When we travel, we love immersing in the culture of a destination and there is no better way than to join a celebration or festival. But after this crazy year of 2020, I wonder if these amazing and huge festivals around the world will ever be the same? Will thousands of people gather again to celebrate life, music, culture and religion? We certainly hope so!
We all need a little celebration in life, so today I want to round up the biggest and best festivals in the world! When we can cross borders again, we look forward to joining a festival or celebration.
Biggest Festivals in the World
Dave and I seem to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. When we visit a place we aren’t necessarily seeking out a festival, it just seems to be going on at the time we’re there. We’ve been lucky to experience some of the most unique celebrations. around the world.
1. Thaipusam- Malaysia
Thaipusam is a massive Hindu festival that takes place every January and February in the Tamil communities of Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, and Mauritius. Read more: 35 of the Best Things to do in Singapore
We’ve had the honor of experiencing it twice in Malaysia at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur and in Penang. Thaipusam Festival festival is celebrated during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai. (January-February) The brightest star during this time of year is called Pusam thus creating the festival, Thaipusam.
It is one of the most shocking festivals in the world where devotees pierce their bodies with larges spikes and hooks as they pay their respects to Lord Muruga. The largest celebration happens at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur where some more than a million people attend the event After going into a trance, they make the long pilgrimage to the Batu Caves where they leave their offerings.
- When: Annually January or February in the Tamil month of Thai.
- Where: Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Mauritius
- Duration: Three days
- Read More About Thaipusam
2. Songkran Festival – Thailand
Each year Thailand celebrates the new year with the world’s largest water fight and is one of the funnest festivals of the world you’ll ever attend. Songkran Festival takes places on the 13th of April every year during the Thai New Year.
Thaipusam is a three-day festival but it has become so popular, that celebrations begin well before the 13th and continue for days after. The best place to celebrate in Thailand is in the old capital of Chiang Mai.
- When: Annually April 13-15
- Where: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar
- Duration: Three days
- Check out more Songkran Festival – Thailand’s Songkran Festival, The Worlds Largest Waterfight
3. Holi – India
Holi is the most colourful festival in the world! In fact, Holi is also known as The Festival of Colours. This Hindu festival celebrates the arrival of spring and signifies the victory of good over evil. Each year the date changes for Holi as it takes place on the full moon day of the Hindu calendar month, Phalunga.
Officially Holi is celebrated for two days, but there are other celebrations leading up to the festival. Holika Dahan happens on the even of the Holi festival where people light the fires to celebrate the triumph of good, Prahalada over evil Holika.
It is a magical festival to attend and was our favourite thing to do in India! Celebrations take place across the country, but we celebrated in Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna. Other huge festivals in India are Diwali, Ganesh Festival, Pushkar Camel Festival, Kerala Temple Festival, Durga Puja Festival.
- When: Annually between February or March (It
- Duration: 2 days
- Where: India
- Read More About Holi
4. Dia De Los Muertos – Mexico
The Day of the Dead is a festival in Mexico that celebrates the return of deceased relatives souls. The festival takes place from October 31 and ends November 2nd. It is believed that during this time the gates of heaven open to allow the dearly departed to visit their families for 24 hours. The Day of the Dead is a beautiful festival where people dress up in costumes and paint their faces like skeletons and skulls. Ornate and colorful flower carpets line the streets symbolizing remembrance.
- When: Annually October 31 – November 2
- Duration: 3 days
- Read More About Mexico
- Top Things to do in La Paz, Mexico
- 25 Best Places To Visit in Mexico
- The Best Things to do in Cancun
5. St. Patrick’s Day – Ireland
Saint Patrick’s Day is an Irish festival that celebrates the patron saint of Ireland. Born in the 4th century, he as taken to Ireland as a slave but escaped back to England. He returned to Ireland to establish Christian churches, monasteries, and schools. Upon his death, his legend grew and the Irish began to celebrate his death with feasts.
It may be an Irish holiday, but many nations observe St. Paddy’s day. Celebrated with parades, all things green and a lot of ale, St. Patrick’s day brings millions of people together. Saint Patrick’s Day used to be a quiet affair in Ireland, but when Americans of Irish decent started celebrating with vigour it was brought to life.
And if you find yourself in Dublin, it is definitely the place to be. Read more about St. Patrick’s Day at Facts About St. Patrick’s Day to Help you Celebrate at home
- When: Annually March 17
- Duration: 1 day
- Where: Ireland (and many other countries with Irish immigrants)
6. Montreux Jazz Festival – Switzerland
Montreux, Switzerland is home to an iconic music festival that has seen some of the top acts in the world grace its stage. Dating back to 1967, the festival takes place each summer on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Montreux has such a music connection, Freddie Mercury spent his final days in the city, Deep Purple wrote smoke on the water about the Montreux Casino burning down and David Bowie and Queen recorded Under Pressure at Mountain Studios. It was originally a jazz festival, but it now showcases all music genres.
