From local gatherings to countrywide festivals, here's 42 of the best parties worth crashing over the next year
The world of kite-flying is a colourfully cutthroat one. Around 150 kiters will dip and twist their varied and vibrant craft, aiming to slice the strings of their opponents to be the last man flying. Spectators can splurge on food and shop at bazaars while watching the action.
Need to know: Use Ahmedabad (8-10hrs from Mumbai by train) as a springboard for exploring Gujarat: Mandvi, the Rann of Kutch, remote craft villages.www.ahmedabadkiteflyers.org/internationalkitefestivalahmedabad
Arthurian castles, African mountains and a celebration of Christ’s baptism… This improbable-sounding mix is Timkat, when tablets from the ark of the Covenant (or replicas, at least) are paraded through the streets by robed priests to a cacophony of trumpets and ululation. The northern Ethiopian city of Gondar, which is dotted with incongruous Camelot-like fortifications, is the best place to watch.
Need to know: In Gondar (about 600km from Addis Ababa), explore the Royal Enclosure, which includes five castles. Timkat festivities are held at a 17th-century sunken pool called the Bath of Fasiledes.
November to March is camel-wrestling (and mating) season on the Aegean Coast, but the bouts in Selçuk, on the third Sunday of January, are the big event. Despite the contestants weighing in at nearly a ton, the sport is a fairly gentle affair – the most dangerous moments are when the decorated dromedaries charge into the crowds. Stay alert!
Need to know: Selçuk is home to 12km Ephesus Beach, one of Turkey’s longest; the town is 60km from Izmir’s Adnan Menderes Airport.
Formerly a pagan party, then Christianised by Spanish missionaries, Ati-Atihan now celebrates Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) with a flurry of tribal dance, indigenous costumes, face paint, parades and song. Don’t miss the last day, when revellers compete in a dance-off before a torch-lit procession.www.kaliboatiatihan.ph
As befits a lady credited with performing many a miracle, the Virgen de la Candelaria is celebrated with much gusto in February – and nowhere more so than the lakeside hubs of Puno (Peru) and Copacabana (Bolivia). The festivities last for two weeks; the main day (2 Feb) is when Peruvians carry the Virgin through the streets – though Bolivians prefer to keep their effigy inside. In both, the whole fortnight sees mass banquets, musicians and the demonic diablada, when locals in outlandish costumes dance like the devil.
Need to know: Buses connect Puno and Copacabana; journey time is 3.5hrs, with about 30mins spent at the border.
This remote island’s cultural extravaganza is a sort of alternative Olympics. Celebrated only since 1975, Tapati sees islanders divide into two clans to compete at such events as canoeing, triathlon, banana-trunk sliding, bodypainting and storytelling – all presided over by the designated Queen of the Island.
Need to know: Easter Island is a 5.5hr flight from Santiago. Book early – accommodation is limited.
For 63 years, this celebration of ice artistry has been transforming the far-north Japanese city of Sapporo into a magical winter wonderland each February. Its 64th outing in 2013 will be no less fairytale, with hundreds of super-sized snow sculptures lining the streets. They’re all best seen at night: after dark, the exhibits are illuminated (until 10pm at the Odori site; midnight at Susukino), which adds even more sparkle.
Need to know: Average February temperatures can be as low as -3°C, and snowfall is common – wrap up warm.
30th January – 14th February
In truth, you can welcome in the Year of the Snake worldwide: LA, Sydney, Singapore, London… all put on a fire-cracking party in their respective Chinatowns. But for the most authentic display, chose Beijing: the celebration lasts 15 days and involves a plethora of pyrotechnics, dragon dances, temple fairs, lantern parades and gift giving. Don’t forget to wear lucky red undies.
Need to know: Eat jiaozi, traditional New Year dumplings – different items are wrapped inside to confer different meanings, eg coins for wealth, peanuts for health, chestnuts for vigour.
A parade with pride: this annual procession – which has been getting bigger and more fabulous since its first outing in 1978 – is an unabashed celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex culture. Pick your spot on Oxford and Flinders Streets and who knows what glitz and outrageousness might pass by.
Need to know: Spectators wanting to guarantee good viewing should pre-book a place in one of the two special viewing areas, the Glamstand and Club Tropicana.
Take your tastebuds on a bushtucker trial, Maori-style. Or sample innovative creations, from wok-fried clams to wasp-larvae ice cream. The focus at Hokitika is on celebrating excellent local produce, via market stalls, chef demos and wine-slurpings, with a range of mimes, musos and comedians showcasing their wares too.
