Are you the type of traveler who loves to learn about a destination's history and culture? If so, then be sure to take note of the following cultural events that are brimming with the host country’s culture. From Rio to Saint Petersburg, we’re providing some fun facts and tantalizing tips to enhance your global travel lifestyle with our list of the best festivals and cultural events of the world.
World Famous Cultural Events
Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Let’s kick it off with one of the largest festivals in the world, Rio’s Carnival. Originally a religious festival taking place over the 40 day period before Easter, Carnival is all about rhythm, participation and extravagant costumes. Festivities vary from one region of Brazil to another but the entire city of Rio de Janeiro is the epicenter of these giant street parties. With more than 2 million people taking to the streets each day, Carnival is known as the biggest party in the world, followed closely by New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.
Naturally, we recommend visiting by residential ship so you can retreat to the quiet comfort of your home at sea at the end of the festivities. However, if you decide to stay on the mainland, we recommend Ipanema Beach over Copacabana. It’s just far enough out of the mayhem but still close enough to the action to one of the top world festivals. It’s also a nicer, cleaner beach. Other tips for Rio’s Carnival are:
- Plan your transportation: Several road closures through the city can make it difficult to get around.
- Pick your blocos wisely: Blocos (Portuguese for street party) vary in size and wildness, so do your research before you pick. Blocos closer to your accommodation may be a wise choice due to the first tip.
- Have your costume ready: While there’s no shortage of elaborate costumes, colorful costumes are a go for Carnival. Popular choices include sailor, police, or unicorn costumes. However, keep in mind it gets hot so just shorts, skirt or swimwear and some body paint will suffice.
- Stay hydrated: Chances are you are going to be shaking your booty a lot so be sure to stay hydrated and do not overdo it on the alcohol!
- Be street-wise with valuables: Better yet, don’t take any out with you, except maybe your phone. As you will be in crowded areas with a significant petty crime rate, be aware of opportunistic pick-pocketers out there.
- Have fun: Not much else to say here but just let go and get into the traditional dancing!
Cannes Film Festival
One of the most famous film festivals in the world, Cannes is an arts and culture event for movie buffs. This is an industry-only art festival for most screenings but still fun to attend for the rest of us. Here are a few insider secrets we can let you in on.
Typically held in May, the Cannes Film Festival also screens Cannes classic films every night on Mace Plage Beach, across from the Hotel Majestic, for free. The Cinema de la Plage even provides comfy chairs and blankets. However, we recommend turning up early for a chair. If not, just bring your beach towel.
Thankfully, Anyone can purchase tickets to the Directors’ Fortnight screenings. Look for the ticket booth sign, Quinzaine, located next to the Marriott.
Other than that, dress to impress (preferably a tux or white linen) and just hang out by the red or blue carpets throughout the whole festival for some star spotting!
Dragon Boat Festival, China
The Dragon Boat Festival is an important celebration in China, closely followed by their Lantern Festival. In 2022, the annual festival will take place across a three-day public holiday from June 3rd - 5th. Also known as Duanwu Festival, this 2000 year tradition honors Qu Yuan, Wu Zixu, and Cao E with dragon boat racing and festival food. It originates from the legend of patriotic poet Qu Yuan (343–278 BC), who drowned himself in a River. It is said people hurriedly paddled out on boats to seek his body.
In 2009, The Dragon Boat Festival was added to the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List. As such, this is as rich a Chinese cultural festival experience as you will get.
The races start directly after the opening ceremony. The wooden boats are generally about 20–35 meters in length and shaped and decorated as a Chinese dragon. They typically will have 30–60 people paddling. They race to the sound of beating drums and are quite spectacular to witness. The best places to watch the races include:
- The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival: Victoria Harbor, Kowloon, Hong Kong
- Hangzhou Dragon Boat Festival: Xixi National Wetland Park, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province
- Guizhou Dragon Canoe Festival of the Miao Ethnic People: Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province
- Yueyang International Dragon Boat Festival: Yueyang Prefecture, Hunan Province
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain
One of the more famous cultural festivals, The Running of the Bulls is a religious festival that takes place from 7th - 14th July in Pamplona, Spain. They let loose a group of around ten bulls in a sectioned-off area of the town's streets. If you are game, you can choose to run and be chased by these bulls. As adrenaline-induced and perhaps fun as this can be, injuries can occur, but that doesn’t stop people from attending as it’s one of the world’s best festivals for spectators.
