There’s no shortage of vibrant festivals around the globe that cater to every taste, from revered spiritual celebrations to more bizarre activities such as wife-carrying competitions. Chances are there’s at least one festival somewhere on earth dedicated to any peculiar hobby you may enjoy.
We’ve rounded up a list of recognizable classics and some offbeat festivals worth checking out this year.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
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Washington DC: This festival, held every April, is certainly about much more than gawking at gorgeous pink and white flowers in our nation’s capital.
Known as the prime Japanese Street festival in the US, this two-week event celebrates the ongoing friendship between the US and Japan. Enjoy lantern ceremonies, Japanese street art, a 10-mile run (if you’re up to it), fireworks, and a slew of other activities.
Even the most curmudgeonly of travelers will soften at the sight of rows and rows of delicate cherry blossom flowers.
For more, visit the festival’s Web site. Early April.
Antigua, Guatemala: Holy Week, also known as Semana Santa, is one of many religious celebrations that occur during the Christian observance of Lent; starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Good Friday. Elaborate floats carrying various Christian symbols such as crucifixes and images of the Virgin Mary as well as observers dressed in white or black robes proceed through the streets of Antigua in a very slow, reverent fashion.
Read more about Easter Week in Guatemala.
St. Lucia Jazz Festival
Caribbean Islands: Head over to the scenic Caribbean island of St. Lucia in May to enjoy soothing jazz permeating the entire island. The 10-day event features various local acts and well-known international Jazz musicians playing in various club and hotel venues all over the island. Even if jazz music isn’t your style, you can still steal over to the island for a laidback getaway.
For more, visit the festival’s Web site. Early May.
Aarhus Viking Festival
Denmark: Unleash your inner warlord (or peasant) at Scandinavian’s largest Viking festival. Held every year in July, travelers can step back in time into traditional markets with craftsmen, traders, artisans, and warriors.
Cheer at simulated warrior fights, watch choreographed riding shows, and tear hungrily into a smoked turkey leg like a true Viking.
Read more about the Viking Moot Festival. Late July.
Pamplona, Spain: The Running of the Bulls festival, made famous by Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises, is a once-in-a-lifetime event that should not be missed.
Every July, rain or shine, the festival revolves around running alongside six disoriented bulls weighing an average of one ton each. There are also bullfights in the evenings, and thousands upon thousands of travelers dressed in a sea of white and red garb partying like there’s no tomorrow.
A day before the festivities, PETA activists stage their annual Running of the Nudes in protest, while a day after the festival there’s a “Running of the Bus event” which involves running alongside public transportation buses.
For more, read my dispatch about what it feels like to experience San Fermin. Early July.
Scotland: Looking for something to do in May? Jet off to Scotland to watch burly Scotsmen don various Clan kilts and engage in a variety of games and championships—from dancing and bag piping competitions to games such as hammer toss, shot-puts, cabers, and old fashioned tug-of-war.
For more, visit the 2010 Highland Games official page. July through September.
Buñol, Spain: Definitely not for the squeamish, La Tomatina is the perfect opportunity to unleash your inner child and join one of the world’s largest food fights. Close to 140 tons of tomatoes are wheeled into town, and for an hour the streets of Buñol turn into streams of pungent-smelling pasta sauce.
All you’ll need to participate in the activity is an old T-shirt, pair of shorts, and eye goggles to protect your eyes. According to festival organizers, “T-shirts with bulls-eyes printed on them are not recommended.”
For more, visit the festival’s Web page. Late August.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Rajasthan, India: If you’re in the market for a sturdy camel, head over to Pushkar in Rajasthan India and take part in the world’s largest camel fair. Awash in vibrant colors and a frenzy of activities, this small Indian village jolts to life every November as decked out camels, decorated cattle, busy merchants, music, competitions and other activities roll into town for the Pushkar Camel Fair.
For more, visit the festival’s Web page. October.
Whirling Dervishes Festival
Konya, Turkey: To round out the year, why not head to Konya, Turkey, to witness the Followers of Mevlana (also known as the Whirling Dervishes) hypnotically twirl faster and faster in flowing white robes and conical hats. Religious beliefs aside, non-believers are invited to observe this centuries-old tradition as well.
A warning to the vertigo-inclined: you may experience occasional spells of dizziness…
For more, visit All About Turkey. Late November.
About the Author
Photo credits: (1) Cherry blossoms courtesy of istock / Robert Dodge (2) Pamplona image courtesy of Lola Akinmade