With so much to see, do and experience in this wonderful world of ours, fitting everything into any kind of itinerary would challenge even the most seasoned of backpackers.
Yeah, you could go and see what you want, come back and plan some more, then head off again for your next cultural fix – wherever that may be – but it’s difficult enough to know what’s on and where at the best of times.
Which religious festivals should you check out? Which dates are celebrated and why? What about national public holidays?
You’ve heard of St. Patrick’s Day, Holi, and the Dragon Boat Festival but when are they? You won’t want to miss them, that’s for sure.
The answers to these questions could not only help you to decide where you would like to be at a particular time of the year but they could even help you to book your flights around them and avoid any potential delays in your trip.
Whatever your reasons may be, I’ve pulled together a fairly comprehensive list of multicultural events around the world – 25, to be precise – into one handy post to help you plan your travels in 2016.
I’ve made every effort to get the big ones down in chronological order but I’m sure I would have missed a few. Go ahead and leave a comment below with any that you think should be included and I’ll look to get them added asap.
Also, please know that I have researched these events in good faith with the intent being purely to provide information to fellow travellers and backpackers. If I offend anyone with incorrect or inaccurate information then please do let me know and I will correct it asap.
In the meantime… enjoy!
Friday, 1st January 2016 – New Year’s Eve/Day
Observed yearly on the 1st January, New Year’s Day is arguably one of the most celebrated public holidays in countries that have adopted the use of the Gregorian calendar. It certainly goes off with a bang across respective time zones throughout Europe and the world.
Be there: London, England – On New Year’s Eve, fireworks fill the skies above the mighty River Thames, lighting up the Embankment, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. A timely strike from Big Ben signals the beginning of the new year… and a few passionate moments as loved ones embrace. Be sure to take your own loved one with you for fear of getting grabbed by a stranger for a smooch!
Monday, 25th January 2016 – Burns’ Night
“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national poet and lyricist with all the haggis, neeps and tatties you can stomach, washed down with the finest Scotch whisky. The Scots really know how to put on a show so you can expect days – and nights – full of singing, dancing and laughter.
Be there: Edinburgh, Scotland – Where better to immerse yourself in Scottish culture than the medieval Old Town – and the glorious Georgian New Town – of Edinburgh? It’s an incredibly historic city with stories to be told on every street. Give yourself a few days to get around; you will not want to leave.
Watch this video by Yaya Travels and find out more.
Friday, 5th February 2016 – Rio Carnival
The glitz and glamour of the world famous Rio de Janeiro carnival is second to none when it comes to a rhythmic and riotous party atmosphere. The “greatest show on Earth” is a five-day samba swing with flamboyant, feathered dancers and sequin-studded floats parading their way through the streets of Rio, taking over all the bars, clubs and venues in its path.
Be there: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Join in on the fun in 2016 from Friday, 5th February to Tuesday, 9th February. The Rio Carnival website has everything you need to know to book your trip. From tickets to the Samba parades and the Carnival Ball, to your hotel and transfers… if there’s one party that you simply must go to in 2016 then make it this one.
Tuesday, 9th February 2016 – Mardi Gras
Shrove Tuesday, also called Pancake Day and Mardi Gras. The British name of “Pancake Day” comes from the tradition of making pancakes to use up all the food that could not be eaten during Lent. Festivities take place in many cities all over the world, including Mardi Gras in New Orleans, USA, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Venice, Italy.
Be there: New Orleans, USA – Mardi Gras – affectionately nicknamed “Fat Tuesday” by The Big Easy’s locals – is the last day of the Carnival season during the most popular time to be in town. Be sure to arrive no later than the 6th February to catch the best of the parades over the extended weekend.
Sunday, 14th February 2016 – Valentine’s Day
One for the love bugs out there… and what’s more universal than the language of love? Although, it is not classed as a public holiday – probably due to it being celebrated in so many countries – it is widely recognised as the day in which to express your true feelings to one another with cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts. A romantic trip to almost any city in the world would be an experience to behold for starry-eyed couples but there’s one that instantly springs to mind and it may not be the one that you’re thinking of…
Be there: Rome, Italy – That’s right; Rome. In the loving eyes of some travellers, The Eternal City is now seen as the world’s most romantic destination. A recent study suggested that 28% of people – only 2,000 people, but still – showed Rome serious some love. Why not take a few days, rent a car, and drive down the coast, from Rome to Naples, finishing up at the beautiful Amalfi Coast.