Need to know: Each year the festival runs a ‘best fancy dress’ competition – partaking is not mandatory, but worth it: the winner scoops NZ$1,000.
With its tangled souks and fizzing main square, Marrakech feels like a conjuror’s trick year round. But for four days in March things get even more mysterious as leading magicians descend to perform their latest illusions both on stage and (for free) in the streets.
Need to know: March temperatures in Marrakech reach average highs of 22°C, with lows of 9°C – pack a jacket for the evening.
Perhaps better known as the Water Festival: during this Asian New Year celebration, locals douse each other with hoses and water-guns – ostensibly to wash away bad spirits and pay respect but it’s also jolly good fun. Similar water-fights are found all over South-East Asia, but Chiang Mai is a good pick for parades, beauty pageants and a friendly drenching.
Need to know: Be prepared to get wet at any time: dress appropriately and stay alert!
If Easter’s Semana Santa is the serious side of Spanish festivities, the lighthearted antidote takes place two weeks later. Days are family fun, with food and fairgrounds and the chance to embrace all that is typically Andalucían, from flamenco dresses to prancing horses. Evenings are for full-blown, alcohol-fuelled adult partying.
Need to know: The Feria is held in a makeshift ‘village’ in the city’s Los Remedios area, 30mins walk from the centre.
There are many poorams (Hindu festivals giving thanks after the harvest) but Thrissur’s is the daddy. In the build up, temples all around the town host minipoorams, culminating in the ilanjithara melam – a cacophony of drums, trumpets and cymbals.
However, it’s the elephants – decorated with nettipattam (golden headdress), bells and
umbrellas – that steal the show.
Need to know: Thrissur is 80km from Kochi and serviced by rail and bus.
On 5 May 1862, French troops were defeated at the Battle of Puebla – and the southern metropolis doesn’t like to forget it. Each year up to a million people come to watch a reenactment of the historic skirmish, plus enjoy the street parades, mariachi music and
traditional dance. Feasting is key too – and there’s no better place to try mole poblano: the famed chili-chocolate sauce named after the city.
Need to know: Incorporate Puebla, 110km south-east of Mexico City, into an itinerary with the temples of Teotihuacán, colonial Oaxaca and Maya ruins at Palenque.
It seems Pak Tai, the god of Cheung Chau island, is rather hard to please. In order to persuade him to chase off the evil spirits, locals host the annual Bun Festival, a whirl of Taoist rituals, dancing, a Floating Colours parade (where local kids dress up as deities) and a teetering tower of ‘lucky’ buns – where you can watch the brave (mad?) attempt to climb for the prestige of being crowned Bun King or Queen.
Need to know: Buns come in three flavours – sesame, lotus and red bean paste.
23rd May – 8th June
The spring flowers are out, the air’s warm (but not too steamy) and the historic streets of old Charleston ring out with a mix of opera, dance, classical and jazz. This Deep South culturefest is one of the world’s best, showcasing both new and established artists in venues across the city.
Need to know: Go Spoleto! ticket and hotel packages offer savings on accommodation and festival performances.
The full moon of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar is the holiest day in Buddhism, commemorating Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and attainment of nirvana all in one. On such an occasion there’s no better place to be than Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Follow the mighty procession of monks from Mendut to Borobudur itself, where candles, flowers and prayers are strewn in spiritual celebration.
Need to know: Borobudur is a 40min drive from Yogyakarta. The walk from Mendut is around 3km.
Fish and matchmaking, that’s what it’s all about. On this day, sardines are sizzled in honour of the 13th-century saint’s preaching to a load of attentive fish. And, as Anthony has something of a matchmaking reputation, expect to see singletons swapping basil
plants and burying effigies, in the hope of conjuring a mate. Fairy lights, fado music and a fun parade complete proceedings.
Need to know: The parade runs down the Avenida da Liberdade; many sardine stalls are set up in the city’s Alfama district.
The Festival of the Sun, celebrated on the winter solstice, was the most important day in the Inca calendar – a time to honour the Sun God and pray for its speedy return. Today the traditional rituals are recreated in the former Inca capital of Cusco: a ceremony in the city’s Qorikancha square, a procession to the ruins of Sacsayhuamán, simulated animal sacrifices, high priest chants, barbecues, sweet-stalls and a glass of chicha or two.
Need to know: The Qorikancha event is free to watch; it’s possible to buy grandstand tickets for the Sacsayhuamán ceremony.
It would seem a waste – if it wasn’t such a giggle. Every year, on St Pedro’s Day, the people of the northern Spanish town of Haro arm themselves with wine (in bottles, boots, gourds and water-pistols) and proceed to soak each other. This mass alcoholic ambush has its roots in a 300-year-old land dispute, but no one much cares. Just remember: use cheap plonk for ammo, and save all that good local rioja for the after-party.
