In this post, we’re going to look at some of the best world festivals. Some of them are truly ‘do before you die’ experiences and events that take their places on many a bucket list. We cross the globe in search of some of the most iconic festivals and celebrations on the planet from centuries-old traditions to world class live music events.
Best World Festivals – 10 of the Most Famous
Chinese New Year
- Where? – All over China
- When? – January/February
Dragons, dancers and all sorts else, this is China’s biggest cultural event and is a very important occasion all over the country including in Hong Kong. Beijing tends to have the biggest celebrations which go on for fifteen days after the dawn of a new lunar year, culminating in the Yuan Xiao Festival (Lantern Festival) on the Final day.
The exact date of Chinese New Year itself does vary but it will always fall between late January and mid February and most Chinese people get a week off to celebrate it.
- Where? – Rio de Janeiro, Salvador & other cities, Brazil
- When? – February/March
The biggest party on Earth? Quite possibly. Millions of Brazilians hit the streets every day with stunning displays, raunchy dancing and samba beats the main theme. For backpackers and travellers in South America, Carnival is almost a rite of passage and many even plan their trips around it. Be sure to sort accommodation out in advance if you’re planning on coming.
It’s also worth noting that while the Rio Carnival is one of the most famous festivals around the world, the Salvador version is actually even bigger and offers a more authentic experience of a huge Brazilian party on an epic scale.
- Where? – Thailand
- When? – April 13th
Thailand is gripped by overwhelming heat in April but thankfully the splish-splash of the Songkran Festival, essentially one giant water fight, provides some welcome respite. The only certainty is you will get very wet! The dates are now fixed but the festival is designed to coincide with the astrological New Year in many South Asian calendars.
Festivities take place all over the country and foreigners are a popular target for many young Thais!
- Where? – Somerset, UK
- When? – Last weekend in June (most years)
Glasto is the biggest music festival in the world featuring hundreds of artists from a wide range of different genres and eras. Headliners typically include some of the very biggest acts in the world and during non-pandemic times it takes place most, but not every year.
It is so much more than a music festival too with many weird and wonderful areas of the festival site to keep you entertained such as Shangri-La, a nighttime wonderland that changes its theme every year.
- Where? – Novi Sad, Serbia
- When? – July
A stunning setting in an ancient fortress as rock meets electro with devastating consequences! EXIT festival started in the summer of 2000, with a largely political undertone as a form of student protest against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević’s regime.
Nowadays it’s all about Europe’s top electronic music. The atmosphere is sensational and the setting is very hard to beat amongst an increasingly packed world festivals calendar.
Nagqu Horse Racing Festival
- Where? – Nagqu, Tibet
- When? – August
Locals display stunning skills on horseback while traditional songs and dance provide the backdrop to one of Asia’s grandest old festivals. Nagqu in beautiful Tibet attracts horsemen from all over the province and across Western China.
They often come with their families and set up base there each August to trade goods, celebrate and race against each other.
- Where? – Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA
- When? – August/September
Burning Man is a pretty bizarre affair and gets its name from the traditional burning of a wooden man on the Saturday of the festival. It attracts around 50,000 people each year and is something of an experimental community based on several key principles such as radical inclusion and self-expression.
Like many of these festivals, it didn’t take place in 2020 or 2021 with the latter seeing a virtual festival take place online but hopefully things will get back to normal for Burning Man in 2022 and beyond.
- Where? – Munich, Germany
- When? – September/October
Lots of great beer to be drunk and fun times to be had during the Oktoberfest in South Germany. It is easily the world’s biggest and best beer festival and it’s easy to get to with Munich home to one of the best and busiest airports in Germany.
The Oktoberfest is about a carnival atmosphere, a huge variety of beer tents, lots of seriously drunk people and many lederhosen-wearing natives. All in all, it’s a good laugh in Munich, a city with plenty to see and do besides the festival which features in our Europe backpacking route.
Bon Om Touk
- Where? – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- When? – October/November
Cambodia’s biggest festival celebrates the change in current of the Tonle Sap River. It features spectacular long boat races and is a lively and colourful affair in arguably Southeast Asia’s friendliest country.
Sadly it is also occasionally tragic with almost 400 people getting crushed to death during a stampede in 2010. That event led to the postponement of the festival the following year and there have been frequent postponements since for a variety of reasons.
Whirling Dervishes Festival
- Where? – Konya, Turkey
- When? – December
Another worthy candidate for one of the top 10 festivals around the world is Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes Festival. Over 100,000 gather in the city of Konya to witness the stunning dance spectacle which is many centuries old.
It is one of the biggest religious festivals in the world and many visitors find it an intensely spiritual experience.
This article was last updated in September 2021