Monday, 15th February 2016 – Nirvana Day
Nirvana Day, observed primarily by Mahayana Buddhists, celebrates the day when the Buddha is said to have achieved Parinirvana, or complete Nirvana, upon the death of his physical body. Head to southern Thailand in search of Sri Vijaya sculptures from the eighth and thirteenth centuries.
Be there: Phuket, Thailand – Marvel at the majesty of one of the most revered Buddhist landmarks on the island; Phuket’s Big Buddha. At 45 meters tall, this mighty yet peaceful image sits atop Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata. It’s easy to spot from a distance but is most certainly worth the half-hour road trip from central Phuket.
Thursday, 17th March 2016 – St Patrick’s Day
The Irish certainly put the English to shame with their patron saint celebrations. St Patrick’s Day is always an experience to remember as locals and tourists alike don shamrocks and a variety of other green accessories to join in the national day of fun. It’s customary to let your hair down and enjoy a Guinness or three, dance, sing and laugh your way around the Irish capital of Dublin. St Patrick’s Day is also widely celebrated around the world, including the likes of Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.
Be there: Dublin, Ireland – Let’s face it, everyone wants to be Irish on St Patrick’s Day! It’s now so much more than just a single day. It’s a full-on, 4/5-day festival showcasing Irish national talent, arts and culture. Why not make 2016 the year that you become an honorary Irish citizen? And if you don’t quite take to the taste of Guinness the first time around, then just have another. I know I will!
Read more about How to Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin on Valerie & Valise.
Wednesday, 23rd March 2016 – Holi Festival
Holi is right up there as one of the most colourful festivals on the planet. During this Hindu celebration of spring and the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’, crowds come alive by throwing coloured water and powder over each other. Friends, family, strangers, rich, poor, men, women, young and old… everyone’s invited to this party.
Be there: Mathura, India – Just four hours from the capital, Delhi, lies the birthplace of Lord Krishna; Mathura. Processions of colour, music, food and fun line the paths along the river from the temples to Holi gate. The sights and sounds of India are mesmerising at the best of times but Holi festival will blow your mind!
Sunday, 27th March 2016 – Semana Santa
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, three days after he was executed. The Easter story is at the heart of Christianity and is celebrated around the world in many different ways. Thousands line the streets of Seville, Spain, to watch see the highly-decorated processions and marching bands pass by on candlelit floats as they depict their own version of the Easter story.
Be there: Seville, Spain – Easter Sunday falls on the 27th March in 2016 but I would most definitely recommend arriving the week prior to experience the Spanish fiesta at its very best. The cofradias (brotherhoods) release their processions from midday each day and you could see up to nine per day.
Wednesday, 13th April 2016 – Songkran
Remember those Super Soaker fights that you’d have as a kid during the warm summer days? Well, Songkran blows that out of the water! The Thai New Year celebrations fall on some of the hottest days in their calendar and this is marked with an enormous water fight. Water pistols, water balloons, buckets, hoses… anything that can leave you drenched can and will be used against you during this friendly mini-war and it sounds like so much fun. As with most New Year rituals, the concept of pouring water over one another is of course symbolic; wash away all your sins and bad luck for a new year and a new start.
Be there: Chiang Mai, Thailand – In Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, Songkran can last for anything up to a week. Be sure to wear as little as possible – while maintaining your dignity of course – so as not to ruin any of your favourite items of clothing through constant water bombing and friendly talc attacks. Oh, and watch out for the Elephant tanks! That’s right, they like to join in too.
Read more about the Songkran Festival on Travels in Translation.
Tuesday, 3rd May 2016 – Lailat al Miraj
Lailat al Miraj is the time for Muslims to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the ‘Farthest Mosque’ in Jerusalem. It is from this mosque that Muhammad is said to have ascended into heaven and became purified. Muslim followers will attend special prayer meetings at mosques or will host more intimate affairs in their own homes with family and friends.
Be there: Istanbul, Turkey – The Al-Aqsa Mosque (farthest mosque) is known as the third holiest site in Islam and is located within the Old City of Jerusalem. However, my personal recommendation would be to visit the splendour of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The calls to prayer in this historic city are simply hypnotic.
