7 incredible cultural festivals to make part of your next holiday

Next time you’re planning a trip abroad, checking out the cultural festivals of the location could turn your holiday into a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture, learn something new, and have a fantastic time.

From partying on the street to taking in incredible art, there’s something for everyone among these seven festivals taking place every year around the world. Which one inspires your next trip?

1. Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Brazil

Every year before Lent, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, turns into the world’s biggest street party for a carnival that’s earned the name “the greatest show on Earth”. Expect colourful costumes, plenty of music to get you dancing, and delicious food.

Around 80,000 tourists visit the four-day carnival each year. There are more than 70 samba schools and thousands of dancers competing at the festival, so there are plenty of opportunities to catch lively performances. The schools often use their performances to celebrate diversity and their history, so it’s a chance to learn more about the local communities too.

2. Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, China

The Harbin Ice Festival has been held since 1963 in the Heilongjiang province of China, and the sculptures will take your breath away. It’s the biggest festival of its kind and you can view enormous sculptures, including life-sized buildings that are beautifully lit up. In the past, sculptures have included a Ferris wheel, realistic trains, and recreated temples.

If you want to try your hand at sculpting, there are even competitions for visitors to get involved in. The festival opens in late December and lasts around two months, weather permitting.

3. Day of the Dead, Mexico

The Day of the Dead, or el Día de los Muertos, is traditionally celebrated on 1 and 2 November. The roots of this tradition go back thousands of years to ancient cultures, and it’s still widely observed across Mexico today.

The holiday is about welcoming the souls of deceased relatives, with families often gathering to share funny anecdotes about their loved ones as well as pay their respects. As a tourist visiting during this time, you can gain a unique insight into the tradition, especially in the evening when candles are lit and people come out in costumes.

4. Mardi Gras, United States

Residents of southern Louisiana, United States, celebrate Mardi Gras, with the most famous parade in New Orleans. It’s not known when people started the carnivals, but accounts from the 1740s suggest they were already well-established by then.

If you want to take part, Mardi Gras’s main celebrations happen in the two weeks before Shrove Tuesday, with a parade on most days. The parade floats are often gaudy, and lively, and a key part of the celebration involves float participants flinging strings of beads and doubloons into the crowd.

5. Holi, India

You’ve probably seen photographs of the Holi festival thanks to the colourful event leading to stunning images. Holi is a two-day Hindu festival that’s celebrated throughout much of India.

On the first day of Holi, a bonfire is usually lit to celebrate good triumphing over evil. The following day, vibrant perfumed powder is thrown at everyone, so it’s no surprise it’s called the Festival of Colours too – be prepared to leave the festival very colourful and messy. It’s celebrated in March after the full moon.

6. Cherry blossom festivals, Japan

If you want a holiday that’s more about relaxing, from the end of March to mid-April you could visit Japan to be part of the cherry blossom festivals. Hanami is an ancient tradition dating back more than 1,000 years. It involves going to the park or countryside to enjoy the blooming of cherry blossoms.

Often families will take a picnic or meet with friends to enjoy a drink while taking part in hanami. If it’s something you want to see, keep in mind that cherry blossoms bloom at different times across the country and the weather can affect it – the longer your trip, the more chance you have to see the beautiful sight that’s inspired poets and artists.

7. Naadam Festival, Mongolia

The Naadam Festival is also known as “erlin gurvan naadam” or “the three games of men”. During the celebration, which usually takes place in July, Mongolians compete in wrestling, horse racing, and archery, with women also now able to compete. It’s the most widely watched festival in the country and is believed to have existed for centuries in one form or another, such as following a wedding or as a way to train soldiers.

Since 2010, the festival has been part of UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, so planning a trip to watch the Naadam Festival promises to truly be a cultural experience you won’t forget.

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