When we talk about festivals, we’re not just talking about your average one-day music festival.
The festivals we want to shout about come in all shapes and sizes. From the weird and wonderful to the religious or spiritual, there’s one thing these festivals have in common: they’re all worthy of your time.
To help you find the perfect festival trip, we’ve rounded up a bunch that should be on your radar. If Mongolia’s Naadam Festival has piqued your interest, you’re feeling curious about Diwali Festival in India, or Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations intrigue you, keep reading to find out where you should visit next.
1. Watch athletes in action at Mongolia’s Naadam Festival
What do archery, wrestling and horse racing have in common? The answer: Each of these skills is considered essential for any Mongol warrior and are showcased in the battle for glory at the legendary Naadam Festival. While the wind-swept tundra of central Mongolia isn’t the typical setting for a festival, it might just be the most impressive. Each year, in a celebration of culture and tradition, athletes take to the arena in Ulaanbaatar (which boasts phenomenal natural scenery, in case you were wondering) to compete in “the three games of men”. Also, touching the sweat of the winning wrestler or jockey is said to be good luck.
Throughout the biggest national holiday and festival, there’ll be extravagant costume parades. Traditional music performances (throat singing included). Plenty of dancing and, of course, tasty dishes you won’t find elsewhere in the world. And whatever you do, don’t miss the opening and closing ceremonies – they’re spectacular.
Experience it on this trip: Mongolia’s Naadam Festival (15 days)
2. Enjoy the magic of India’s Diwali Festival
India’s famous Festival of Lights isn’t famous just for the sake of it – it’s actually kind of a big deal. Representing the victory of light over darkness, thousands of people light candles to rid themselves of any spiritual darkness. Interestingly, this is one of the few festivals that is celebrated collectively across the country, and also marks India’s biggest holiday.
Some of the rituals of the festival include making a rangoli (an intricate pattern created on the floor using flowers, coloured sand, and rice), exchanging gifts, setting off firecrackers, lighting candles, and getting dressed in your best outfit; a little bit of gambling is also customary during Diwali. India is filled with experiences and sights to delight you but experiencing the magic of Diwali Festival is one way to take your travels to the next step.
Experience it on this trip: India’s Golden Triangle – Diwali Festival (8 days)
3. Catch the beat at the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival
It might be well known that Borneo is the place to go for rainforest landscapes. But did you know it’s also home to a three-day celebration of culture, arts and music? Described as one of the best-kept secrets of the region, the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival covers a mix everything. Picture this: interactive workshops, jamming sessions and concerts, accompanied by evening performances on the main stage each night set against pretty impressive surroundings. Expect your appreciation for music to be widened in ways you never thought possible.
Experience it on this trip: Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival (11 days)
4. Experience a real-life winter wonderland at the Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival
If you love winter, the snow or anything frosted and frozen, the Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival might be your next calling. Tucked away in the far north of China, you’ll find a winter wonderland of the most elaborate ice sculptures in the world. It gets better though, as each of the frozen sculptures is illuminated by extravagant technicolour lights.
If you’re wondering about the cultural significance of the festival, the tradition of ice carving is said to date back to the Qing dynasty, when fishers would pull ice from the Songhua River to carve into lanterns. Today, it has evolved into a major winter festival that you need to experience.
Experience it on this trip: China’s Harbin Ice Festival (5 days)
5. Dance all night at Rio Carnival
This sequined, colourful, feather-filled extravaganza takes over Rio each year around mid-February. Once upon a time, Carnival started as a traditional Catholic event tied in with historical elements. Today, the festival has evolved into one of the world’s most famous parties, and a celebration of Brazilian culture. Even though Carnival is celebrated across Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has long been hailed as the Carnival capital of the world. Travellers from all over the world come together to dance, sing, and party all night long.
Experience it on this trip: Rio Carnival (6 days)
6. Party with Dracula on Halloween in Transylvania
Believe what you want about Dracula and the bloodcurdling myths of werewolves, haunted castles and curses, Transylvania is the best place to celebrate Halloween. On our 10-day Halloween in Transylvania trip, you can explore Bucharest and the fortified town of Sibiu to get your fix of history and culture. But the main event is an all-night event on the grounds of Bran Castle, so you can party in the shadow of Dracula on Halloween. Spooky, but fun.
Experience it on this trip: Halloween in Transylvania (10 days)
7. Celebrate the Day of the Dead
The three-day celebration of Day of the Dead is one of the world’s most renowned cultural institutions – but also one of the best festivals on our list. In Mexico and across Latin America, it’s believed that long-gone ancestors and loved ones who have passed away make a temporary return to their earthly homes at the end of October. To celebrate their arrival, the celebrations continue through to the first few days of November. Unlike Halloween, there is no fright, terror, or fear; festival-goers don their most colourful costumes and celebrate with parades and parties.
Experience it on this trip: Mexico City: Day of the Dead Original (5 days)
Ready for an adventure you’ll always remember? Take a look at Intrepid’s round up of festival trips here.