15 best festivals around the world

15 best festivals around the world

1. Diwali


October or November. This five-day festival (also known as Deepavaali or Festival of Lights), which unites all creeds and religions, sees homes all over India lit with lamps and candles to ward off the darkness of evil. The homes are then thoroughly spring-cleaned while the people take the opportunity to buy new clothes and set off an armada of firecrackers, which sees noise-pollution levels rise dramatically (actually, it’s enough to perforate eardrums on the other side of the planet). On top of that, sweets are exchanged as hatchets are buried and grudges are forgotten…at least for now.
2. Mardi Gras 


New Orleans; early January. This famous two-week festival features parades headed by ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’ leading a flotilla of garish floats manned by ‘krewes’ who throw trinkets to the crowds (who usually beg for it; if they don’t, female krewe members bare their breasts in encouragement). The culmination is the wicked mayhem of Mardi Gras Day (also known as Fat Tuesday), when all inhibitions are let loose. The next day, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent, when abstinence prevails, making Fat Tuesday the ultimate excuse for a piss up, a knees up and a throw up.
Mardi Gras
3. Semana Santa


Antigua; Easter. Semana Santa commemorates the Passion, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection in a week of feverish worship. Statues of Jesus are paraded through streets layered with flowers, pines and fruits in various designs – some up to a kilometre (0.6mi) long. Then the sentencing and crucifixion of Christ is re-enacted, complete with Roman centurions and Pilate, while, seemingly, the entire city is draped in black crepe and smelling of incense. Even an atheist’s jaw would drop in awe at the sheer scale and passion of the proceedings.
Semana Santa
4. Il Palio


Siena; July & August. This heart-stopping event revolves around a bone-crunching, bareback horse race run around the Piazza del Campo; it lasts 90 seconds although the rest of the day is taken up with major-league carousing. The frequently violent race features jockeys from Siena’s 17 neighbourhoods, all traditional rivals (intermarriage is often forbidden). Expect to see riders thudding to the ground with alarming regularity (this truly is a no-holds-barred event) and don’t be surprised to be offered a baby bottle of wine when it’s all over – for the neighbourhoods, a win means rebirth.
Il Palio
5. La Tomatina


Buñol; last Wednesday in August. Tomato buffs rejoice! For this is your festival. Each year tens of thousands of people descend on Buñol for La Tomatina, the culmination of a week-long celebration of Buñol’s patron saint. An estimated 125,000kg (275,625lb) of tomatoes are used, driven into the town square by a convoy of trucks. Drunken participants dive in, hurtling the fruit at each other until the streets run red like the sickest splatter film, and then it’s all over – within an hour.
La Tomatina
6. Burning Man


Black Rock City, Nevada; August or September. This week-long spectacle draws 30,000 people, making it Nevada’s third-biggest ‘city’ for that brief period. What exactly is Burning Man? It’s hard to say. The founder reckons it’s a City of Art; the motto is ‘No Spectators’ and you have to contribute something, anything, to that year’s theme. It is forbidden to sell stuff at the festival (the exceptions are the official outlets for coffee and ice) so the friendly bartering of goods between strangers gives the festival a special feel. The entire shebang culminates in thousands of spectators witnessing a giant, burning effigy, possibly inspired by the pagan horror film Wicker Man.
Burning Man

7. Día de Muertos


Image by Eneas

1 & 2 November. Mexico’s ’Day of the Dead’ does not pay homage to filmmaker George Romero – rather, it’s a two-day festival celebrating the reunion of relatives with their dear departed. Expect colourful costumes, loads of food and drink, skeletons on stilts, parties in cemeteries, skull-shaped lollies and mariachi bands performing next to graves. This beautiful, moving spectacle will demystify your fear of crossing over, because – unlike Halloween’s witches and all-round terror – the Day of the Dead smashes the taboos surrounding death, celebrating the continuation of life beyond and the value of interdimensional communion.
Día de Muertos
8. Kumbh Mela

Nashik, India

This Hindu pilgrimage should be on the bucket list of anyone interested in religion and India, Conley says. Held over 55 days, it attracts an astonishing 100 million people, making it the largest festival in the world. "It's an ancient ritual that has been going on for thousands of years. I'm not a Hindu and I loved it." The gathering rotates among four cities.
Kumbh Mela
9. Calgary Stampede

Alberta, Canada

Conley calls this annual summer gathering, which wraps up Sunday, a Woodstock for cowboys and cowgirls. "It's really the biggest rodeo in the world," he says. A favorite event is the chuck wagon races. Plus, the northern latitude means there's sunlight well into the evening, providing more time for fun.
Calgary Stampede
10. Noche de los Rábanos


Oaxaca; 23 December. The ‘Night of the Radishes’ began as a marketing gimmick: when the Spanish first brought radishes to Mexico in the 16th century, they carved them into fanciful shapes to attract buyers (although they didn’t go quite as far as the Japanese; see ‘Kanamara Matsuri’). Today the tradition takes the form of a contest, as local artisans carve tableaux from massive radishes for a cash prize and the respect of lovers of crisp, pungent roots worldwide.
Noche de los Rábanos
11. Tomorrowland

Boom, Belgium

Old World Belgium is the unlikely setting for this futuristic, edgy electronic music festival, scheduled for July 26-29 this year. Along with the music, the festival stands out for its visuals: fairy-tale staging and decorations that feel right out of a Tim Burton movie, Conley says. "This is probably the most well-produced festival in the world. It feels like you've gone to Alice in Wonderland." A U.S. version comes to Atlanta in September.
12. Albuquerque International Balloon Festival

New Mexico

The world's largest balloon festival (Oct. 5-13 this year) is a visual delight with whimsical balloons of all shapes and sizes floating over the New Mexico landscape. Visitors can ride in a balloon and learn about aeronautics from exhibits. "It's almost like going to a science museum that's really beautiful," Conley says.
Albuquerque International Balloon Festival
13. Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival


Conley calls this two-month festival, which will run Jan. 5 to Feb. 28, his top family vacation recommendation in the world. More than 15,000 sculptors participate, creating astonishing displays from ice illuminated with LED lights. "It's a mammoth effort, probably the biggest winter festival in the world." But bundle up: "It's frickin' cold."
Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival
14. Fes Festival of World Sacred Music


Not only is the music moving, but so are the collaborations at this truly international gathering. Conley says he was taken by the unexpected beauty of a joint performance with singers from Sardinia and Mongolia at the festival last month. You'll also find famous performers such as Patti Smith and Bjork. "It's all kinds of music, and it's very inspiring," he says.
Fes Festival of World Sacred Music
15. Coachella

Indio, Calif.

Even a festival fiend like Conley says he sometimes can be scared of big music gatherings. But this annual April fest near Palm Springs is one of the best managed in the world. Crowds aren't too big, which cuts down on the rowdiness, he says. And the music is wonderful. "It has everything from rock to pop culture to a little bit of urban R&B and rap and electronic dance music."

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