Visiting a festival while traveling is not only a fun way to get some exciting photos, but it’s also a great occasion to immerse in the local culture and make unforgettable memories. Join us on a tour around the world — one colorful, messy, and weird celebration at a time.
1. Water and fun in Thailand
The Thai New Year is most likely the world’s biggest water gun fight. Songkran started out as sprinkling water over people’s shoulders to purify them and wish them a good, happy, and blessed start to the new year. But over time, locals have taken the washing away of bad luck and grievances to the next level with water guns, buckets, and fire hoses.
Since water fights are the best kind of fights, it should come as no surprise that Songkran attracts people from around the world. The Thai New Year festival is celebrated from April 12 to April 16 every year, which is usually the hottest month in Thailand, so the festival comes at the perfect time. If you happen to be celebrating Songkran (aka getting soaked) in Bangkok, make sure to check out the famous floating markets, countless temples, and visit an elephant sanctuary.
2. Bonfires and booze in Scotland
For a hot trip down memory lane, you need to visit Lerwick, on the Shetland Islands of Scotland, and celebrate Europe’s biggest fire festival: Up Helly Aa — the event that marks the end of the yule season (the Scottish Christmas season).
Hundreds of local men dress up as Vikings, march through the streets holding torches that will eventually set a galley ship on fire. After the sizeable bonfire, it’s drinking, partying, and celebrating. In case you are wondering how wild and crazy the one-day festival is: the day after the main event is a recovery-boosting public holiday.
3. Cheese and chaos in England
If one thing is clear by now: The best festivals are based around a simple idea — and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is no exception. During an afternoon in spring, people from all over the world stand on Cooper’s Hill in the southwest of England and have their eyes on a nine pound, round Double Gloucester cheese.
Then, the cheese gets rolled down the steep hill, and the participants run and tumble after it. The first person who catches the cheese is the winner of the event — and the cheese. The end. It all sounds like fun and games, but the cheese rolling is a serious event: many of the runners injure themselves and get scooped up by the ambulance once they reach the bottom of the hill. But despite the dangers, nothing can dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd and the cheese chasers. Post-festival, soak up your surroundings on a scenic tour of the southwest.
4. Tomatoes and more tomatoes in Spain
If we told you that a one-hour festival attracts people from all corners of the world, you’d probably think we’re crazy, but let’s talk about La Tomatina, everyone’s favorite tomato-themed celebration. The world’s biggest tomato fight brings thousands of people to Buñol, Spain.
On the last Wednesday of August, around noon, hoards of people paint the town red and throw more than 150,000 tomatoes at each other. Apparently, the tomatoes are over-ripe and of very low quality, so food waste isn’t a concern. And according to locals, the tomato sauce can just be hosed down from the buildings. They’ve thought this through!
The reason for the festival? Well, it’s neither an ode to the tomato nor does it celebrate the tomato harvest — La Tomatina apparently started as a food fight in the 1940s. The year after, the same people just met again, armed with tomatoes — and the rest is history.
5. History and oranges in Italy
Southern Europe seems to like food fights, so Italy’s La battaglia delle arance (Battle of the oranges) fits right in. Every year, in the three days leading up to Fat Tuesday, the people of Ivrea in northern Italy throw more than 500,000 oranges at each other.
The festival has nothing to do with battling the winter flu with an overdose of vitamin C. Instead, it dates back to medieval times when Violetta, a miller’s daughter, took things into her own hands when after a local nobleman made unwanted advances toward her. The young woman inspired the citizens to rise up, storm the palace, and free their town. Pretty dramatic, right?
So, to this day, the citizens of Ivrea commemorate the occasion by dressing up as either townspeople (on foot) or dukes (on floats) and have at it with oranges. Visitors of the juicy carnage can either stand behind safety nets or wear a red hat for protection — either way, it’s a messy three days.
6. Dancing and color in India
If you’re a fan of throwing powder, water, and mud at people, India’s Holi festival might be right up your alley. Head to Jaipur, Goa, or Udaipur, to witness the county’s wildest week. Holi, as seen on social media and screensavers around the world, is the Indian religious festival where everyone meets in the streets to sing, dance, and throw colored powder at each other to celebrate the beginning of spring and the triumph of good over evil.
But the powder isn’t just pretty to look at — the colors have special meanings. Red represents love and fertility, yellow is the color of prosperity and health, blue stands for the Hindu god Krishna, and green stands for new beginnings. The dye can leave lasting memories on your clothes, so dress accordingly.
7. Mud and marketing in South Korea
If you like mud masks to get clean and clear skin, South Korea’s Boryeong Mud Festival should be on your bucket list. For 10 days in summer, people in Boryeong basically have nothing but mud on their mind.
The mud festival has no religious or spiritual background — it started as a marketing tool for the cosmetic industry that wanted to market the area’s famous mud. And it worked! The world’s largest mud festival now attracts millions of mud lovers who participate in any activity that can be done with wet dirt, including bathing, wrestling, sliding, playing, dancing, and throwing. You can check the dates for each year’s festival on the town’s very own mud festival website.