The World’s Best Festivals

15 Feb 2018

Attending a festival is a great way to truly immerse yourself in the culture of a place. Essentially one giant party, a ritual or perhaps an honouring of a tradition, festivals involve dancing, singing, eating and drinking, and sometimes colourful costumes or bizarre activities such as water fights or tomato throwing. Which festival you attend doesn’t really matter – just bring along some enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, and learn more about the people and traditions of your next holiday destination. To get you started, here are some of our favourite festivals from across the globe:

Rio Carnival

WHEN: The weekend before Ash Wednesday

WHERE: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

WHAT: The biggest carnival in the world, attended by an estimated two million people per day during its five-day run, the Rio Carnival is a lively and colourful extravaganza, filled with glittering costumes, samba music, dancing and a rather flamboyant parade. Plenty of impromptu street parties start up all over the city, so you can dance from dusk ‘til dawn.

HOW: Chat to our Experts to incorporate the Rio Carnival into your Brazil holiday.

Vivid Sydney

WHEN: End of May to mid-June

WHERE: Sydney, Australia

WHAT: This annual outdoor light festival sees vibrant light installations and projections all across Sydney, as well as musical performances. The stand-out attraction is the Sydney Opera House, which has various psychedelic designs and shapes projected onto its sails, while nearby Circular Quay has its skyscrapers lit up in rainbow patterns.

HOW: Embark on our Highlights of New South Wales itinerary.

Cannes Film Festival

WHEN: May, dates vary; 8-19 May in 2018

WHERE: Cannes, France

WHAT: Festival de Cannes is one of the world’s most famous film festivals, held each year by the sea in Cannes. Attended by the A-list (and the not-so-A-list) it showcases high quality films and documentaries which compete to win the prestigious Palme d’Or award for the best film. It’s a glamourous occasion, with plenty of designer outfits, Champagne and posing on the red carpet.

HOW: Our Provence and the French Riviera Journey takes in this beautiful part of France.

Day of the Dead

WHEN: 31 October to 1 November

WHERE: Throughout Mexico, Los Angeles

WHAT: Dia de los Muertos is All Saints Day, honouring the souls of our deceased ancestors, which are thought to return to earth for just one day. Despite the context, Day of the Dead is not a sombre occasion; instead it is filled with colourful processions, dances, lives music and elaborate costumes. Oaxaca is a good place to join in the festivities - look out for the sugar skulls that adorn the streets.

HOW: Chat to our Experts about adding the Day of the Dead to your Mexico holiday.


WHEN: End of February to mid-March

WHERE: All over India

WHAT: Holi is one of India’s most famous and most photographed festivals. Wear your scruffiest clothes and prepare to get messy as revellers throw coloured paints and powders at each other to celebrate the start of spring and the triumph of good over evil. In the evenings, things get a little crazy, with loud music, house parties and of course plenty of food. Enjoy!

HOW: Chat to our Experts about adding Holi to your India holiday.

La Tomatina

WHEN: The last Wednesday in August

WHERE: Buñol, Valencia, Spain

WHAT: Legend has it that in 1945 a particularly enraged Buñol resident starting throwing vegetables during a parade, and the tradition has continued ever since. Purely for entertainment, this festival isn’t celebrating anything, except perhaps life. Trucks bring in tonnes of tomatoes which the locals then hurl at each other and crush onto each other’s heads in what must be the world’s biggest food fight.

HOW: Chat to our Experts about adding La Tomatina into your Spain holiday.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

WHEN: Late April to early May, April 27 to May 6 in 2018

WHERE: New Orleans, USA

WHAT: Also known as Jazz Fest, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is an annual celebration of all things jazz, held in New Orleans. Featuring a long list of musical performances, including blues, R&B and gospel music, as well as stalls selling freshly prepared local foods and arts and crafts, it’s a great place to immerse yourself in the rich culture of New Orleans and Louisiana too.

HOW: Check out our Deep South Highlights itinerary.


WHEN: End of September to early October

WHERE: Munich, Germany

WHAT: Beer, beer and more beer. This 16-day festival attracts more than six million people each year, drawn to the enormous beer tents and of course millions of gallons of German beer. When not downing steins of lager, there are also fairground rides, games, and traditional food stalls to test out, and you could always ramp it up a notch by attending in traditional Bavarian dress.

HOW: Chat to your Experts to book your next holiday to Germany.


WHEN: Between 13 and 15 April

WHERE: All over Thailand, but particularly Chiang Mai, Bangkok and the islands

WHAT: Bring your super soaker, stock up on water balloons and prepare to get wet at this water-throwing festival celebrating the start of the Thai New Year. Traditionally, Thais visit their relatives and gently spray them with scented water at Songkran, but these day’s it’s a far more energetic, three-day water flight featuring lively street parties and plenty of enthusiastic water splashing. It’s highly likely you’ll be ambushed by a local with a full bucket of iced water, so watch out!

HOW: We can tailor make our Bangkok, Jungle and Beach Journey to include some Songkran activities.

St Patrick’s Day

WHEN: 17 March

WHERE: Dublin, New York, Chicago

WHAT: Pack your greenest outfit, head for Ireland and join the revellers celebrating all things Irish in the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations. The festival is also celebrated with much enthusiasm in the USA, particularly in New York City where Irish pubs will be overflowing with Guinness drinkers and the Empire State Building is lit up green. Over in Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed bright green especially for the occasion.

HOW: Chat to our Experts to arrange your next holiday to Ireland or the USA.

Mardi Gras

WHEN: Shrove Tuesday

WHERE: Worldwide, but try Sydney or New Orleans for the best celebrations

WHAT: Mardi Gras is essentially one massive, global party celebrating the last day before Lent. Its motto is ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ (let the good times roll), which sums it up well. Experience the day at its best in New Orleans, where there’s a lively, costume-filled parade, or Sydney, where it’s now synonymous with the annual LGBT Pride parade attended by hundreds of thousands of people and often featuring celebrity performances.

HOW: Book our Deep South Highlights holiday.

Add a festival to your next fly-drive holiday or city break. To book, browse our range of holidays and talk to our Experts today. 

You might also like:

Thailand's Best Festivals Throughout the Year

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Angela Griffin

Born with a severe case of itchy feet, I’ve tried to appease my perpetual wanderlust by selling high-end safaris, dabbling in guidebook writing and more recently travel writing and blogging, but to no avail. A life-long lover of the great outdoors, I’m at my happiest when hiking up a mountain, or skiing down one.