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The Best Events for Travel: Around the World for a Year of Festivals

Becky Hart | Jun 20, 2023

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Colorful fireworks and lights over a stage with large crowd of people.

We love a relaxing beach vacation, but sometimes we’re looking for a little more action. Festivals, tournaments, and full-scale events are the perfect excuse to hit the road. Thankfully, we have plenty of choices. Here are our picks for some of the best festivals — some familiar, others a little quirkier — around the world that are worth traveling to experience for yourself.

Best Festivals in the United States

Summer: Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota

Few places can claim “motorcycle culture” like the United States, and for one week in August, it all converges on tiny Sturgis, South Dakota. That’s when the town of 7,000 explodes to hundreds of thousands of people, mainly leather-clad bikers.

The party atmosphere in town isn’t for the faint of heart — Sturgis Motorcycle Rally can get a bit rowdy — but when you’re ready for a break from the party action, the winding roads of the American West are right under your wheels. Take a ride to nearby Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, or the Black Hills.

Summer: Comic-Con International in San Diego, California

You’ve read the books and comics. You’ve watched the movies. Now you can meet the creators and actors and mingle elbow-to-elbow with fellow geeks at perhaps the world’s biggest gathering of comic and sci-fi afficionados. We’re big fans of people watching at Comic-Con, too. You’ll find some impressive cosplay that might just leave you questioning what universe you wandered into.

Spring: Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan

The country of Holland doesn’t have a monopoly on tulips. Holland, Michigan, in the western part of the U.S. state, has been hosting a celebration of tulips every spring since 1929.

Tulip Time is a week-long event in early May. You’ll find flowers planted in parks around the city, but when you’re not tip-toeing through the tulips, be sure to stop at the Dutch market for snacks and souvenirs, watch or take lessons from Klompen dancers, treat the kids to rides and games at the carnival, or practice yoga amongst the tulips.

Spring: Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis, Indiana

Dubbed The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500 is a month of events leading up to the INDYCAR race at the end of May. Test your leg speed in the Indy Mini-Marathon — the finish line is on the racetrack — or check out one of the community events, many of which benefit the 500 Festival Foundation, supporting youth programs and education initiatives. You can watch the practice rounds in the weeks leading up to the big race, too.

If you go to the track on race day, expect more than just cars. Fans will camp out and tailgate outside the Speedway long before the gates open. And The Snake Pit on the infield in Turn 3 is more about the concert stages and party than which driver has the lead.

If nothing else, you’ll be in awe of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s sheer size. Covering 560 acres, this venue could fit Vatican City, the Taj Mahal, the Roman Colosseum, the White House, New York’s Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs, and the Rose Bowl inside it … all at the same time.

Fall: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico

From modest beginnings — 13 balloons launching from a parking lot in 1972 — to international renown, the Balloon Fiesta now features more than 500 balloons taking flight and filling the early-morning sky with color.

There are also fireworks displays, drone shows, and entertainment on the ground to keep you busy for all nine days of this fall festival. Keep your eyes up, though, for the Special Shape Rodeo. These balloons look more like parade floats and have become one of the most beloved parts of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Fall: Village Halloween Parade in New York City, New York

New York City doesn’t really do anything with subtlety, so why would it start with Halloween? For more than 50 years, the Village Halloween Parade has attracted millions of visitors costumed as everything from the ghoulish to the glittery.

You’ll need some stamina for this event. Lasting three hours, it’s filled with bands and performances. This is a celebration for everyone, though, so if you have a costume, join the parade!

Winter: Winter Party Festival in Miami Beach, Florida

While many winter festivals are about embracing the colder season, this one’s quite the opposite. Winter Party Festival is essentially a week-long dance party on the beach. And it’s for a good cause. The National LGBTQ Task Force donates a portion of the proceeds from Winter Party to community advocacy groups in South Florida.

Winter: Portland Winter Light Festival in Portland, Oregon

Typically in early February, this festival is all about bringing light back to an otherwise long, dark winter. Light displays, street food, and artistic performances are meant to brighten the mood as Oregonians await the return of spring.