Need to know: Haro is on the Bilbao-Zaragoza-Barcelona train line. Wearing a white
T-shirt is traditional.
In 2012 the Calgary Stampede marked 100 years of steerbucking, street-dancing, chaps-wearing fun; 2013 will be no less yee-haw – this is the world’s biggest rodeo, after all. Marvel at the cowboys’ skills, wave your Stetson as the parade passes, stomp your feet at the nightly Grandstand Show and soak up the Wild West atmosphere.
Need to know: Dress code is cowboy casual: everyone will be wearing blue jeans, big-buckle belts, boots and hats.
29th June-7th July
Set on the Indian Ocean isle of Zanzibar, this is an international film festival with added spice. Attend workshops and lectures, soak up Swahili sounds at a range of concerts and watch movies (from Africa and beyond) in Stone Town’s Old Fort while the stars twinkle above.
Need to know: The main events are in Stone Town, Zanzibar, with some events on Pemba Island and mainland Tanzania.
Bow-wielding archers! 1,000-strong horse races! Men wrestling in pants! It can only be Naadam, the Mongolian Olympics, when locals compete in the three ‘manly arts’ (though
women ride and shoot now too). The festival’s roots are in nomadic wedding gatherings and the hunting forays of the Mongol Army; now – with its marches, music, feasting and sport – it is simply the most colourful time to be in the capital.
Need to know: There are no direct flights from the UK to Ulaanbaatar; the most interesting way to get there is via the Moscow-Beijing Trans-Mongolian train.
Festival and spa treatment all in one, Boryeong is all about getting messy in the mineral-rich mud of South Korea’s west coast. It’s alleged the gloop here can cure skin complaints and reduce wrinkles – all the more reason for so much mud-based hijinks then, from general bathing to body-painting, beauty contesting, wrestling, sliding and sculpting.
Need to know: Boryeong”s around 2.5hrs by bus from Seoul; linger to explore islands like uninhabited Dabodo Islet.
Officially, Japan has Three Great Festivals. This isn’t one of them – but many people assume it is, perhaps because it’s such a magical sight. Each year intricately decorated paper-and-bamboo nebuta (lantern floats) are carried through the streets; some are in the shape of samurai, some ancient heroes, all are spectacular. On the side, spirited
haneto dancers give frenzied performances to the energetic beat of the drums.
Need to know: Aomori is in the Tohoku region, the northern tip of Honshu; an overnight bus from Tokyo takes 9.5hrs.
Come early August, things get fragrant in Andean Colombia. The Festival of Flowers features local gauchos on fine steeds, a cavalcade of antique cars and the flower parade itself, where blooms arranged on vast silleta discs are wafted through the city. Best, it’s all infused with paisa spirit – the name for the local countrymen who work hard, smile easily and really love to party.
Need to know: Paisas have their own colloquial expressions; try learning a few, for example: ‘tuve un mal día pero yo sigo fresco’ (I had a really crappy day but I’m cool).
This venerable shindig – Ireland’s oldest festival – celebrates its 400th outing in 2013. All the more reason to partake in its quite singular festivities... Watch high-kicking céilís, visit the Wobbly Circus and Custard Pie Puppet Show, learn to play the Irish pipes and
cheer when (as custom dictates) a wild mountain goat is made king for three days. In short, good honest family craic for all.
Need to know: Killorglin is on the scenic Ring of Kerry Road; from Killarney take the N72,
from Tralee take the N70.
Painted faces, plumes of feathers and lots of sing-sing amid the remote-as-hell mountains of Papua New Guinea – the Mt Hagen Show started in the 1960s as a vent for
tribal animosity, and continues to be one of the planet’s most colourful, diverse and eyepopping gatherings.
Need to know: Getting around PNG can be a challenge; travel with a UK-based tour operator.
Shout ‘Bellissimo!’ as a historic pageant of gondoliers in 16th-century garb and flotillas of replica boats float down the Grand Canal – think the Diamond Jubilee but with better
weather. This is the precursor to the main event, which sees muscly types row like billy-o in this age-old regatta.
Need to know: To see the boats close up, go to the Arsenale (where they gather) well before the start of the pageant.
Pretty Lake Bohinj is worth a visit year-round, but it’s most interesting in September, when you can share it with caparisoned cattle. As the farmers bring their herds down
from the mountains for the winter, there’s much revelry, involving local cheeses, traditional tunes, log-sawing contests and bovines decked out in all their finery.