Sunday, 15th May 2016 – Wesak/Buddha Day
Wesak or Buddha Day is the major festival of the year for Buddhists from the Theravada tradition. Celebrated on the full moon, Wesak represents the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It’s called Wesak after the month in which it falls in the Indian calendar.
Be there: Brickfields, Malaysia – Join in the spirit of Buddha as thousands of devoted followers bathe in the waters of the Buddha statue. Watch as they cleanse their souls and seek blessings. With parades beginning in the evening, you can expect a vibrant yet cultural, tranquil evening.
Thursday, 9th June 2016 – Dragon Boat Festival
An event of great significance to the Chinese people, the Dragon boat festival remembers the legend of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC). He was a minister and poet in the State of Chu. Rather than see his country become conquered by the State of Qin, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the river. Locals sailed their boats down the river in search of his body and this practice continues today – over 2000 years later.
Be there: Kowloon, Hong Kong – The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Victoria Park, Kowloon, continues to attract some of the finest athletes – and discerning spectators – for one of the world’s best carnivals. It’s still a very ancient tradition but it has been given a modern twist and is a fun day out for all ages.
Take another look at Travels in Translation for more on the amazing Dragon Boat Festival.
Thursday, 16th June 2016 – Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev
Guru Arjan Dev was the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus and the first Sikh martyr. He laid the foundations of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India and gave it four doors to symbolise acceptance of all people.
Be there: Amritsar, India – Back to India once more but this time, Amritsar, to the holiest of Sikh gurdwaras; Harmandir Sahib.
Wednesday, 6th July 2016 – Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr is an important Islamic holiday for Muslim communities around the world. It marks the end of the month-long fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. It’s one of the two major holidays in the Islamic year and is celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving to God, as well as feasting and gift giving. This event involves many Muslims waking up early and praying either at an outdoor prayer ground or a mosque. People dress in their finest clothes and adorn their homes with lights and other decorations.
Be there: Dubai, UAE – Celebrations are centered mostly in shopping malls due to hot weather. Parades and entertainers from all over the world join the festivities. A large fireworks display also takes place in the creek area and in Festival City. This is definitely a more glitzy way to experience Eid al-Fitr.
Tuesday, 19th July 2016 – Asalha Puja
Asalha Puja (Dharma Day) is observed among Buddhists worldwide as the day that their religion was established. Buddhists from the Theravada tradition celebrate the teachings of the Buddha, visiting their respective temples throughout the world to practice Dharma. They also give small donations to the monks and listen to sermons to remind them of this great beginning.
Be there: Central Java, Indonesia – The festival of Asalha Puja is centred around the ninth-century Mendut Temple, near Borobudur, in Central Java, Indonesia. It draws large crowds from in and around the area to witness the sermons.
Monday, 15th August 2016 – Feast of the Assumption
The Feast of the Assumption commemorates the death of Jesus’s mother, Mary, and her bodily assumption into Heaven. It is celebrated on or around August 15 in many countries, particularly in parts of Europe and South America. It’s also called the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God (in the eastern countries), or the Feast of the Assumption.
Be there: Mosta, Malta – In Malta, the Feast of the Assumption is known as the feast of ‘Santa Maria’. This religious ‘festa’ is celebrated in no less than seven Maltese towns and villages; Għaxaq, Gudja, Ħ’Attard, Mosta, Mqabba and Qrendi in Malta, and Victoria in Gozo. The party is well and truly on!
Thursday, 25th August 2016 – Janmashtami
At Janmashtami, Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna. It takes place during the Hindu month of Shravan (August-September). Krishna is one of the most powerful incarnations of Lord Vishnu and Hindus believe he came to free the Earth from evil.
Be there: Dwarka, India – Legend has it that Dwarka, the lost city, was built in just two days, although Lord Krishna was said to have spent a century there. The temple of Dwarkadheesh is renowned for its Krishnashtami celebrations as devotees from all over India and the world make the journey to take part.
Wednesday, 31st August 2016 – La Tomatina
Since 1945, locals of the Valencian town of Buñol have engaged in one of the biggest food fights known to man; La Tomatina. It’s purely for fun and entertainment and is most certainly nothing short of that.
Be there: Buñol, Spain – Join in the 20,000-strong tomato throwers from all over the world and test the Spanish produce for yourself. It’s a ticketed event which ensures that the 70-year tradition can continue so be sure to get yours early to avoid disappointment.