Because the city is known for its quirky art and love of outdoor markets and food trucks, you know the festival will be good. Plus, with temperatures averaging 38 degrees Fahrenheit (about 3 degrees Celsius) in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the Portland Winter Light Festival might be a bit more comfortable than winter parties elsewhere.

Best Festivals in the United Kingdom

Summer: Henley Royal Regatta, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England

Described as “quintessentially British,” the Henley Royal Regatta is equal parts world-class sporting event and socializing. Over the course of a week, you can sit along the banks of the Thames to see more than 300 races, some of them including Olympic rowers. Round out your posh experience with riverside shopping, dining, and cocktails.

Spring: Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake in Gloucester, England

It’s a bit of a headscratcher how chasing a wheel of cheese down a hill became such an internationally renowned festival, but here we are anyway. For more than 600 years, participants have been racing to catch a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese that’s traveling down a dangerously steep hill at speeds of 70 miles per hour.

We highly recommend enjoying Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling as a spectator only as several participants are injured annually in pursuit of the cheese.

Fall: Guy Fawkes Night in London, England

Also known as Bonfire Night, this evening of reverie recognizes a failed plot to kill the king in 1605. Given its origin, it’s not too surprising that some celebrations have been known to get a bit rowdy, but today it’s mostly about fireworks, sparklers, and grilling foods like hamburgers and hotdogs.

You’ll find celebrations all over England on November 5, but one of the most spectacular is at Alexandra Palace in north London. Of course there’s a bonfire, but you’ll also find a massive fireworks display, German beer festival, rides, ice skating, and more.

Winter: Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Scotland

Also known as the Shetland Viking Fire Festival, this wintery celebration takes place for 24 hours on the last Tuesday of January. The parade has a distinctly ominous appearance as volunteers dressed in Viking garb and bearing torches make their way through the streets. The parade ends at a longship, built specifically for the occasion, where the revelers hurl their torches aboard and set the vessel ablaze.

The rest of Up Helly Aa is all about the party — food, drink, and plenty of dancing and entertainment. You’re meant to celebrate the history and traditions of Shetland. It's an experience that shouldn’t be missed if you find yourself in the northern islands.

Best Festivals in Europe

Summer: Midsummer in Dalarna, Sweden

When summer finally arrives, the Swedes make the most of every minute. And there’s plenty of sunlight for revelry in June during the summer solstice. This weekend of festivities calls for everyone to break out of hibernation and celebrate with floral crowns; meals of pickled herring, fresh potatoes, and strawberries; and dancing around maypoles. You’ll also find games in parks and gardens to enjoy the return to the great outdoors.

If you’re looking for a health boost, some say walking in the dew at dawn during Midsummer helps keep you healthy. And that sounds like something worth celebrating.

Summer: EXIT Festival in Novo Sad, Serbia

What started as a student protest against the government has become a showcase of eclectic music from around the globe. The EXIT Festival has been voted best Major Music Festival, and in May 2023, studies claimed that EXIT was the second-best value festival in Europe based on the affordability of a ticket in relation to the quality of the program.

The festival is held in the Petrovaradin Fortress, where centuries-old architecture provides incredible acoustics for a thoroughly modern sound. More than 600 artists, ranging from Guns N Roses and Wiz Khalifa to Wu-Tang Clan and Skillrex, play on the festival’s 20 stages, and concert goers are treated to gorgeous views of the River Danube.

Spring: Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain

Yet another festival centered around fire, the main event of Las Fallas is burning effigies of corrupt politicians and celebrities. Crews build extravagant monuments, called ninots. After a vote, the best is saved while the others are burned at the end of the March festival.

It’s not just about bonfires, though. You’ll also have a chance to sample paella, enjoy music to fit nearly anybody’s taste, and, of course, see fireworks displays. Even if you can’t make it to Valencia for Las Fallas, check out the museums dedicated to the effigies and the artists who make them.