- When: Annually First two weeks of July
- Duration: 2 weeks
- Where: Montreux Switzerland
7. Montreal Jazz Festival
The Montreal Jazz Festival takes place at the end of June and is the largest jazz festival in the world. It has been running for more than 40 years and brings the city alive with music and festivities.
We visited Montreal for the Jazz Fest and it was a great time to be in Montreal. We kept running into spontaneous performances. There are many free events taking place around the city with festival stages, street performers, and intimate performances.
- When: Annually last week of June
- Duration: 10 Days
- Where: Montreal Canada
- Read More – Montreal Festivals – Celebrate Canada’s Coolest City
8. Summerfest – Milwaukee USA
Summerfest in Milwaukee is the world’s largest music festival you’ve never heard of. Running for more than 40 years, Summerfest attracts the top names in the music industry plus showcasing up-and-coming musicians. We loved our time exploring the 11 stages and pop up acts, roaming performers and the food tents. Summerfest has attracted the likes of The Foo Fighters, Katy Perry, and Kanye West.
- When: June and July
- Duration: Three weekends starting the end of June
- Where: Milwaukee USA
- Check out more:
9. Yi Peng Festivals – Thailand
One of the most beautiful festivals in the world is Loy Krathong and Yi Peng in Chiang Mai. The two festivals take place at the same time and are a magical time to be in the city. Yi Peng festival (Lantern Festival) is where lanterns are released into the air setting the night sky ablaze with a golden hue.
10. Loy Krathong
Loy Krathong is the festival where candles are placed in banana leaf boats and set on fire as they sail down the Ping River. This massive festival attracts tourists from around the world to see the lights sparkle in the air and rivers.
The locals celebrate Loy Krathong to thank the Goddess of water for a good harvest. Loy Krathong happens over several days and is the more cultural experience. But Yi Peng is what attracts the tourists to join in the mass release. Read all about our experiences at Loy Krathong and Yi Peng here.
- When: November on full moon of the Thai Lunar calendar.
- Duration: 4 days
- Where: Northern Thailand
11. Sziget Festival – Hungary
Sziget Festival is a massive cultural and music festival in Budapest that takes over a 108-hectare (266-acre) island for seven days. While other music festivals focus strictly on music, this festival celebrates arts, culture and interactive installations. But that is not to say it doesn’t focus on music, Ed Sheeran, The Foo Fighters and Post Malone have all performed at Sziget.
- When: Every August
- Duration: 10 Days
- Where: Budapest Hungary
Read more and watch a Sziget Festival Video
12. Mardi Gras – USA
Mardi Gras is New Orleans’s biggest party. Held yearly on the day before Ash Wednesday, aka Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras celebrates the feast before the start of Lent in a big way! While it began as a religious and cultural experience, it has now become one giant party.
The first Mardi Gras was actually celebrated in Mobile Alabama, but New Orleans has claimed the title as the number one spot to celebrate. The streets are packed with revelers gathering beads, and drinking in the streets. It’s a decadent time as it marks the ending of a six-week period of carnivals around the world. If you go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, book a room with a balcony along the parade route to enjoy it to the fullest.
- When: Beginning of Lent – 6 weeks before Easter
- Where: New Orleans, USA
Read More About New Orleans
- A Tour of the New Orleans Garden District
- Most Haunted Places in New Orleans – How to Explore the City of the Dead
- New Orleans Food Fun – A Tour of the Best Eats in the City
- The Essential 3 Days in New Orleans Itinerary
13. Carnival – Brazil
Similar to Mardi Gras, but to the Nth degree, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the world’s biggest festival! If you travel to Rio, expect to share the streets with two-million people every day as local samba schools show off their talent at the Sambadrome. When we travelled to Rio, we visited a samba school and these schools are the pride of the city. There are more than 200 around town representing different neighbourhoods.
Expect street parties, costume balls and parades as Brazilians celebrate the final days before Lent. Like Mardi Gras, Rio has become more of a party than a religious holiday.
- When: Beginning of Lent – 6 weeks before Easter
- Where: Rio de Janiero, Brazil
- Duration: 6 days
- Check out:
14. Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival – China
We’ve been to our share of winter festivals including Winterlude, Quebec Winter Carnival, and Montreal’s Winterfest but the largest ice festival in the world goes to China. What started as a small local snow festival has turned into an international competition attracting a whopping 18 million visitors!
