19 of the World’s Coolest Festivals and Street Parties Worth Traveling For
While you’re still planning out your travel for the year, scouring for flight deals and such, we thought you could use a little inspiration. From engaging in a full-blown tomato battle in the streets of Spain to an explosive international arts and music festival in Malawi, fuel your wanderlust with biggest can’t-miss parties, holidays, and festivals around the globe. Some of these are so famous and iconic you’ve known about them since you were a kid. Others will have you wondering how something so rad has never made it onto your radar, and whether you have enough PTO to start making plans immediately.
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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.” The 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.
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 22-June 13
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.”
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Any time is a perfect time to visit Lisbon, Portugal. The city is one of the world’s most charming, with pastel buildings gleaming with ornate tiles, excellent food, and dreamy seaside location. But come June 13, the city’s residents 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.
MORE: Lisbon isn’t the only cultural capital in Portugal
Le 14 juillet marks France’s national holiday, Bastille Day. It honors the 1789 French Revolution turning point when revolutionaries stormed the prison of the same name. Today, the occasion is celebrated with Europe’s oldest military parade, which rolls down the Champs-Élysées. Thousands of people turn out for the parade and to watch fireworks 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 31-August 2
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, directeur 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 performers include Brockhampton, Lizzo, and Kendrick Lamar.
The largest arts festival in the world takes hold of Edinburgh each August, bringing in thousands of artists and a staggering 400,000 attendees. Only the Olympics bring in more spectators. There’s comedy, live theatre, live music -- the special thing about the Fringe is that it’s an open-access festival, meaning that anyone can perform if they want to. Some performances are ticketed, but some are free, with the option to pay by donation. The 2020 lineup will be revealed piece by piece on the Fringe website as we get closer to the festival dates.
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.
Spain’s iconic tomato-throwing festival takes over the village of Buñol each year on the last Wednesday in August. 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.
August 30-September 27
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, Nevada in August for this storied week of dusty, costumed anarchy. This year’s theme, per a statement released by the organizers, is the Multiverse -- “the quantum kaleidoscope of possibility, the infinite realities of the multiverse, and our own superpositioning as actors and observers in the cosmic Cacophony of resonant strings.”
September 19-October 4
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 litres of beer, is the one in Munich. Think of it like a massive, massive state fair, but beer-themed. My one and only Munich Oktoberfest experience ended in police custody, but this is no reason yours has to. Do 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.
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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. Come late September, visitors gather to watch 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.
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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 (2020 dates haven’t been announced yet) 60-plus global artists -- like 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.
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 Yoda. You’ll also be able to keep yourself occupied with live music (typically country), fireworks, and eclectic activities like chainsaw carving contests.
October 31-November 4
“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 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.”
On the day of the New York City Marathon, all tired stereotypes of the city’s cold-hearted denizens get wiped out by the overwhelming good vibes surrounding the race. “The city shuts down for the marathon, so it’s pretty special,” says celebrity trainer and New York City Marathon runner Joe Holder. “It comes alive with the idea of striving towards a goal as thousands take the street to pursue a goal.” Thousands show up to cheer on runners in the world’s largest marathon, which attracts more than 50,000 competitors annually. “I think NYC is special 365 days a year!” says author and NYC resident Aaron Goldfarb. “But the marathon is great because it’s the rare time all New Yorkers are rooting for each other.”
Karlsruhe, dubbed the gateway to the Black Forest, transforms into Christmas City beaming with 160,000 lights, more than 100 decorated stalls selling snacks and crafts, Santa Claus walking along tightropes, and a 55-foot-tall mulled wine Christmas pyramid. Honor the pyramid while drinking mulled wine yourself. Also, try local specialties like boiled smoked pork and cabbage, and Dambedei, a human-shaped pastry.
Port of Spain, Trinidad and TobagoFebruary 15-16, 2021
Feathers, sequins, and bare skin dominate Trinidad and Tobago insanely fun tradition, Carnival. “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 band and soca music, to endless parties, shows, and dazzling costumes, revelers and attendees alike spill into the streets for the country’s largest energetic, downright electric street festivals.
New Orleans, LouisianaFebruary 16, 2021
The most iconic of all Mardi Gras celebrations is, as you already know, in New Orleans. A dizzying success of parades and masquerade balls and costumed float riders flinging beads and doubloons into the crowds of 1 million-plus locals and visitors. 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.
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