One of the great things about travelling is discovering hidden gems. There is nothing more exciting then finding yourself in a new city and suddenly stumbling across an interesting new festival. The festival featured below are the less known, the less famous, but the 100% interesting and engaging. We will take you around the world, with 12 months of lesser known festivals.
Jasper in January, Canada
Miranda – Endlessly Changing Horizon
When is it?: The dates change slightly each year, but the festival usually takes place during the last two weeks of January.
Where is it?: Jasper, Alberta, Canada
How much is it?: Entry to the festival is free, and there’s plenty of activities you can do for free, however some actives may have a cost.
Top tip for visitors: The majority of the festival takes place outside during Winter, so layering your Winter clothes is essential.
Fringe World, Perth Australia
Chantae – Chantae Was Here
When is it?: January 22 – February 22, 2016
Where is it?: Perth, Western Australia
How much is it?: Price varies per act. There are many free events.
Top tip for visitors: Book the most interesting sounding shows early in advance as they tend to fill up fast!
Las Fallas – Valencia, Spain
Olivia – Halfway Somewhere
Las Fallas is one of my favourite festivals. The streets of Valencia are filled with huge sculptures that get set on fire after a week of late night partying throughout the city. The first days of the festival are a crazy mix of firecrackers, dancing in the street, sangria, and cerveza, but the last night has a more sombre feeling as everyone gathers to watch the city burn.
When is it?: Mid-March
Where is it?: Valencia, Spain.
How much is it?: Free. Although accommodation in the city will be much more expensive than usual at this time.
Top tip for visitors: Don’t plan on getting much sleep at all! The parties in the streets go until 4am or later and you’ll be woken up early by firecrackers. Also, get in place to watch the finale early. Thousands of people will be there and you don’t want to miss it.
Semana Santa – Guatamala
Erin – Travel with Bender
Where is it?: Antigua, Guatamala
How much is it?: Semana Santa is a street festival so cost is free.
Top tip for visitors: My top tip is to watch your belongings. The streets are overrun by pickpockets and whatever is in your pockets will get taken. Leave everything at home, head in early and enjoy. Try to join a local in preparing a sawdust carpet, our kids loved taking part.
Himalayan Fair – Berkeley, USA
Carole – Travels with Carole
Founded in 1983 by Arlene Blum, who led the first female expedition up Annapurna and who was part of the 1976 Bicentennial Everest Expedition that set an altitude record for American women, the colorful outdoor festival celebrates authentic Himalayan arts, crafts, foods, music, dance, and entertainment. This year it will open with prayers by Buddhist and Hindu leaders for the 7,500 people who died in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, and donations will be accepted to help the relief effort.
When is it?: Mid-May
Where is it?: At Live Oak Park in Berkeley, California, U.S.A.
How much is it?: Free; optional $5 donation for raffle ticket that benefits Himalayan charities.
Top tip for visitors: Save room for lunch, and try the spicy momo dumplings.
The Cantine Aperte Festival
Lance and Laura- Travel Addicts
Throughout Italy, wineries across Italy participate in the Cantine Aperte Festival (meaning literally “open cellars”). For one weekend a year in May, the wineries open their doors to the public for a giant party. This is a chance to get behind-the-scenes access to many of Italy’s top wineries. For many, this is the only time a year when you get deep into their production facilities or sample some rare or unusual varietals.
When is it?: It is the last weekend in May every year.
Where is it?: Wineries all across Italy will participate. A full list of participating wine regions and producers can be found on the event website.
How much is it?: Cantine Aperte events are free to the public, however, each winery has wine available for purchase.
Top tip for visitors: Remember, Italy has zero tolerance for drunk driving, so be sure to have a designated driver. Do your research on the Cantine Aperte website and plan your route carefully to visit the best wineries.
Old Port Fest – Portland, USA
Julie – Drive on the Left
The Old Port Fest is the official kick-off to summer in Portland, Maine. Finally the streets are free from snow and tourists from New York and New England haven’t yet started to arrive. This annual festival is a fun combination of local music, with multiple outdoor stages, local food with lots of lobster and fried dough on the menu and even a smattering of art and crafts for sale. It’s also all free, so park the car a few blocks away and spend the whole day relaxing in the sun. It’s Maine at its best – as the sign says when you enter the state, ‘The Way Life Should Be.’
When is it?: June 12-14, 2015 (roughly same weekend every year)
Where is it?: Portland, Maine
How much is it?: Free, just show up, and purchase food/drink as you’d like.
Top tip for visitors: Come early! You’ll need to park a few blocks away from the neighbourhood given the street closures. Get your parking spot early and beat the crowds. If the day is hot, alternate your time between watching bands and ducking into air conditioned restaurants/bars/cafes for a rest. Repeat!
Vivid Sydney Festival, Australia
Danielle – Stuff it… Go Travelling
Vivid Sydney is the world’s largest lights, arts and ideas festival attracting over 1.4 million visitors to Australia’s ‘Harbour City’ each year. Running over 18-days in May to June, Vivid Sydney transforms the city into an electric wonderland. It features grand-scale light art sculptures, installations, free public exhibitions, light shows and projections, silent discos and also runs creative forums and contemporary music performances.
