Top 10 Cultural Festivals Around the World

person_outline Sophie Grove
Sep 27, 2018

folder_open Global Recommends...

timer 21 min read

The world is a melting pot of different cultures and customs, so if you’re looking for a way to get the ultimate insider experience and immerse yourself in a different way of life overseas, we might have just found the ultimate way in.

Though new festivals are popping up everyday, each one can provide a unique and eye-opening look into new cultures, celebrations and communities. From the world’s biggest party in Rio to the world’s biggest food fight in Spain, we’ve rounded up our top 10 cultural festivals around the world.

Oktoberfest in Germany 🍻

📍Munich, Germany

📅 September 22nd – October 7th

You’d have to be living under a rock never to have heard of Oktoberfest. Munich's first and favourite 3-week long folk festival, all about the local beer, delicious German fare and Bavarian brass bands.

It started in 1810 as a wedding ceremony between Prince Ludwig & Princess Therese… probably not with upwards of 6 million attendees that it sees today.

Festivities cannot commence until the Mayor of Munich has the honour of tapping the first keg and shouting O’ zapft is! (It’s tapped!). It's also absolutely forbidden to drink any beer other than Munich brewed beer. If it hasn't been brewed within the city limits, forget it!

Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) in Mexico 💀

📍Oaxaca, Mexico

📅 October 31st - November 2nd

It traces back 3,000 years and has been inscribed in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. While it's mostly recognised for flower crowns and sugar skulls, it's actually a religious holiday to gather with your loved ones to remember all the departed souls.

Some believe that the gates of heaven open at midnight on the 31st of October, and spirits are then reunited with their loved ones for 24 hours. So they decorate altars with flowers, candles and feasts to show their love.

Oaxaca in southern Mexico is steeped in Día de Muertos traditions. Everyone heads to local cemeteries to welcome back the souls for their dearly departed and the streets crowd with striking costumes, colourful parades and mariachi bands. It's a far cry from how most of us view death, but they take their belief in spirits seriously!

Up Helly Aa Festival in Scotland 🔥

📍Lerwick, Shetland

📅 On the last Tuesday of January

Because when else will you ever get the chance to be a viking for the day?! It grew from older Yuletide festivities and came to be a way to mark the end of the year. Although the festival itself is relatively new, it’s already one of the biggest and most famous fire festivals in the world.

Upwards of 1,000 torchbearers deck themselves out in viking costumes parading through the streets before throwing their flames onto a Viking Galley and setting it ablaze to celebrate the island's heritage.

Up is used in the sense of something coming to an end, and derives from the Old Norse word ‘Uppi’ which is still used in Faroese and Icelandic languages. Helly refers to a holy day or festival in the Scottish language.

Carnival in Brazil 💃

📍Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

📅 Begins on the Friday before Shrove Tuesday and ends on Ash Wednesday annually

It’s weird to think that something that began as a Catholic event 300 years ago has since turned into the world’s largest outdoor party.

The tradition began back in 1723 as a wild costume festival to prepare for the first day of Lent. Catholics were not supposed to eat meat 40 days before Easter and thus called it ‘carnaval’ which derives from ‘carne vale’, which loosely translates to ‘goodbye flesh’ in Latin.

With over 2 million attendees, the entire city of Rio floods with OTT costumes, giant floats, samba dancing, and music!

Mardi Gras in New Orleans 🎭

📍 New Orleans, USA

📅 Always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday

Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" in French, and the New Orleans have been celebrating it since 1837. It has many similarities to Rio de Janeiro's Carnival - Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which is a 40 day fasting period, so it’s a big celebration of food and drink before everyone has to give them up.

But New Orleans has its own unique flavour. From fantastic food, colourful beads galore, a wild parade of music, dancing and partying - it’s the world’s wildest festival!

It even maintains its original tradition of mask wearing, to this day it’s actually illegal to not wear a mask on the floats. The purpose of masks was to rid social constraints for the day, allowing people to mingle with whoever they please.

Holi Festival in India 🎨

📍Anywhere in India

📅 Usually March - It’s celebrated on the last full moon of the Hindu lunar month Phalgun

Although it’s a short one compared to some other Hindu festivals, this celebration of 'togetherness' is deeply rooted in ancient traditions. Also known as the Festival of Colours, it's based on the story of Lord Khrishna, who loved playing pranks on people by splashing them with pichkaris (water guns) and smearing gulal on their faces.

Leave your good clothes at home because it's a messy one. Celebrated at the beginning of spring, it signifies the triumph of good over evil and as a way to put the past year behind you and start fresh. Participants take to the streets with dyed powder and water balloons for full-on colour fights. Then they light bonfires, have street parties, concerts and eat, dance and drink well into the night.

Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan 🌸

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 

🌸 THAT ICONIC SHOT! ... in reality, you’re next to tons of people all also wanting this shot. But everyone deserves their chance — after all, it is a fantastic shot. 🙏 We spent this beautiful sunny day bike riding all around Chureito Pagoda (“Gyoza Pagoda” 😂) and Lake Kawaguchiko. 🌸 Still working on those two other surprises coming up! We ran into a little... WiFi snafu with our current Airbnb. It is quite a bit different than described. 😅 In the mean time, we’re really enjoying your #etandme photos! We’ll be stalking the hashtag. 🌸 But for now, we must run, as it’s time for one of the most lovely things about traveling: meeting up with friends! Our friend Josh (@jmizuguchi) from Oregon is here in Osaka, too! A few days before this, we got to meet up with other friends Allie (@itsolallieberry) & Tosh from San Francisco in Kyoto — we went to Fushimi Inari at sunrise (and had amazing ramen, and visited a kitty cafe 🐱). It was so breathtaking, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. We hope you have a wonderful weekend! ⛩ . . . . . . . #etadventures #chureitopagoda #effortlyss #cherryblossomfestival #sakurablossom #mtfuji #japan_of_insta #damestravel #bestjapanpics_ #instajapan #ichosetowander #teamkaptainkenny #theconstantlycurious #yourpassport #wonderingdreamersquad #letsflyawayto #japan_vacations #japan_daytime_view #visitjapanjp #exploringjapan #japantravelplanet #discoverjapan #daily_photo_jpn #jp_gallery_member #櫻 #さくら #fujisan #mytinyatlas #teamsalty

A post shared by ✈ EMILY & TAYLOR (@et.and.me) on

📍Tokyo, Kyoto or Hakone

📅 Springtime - Late March until early May, annually

This has got to be one of the most exceptional natural events in the world! Hanami is an ancient tradition known as enjoying the sakura (cherry blossoms) as you watch the annual bloom.

The flowers are deeply symbolic of Japanese culture and philosophical beliefs, as their brief existence is a symbol of fleeting natural beauty, fragility and grace. They are also symbolic of new beginnings, as April 1 is not only the end of winter when longer and warmer days arrive, but both the start of a new financial and academic year for the Japanese.

Groups of friends and family gather under the trees, sharing meals and Saki. They go wild for sakura flavoured treats too - from sakura infused Kit Kats to macarons and ice-creams.

Songkran Water Festival in Thailand 💦

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 

It's a bliss to lay your eyes on "Culture" once then to hear about it some thousand miles away! Travel to witness #songkranwaterfestival #Thailand Songkran Water Festival marks the beginning of the traditional Thai #NewYear Takes place in April... hottest month of the year, the entire country go bananas in friendly water fights and street parties that last nearly a week. Crowds of people roam around splashing water as a ritual of washing away bad luck & sins from a person's life, using water pistols and just generally soaking anyone in the vicinity. It is also the occasion for #family re-unions, #temple visits and annual house cleaning. #Fact On 2nd Day, many families rise early & take part in traditional #Buddhist rituals - 'Bathing the #Buddha Image.' #Songkran #Water #Festival #songkranfestival #songkranday #waterguns #thainewyear #hny #newbeginnings #experience #holidays #vacation #nationalday

A post shared by Gypsy Escapade (@gypsyescapade) on

📍Chiang Mai or Bangkok

📅 Thai New Year: April 13th to 15th

This chaotic water fight is a way of welcoming in the new year! The name originated from the Sanskrit word for “astrological passage” which means ‘a change or transformation’.

They believe that water is spiritually purifying and Songkran signifies the washing away of any bad luck so that you can start the new year with a fresh start and a splash.

Imagine the water fight of your wildest dreams - get ready to arm yourself with a super soaker, water gun, bucket, hose or anything you can find. Afterwards, there are plenty of parties, elaborate floats and events to celebrate.

Burning Man Festival in the USA 🌵

📍 Black Rock City, Nevada

📅 August 26th – September 3rd, 2018

In 1986, two friends built an improvised wooden figure which they dragged down to the beach in San Francisco on the Summer Solstice. They lit it up, and a curious crowd gathered around to watch it burn. And so, Burning Man was born!

Today it's an annual gathering of more than 70,000 artists, performers and attendees (aka ‘burners’). They don't book acts or provide any pre-planned entertainment. What happens is completely up to you! It’s an experiment of social norms, artist expression and one of the world’s most fascinating festivals.

There’s something truly magical about spending a few days in the middle of the desert, where the party is literally going 24/7.

La Tomatina in Spain 🍅

📍 Buñol, Spain

📅 Last Wednesday of August each year

To this day, no one really knows how the tradition originated back in 1945. One theory suggests that it started as an argument between two men taking part in the ‘Giants and Big-Heads’ parade. The surrounding market stalls of vegetables fell victim when they began hurling tomatoes at each other.

It’s not just the locals that love it; it’s now the biggest food fight in the world. More than 40,000 tomato throwing enthusiasts descend to the tiny Mediterranean town to pelt 145,000kg of produce at one another annually. There's also massive parades, firework displays and gigantic Paella cookoffs. A perfect representative of how wacky some of Spain's festivals can be!

If you’re looking for that first step to a fresh and exotic location, want to add even more to your itinerary or just want a refreshing travel idea, then we are ready to get you where you want to be.

Inspire me!

Sophie Grove

Sophie Grove

Sophie is the Social Media Coordinator & Content Marketer for The Global Work & Travel Co. and a travel lover at heart. When she’s not busy double tapping and sharing all your amazing travel inspiration on our social pages, she’s busy planning her next escape! Her next big bucket list items include skydiving over Dubai and camping on the Great Wall of China.