Need to know: Lake Bohinj is in Triglav National Park; while there, visit Savica waterfall and hike up Mt Triglav.
There’s nowhere better for land-based whale-watching than the very southerly town of Hermanus. And there’s no time better to do it than late September, when southern right whales migrate into Walker Bay, a crier with a kelp horn announces each sighting and the marquees of the country’s only Enviro-Arts festival thrum with music and merriment.
Need to know: Hermanus is 120km from Cape Town; drive via the scenic coastal N2 motorway.
Around 600 hot-air balloons blast their burners into the New Mexico sky at this flight-of-fancy fest. There are numerous variations on the theme: get up early for the pre-sunrise Dawn Patrol, return at dusk to see the post-sunset Night Magic Glow, and marvel at the odd-ball balloons in the Special Shape Rodeo.
Need to know: The Balloon Fiesta Park is 19km from downtown Albuquerque; avoid congestion by using park-and-ride buses.
25th September – 9th October
A most auspicious time to visit Nepal indeed: not only is it prime trekking season, but
Dashain is chief among the nation’s festivals – a time when the goddess Durga (the mother of the universe, no less) is worshiped with innumerable pujas and offerings.
Watch locals fly kites, splash water buffaloes, visit temples and play on pings (bamboo swings).
Need to know: Book transport in advance during Dashain – buses get busy with locals
travelling to see family.
This increasingly popular and raved-about music-fest on the shores of Lake Malawi combines big international acts with local bands, Afropop and reggae in the ‘warm heart of Africa’.
Need to know: The dry, winter season (Apr/May to Oct/Nov) is the best time to visit.
20th September – 5th October
A misnamed festival if ever there was, the September-starting Oktoberfest sees the beerhalls of Bavaria sway and swill to oom-pah bands and beery bonhomie: 6.5 million litres of Löwenbräu are glugged at this raucous party. However, even teetotalers can enjoy the Brewer’s Parade, the magic tricks of the Schicht’l Tent and the traditional Flea Circus.
Need to know: Drinks must be bought with special tokens, not cash; you need to be seated to be served.
The ‘Dia de los Muertos’ is celebrated worldwide, but in these two towns by Lake Atitlán,
the action moves quite literally heavenward. Villagers spend months constructing enormous kites – barilletas gigantes – from cloth and paper; at dusk they fly these marvels (sometimes up to 30m wide) above the cemeteries to commune with loved ones lost.
Need to know: Sumpango and Sacatepéquez are 20km north of Antigua.
Every year around 300 elegant black-necked cranes return to over-winter in a lost-in-time
enclave in Central Bhutan. To raise awareness of this key wetland, and to support the 5,000 subsistence farmers who live here, this festival encourages visitors to seek out Phobjikha Valley for masked dances, folk songs and the huge spectacle of the cranes themselves.
Need to know: The festival is celebrated in the courtyard of Gangtey Monastery.
When the flow of the Tonle Sap River reverses its course (an affect of months of rain), the
people of Cambodia start the party: cue three days of dragonboat racing, music,
fireworks and general frivolity!
Need to know: To watch the races, head to Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay.
Come December, those dark, winter skies become the perfect canvas for Lyon’s Festival of Lights – where each house lights a candle in gratitude towards The Virgin Mary for helping them survive the plague in 1643.
In 2013 the focus will be on the city’s Confluence district, with the most exciting new light designers and urban architects using innovative, high-tech jiggery-pokery to illuminate this newly developed part of town.
Need to know: Get there by train – London-Lyon via Paris takes around 5.5hrs.
26th December-1st January
A dash Carnival, a soupcon Mardi Gras, but distinctly Bahamian in flavour, Junkanoo
is thought to date back to the island’s 18th century slaves, who were granted a few days
off the plantations around Christmas to dance, sing and make merry with their families. Capital Nassau naturally sees the grandest, glitziest Junkanoo parade in the Bahamas, with elaborately dressed performers shimmying along the streets.
Need to know: Get some stamina. The parade actually starts at 2am (once Midnight
Mass has finished) and lasts until around 10am.
It’s probably cheating, but we like it: with nine different time zones, the world’s largest country has the most drawn-out of New Year festivities.
Moscow’s Red Square is the place to be though: it’s a bit chilly (it can go all the way down to a gusty -15°), yes, but Muscovites embrace the winter, gathering at the historic heart of the city for dramatic fireworks, a lot of hugging and even more vodka toasting.
Need to know: Wrap up warm and arrive early (by 9pm) to be sure of a place in the
crowded square itself – the police have been known to shut the entrance to it when it starts to get too full.