Beginning on January 5th and continuing through the end of February. When attending expect the usual winter activities like skiing but there is also winter swimming and an ice lantern festival. Be sure to pack your parka because temperatures -25 degrees Celcius.
- When: End of December to Late February
- Where: Harvin China
- Duration: Give approximately 2 days to see it all
- See more China Travel:
15. Oktoberfest Germany
A post about festivals wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the world’s largest beer festival. Celebrated annually in Munich Germany, Oktoberfest runs from Mid September to the first Sunday of October. The first Oktoberfest was happened in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I. Locals were invited to celebrate the event and over the years it continued growing into what we know today.
It is said that 7.7 million liters of beer have been consumed during this 18 day festival. So break out your lederhosen, pack the Tylenol and get ready to party!
- When: 16 – 18 days leading up to the first Sunday in October
- Where: Munich Germany
- Duration: 2 Weeks
16. Winterlude in Canada
Since we mentioned China’s Snow festival, we can’t leave out Canada’s winter party. There are so many snow and ice festivals in Canada it is difficult to choose a favourite. But Winterlude in the capital city of Ottawa is a festival that we can’t get enough of. With snow sculpting competitions, snowtubing, dragonboat festivals and all night discoes, this city is happening in January.
Read our entire guide: Winterlude Itinerary – The Ultimate Guide to Ottawa
- When: End of January to Mid February
- Where: Ottawa Canada
- Duration: 2 Weeks
- 33 Things to do in Ottawa – A Complete Guide to the City
17. PRIDE – Toronto and New York
Pride is a worldwide festival celebrating the LGBTQ community promoting legal rights, social acceptance, and pride in the community. The Sao Paulo is the largest gay pride festival in the world, and New York is where gay pride was born, but in our humble opinions, the Toronto Pride Festival is the best!
Taking place the entire month of June, Toronto Pride is the best place to celebrate in the world. With events happening all month and several parades and contests, the city comes alive with excitement. Read more: The Best Things to do in Toronto
- When: Month of June in Toronto,
- Where: Downtown Toronto
- Duration: One month
18. Toronto International Film Festival – Canada
The Toronto International film festival has grown from a small set of screening rooms in 1976 to the most important film festival in the world. Forget Cannes Film Festival, Toronto is where it’s at! If you do well at TIFF, chances are you are Oscar material.
TIFF attracts nearly half a million people each year to watch screenings of movies from every big name Hollywood star you can think of. The city comes alive with events, red carpets and movies showing on 30 screens around the city. Everyone who’s anyone shows up at TIFF and it’s easy to catch a glimpse of your favourite star.
- When: September
- Where: Toronto Canada
- Duration: 2 Weeks
19. La Tomatina – Spain
It’s the world’s largest food fight! Every August La Tomatina attracts 22,000 visitors to take part in pelting 120 tons of tomatoes at each other along a parade route. What began from the result of an angry performer who was knocked down by a group of rowdy teens in 1945 has grown from one person throwing food in retaliation to a full on public food fight. If you are looking for one of the messiest festivals in the world, this one is for you!
- Where: Valencia Spain
- When: Last Wednesday of August
- Duration: 1 hour
20 Burning Man – United States
No list of festivals around the world would be complete without mentioning Burning Man. We’ve had the opportunity to go to Burning Man a couple of times and couldn’t make it work, but I wish that we did. (so this is a festival of the world on our list that we have not been to yet – although we’ve done enough research that we feel we know it well!)
Burning Man festival is a desert festival was once reserved for bohemians and outliers. Today it attracts more than 70k people to celebrate the burning of a large wooden effigy “The Man” What was once a celebration of community, self-expression, and participation has grown to a bunch of social media influencers partying in the desert. Oh how I wish we attended Burning Man when we had the chance.
- Where: Black Rock City
- When: Labor Day
- Duration: 9 Days leading up to Labor Day
Planning your own travels to see some great festivals of the world? Save this to Pinterest for future travel planning.
And these are the biggest and best festivals around the world. There are so many festivals on earth that you could spend every day of the month attending one.
Have you been to a world festival that we didn’t mention above? We’d love to hear from you.
Read About more Great Festivals around the World:
- Holi Festival in India 2020: The World’s Most Colorful Celebration
- Loy Krathong and Yi Peng 2019 – A Guide to The Lantern Festivals of Chiang Mai
- Sziget Festival – A Complete Guide to Know Before you Go
- Montreal Festivals – Celebrate Canada’s Coolest City
- Thaipusam – Malaysia’s Shocking Hindu Festival
- Summerfest Milwaukee – The World’s Largest Music Festival