How can you elevate your vacation experience? By going to a festival, of course! Check out our Festival Bucket List before planning your next vacation!
We often plan our travel itineraries with goals of famous landmarks to visit, and what food to eat in mind. Yet, we rarely consider planning for an experience when we travel to another country. Sure, the whole vacation is an experience itself but what about being a part of something that only happens once a year — something exclusive to the country itself?
Cue in... Festivals! Not only do you get a closer glimpse at a particular culture’s traditions, you’ll also be able to forge unforgettable memories with both the locals and your travelling buddies as well.
Whether you are just looking to have a fantastic time and want to let loose in a new and foreign place, or eager to immerse yourself in a whole new culture, plan for your vacation with our curated list of festivals — it’s time to take your next trip to a whole new level!
January: Harbin Ice & Snow Festival, China
Image credit: Steve Langguth
If you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to Christmas, winter, and snow, then this festival is definitely the one for you! Happening during the coldest months in Harbin, Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival showcases amazing works of art sculpted from ice. Yes, ice from the local Songhua River! The gallery here will make your jaw drop (if your teeth aren’t already chattering!) as you take your time to wander through this magnificent, icy wonderland that would put Elsa’s castle to shame!
With over a few thousand works spread out over four primary parks and amusement zones, the ice architecture here is both stunning and engaging, with pieces like slippery ice slides which you can slide down! Choose to come at night instead for the stunning light illuminations! You will get to admire the ice sculptures all lit up and blinking in a vibrant, colourful display! Apart from ice sculptures, there are also a variety of other activities you can try out, such as winter sports like skiing, winter-swimming and even ice lantern park touring! How cool is that?
Where: Harbin, China When: December - End January
February: Battle of the Oranges, Italy
Image credit: Storico Carnevale di Ivrea Facebook
Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges) is an event that is essential to Storico Carnevale di Ivrea (The Historical Carnival of Ivrea) every year. Before you dismiss this as just another mindless, food wasting event, here is a bit of history behind the festival!
The Historical Carnival of Ivrea is significant because it embodies a sense of tradition and history for the people which has been passed down since Medieval times. It religiously involves the re-enactment of the legend of the city’s liberation from brutal tyranny, when a baron who starved the city was successfully driven away by the Miller’s daughter who spurred the people to revolt. The Battle of the Oranges is thus, symbolic of the spirit of the rebellion against tyranny.
Image credit: Storico Carnevale di Ivrea Facebook
In the battle, the role of the townsfolk are represented by people with oranges in hand and who don’t wear any protective armour. The feudal lord’s army, on the other hand, is personified by those who are clad in armour and throwing oranges from horse-drawn carts. Every year, this little city goes through 500,000 kilograms of fresh oranges to re-create their fight and the teams wage a full-on fruit war all for the sake of history and identity. What an interesting festival to witness, don’t you think?
Where: Ivrea, Piemonte, Italy When: February
March: Holi, India | Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, Taiwan
Image credit: Steven Gerner
For the most colourful experience that you will ever have, be sure to go to India to celebrate this festival! Known as the “festival of colours” or “festival of love”, Holi is the celebration of the Spring festival in India and Nepal. Other than the arrival of Spring, the festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and also marks a period of renewal and rebirth. Hence for many, it is a festival for fun, laughter, peace, forgiveness and also provides an opportunity to repair broken relationships. Holi ultimately is symbolic for starting everything brand new.
Image credit: Harri Bizia
The coloured powders were traditionally derived from plants such as turmeric, marigold flowers and dhak but have recently also come to include water-based commercial pigments as well. After the morning’s frolics, everyone gathers around to exchange traditional delicacies and sweets as well as indulge in bhang, which is an alcoholic beverage that is commonly consumed during Holi. Doesn’t this sound like fun?
Where: Various parts of North India When: March
March: Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, Taiwan
Image credit: Jirka Matousek
Legend has it that the “sky lantern” was invented by Zhu Ge Liang during the era of the Three Kingdoms (AD220-265). At first created to help facilitate in military communication between different beacon towers, it is used today in festivals as vessels of prayer and good wishes. Brought to Taiwan in the early 19th century, people celebrated the Lantern Festival at the start of planting season by releasing “sky lanterns” into the air as prayers for the coming year. They would write their wishes and prayers for blessings on the lantern before releasing them to the heavens.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival sure is a spectacular sight. In addition to marvelling at a night sky set gloriously ablaze with these lanterns, you can also enjoy folk performances, lantern riddle contests and street folk carnivals filled with festive food, fun and cheer! Why not write your own hopes and wishes on your very own lantern and watch it ascend to join the stunning spectacle? Whether or not they come to pass, this night will certainly be one that you will never forget!
Where: Pingxi, Taiwan
April: Songkran, Thailand | Coachella, USA
Image credit: JJ Harrison
The Songkran festival is also Thailand’s New Year Celebration and the Thai people celebrate the new year with a giant water festival! The word songkran translates to “astrological passage”, which denotes transformation or change. Mornings of Songkran are spent doing merit-making where locals visit local temples and offer food to monks, or making offerings for blessings. Water thus, is significant because it represents purity and cleansing, as well as the washing away of bad luck — a clean self for a clean, new beginning!