Fall: Ognissanti in Italy

Like Día de los Muertos in Mexico, Ognissanti remembers those who have passed away. In Italy, however, traditions vary more by region. Depending on where you visit, you’ll see kids going door to door to ask for offerings, people sitting graveside during a meal to keep their deceased loved ones company, or families feasting at home.

Winter: Ljubljana Dragon Carnival in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Whether this is a spring or winter festival is up for some debate, but at the heart of this celebration is the banishing of colder weather and the welcoming of spring. Americans might find a bit of a Halloween feel to it despite it being February, as people will dress in costumes — dragons, witches, anything fierce enough to scare off winter.

You’ll find similarly themed festivals in other parts of the world such as Nowruz in Central Asia and in Switzerland with the burning of the Böögg — a giant snowman — during Sechseläuten.

Winter: Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo, Norway

Watch a few days of the winter Olympics, and you’ll quickly realize that Norway knows how to ski. So it comes as no surprise that while other cities celebrate the end of winter, this Nordic country is doing all it can to embrace it.

The Holmenkollen Ski Festival coincides with the FIS World Cup Nordic in March, with ski jumping and cross-country skiing competitions. When you aren’t cheering for your favorite skiers, warm up at the Ski Museum, which captures over 4,000 years of the sport’s history.

Best Festivals in Japan

Summer: Mountain Day

In a country steeped in centuries of history, it’s a bit surprising to find a holiday that’s truly new. Japan started celebrating Mountain Day in 2016 to give people the opportunity to explore and appreciate the outdoors.

Where you go to develop your own appreciation for mountains — a symbol of peace in Japan — is up to you, and you certainly have options. The countries have thousands of peaks to choose from, and more than 20 of them measure nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). The most iconic? Mt. Fuji on the island of Honshū.

Spring: Cherry Blossom Festival in Fuji Five Lakes, Chubu, Japan

Japan boasts exquisite natural beauty year-round, so when we say that the most beautiful time to visit is in the spring during the blooming of the cherry blossom — or sakura — trees, you know it’s going to be something spectacular.

Be sure to take part in Hanami traditions to get the full effect. This includes picnicking under the sakura and outdoor parties, parades, and entertainment aimed at helping you to appreciate the stunning trees.

Because you can never be sure exactly when the flowers will bloom, try to keep your itinerary flexible. Most Cherry Blossom Festivals are from late March to mid-May.

Fall: Oktoberfest in Yokohama, Japan

You might have been expecting Oktoberfest to show up on a list of epic international festivals. We’re guessing you didn’t think you’d find it in Japan, though. Similar to traditional Oktoberfests, you’ll indulge in German beers, sausages, and music but with views of Tokyo Bay.

Cool your jets a little before booking a trip to Yokohama, though. Unlike Munich where Oktoberfest happens in September, Yokohama Oktoberfest actually takes place in October.

Winter: Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Japan

This is one of the most popular festivals in Japan despite freezing temperatures. It’s become a long-standing tradition to see the snow and ice sculptures, and one you won’t want to miss if you visit the mountainous island of Hokkaido.

Of course, this winter wonderland has more to offer than just freezing art. There’s also music, food stalls, ice slides, and mazes. When you’re done at the Sapporo Snow Festival — or if your visit doesn’t bring you to the city in February — be sure to indulge in the hot springs and sento bathhouses.

How to Protect Event Travel with Travel Insurance

Attending one of these events could be the experience of a lifetime. When you invest in these experiences, you want to protect the money you spend on tickets, flights, hotels, and other travel associated with the festival or celebration.

Protect your investment with travel insurance in case you have to cancel or interrupt your trip. Depending on your plan, you may also be able to add optional Event Ticket Registration Fee Protection coverage. With this benefit, we can reimburse you the cost of your prepaid, nonrefundable event tickets if you must cancel your trip and cannot attend the event, or if you need to leave the event early for a covered trip interruption reason.

Get a quick quote online or talk to one of our licensed sales agents to find the best protection for your event-related travel.

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