20 International Parties and Festivals Worth Traveling For
Calling all party animals.
Welcome back to festival season, you Coachella-loving fiends. A slew of the world’s most popular music fests are back in full swing after two pandemic-marred years off—as are the days of soaking up Vitamin D, packing sardine-like, into energetic crowds buzzing on who-knows-what, and basking in the sonic glow of our favorite artists. God bless.
For our travelers out there, there’s never been a better time to expand your horizons and sample a few international parties that take fun to a new extreme. From engaging in a full-blown tomato battle in the streets of Spain to coffin-racing in honor of a cryogenically-frozen dead guy in Colorado, fuel your wanderlust with these 20 can’t-miss parties, holidays, and festivals around the globe.
May 1, 2022
On May 1, all of Finland seems to come out to play for two days to celebrate Vappu, which marks the end of winter and is the country’s equivalent Labor Day. “It’s proper mayhem, a two-day celebration where literally everyone is on the streets, rain or shine,” says Jasper Pääkkönen, a Finnish fly fisherman, actor, and sauna man.
The nationwide festivities mark the beginning of spring, yes, but don’t pack away your winter coat just yet. “The weather tends to be bad rather than good at these latitudes, but no one cares,” Pääkkönen says. “The place to celebrate it in Helsinki would be in the Kaivopuisto and Tähtitorninmäki parks, where hundreds of thousands of people gather for a picnic."
May 27 - June 18, 2022
Vivid Sydney is a three-week-long 24/7 extravaganza—the “world’s largest festival of light, music, and ideas, and now the largest event in Australia,” says Sandra Chipchase, Chief Executive Officer of Destination NSW. The city dazzles with massive light installations and projections that complement a program of music performances, discussions, and debates.
“Vivid Sydney is incredibly special and a unique time to visit Sydney. Amazing art installations and creative projections transform Sydney’s architecture and open spaces along the Harbour foreshore, painting the Harbour City in a canvas of light."
June 12-13, 2022
There’s quite literally never a bad time to visit Portugal, a country whose every inch seems to charm with pastel buildings, ornate tiles, excellent food, dreamy seaside vistas, excellent wine, or some heavenly combination of all of the above.
But come mid-June, the residents of Lisbon come out in droves for Festas dos Santos Populares, or the “Popular Saints Festival.” Celebrating the feast days of Saint Peter, Saint John, and—most importantly—patron saint of Lisbon, Saint Anthony. “The whole city of Lisbon is outside eating sardines and dancing,” says Miguel Andrade, a Lisbon-based journalist and consultant.
There’s also a similar festival in Porto later in the month—this year, from June 23-24—should you happen to miss Lisbon’s party.
Roswell, New Mexico
July 1-3, 2022
Hear ye, hear ye, true believers, Wookies and Trekkies, and all those who’ve ever read or watched TheHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: at last, a festival where you can let your freak flag (and spaceships) fly. Each summer, this tiny town in trippy New Mexico—the very same that played the backdrop to the most famous alien landing in history—throws a party to celebrate all things extraterrestrial.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of this event, the biggest UFO festival in the world. Head out into the desert, and you can expect live music, stargazing tours, laser shows, movies, a costume contest, a parade, food and drink vendors, educational speakers, arts and crafts, and all manner of out-of-this-world fun.
And who knows? If you stick around late enough, you might just meet a few little green guests.
July 14, 2022
Le 14 juillet marks France’s national holiday, Bastille Day, which honors the day that revolutionaries stormed the prison of the same name, marking a turning point in the 1789 French Revolution. Today, Europe’s oldest military parade celebrates the occasion with a romp down the world-famous Champs-Élysées.
Thousands of people turn out to watch the parade and the fireworks that illuminate the Eiffel Tower in the evening. “One fun way to celebrate Bastille Day with the locals is to attend a Firefighters’ Ball (Bal des Pompiers) where the local fire station is open to the public and hosts dancing and drinking for a small donation,” says Anne-Laure Tuncer, director of Atout France USA. “It’s very festive with lots of Champagne flowing and you can find these balls in nearly every French city.”
July 29-August 31, 2022
Each summer, Montreal's Parc Jean-Drapeau gets flooded with thousands of people who have arrived for Osheaga, one of the world’s largest indie music festivals. “People go crazy at this festival,” says Maximiliano Vallée Valletta, director of Montreal’s Brasserie Les Enfants Terribles. “It’s been booming since the first year because they have such a crazy lineup from upcoming artists to people like Eminem, Snoop, Florence and the Machine, Post Malone, Travis Scott.”
