Dublin and then partied with the defeated Irish team after the game (my best waitressing tip ever).
I’ve drank with Croats and Argentinians during their match at Bordeaux, France for World Cup 1999, and partied with my cricketing Kiwi and Saffa enemies in the pubs of London.
World Cup Sporting Events are a great opportunity to celebrate good health, friendly rivalry, sporting talent, the achievements of your country, and party with people from all over the world; people who are intent on having a great time.
At any world cup or global sporting event you will find a week or month long activities, festivals, live music, parades, costumes, and dancing which makes the whole celebration so much more than just a sporting match.
Here are some sporting events around the world you should add to your bucket list:
- FIFA World Cup or The UEFA Champions League
- Olympic Games
- Paralympic Games
- Cricket World Cup
- Super Bowl
- Wimbledon Tennis
- Tour de France
- Rugby World Cup
- F1 Grand Prix
Final Word on Festivals Around The World
Whether you’re looking for a spiritual awakening, a cultural insight or just an event to party at, you can be sure that each of these festivals around the world offer something special and unique.
Of course, there are so many more festivals we have not mentioned on this list, but we hope this guide has given you some inspiration for what to add to your bucket list.
What is your favorite festival from around the world and why? Let us know in the comments!