10 Amazing Festivals Around the World

In honor of Lunar New Year, families around the world are preparing to celebrate one of the most exciting traditions of the year. While this particular celebration is observed primarily in parts of Asia, similar traditions can be seen around the world throughout the year - some with significant spiritual or religious origins, others with a more humorous history. Regardless, witnessing these amazing celebrations is reason enough to travel to their equally amazing host destinations. 

1. HOLI - INDIA

Women dance as they throw flowers at a widow's ashram in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh

Women dance as they throw flowers at a widow's ashram in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh

Also known as the Festival of Colors or the Festival of Love, Holi is a religious festival that takes place every spring across India and Nepal. While the exact date of the festival varies every year based on the Hindu calendar, the celebrations are always the same: the event begins with an evening bonfire where people come together to sing and dance. The day is a free-for-all carnival of color, where dry powder and colored water are the weapons of choice to play, chase and color anyone and everyone in sight. It is the perfect way to celebrate the arrival of spring and the end of winter! 

 

2. RUNNING OF THE BULLS - PAMPLONA, SPAIN

Revelers hold up their handkerchiefs during the opening day of the Running of the Bulls

Revelers hold up their handkerchiefs during the opening day of the Running of the Bulls

Originally glorified by Ernest Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises,' the Running of the Bulls is an eight day celebration that involves bull runs, bullfights and lots of partying. The festival takes places in July every year in Pamplona, Spain in honor of Saint Fermin, one of many locally venerated Catholic saints. According to historical sources, the running of the bulls originates from the need to transport the bulls from off-site corrals where they spent the night to the bullring; youngsters began running alongside (and jumping out of the way of) the bulls to show off their bravado. Fast forward to today, where now more than 1 million people gather to watch and partake in the festivities. Despite the popularity of the event, there are also ethical concerns that should not be overlooked. Many people and animal rights organizations have outlined detailed protests to the running of the bulls, as well as the bullfighting in which the bulls ultimately end up.  

 

3. BORYEONG MUD FESTIVAL - SOUTH KOREA

Crowds enjoying the pools at the Mud Experience Land

Crowds enjoying the pools at the Mud Experience Land

The Boryeong Mud Festival is an annual celebration originally invented as a marketing ploy for a local cosmetics company, whose products were produced using mud from the surrounding mud flats. The festival now hosts more than 2 million visitors every summer. Not only can you roll around in the mud in any one of the huge mud pools, you can enjoy rides down the mud slides, trap each other in the mud prisons and watch the mud skiing competitions. 

 

4. CARNIVAL OF VENICE - VENICE, ITALY

Women in elaborate Venetian masks and costumes enjoying a gondola ride during Carnival

Women in elaborate Venetian masks and costumes enjoying a gondola ride during Carnival

What better way to celebrate the end of Lent than to dress up in elaborate masks and wander the beautiful canals of Venice? The Carnival of Venice is just that. The event, which is believed to date back to the year 1162, takes place in the floating city every year. The Venetian masks are a staple of the festival - you can see them in the city decorating store fronts year around (some with price tags as extravagant as their design). While the history behind the masks is still unclear, today there are very distinct styles, each with its own name and special meaning.  

 

5. TAIWAN LANTERN FESTIVAL - TAIWAN

Lanterns litter the sky during the Taiwan Lantern Festival

Lanterns litter the sky during the Taiwan Lantern Festival

While Chinese New Year tends to overshadow this celebration a bit, the annual Taiwan Lantern Festival is a spectacular event you'll want to experience at least once. Sometimes referred to as the Sky Lantern Festival or the Pingxi Lantern Festival, the celebration takes place over the course of a few days and includes many activities across the country. The crown jewel, of course, is the release of thousands of sky lanterns over Pingxi. The tradition started as a way to let neighboring districts know that Pingxi was safe and free of disease. Today the lanterns are decorated with wishes and personal notes of its releaser. The festival is set to take place February 2nd through March 5th this year. 

 

6. OKTOBERFEST - MUNICH, GERMANY

Prost (cheers!) at Oktoberfest

Prost (cheers!) at Oktoberfest

Contrary to its name (and popular belief), Oktoberfest actually starts in September. The 16-day long festival plays host to more than 6 million people every year. While some say that it is overrated, and pricey, there is no denying that this fair reeks of history and tradition (and beer, of course). Dating back to 1810, Oktoberfest began as a horse race held in honor of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hidburghausen. Today, the festival has a mixture of attractions - including amusement rides, games, traditional food stalls - as well as the beer tents.  

 

7. GAY PRIDE PARADE - AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

Supporters line the canal to watch the floats of the Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade

Supporters line the canal to watch the floats of the Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade

While Los Angeles and New York City are sure to have some of the biggest gay pride events in the world, the Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade is a force to be reckoned with. In a beautiful celebration of equality, the festival draws more than 350,000 people to the city every year. The height of the festival is the Canal Parade, a parade of lively boats that float the canal on the first Saturday of August. 

 

8. LA TOMATINA - BUÑOL, SPAIN

People enjoying the tomato fight at La Tomatina

People enjoying the tomato fight at La Tomatina

La Tomatina puts all high school food fight scenes to shame, with a full day of summer fun dedicated to throwing tomatoes. Held on the last Wednesday of August every year, the festival started by accident at an unrelated parade when a float crashed into a local vegetable stand - and the rest is history! Today, the festivities begin in the morning with the climbing of the Palo Jabón, a greased pole that is crowned with a piece of meat at the top. Once someone successfully climbs the pole, they drop the meat off the pole to signify the start of the tomato fight. As you can imagine, it's a fury of squishy redness. An estimated 150,000 tomatoes are used each year (the equivalent of 80,000 pounds)!

 

9. MARDI GRAS - NEW ORLEANS, USA

People pack into the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras

People pack into the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras

Celebrated ahead of the ritual fasting of Lent, Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" - rightly named for the indulgence that takes place before Ash Wednesday. While it is celebrated in many countries, it has a special home in French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. It is here that the festival is marked by costumes, beaded necklaces, parades and all-night partying. 

 

10. COOPER HILL'S CHEESE ROLLING & WAKE - GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND

Competitors run after the round of cheese at the Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake

Competitors run after the round of cheese at the Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake

It's safe to say that this last festival is probably the oddest, comparatively - there isn't anything quite like watching people 'run' and throw themselves down a steep hill to chase after a 9-lb round of cheese. The Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake is an annual event held near Gloucester and involves a series of races down the hill from which it's named after. The first person to cross the finish line at the bottom of the hill (or the first person to 'catch' the cheese) wins! The history of the race isn't clear - there are two proposed origins, but no one knows which is true. Over the years the race has become more popular. Contestants fly in from around the world to compete... and often go home with a few bumps and bruises. Still don't believe this is a thing? See it for yourself here.

 

All pictures not belonging to The Free Passport are credited and sourced in the corresponding captions.