Image credit: JJ Harrison
For the water festival, major streets are closed off, thus creating wide spaces that are turned into temporary arenas for water fights! How can you participate, you ask? Simply grab a bucket and join in! You can even bring in water guns and garden hoses! Don’t forget to wear your swimsuit underneath your clothes because you are SURE to get drenched! Oh and do bring a waterproof bag along to store your essentials too! Go on, splash away!
Where: Most popular in Bangkok, Thailand When: April
April: Coachella, USA
Image credit: Alan Paone
Hear, hear, music lovers, this festival is for you! If you are a big fan of live music, then you would have definitely heard of Coachella. Located in the vast spaces of the Colorado Desert, Coachella is an event festival which features artistes from different genres of music, from pop to indie, rock and even EDM! Fashion is key as well and many come in their best dressed “festival outfits”. So fashionistas, get your smashing outfit ready!
One of the largest and most famous music festivals in the United States, Coachella is known for its fantastic music lineup with established music artistes and reunited groups such as Death Cab for Cutie, Coldplay, The Kooks, Sia and The XX! Even though the lineup has yet to be released, judging from past artistes, you can be sure that it will be an awesome music fest nonetheless.
Where: Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, United States When: April (Estimated)
May: Tulip Festival, Amsterdam
Image credit: Tulpfestival Website
Amsterdam’s annual Tulip Festival is held in Keukenhof Garden, and is easily one of the most beautiful festivals on this list. Located in the small town of Lisse in the South of Amsterdam, get ready to be wowed off your feet as you feast your eyes on vast tulip fields of different colours and varieties!
The Keukenhof Garden also hosts remarkable flower shows, inspirational garden displays as well as other art installations and events. If you can make earlier when the festival just opens, be sure to catch the Flower Parade that will happen on 21 April! There are even activities specially catered for the little ones such as treasure hunts, mazes and even a petting farm! With such fun activities and more than 7 million bulbs which includes over 800 species of tulips expected to bloom in spring, this festival will truly be an un-flora-gettable experience!
Where: Keukenhof Garden in Lisse, Amsterdam, Netherlands When: March - May
June: Haro Wine Festival, Spain
Image credit: Bigsus
For those who love a good tipple, look out for this festival, because it sure is a huge treat! Every year, on the day of the patron saint San Pedro, wine-lovers assemble at Haro, a town in La Rioja, Spain to have wine drinking competitions and Batalla de Vino — yup, you guessed it, a wine fight!
Get ready to literally soak in the atmosphere of the festivities where crowds of white shirts are stained purple as people attack each other with hoses and buckets of red wine. This annual mega fermented grape juice party is also held to celebrate the many wineries around the area. There will also be concerts in the main square and an abundance of inebriated merrymakers everywhere that spontaneously break into song and have concerts of their own.
Where: Haro, Spain When: June
July: Boryeong Mud Festival, Korea
Image credit: Jirka Matousek
First initiated in 1998, South Korea’s Mud Festival is an intriguing one indeed! Mud is taken from the Boryeong mud flats and transported to Daecheon to be used for the main ‘mud attractions’ of the event. Surprisingly, this festival is a real hit amongst tourists and locals alike because Boryeong mud is considered to be rich in minerals and bentonites, and is used to manufacture cosmetics!
The Mud Festival was first conceived with the goal to promote and market said mud cosmetics, in hopes that people would not only come to join in the fun but learn more about the benefits of having mud as an essential in their beauty regime. Thousands show up every year to get slathered in mud and enjoy the other activities at the festival. Who knew that getting dirty to promote skincare and cosmetics would be such a great hit?
You will surely have a mud-nificent time joining in the various events this mega mud carnival has to offer! From mud wrestling to mud obstacle challenges, mud games, a mud bath and swimming pool and even a mud kid’s land, there is something for everyone!
In the evening, there are also a whole slew of other events such as a mud mob scene, mud beauty festival and other concerts and live music! The party goes on into the night and ends with a fabulous display of fireworks!
Where: Boryeong, South Korea When: July
August: La Tomatina, Spain
Image credit: flydime
La Tomatina is an incredibly juicy food fight festival that is held every year in the town of Buñol in Spain. Crowds make their way here to get some action in what is known as the “World’s Biggest Food Fight”, where more than one hundred metric tons of overripe tomatoes are squished, squashed and obliterated in the streets. To be one of the lucky 20,000 to get admission to this event, grab your tickets here!
Image credit: flydime
The tomatoes are supplied from Extremadura, where they are much cheaper. When the fight starts, the mass chaos starts and everyone is pelted with tomatoes from every direction. Participants are strongly encouraged to wear protective goggles and gloves — tomatoes must first be crushed before they can be thrown at someone else.
If you’re wondering which poor soul gets to clean this terrific mess, the town has its fire brigade to spray down the streets with water from a Roman aqueduct. How awesome is that? People find other ways to clean and wash themselves, with most heading towards the Buñol river for a hose down. To end the event, there is also an after party and drinks when all the excitement and tomato debris are washed away! Ready to be covered from head to toe in tomato?
