10 Unique Global Festivals To Put On Your List

Cultural traditions are varied around the world. Some are founded on religious beliefs, some celebrate local gastronomy and others are completely random. Either way, you are sure to experience a sense of camaraderie with locals when you participate in their time honored traditions. Here are 10 unique global festivals you should plan a trip around.

Yee Peng Lantern Festival (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Yee Peng (sometimes written as Yi Peng), or ‘Festival of Lights,’ is a Buddhist lantern festival. On the twelfth full moon of the lunar calendar, thousands of people release a lantern into the sky to make a wish for good fortune in the new year. While it is celebrated throughout Thailand, Chiang Mai is the best place to experience the festival.

It usually falls in mid-November. While some events associated with Yee Peng cost money, observing or participating in the lantern release is free. Visitors only have to pay for their lantern if they choose to release one. The iconic beauty of this tradition makes for one of the most magical global festivals.

Carnival (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Carnival is five days of vivacious festivities that take place just before Lent, the season leading up to Easter. Celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Carnival is usually in late February or early March.

With streets filled with bold costumes, giant floats and steel bass drums, Carnival is widely considered one of the largest global festivals in the world. Attracting millions of visitors each year, there are balls to attend, samba dancing parades to watch and plenty of Brazilian drinks to sip on. 

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Women playfully throw colored power on one another during Holi | MURTAZA ALI

Holi Festival (Mathura, India)

The Holi Festival in India, also known as the Festival of Colors, honors the victory of good over evil. Equally important, it celebrates the coming of spring. It takes place annually in March, the day after a full moon. 

Based on Hindu stories, putting color on another’s face symbolizes love for them. To demonstrate this, everyone throws colored powders and water balloons at each other. Mathura is a city closely tied to the legends of Holi, so the celebrations there are beautiful and authentic. People sing, dance, and eat traditional treats. 

La Tomatina (Buñol, Spain)

La Tomatina is a Spanish tomato throwing festival held on the last Wednesday of August. People come from all around the world and tomatoes are carted in by the masses to create this food fight in Buñol, Spain. Incredibly, it only lasts one hour. 

A whistle is blown and the smashing of tomatoes commences. After an hour, the whistle is blown again and everything must stop. Afterwards, though, the tomato toss turns into a party throughout the town, making this one of the most unusual global festivals. No one is certain how (or why) it started, but La Tomatina has been a solid tradition in the province of Valencia since the 1940s.

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Art installations celebrating life and death decorate the streets of Mexico during Día de Los Muertos | MARIO RODRIGUEZ

 Día De Los Muertos (San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico)

 Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican celebration of life that honors ancestors as their spirits return to Earth. Observed annually, it kicks off on the last day of October and is a family-friendly experience. Common traditions include creating altars laden with flowers, leaving gifts for passed loved ones, face painting, singing, drinking and making art. 

Huge parades and shows take place in Oaxaca and Mexico City, but the historical town of San Cristóbal de Las Casas is perfect for a less commercial experience. The town holds an altar competition leaving every public space covered in chrysanthemums. There are also more intimate parades and small, uplifting musical gatherings in the smaller villages. 

Parrtjima (Northern Territory, Australia)

Also known as “A Festival in Light,” Parrtjima is a relatively new festival that occurs in April. It takes place in the Australian nature preserve, Alice Springs. This fest uses technology to share Aboriginal Australian stories and history. Visitors are taught about the land and the natives through light art, with the beautiful MacDonnell Ranges serving as a backdrop. 

This 10-day festival is filled with light shows, music, aboriginal dance performances, outdoor galleries and more. Writers, storytellers, artists and performers come together using technology to preserve culture while enlightening and stimulating the senses of attendees. 

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Burning Man festival attendees ride bikes around the makeshift city | PIXABAY

Burning Man (Nevada, USA)

At the end of every summer, Burning Man is a week long experience that has developed a cult following. There is really no festival in the world quite like it. Taking place in the desert, no money is allowed to be used at the fest and everyone must bring, trade or barter goods. 

Giant sculptures fill the open space as Burners (attendees) ride their ‘Mad Max’ style bikes between campsites and stages. Burning Man emphasizes a culture of communal living, acceptance, creativity and freedom. To close the fest, a giant wooden man is burned ceremoniously. 

Knysna Oyster Festival (Knysna, South Africa)

In South Africa, the Knysna Oyster Festival revolves around the region’s famous oysters and the dishes associated with them. There’s a lot more to this festival than shellfish, however. From the end of June to early July, Knysna holds an array of races and competitions. 

Activities include a half-marathon, two-day cycling event, oyster shucking competition, diving competition and more. Of all the global festivals in the world, this is one of the most action-packed and family-friendly. 

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Rows of tulips blooming during tulip season in the Netherlands | TODD MACDONALD

National Tulip Day (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

National Tulip Day, or Nationale Tupendag, kicks off the tulip season in the Netherlands. It takes place every year on the third Saturday of January. In Amsterdam, hundreds of thousands of tulips are brought into Dam Square and arranged in rows, as if in a garden.

It is then opened to the public so they can pick unlimited tulips for free. Everyone in the area, locals and visitors alike, come together to build their own bouquets. For this reason, this is one of the more intimate and authentic festivals in the world. Dam Square is rich with history and full of small businesses to browse or grab a bite after picking tulips.

Hogmanay (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Hogmanay is a three day New Year’s celebration in Edinburgh, Scotland. On the first day, December 30th, there is usually a traditional torchlight procession, in which townspeople march carrying lit torches. Tourists are welcome to watch from a pub or grab a torch and join.

The second day is full of street parties, concerts, dancing, drinking and fireworks. The final day is January 1st. On this day, there is an extravagant costume parade and cold-water plunge known as “Loony Dook,” wrapping up this fest that rings in the Scottish new year.

-Annie Lancaster