This year’s headliners include Arcade Fire (hometown heroes!), A$AP Rocky, and Dua Lipa.
August 7-31, 2022
The largest arts festival in the world—a surefire bucket list item for fans of the arts—takes hold of Edinburgh each August, bringing in thousands of performers, actors, comedians, and a staggering 400,000 attendees. Only the Olympics bring in more spectators.
Besides lasting nearly a month, the special thing about the Fringe is that it’s an open-access festival, meaning that anyone can perform if they want to—a tactic which has launched a thousand careers, including those of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, and Rachel Weisz, all of whom had early performances here.
Some performances are ticketed, but many are free, with the option to pay by donation. You can check out Fringe’s website for info and updates on this year’s lineup.
August 27, 2022
The tarantula is responsible for bringing more than 100,000 people to one of southern Italy’s best parties: La Notte della Taranta, or Night of the Tarantula. “Taranta is a dance to get rid of the poison of a bite of a spider, according to legend,” says Vito Palumbo, brand ambassador for Puglia’s Tormaresca winery.
The traditional festival takes over the lower portion of Italy’s boot, with different locations throughout summer—Salento, Soleto, Zollino—before concluding in a final party in Melpignano, overrun with street food, crafts, drinking, and, of course, dancing.
Black Rock City, Nevada
August 28-September 5, 2022
Burning Man isn’t a secret at this point, nor relegated to any one type of festival-goer. International attendees of all creeds descend on Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada—one of few states truly worthy to host a festival of such high strangeness, being one of trippiest places in the US by far—in August for this storied week of dusty, costumed anarchy.
This year’s theme, per a statement released by the organizers, is Waking Dream, which celebrates dreams “as a way of receiving messages from the supernatural; as a means of astral travel for the soul; as a portal into our past lives; even as a glimpse into a kind of meta-reality, to which what we perceive as waking life is in fact but a dream.”
August 31, 2022
It’s highly likely you’ve heard of La Tomatina, which might just be the world’s most famous food fight. Spain’s iconic tomato-throwing festival takes over the village of Buñol each year on the last Wednesday in August, which, this year, falls on the final day of the month.
The tradition dates back to the 1940s, when some rowdy teenagers and a conveniently located vegetable stall unintentionally turned a local parade into a produce fight. Today, La Tomatina has become an international phenomenon in which tens of thousands of participants pelt each other with more than 240,000lbs of tomatoes. (For the record, probably best to leave your favorite outfit for another day!)
September 17-October 3, 2022
Like several festivals on this list, Oktoberfest is celebrated in many places around the world—but the biggest, baddest, and best, attended by millions of people each year consuming millions of liters of beer, is the one in Munich.
Think of it like a totally massive state fair, but suds-themed, with rides, costumes, food, and—obviously—beer. Just get there bright and early though: you’ll find there’s a lot of jockeying for position to get into one of the limited-capacity drinking tents, and you definitely don’t want to leave the festival without having been inside one of those.
Custer County, South Dakota
September 29-October 1, 2022
South Dakota may not have crossed your mind as a bucket list destination, but it’s home to one of the most American phenomenons you can ever witness (and we ain’t just talking about Badlands National Park). Come late September, visitors gather to watch as some 1,300 buffalo storm through western South Dakota’s Black Hills. If you can’t make it in person, follow the action on social media via the hashtag #BuffaloRoundup.
Lake Malawi, Malawi
Along the shores of Lake Malawi, celebrate international music, film, poetry, and art at the joyous Lake of Stars festival. Over the course of three days, dozens of global artists—which, in the past, have included the likes of Major Lazer and Kenyan afro-pop group Sauti Sol—take the stage. You’ll also find extracurriculars from sunrise yoga to panel discussions to traditional dance, art, and fashion shows. The festival is scheduled to return sometime in 2022 after a hiatus; keep an eye on their website for updates.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
October 1-9, 2022
This is the largest hot-air balloon festival in the world. Hundreds of thousands of visitors and locals turn out to watch more than 500 balloons fill the Albuquerque skies each October—there are balloon rodeos, twilight balloon launches, balloons that glow from within, balloons shaped like everything from penguins to Yoda.