Where: Buñol, Spain When: August
September: Fiesa Sand Festival, Portugal
Image credit: RHaworth
Skip that beach vacation for FIESA — the International Sand Sculpture Festival which is the largest sand sculpture showcasing event in the world! Occupying a sprawling 15,000 square metres, over 60 artistes convene at the site and use 35,000 tons of sand to create over 50 sculptures and works of art each year!
In the evenings, the exhibits are also decked out in atmospheric lighting so you can enjoy the art pieces at night too! From walled forts and castles to cute Disney characters and famous figures all sculpted entirely out of sand, this festival will surely give you inspiration for your next trip to the beach! Apart from these art pieces, the festival also showcases other more engaging play activities such as demonstrations to the technique of sculpting, projections of videos and other art shows! You can even try your hand at carving your own sculpture at one of the play areas! How sand-sational!
Where: Pêra, Algarve, Portugal When: April - October (Estimated)
October: Oktoberfest, Munich | Hot Air Balloon Festival, USA
Image credit: MunichsOktoberfest Instagram
Image credit: Curran Kelleher
Oktoberfest. You’ve probably heard of it before. But do you know what it’s all about? Originating from Germany and significant to Bavarian culture, Oktoberfest is a folk festival or more colloquially termed as ‘fairgrounds,’ which revolves around mugs and mugs of creamy beer brewed in Munich and other ‘funfair’ type attractions such as amusement rides, game stalls and of course — a wide assortment of food stalls selling delicious local fare. From Hendl (roast chicken) to Schweinebraten (roast pork), Würstl (German sausage) and Brezen (Classic pretzel), these traditional delicacies will make your mouth water — visitors will definitely be spoilt for choice!
We can’t think of a better way to learn more about the German culture than getting to mingle with the locals at Germany’s most iconic festival! So, snag yourself a mug of beer and Prost! (aka bottoms up!)
Where: Munich, Germany When: September - October
October: Hot Air Balloon Festival, USA
Image credit: Larry and Linda
Have you ever been on a hot air balloon? To float away into the clouds must surely be an amazing experience. But it’s equally mesmerizing being able to witness hundreds of hot air balloons decked in different shapes, colours and patterns, rising above the horizon into the infinity beyond!
Have your breath taken away at this spectacular sight presented to spectators who come from different parts of the world to participate and enjoy Albuquerque's Hot Air Balloon Festival!
Clown, Russian doll and Darth Vader balloons! Image credits: Joe Ross, Matt Grommes
The balloons are launched at the Balloon Park’s special custom-designed launch field which is about the size of 54 football fields put together! Feel free to wander amongst these giant balloons and get up close to see how they are being inflated. There are more than just regular hot air balloons too! Look out for the fun shaped ones designed like clowns, animals and even characters like Darth Vader!
As if the daytime view isn’t spectacular enough, come evening, there will also be a display called “Glowdeo” which is a night glow for special-shaped balloons, illuminated by their propane burners. These balloons stand static and do not take off so you can have a longer look at their beauty without fearing their quick escape.
Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States When: October
November: Day of the Dead, Mexico
Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated throughout Mexico and is most popular in the Central and South regions. Being so unique and significant to Mexican culture, this festival was also added to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO!
During this festival, people concentrate on remembering their deceased family members and friends and perform ceremonies to help them on their spiritual journey. For instance, people build private altars for the dead with offerings of the deceased’s favourite food and drink as well as leaving other gifts of photos and trinkets at the altars to honour them. Flowers are also a huge part of the celebration as many bring traditional flowers like marigolds to leave at the altars.
Although one may expect it to be a somber event, the intent is to encourage the souls to come back and pay the living a visit. Hence, celebrations can take a light hearted and humorous tone as celebrants remember the celebrate the lives of their dearly departed.
Where: Throughout Mexico When: November
December: Amsterdam Light Festival
Image credit: Amsterdam Light Festival
For a gorgeous light up during the winter months, take to the streets of Amsterdam during its annual Light Festival! Artists, architects and light designers from all over the world gather to create this dazzling light festival, which is filled with light installations and other artworks that come to life at night! As you walk down the cobbled streets and beside the river, marvel at the different themed installations and monumental pieces which are not only interactive but also spark imagination with its beautiful luminance.
Image credits: Nemanja Pantelic
Image credits: UrbanUrban_ru
Apart from the installations, there are also light art, light shows and performances which involve LED related light displays that intersect between art and technology. From playful and innovative light up pieces to colourful holographic light displays — this festival will be without a doubt your most lit night ever!
Ready to go out and have fun? Pick and choose from this list, because is the time to live it up by checking these festivals off your bucket list! Going to a festival will truly add that oomph to any vacation, so start booking your flight tickets with your UOB Card today!
After all festivals aren’t just another landmark to sightsee or unique foodstuff to taste — they add dimension to your visit, because you get to blend in with the locals and soak in the atmosphere that is only present during that certain time of the year, in that particular place. Trust us, beyond memories of a fabulous holiday, we are sure that these festival experiences will be etched in your hearts for a lifetime.
Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands When: Whole month of December (Estimated)