Saturday, 17th September 2016 – Oktoberfest
The Bavarian culture just wouldn’t be the same without this historic Volksfest. Held each and every year in Munich, Germany, over 6 million people attend the 16-day festival from around the world. It’s all about beer, music and fun with friends and family. What more do you need?
Be there: Munich, Germany – Catch the opening ceremonies on the 17th in the Schottenhamel tent. The Mayor of Munich gets involved by tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer which signals the start of drinking time! The fun doesn’t stop until the 3rd October but do your best to get there early and experience Oktoberfest from start to finish.
Head back to Valerie & Valise for a deeper insight into Oktoberfest.
Sunday, 30th October 2016 – Diwali
Diwali (or Deepavali, the “festival of lights”) is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn (northern hemisphere) every year. Diwali is the biggest and the brightest festival in India. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness. Over the course of one week, each day in Diwali represents a different reason to celebrate. How cool does that sound?
Be there: Delhi, India – A warm and friendly festival atmosphere with candlelit processions will get you in the mood to party. Expect a little raucousness though as things pick up with fireworks and firecrackers “upping” the noise levels. Ear plugs? Go hard or go home, right? No, it’s probably a pretty good idea.
Monday, 31st October 2016 – Dia de los Muertos
If there’s one place I’d absolutely LOVE to be during Halloween, it’s Mexico. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) looks absolutely unreal! Yeah, there’s plenty of fun to be had among the ghouls and ghosts but the whole point of the festival is so that families and friends can remember and respect their loved and lost – in the most eccentric yet poignant way possible of course.
Be there: Mexico City, Mexico – Don your best freaky outfits and get involved with the zombie march through Mexico City for, quite possibly, the best Halloween you’ve ever had. As a huge fan of The Walking Dead, I think I’m going to feel right at home.
Tuesday, 15th November 2016 – Loi Krathong
Loi Krathong, the Festival of Light, is a Thai family event held in November each year. The kids get involved with their parents in making krathongs; small, light baskets created from banana tree leaves and filled with incense and flowers. A lit candle inside the basket helps to carry the krathongs away. This is symbolic to the Thai people who believe that the krathongs take all of the bad luck away with them.
Be there: Bangkok, Thailand – The riverbanks of Chao Phraya is the place to be if you want to get the very best out of your Festival of Light experience. Stand in awe as locals and visitors alike release their krathongs, literally watching their bad luck float away, into the night sky and down the river. A wonderful time to be alive.
Christine from Grrrl Traveler has put together a pretty awesome article and video Guide to Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals in Chiang Mai. Be sure to take a look!
Saturday, 10th December 2016 – Mevlana Whirling Dervishes
Join the Turkish people in commemorating the death of Rumi and attempt to achieve your very own divine harmony – or at least watch the professionals achieve theirs – as they whirl away during this 10-day festival. They’ve definitely got plenty of energy with two shows a day so you’re pretty much guaranteed to experience this authentic event for yourself regardless of when you arrive. Just be sure to grab tickets!
Be there: Konya, Turkey – Just an hour’s flight from Istanbul, Konya is the home of Whirling and is known for holding on dearly to its traditions. As a visitor – and as I’m sure you would wherever you go in the world – be sure to respect their conservatism and dress appropriately. Having said that, layer up to keep warm as it can be quite nippy in the winter months with bitterly cold winds rolling in.
Wednesday, 21st December 2016 – Burning The Clocks
The funky, bohemian, seaside city of Brighton on the South coast of England is renowned for its variety of festivals and parties. Burning The Clocks is most definitely one of them. Created in 1994, it marks the Winter Solstice and brings people together from all religious backgrounds and walks of life to celebrate as one. It is also more recently known as a way to rebel against the commercialism of Christmas. Either way, it’s a pretty cool show as people set their lanterns alight to take part, culminating in a big Brighton beach burn-up!
Be there: Brighton, England – There are plenty of guesthouses and hostels in and around the beachfront and city center – not to mention hotels if that’s more your style – and Brighton is on the main train line from both London Victoria and Gatwick Airport. Nice and easy! Again, wrap up warm for a night at the seaside, especially in England. You can buy lanterns from certain event outlets which include entry wristbands as a package but, if you’re making your own, then be sure to get them verified and approved by the very same outlets.
Read more about Burning the Clocks on The Travel Bunny.