One of the most fabulous ways to experience foreign culture is to see the locals at their most exuberant by joining a regional festival. We’ve made a list of 10 cultural festivals around the world that are definitely worth traveling to. Some are rooted in ancient traditions while others have gathered momentum in recent years, but whether your idea of a party is dancing or drinking, food-fighting or water-fighting, traditional or new wave (or all of the above), these are jamborees worth the journey.

1. Holi Festival

Mathura-Vrindavan, India

March 23rd, 2016

You’ve probably seen amazing photos of color-saturate revelers celebrating the Holi Festival, and many of them were probably taken in the temple towns of Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, India. Known both as the “festival of colors” and the “festival of love”, Holi celebrates a legend from the god Krishna’s childhood–so there’s no better place to take part in the festivities than Mathura, the area of Krishna’s birth. People come from all over India to drench themselves in the spirit of the holiday at the Bakai-Bihari Temple in Vrindavan.

2. Afrikaburn

Tankwa, South Africa

April 25th – May 1st, 2016

Africa’s answer to the Black Rock Desert’s famous Burning Man festival goes down in Tankwa Karoo National Park in South Africa. Since 2007, a community of thousands of artists have been constructing larger-than-life structures, then partying and performing with them for a week before burning them. Get your creative juices flowing now; next year’s theme is “X”.

3. Songkran

Chiang Mai, Thailand

April 13th – 15th, 2016

Thailand in April is sweltering, and Songkran is the best way to cool off. Thais of all ages ring in the Thai New Year with a splash–the local custom is to soak everyone you see with water, anything from a ceremonial sprinkle to the a full-blast hose. Anyone on the streets is fair game in world’s biggest water fight, so wear a swimsuit under you clothes and pack your valuables in a plastic bag.

4. San Fermin

Pamplona, Spain

July 6th – 14th, 2016

Ernest Hemingway put this folkloric festival on the map, and today more than 1 million people travel to Spain every year to take part in the weeklong party celebrating the patron saint of Navarre. The climax is the iconic encierro, or running of the bulls–a deadly dash to outpace six snorting steers through the narrow streets of Pamplona–but the excitement lasts all week.

5. Rio Carnival

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

February 5th – 10th, 2016

Easily the world’s most bombastic carnival, Rio’s almost 300-year-old street festival draws 2 million people a day. Extravagant parades, over-the-top costumes, and non-stop music and samba dancing define this bacchanalian event that every traveler should experience at least once.

6. Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo, Japan

February 5th – 11th, 2016

Like the ice castle from Frozen brought to life, more than 200 snow sculptures pop up all through Sapporo’s 1.5 km long Odori Park. Last year’s highlight was a monumental 49-foot tall Star Wars display constructed out of blocks of snow. During the day, concerts and snow slides create a lively atmosphere for the bundled-up crowds, and colorful light shows illuminate the statues at night. Local delicacies like crab and lamb keep visitors piping hot.

7. Okoberfest

Munich, Germany

September 17th – October 3rd, 2016

Every year, 6 million people dust off their lederhosen and head to Munich for 16 days of prosting, pretzels, and Bavarian culture at the original Oktoberfest. Kegs are tapped from 9:00 AM, and six of the world’s finest Bavarian breweries (all local to Munich as per tradition) are pouring. If that sounds like too much of a sausage fest for you, check out a scaled-down version of the fest with the German diaspora’s celebration in Blumenau–Brazil’s “little Germany”.

8. Chinese New Year

Beijing, China

February 8th, 2016

The biggest holiday of the year in one of the world’s larges cities is, of course, a huge affair. On the lunar New Year’s Eve, be dazzled by eye-popping fireworks displays while snacking on jiaozi dumplings. For the next 15 days, unique celebrations can be found in every corner of the festively adorned metropolis, including temples fairs where you can enjoy Chinese folk art performances like the traditional lion and dragon dances.

9. Semana Santa

Comayagua, Honduras

March 27th, 2016

On the eve of Easter, Comayaguan locals stay up all night preparing elaborate “carpets” of colored sawdust in the cobblestone streets of their colonial city. The apex of traditional Holy Week celebrations, the carpet’s painstakingly crafted designs feature biblical scenes and religious iconography, all made from hand-poured sawdust and flowers. The beautiful works of art are fleeting–they’re scattered by the footsteps of the Easter processions, leaving behind a rainbow-swirled path.

Semana Santa

Photo Credit: Kathy from Honduras

10. Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Edinburgh, Scotland

August 6th – 29th, 2016

This year, the curtain rose on 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across the castle city of Edinburgh for the world’s largest performing arts festival. With “theater, comedy, dance, physical theater, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events,” there’s something for every kind of theater buff in this all-inclusive smorgasbord of human talent.

Dream it, Book it, Live it. 


Photo Credit: Jane Hulland

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