(ndrwfgg/Andrew Fogg)

10 places to see and celebrate spring

8th March 2012

From bluebell woods to land-diving and migrating birds to neo-pagan festivals, Clare Wilson finds 10 of the best places around the world to celebrate springtime

Clare Wilson

1. Explore England’s bluebell woods

From late March until May, woodland up and down the UK is transformed by carpets of bluebells. Walking in bluebell-woods provided inspiration for Romantic poets including Keats and Tennyson; they’re also a great opportunity for photographers and make for a nice family day out.

The Woodland Trust can help you find beauty spots near you. If you can’t wait until bluebell time, the snowdrops are already out; their appearance in the woods is one of the first signs that winter’s on the way out. (Snowdrops, January – March / Bluebells, late March – May)

2. Get colourful at Holi in northern India or Nepal

Holi, the Hindu celebration of spring is, literally, one of the world’s most colourful festivals. To mark the end of winter and the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’, people take to the streets of northern India and Nepal for one of the highlights of the Holi festival, mass water and paint fights.

Wear clothes you’re not worried about ruining if you’re planning on joining in the festivities, and be careful with your camera gear too. (8 March 2012)

3. Discover Lantern Festival in Hong Kong

Lantern Festival highlights the end of Chinese New Year celebrations, and is marked by lighting colourful paper lanterns and letting them off into the night sky. Hong Kong, which is usually lit-up with neon, takes on a softer glow from the displays of lanterns in public spaces.

Tuck into yuan xiao (glutinous rice balls) and guess the answers to riddles tied to lanterns to get into the spirit of the festival. (15th day after Chinese New Year – 24 February 2013)

4. Marvel at Mayan technology at Chichen Itza, Mexico

Each year thousands of locals and travellers congregate at El Castillo, a massive pyramid in the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá, to witness the descent of Kukulcán, the Mayan snake deity.

The alignment of the sun and El Castillo at the Spring equinox make the shadows of feathered serpents on the northern staircase appear to run down the sides of the edifice, so it appears as though the snake god has come to life. (18–22 March)

5. Tiptoe through the tulips at Keukenhof

Keukenhof (between Amsterdam and The Hague in the Netherlands) is one of the best places in Europe to see spring flowers, especially tulips – the most famous flower in the Netherlands.

Including over 7 million individually planted bulbs, the gardens are one of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands and have clocked up more than 44 million visitors in the last 60 years. (22 March – 20 May)

6. Witness the ‘Black Sun’ spring migration in Denmark

Watch flocks of starlings on their spring migration block-out the setting sun in Denmark’s Tønder Marsh. The spectacle of over a million birds finding somewhere to nest for the night has been dubbed ‘Black Sun’ as the manoeuvres of the huge flocks take over the skies.

The exact locations of the nightly displays are impossible to predict in advance; Tønder tourist board recommends you visit with a guide or a group to get the best possible chance of seeing the spectacle. (Around sunset from mid-March to mid-April)

Don’t fancy the marshes? Try urban bird watching.

7. Attend a hanami (cherry blossom viewing festival) in Japan

The indigenous cherry blossoms of Eastern Asia have come to represent spring. Japan is the iconic home of hanami (cherry blossom viewing festival) and, although you could try your hand at karaoke and sake under the trees, all you really need to enjoy the best of the festival is a blanket to lie on and a couple of bento boxes.

South Korea provides a cheaper alternative, and the pink clouds of blossom are just as spectacular. (Late March/early April)

Head for these prime places to see cherry blossom blooming.

8. Gasp at Naghol (land-diving) on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

Witness the men of Pentecost Island risk their lives to perform an ancient fertility rite, prove their manhood and give thanks for the yam harvest in the tradition Naghol (land-diving) ritual. Naghol, which inspired the invention of bungee-jumping, sees participants leap from a tower constructed from yam trees with carefully chosen liana vines tied to their ankles.

The aim for divers is for their head to just graze the ground. Visitors can’t participate and a respectful attitude is incredibly important. Find out more about Vanuatu: Islands on the edge here. (Every Saturday, April – June)

9. Party at a Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro

Traditionally a celebration of the pleasures of the flesh before the austerity of Lent, Mardi Gras is one of the world’s most iconic carnivals and a great excuse for a party. Arguably the two most well-known Mardi Gras celebrations are held in New Orleans, the capital of Louisiana, USA and in Rio de Janerio, Brazil.

Fling bead necklaces and wear purple in the New Orleans French Quarter or samba the night away in feathers and sequins at the Rio Carnival and you’ll be ready for 40 quiet nights afterwards! (8–12 February 2013)

10. Get pagan at Edinburgh’s Beltane festival

Edinburgh’s Beltane festival, which pays homage to the ancient Gaelic festival of the same name, is held on Carlton Hill in Edinburgh on 30 April each year.

Traditionally a celebration of fertility, ‘beltane’ derives from a Gaelic term meaning ‘bright/sacred fire’, which organisers have taken to heart in the modern celebrations.

Expect dazzling fire displays, pounding drums and a lot of body paint as the procession of the May Queen and Green Man enact the birth of summer. (30 April)

A local's guide to Edinburgh

Things to do for free in Edinburgh

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Key Facts

  • South Korea

    South Korea travel guide, including map of South Korea, top South Korean travel experiences, tips for travel in South Korea, plus where to escape the crowds

  • Vanuatu

    Vanuatu travel guide, including map of Vanuatu, top Vanuatu travel experiences, and tips for travel in Vanuatu

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