You’ll also be able to keep yourself occupied with live music (typically country), fireworks, eclectic activities like chainsaw carving contests, and enough food stalls to keep you going from the break of dawn when the balloons launch until the last one touches the ground for the day.
October 31-November 4 2022
“Good love and good death, there is no better luck,” as the saying goes for Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. “I think it’s amazing because we don’t remember our dead with sadness. Instead, we celebrate them with great memories,” says Mike Prado, national brand ambassador for Ancho Reyes liqueur. “People celebrate with their best mezcals and also make some special batches for those days.”
Oaxaca is one of the best places in the world to take in the magic of Día de Los Muertos. You can watch the many comparsas, or parades, pass through the streets. “There are a lot of them happening at the same time,” says Prado, “with costumes, traditional art, mezcal and a big music band.”
There’s hardly a better place in the world to get those warm, fuzzy Yuletide feelings going than in Germany, where Christmas markets are about as common as the cold come winter. But Hamburg may just be home to the most unique variation across all 150+ towns and cities that get gussied up for the holidays.
Every December, the city’s red-light district puts on its annual XXXMarket, “Santi Pauli,” where the reason for the season takes a fabulously sinful turn. Here, Christmas trees’ twinkling lights are replaced with fluorescent dildoes; shops sell bondage-themed ornaments, body piercing jewels, skull décor, hand-carved splinter-free wooden dildoes, and holiday-inspired sex toys; and Nativity plays are replaced by hourly strip teases. Ho, ho, ho, indeed.
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
February 16-23, 2023
Feathers, sequins, and bare skin dominate Trinidad and Tobago’s wildly fun rendition of Carnival, a technicolor tradition that spans the world from the Caribbean to Canada, Brazil, and beyond. “Carnival to me represents the spirit of Trinidad,” says John Georges, master distiller of Trinidad and Tobago’s Angostura Rum. “The run-up to the two days of street parades (Carnival Monday and Tuesday), is like a crescendo that starts after Christmas.”
From lively steel bands and soca music to endless parties, shows, and dazzling costumes, revelers and attendees alike spill into the streets for the country’s enormous, energetic, downright electric street festival.
New Orleans, Louisiana
February 21, 2023
It should come as no surprise that the most iconic of all Mardi Gras celebrations goes down in New Orleans each year, when a dizzying success of parades, masquerade balls, and costumed float riders flinging beads and doubloons into crowds of one million-plus boozed-up locals and visitors fill the streets of the Big Easy. A tried and true favorite, this is easily planet Earth’s greatest street party.
You can check the parade schedule here. Hit up Bourbon Street for the most classic (and very touristy) Mardi Gras experience, sure, but don’t limit yourself to just walking the French Quarter—this party goes citywide.
There are plenty—and, as evidenced by this list, we mean plenty—of unusual-sounding festivals that take place around the world. Still, we’d argue that no other party gives quite the first impression that this one does.
What is Frozen Dead Guy Days, you ask? Well, for once, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a festival that commemorates a frozen dead guy. Held during full moons in March, the party celebrates—in as few words as possible—a deceased Norwegian public official whose corpse was sent by his grandson to America to be cryogenically frozen, got stranded at the top of a hill in Colorado, and remains (ha ha) there to this day.
Now, the entire town of Nederland extols his memory with coffin races, brain freeze contests, frozen T-shirt contests, frozen turkey bowling, ice carving competitions, documentary screenings, costume contests, and more. Here’s hoping that the old boy can see and enjoy all the revelry from beyond the grave.
April 13 - 16, 2023
Don’t travel to Thailand in mid-April unless you’re ready to get drenched in water by strangers. “Have you seen The Purge? It's something like that,” says Bangkok-based blogger Chris Schalkx. “The streets are eerily empty because half of Bangkok is on holiday, and around every corner lurks a potential water gun fight.”
This water festival, one of Thailand’s most important holidays, marks the Thai New Year, and means “to pass” or “move on.” The deluge of water? An act of cleansing or blessing, symbolizing longevity and good health. Be sure to pack your electronics up in a plastic, waterproof case.
“Tourist hotspots like Silom, Khao San Road, and Central World in Bangkok; the Old Town in Chiang Mai, and Patong in Phuket are wild—there is no way you leave those places with dry clothes,” Schalkx says.
Natalie B. Compton is a Thrillist contributor.
Tiana Attride contributed to the reporting of this story.