It’s a festival that celebrates and brings together some of the brightest minds in technology, art, music and ideas.
Numerous urban areas across Sydney participate in the festival such as Circular Quay, The Rocks, Martin Place, Darling Harbour, Pyrmont, Central Park and Chatswood.
When is it?: Annually during May/June (runs over 18-days)
Where is it?: Sydney, Australia
How much is it?: Mostly Free (creative forums and performances may incur a cost)
Top tip for visitors: Before attending Vivid Sydney select your preferred walking trail. Also plan to go on a weekday night instead of the weekend, as there will be fewer crowds. Finally, don’t forget to charge your smartphone and cameras.
Norwegian Wood Music Festival – Oslo, Norway
Sophie – Sophie’s World
Norwegian Wood music festival held every year in mid-June in Oslo, featuring local and international artists. Over the years, many of the big rock stars have performed here. This year (2015) Mark Knopfler, Tori Amos, Ben Howard, Patti Smith and many more on the stage. I’m especially curious to see Bombini, a tuareg performer from Niger; his music is described as hypnotic desert rock.
When is it?: June 10 – 13
Where is it?: Frognerbadet (The Frogner Baths)
How much is it?: NOK 500 – 805 for one day (depending on the day/ artists)
Top tip for visitors: The festival is held next to Frogner Park (free to enter). This is where locals walk their dogs, sunbathe, skate on the best longboards and just hang about. It’s also where you can find Gustav Vigeland’s famous sculptures, 212 life-size nudes. Don’t miss Angry Boy and the Monolith.
Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea
Chris – Aussie On The Road
Mud, booze, lots of people, and a beach. Sounds like my recipe for heaven!
The Boryeong Mud Festival in Boryeong, South Korea is the highlight of the expat social calendar for many in South Korea. For one week of the year, the sleepy little village of Boryeong is turned into a hedonistic orgy of mud fights, drinking, and beach bumming as foreigners and locals alike descend on the idyllic stretch of beach to party.
I had the pleasure of attending the festival as a boozy single in 2008 and a more restrained couple in 2009 and found that the festival is enjoyable from both perspectives. The young and wild can certainly enjoy the mud slides, mud fights, and body painting (and copious amounts of cheap alcohol), while the more restrained can check out cultural exhibits and live music, or just soak in the ambience of the whole affair.
My 2008 visit to the festival remains one of my fondest, wildest memories of my time on the road. Body shots, making out with strangers, wrestling in the water, late night food runs, and everything in between. Such a fantastic time!
When is it?: July (July 17-26 in 2015)
Where is it?: Boryeong, South Korea
How much is it?: Free!
Top tip for visitors: Get in early to book accommodation, as it sells out months in advance. A hutong (sleeping on the floor) is a good, cheap bet.
Time in Jazz, Sardinia, Italy
Claudia – My Adventures Around The World
Time in Jazz takes place every summer in Berchidda, in the North of Sardinia (Italy), and to jazz lovers is a must. It is a whole week or more of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (which are free) and the possibility to stay in camping sites or budget bed and breakfast accommodation. It is organised by Paolo Fresu, a world famous trumpet player, in his home village. Each year he gathers the best jazz musicians for some wonderful concerts. To the music, add the amazing surroundings, the nearby beaches which are among the world’s best beaches, the possibility of enjoying some great food, and you will want to add Time in Jazz to your bucket list!
When is it?: Each summer, in August. This year it takes place from 8 to 18 August.
Where is it?: Berchidda, in the north east of Sardinia, but concerts take place all around the area, in the mountains and forests as well as in the main square of the villages.
How much is it?: Attendance is free for open air concerts.
Top tip for visitors: Book your accommodation (even if it is a spot to pitch your tent) well in advance, as this is a top festival for jazz lovers all around the world.
Feast of San Gennaro, New York City
Carole – Travels with Carole
This annual extravaganza that is the Feast of San Gennaro celebrates the patron saint of Naples. Begun in 1926 as a one-day religious celebration, it now attracts more than 3 million people. I first heard about it from West Coast friends who grew up in the area and returned every year to attend. It took me a long time to finally get there, and when I did my attendance was by pure chance. I was in town, walking around, and we came upon it. What a lucky happenstance! Food is the main attraction, and the sausage sandwich–it is impossible to miss the aroma and sound of sizzling sausages, onions, and green peppers–is a must. And this is where I had my first, and last, fried Oreo. Many celebrants opt to sit down in one of the open-air Italian restaurants and really feast–perhaps with a nice glass of wine–while they watch the crowd pass by. Live entertainment is also part of the mix.
When is it?: September 10-20, 2015 (held the last two weeks of September)
Where is it?: Little Italy in NYC
How much is it?: Free
Top tip for visitors: Leave the Cannoli Eating Contest to the pros.
Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) – Kyoto, Japan
Lash – Lash World Tour
When is it?: Annually on the morning of October 22, which is the anniversary of Kyoto city
Where is it?: Kyoto, Japan
How much is it?: Like most big Kyoto festivals, Jidai Matsuri is free
Top tip for visitors: You can watch the parade at any point along the parade route, at the Imperial Palace or at Heian Shrine. However, I recommend heading to the Imperial Palace 1-3 hours before the parade actually starts. Why? All 2000 parade participants gather in the open palace park grounds beforehand to prepare and get organized.
Chestnut Festival – Croatia
SJ – Chasing the Donkey
The Marunada chestnut festival, in Lovran Opatija is totally dedicated to the Maruni, a chestnut species which is known to be sweet and easy to peel. The Maruni grow along the Opatija Riviera and each year the festival is awash with all kinds of chestnut cakes, chestnut puree, chestnut flavoured pancakes chestnut goulash, almost anything chestnut! The festival also has a packed with entertainment to keep kids happy.
When is it?: Every October
Where is it?: Opatia, Croatia
How much is it?: It’s free!
Top tip for visitors: Head to Opatija, located on the Istrian Coast of Croatia this October and feast on chestnuts. It’s ranked as a food festival not-to-be-missed. The popular chestnut festival celebrates the unique species of chestnut grown in Istria called the maruni. Be sure to sample the delicious desserts prepared with traditional honey from the region.
Ghent Film Fest – Ghent, Belgium
Sofie – Wonderful Wanderings
Each year in October, the Belgian city of Ghent becomes movie lovers paradise. That month, the almost two-week long Film Fest Gent presents about 80 features and 50 short films from around the world that attract 130,000 visitors each year. These visitors can not only watch the screenings, but also visit exhibitions dedicated to movie-related topics. Another thing that makes Film Fest Gent special is its large focus on film music, with the World Soundtrack Awards as an important part of the event.
When is it?: October 13 – 24, 2015
Where is it?: Gent, Belgium
How much is it?: Price depends on chosen screenings
Top tip for visitors: Bring eye drops. You’ll watch a lot of movies here!
Yee Peng Festival in Thailand
Zara – Backpack Me
When is it?: Yee Peng’s date varies according to the moon cycles, but it usually falls between the end of October and November. In 2015, the city of Chiang Mai will celebrate Yee Peng from November 25th to the 29th.
Where is it?: Several destinations across Thailand, but most importantly in Chiang Mai.
How much is it?: Free event.
Top tip for visitors: There are two different Yee Peng celebrations happening in Chiang Mai: one for locals and another one for tourists. The local event is free and open for anyone. As long as you get the dates right, you just have to show up. That way, you can avoid the “touristic version” of it, which not only is paid, but it’s little more than an imitation of the original event to give tourists the change to experience the lanterns release in a not so authentic atmosphere.
The Al Dhafra Festival, United Arab Emirates
Keri – Baby Globetrotters
The Al Dhafra Festival was established to preserve the heritage of the Emirati culture. Heritage events include the Camel Mazayna Competition (Camel Beauty Contest), Camel Racing, Saluki Racing, Falconry Competitions and Date Packing Competitions. Over 25,000 camels participate and prize money runs in to tens of millions of dirhams (about $15-20m) with competitors coming from across the Gulf states.
Unlike some experiences in the UAE that are very modern or have a manufactured feeling, this is the real deal and a must see for international visitors who want to appreciate more of the traditional Bedouin culture. It’s relatively undiscovered still other than by expats who live in the UAE.
The camel racing and camel beauty contests tend to be on alternating dates so booking an overnight stay is the best way to capture as much of the action as possible, and it can take quite a few hours to see how things work amongst what feels like crowded chaos of 4×4’s and random camels, the actual festival site covers a huge area.
Not much information is available in English but this can be part of the novelty of the event as you really don’t know what to expect! If you head to the central Souq or shoppers market, there are plenty of helpful staff on hand to explain things to you in English.
There is a special stand for Westerners to view the beauty contest. Staff here may speak little English but you will be treated like a VIP, directed to special seating and given a chance to get up close and personal with the camels in action. The chanting from the crowds is LOUD! You will think you’re at a football match they really get that excited over their camels.
When is it?: Held annually in December, dates vary year to year and 2015 dates have not been announced but expect the last two weeks of December with a detailed calendar of events to follow – see www.aldhafrafestival.ae
Where is it?: Held near the town of Madinat Zayed in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate. It’s about 2 hours drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport or 3 hours from Dubai International Airport.
How much is it?: There is no entry free to Al Dhafra all the community and visitors from abroad are welcome.
Top tip for visitors: This is a hugely popular event in the local community and across the GCC. Many will camp at the festival, however if you prefer four walls then there is the nearby Liwa Hotel or Tilal Liwa and some options in Madinat Zayed, you should book early as soon as event dates are announced. It can be done as a day trip from Abu Dhabi but involves a lot of driving through the desert and expect to get lost at least once! If you’re short on fuel there is a mobile refuelling station on site, just ask for directions as its a little distance back to the next fuel stop in Madinat Zayed.