If the thought of being on the receiving end of a bullhorn doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you can watch this Spanish cultural event from the sidelines, and perhaps witness some unfortunate daredevil get horned. The best way to watch is from one of the many balconies which line the course. These can be rented in advance. This is a safe way to experience the event while still feeling the energy and atmosphere of this authentic world festival.
St Petersburg White Nights, Russia
Although the phenomenon known as White Nights is not unique to St. Petersburg, it is the world's most northern city with a population over 1 million and therefore makes this the liveliest atmosphere to experience this world festival event. White nights happen when the night sky stays bright due to the northerly geographical location. The brightest period is between June 11th to July 2nd and is known as White Nights.
During White Nights, night stays so light that the authorities do not bother to turn the city's streetlights on. As a result, you will find the streets teeming with people walking along the banks of St. Petersburg’s rivers and canals no matter the time of night or day. The atmosphere is lively, romantic and friendly, creating the ultimate Russian cultural festival occasion.
To enhance your cultural experience then consider that St. Petersburg is also known as one of the world's premier architectural travel destinations. So, if you haven’t yet visited, then going during White Nights might be ideal as there is so much beautiful architecture to take in. This way, if you run out of time during the day to see it all, then you still have all night to walk this majestic city and explore its architectural gems.
Other cultural experiences include their world-class Peterhof and Heritage Museums, and enjoying the excellent culinary delights. If you are stuck for time, we recommend the hop-on hop-off city sightseeing bus tour, with it’s upper level with open roof providing a great vantage point to take in this beautiful city.
Harbin Ice Festival, China
The Harbin Ice Festival is a winter annual event and cultural festival that takes place in Harbin, China. It was a tough choice between choosing Harbin Ice over the Lantern Festival, both culturally significant events in the Chinese lunar calendar, but we believe Harbin belongs on the list as one of the world’s best festivals.
Originally just a Chinese festival, it has grown to become international with over a whopping 18 million visitors attending. Also, a competition attracting ice carving artists from around the world gives this festival claims to the world's biggest ice sculptures. Some of these are spectacularly beautiful.
It’s a mammoth festival spanning over most of January and February. Each year has a different theme, the latest being, “The Wonderland in the Land of Snow, The Grand View in the World of Ice and Snow.” Take that how you like, just expect to experience a surreal winter wonderland. Besides giant sculptures, you can expect:
- Ice and snow world
- Ice lantern art fair
- Ice and snow carnival
- Ice bar and restaurant
- Winter swimming (apparently it’s good for you)
- Dog sledding
- Siberian tigers and other arctic animals
This is a great cultural festival for those who also enjoy ski holidays, as Harbin is also a renowned ski resort location.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead Festival), México
Time to turn to the dark side. The Dia de los Muertos cultural festival, or Day of the Dead, is an annual festival and traditional celebration on 1st and 2nd November. As macabre as it sounds, Dia de los Muertos is actually for a great cause: to take time out to pay homage, respect and tribute to those family members who have passed on. This should be celebrated throughout the world!
So, even though the theme is death, the festival is more about love and remembrance. The idea is that the dead come back once a year for two days to celebrate with us. Perhaps it is the dressing up as a skeleton contrasted with celebrating absent friends and family in a joyful manner that makes this cultural event so special.
Families honor their deceased in a number of ways:
- Ofrendas (offerings) on altars decorated with bright yellow marigold flowers
- Photos of the departed
- Art installations
- Favorite food and drinks of the one being honored
The dead souls are said to hear their families prayers, smell the food and come join in on the celebrations. Sounds cool to us!
“Day of the dead is a holiday to remember loved ones by sharing a meal with them as one would when they were alive.”
Dia de los Muertos takes place all over Mexico, but nowhere celebrates it quite like Oaxaca (Wah-hah-kah), a fascinating city brimming with indigenous culture.
Oktoberfest is one the most famous festivals in the world for good reason. Beer! Bratwurst! Bavarian culture! Perhaps you celebrated there as part of the European backpacking ritual in your twenties. If that’s the case, you probably cannot remember too much of this seasonal festival because of all those giant mugs of beer. However, there is more to Oktoberfest than just drinking beer… we think.
Interestingly, Oktoberfest does not actually take place in October, but late September, finishing on the first Sunday of October. This German cultural festival is held in Munich and lasts for 18 days. It is the world's largest Volksfest with more than 6 million people attending every year from around the world.
Oktoberfest originated as a partnership between the Paulaner Brewery and fashion house Hirmer und Amsel Trachten, who also designed special costumes. It is these distinctive outfits oozing in German culture that define Oktoberfest. Well, that and lots of beer...we think. The men wear the likes of the signature Kurt Lederhosen costume while the women wear a Frieda Dirndl traditional dress. Of course, there are many varieties of this attire. They particularly look great during the traditional German folk dances.
The event has become so popular that, much like St. Patrick's Day, that other cities around the world hold their own Oktoberfest parties and dress up in the same Lederhosen and Dirndl costumes. Saying that, nothing beats the original and best in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. Prost und trink aus!
Holi Festival, India
Holi Festival is an Indian Hindu festival and religious holiday that celebrates the arrival of Spring with love and new life. Much like the Diwali festival, Holi is a religious festival, but now much more about having fun and celebrating life. A holy week in India is a highly joyous occasion with lots of colorful attire, singing, traditional dances and throwing powder paint bombs of color. It is nicknamed the Festival of Colors.
India has a lot of cultural and religious festivals, but Holi by far attracts the most attention outside the country. It may just be the best time to visit India as the Holi Festival is one of the most celebratory times of the year.
Although Holi Festival is held all over the massive country, except for maybe in densely populated Islamic regions, we recommend experiencing it in the smaller towns, such as:
All three locations mentioned above offer their own unique interpretation of this ancient Hindu Festival.
The Gathering of Nations, Albuquerque, USA
The Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque is the largest of its kind in North America. The Pow Wow is an annual festival for first nations people to celebrate their culture. As European colonization has wreaked havoc on Indigenous peoples and continues to do so around the world, having a colorful occasion where they can return to their traditional customs of singing, dancing, crafting and drumming is not only a solace but also important in keeping their heritage alive.
Today, there is a growing awareness of the sacred significance of the pow wow and a focus on increasing the economic and social development of First Nations people. The Gathering of Nations Pow Wow celebrates Native American culture and pride with over 3000 dancers, singing competitions, traditional horse and rider parade, Indian traders market, street fair, food court, and the highly popular Stage 49 contemporary music stage.
Stage 49 has an amazing musical and entertainment line-up of talented artists. It also hosts Miss Indian World, where you can see a line of Indian beauties competing for the crown of Miss Indian World. There is also a TeePee Village with the World's tallest TeePee. The whole event is incredibly beautiful to watch.
Another great festival also in Albuquerque is the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta where you can see a spectacular sky show of up to 588 giant hot air balloons of all sorts of shapes, colors and designs inflated and released to the skies.
Closing Note: You may notice we have not included any music festivals. That’s because we have a dedicated blog on the world's most culturally significant music festivals which you can read soon. Also, no wine festivals or food festivals, but you can read about wine tourism here.
World famous cultural events
Storylines MV Narrative is a luxury residential ship. We are a community of like-minded people who choose travel as a lifestyle, not a vacation. We are guided by core values of sustainability and participation in the communities we visit. We consider ourselves culturally aware and like to visit these kinds of cultural festivals around the world. If this sounds like you then please join us.