Every country in the world likes a party – but some nations really know how to push the boat out. From food-focused festivities to colourful carnivals, cultural festivals can give you a whole new perspective on a country. Not only do these events add a different dimension to your travels, but they also allow you to rub shoulders with locals and feel like part of the community.

Whatever they’re celebrating, the best cultural festivals have an infectious energy and are a great way to immerse yourself in local customs and traditions. So, if you like a party and are thinking about your next holiday, why not combine the two?

To get you inspired, here are 10 cultural festivals around the world worth making a trip for.

1. La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain

La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain

Spain isn’t short of unique cultural events, but La Tomatina is its messiest festival. And, if you like tomatoes, it’s probably one of the best-tasting too. Since 1945, the small town of Buñol in Valencia has hosted one of the country’s maddest celebrations, which involves thousands of people engaging in a huge tomato-throwing fight on the streets, pelting anyone they can see in soft fruit.

Believed to have started as a playful dispute during a parade, the festival now attracts more than 20,000 visitors each year. The main event lasts about an hour, and revellers turn the streets red as they chuck fruit at each other in a joyful frenzy. After, the streets are hosed down, and the festivities continue more customarily – with music, dancing, and lots of delicious food and drink.

2. Dia de los Muertos, Mexico

Dia de los Muertos, Mexico

If you’ve always dreamed of visiting Mexico, why not think about visiting at the end of October? Día De Los Muertos – the Day of the Dead – is a one-week festival that kicks off on October 31st, and this heartfelt celebration is far more complex than many people think. The festival dates back more than a millennium, and over the years the indigenous celebrations have merged with Catholic traditions.

Each region of Mexico celebrates Día de los Muertos in their own way, although the festival hotspots are in Oaxaca and Michoacán. Cities are covered with colourful flowers, skeletons walk the streets, and food and family take centre stage. Ultimately, this lively festival is a cheerful celebration of death, weaving together grief and joy, and reminding us that life is fleeting and should be cherished.

3. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

If you’re passionate about beer, then the world’s largest beer festival should be right up your street. Once a year, more than seven million thirsty tourists descend upon Munich for a 16-day celebration of beer and Bavarian culture. For more than 200 years, Oktoberfest has delighted revellers, and while it can be overwhelming, attending is a genuine and exhilarating once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Around seven million litres of beer are served each year, usually served in steins distributed by waiters in lederhosen and waitresses in dirndl dresses. All that alcohol means there needs to be lots of food on offer too, and aside from wurst, you can tuck into pretzels and kaiserschmarrn, a shredded pancake dish. There are also parades, fairground rides, and traditional German music. Prost!

From £899pp - Albanian Rivera Holiday

Save 40% on this incredible tour to Albania. Spend a week exploring this ancient culture without sacrificing time to relax on the famed Albanian Riviera. Visit Berat, Blue Eye National Park, Tirana and more on this incredible adventure. All flights, accommodation and activities are included, and with availability from June 2024, your summer holiday awaits!

Price and availability accurate as of 9:00am 20th April 2024.

Book now with Exoticca

4. Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Billed as the biggest party on earth, Rio’s Carnaval is not for the faint of heart – but no street festival can offer an experience quite like this one. Colourful, chaotic, and captivating, this festival is synonymous with Brazil’s most striking city, and every year it pulls in millions of visitors in February or March (traditionally, the celebrations were all about excess before the sacrifices of Lent).

Expect 10 days of kaleidoscopic parades, non-stop samba dancing, throbbing drum beats, and ornate costumes and floats. There are three parts to the celebrations: paid-for parades, paid-for balls (where guests compete for the most extravagant costumes), and free street parties. The latter goes on from dawn to dusk, features free-flowing food and drink, and often finishes up on the beach.

5. Holi, Mathura, India

Holi, Mathura, India

India is known for its joyous, colourful culture, and no festival is more vibrant and extravagant than Holi. From golden temples to rainbow-hued saris, India’s palette is already supersaturated, but things go into overdrive once a year for this ancient Hindu festival of spring, colour, and love. Symbolising new beginnings, it sees the whole country come alive…and become drenched in coloured powder.

It was Krishna who was said to have started the paint-chucking tradition in Mathura, and this town is still the best place to celebrate. Locals dance down the street, joyfully throwing powdered colours at each other, and while this can look a bit like a playground paint fight, there’s a deep spiritual element to this technicolour fun. No one is safe from the paint, so wear clothes you don’t mind spoiling!

6. Saint Patrick’s Day, Dublin, Ireland

Saint Patrick’s Day, Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s national knees-up is celebrated all around the world, and in international cities with large Irish communities there’s always a great craic. Commemorating the death of Ireland’s patron saint, St Patrick’s Day is a showcase of Irish pride, and while anywhere in Ireland (and Northern Ireland) will be bursting with excitement and good humour, there’s no better place to celebrate than the capital.

On March 17th, Dublin comes to life in a blaze of emerald green shamrocks, and the city is packed with events, from parades and parties to traditional live music and comedy shows. Drinking a pint (or several!) of Guinness is a must, as is pub-hopping. There are plenty of family-friendly activities, but the bars and pubs will be packed until late, with the Irish spirit flowing even faster than the alcohol!

Get a great deal on your next holiday

Looking to book your next getaway? Here’s a selection of the best travel deals on Rest Less today.

From £1,499pp £2,729 – Adventure through China* >

45% off | 16 Days | Flights & Accommodation Included | Book with Exoticca

From £939pp – Tenerife Coast & Country* >

7 Nights | Flights & Transfers Included | Book with Travel Department

From £222pp – South Aegean Islands Holidays* >

Greece | Flights Included | Book with TUI

Prices and availability accurate as of 9:00am 9th April 2024.

Or see all travel deals

7. Mardi Gras, New Orleans, USA

Mardi Gras, New Orleans, USA

If Carnaval is South America’s wildest street party, then Mardi Gras is the North American equivalent. Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’, and it refers to the tradition of eating rich, fatty foods before Lent. In New Orleans, it’s the historic French Quarter where you’ll find the real celebrations, and today, this colourful, chaotic, and iconic festival is deeply entwined in New Orleans identity.

The highlight of Mardi Gras is its dazzling parades, and the streets are jam-packed with spectacular floats, marching bands, and sparkling costumes in vivid colours. If you want to fit in, wear a costume (the more glitter, the better!), as nothing sticks out more than a tourist in shorts and a T-shirt! As the day unfolds, the parades turn into parties, and the whole city hums with a collective celebratory spirit.

8. Songkran, Thailand

Songkran, Thailand

If you’re dreaming of escaping to Thailand, why not visit in April? Songkran, the celebration of Thai New Year, is usually observed from April 13th to 15th, but this year the celebrations will last for the whole month! If Holi is an excuse to throw paint at people, Songkran is an excuse to drench total strangers in water, and during this cultural phenomenon, cheerful water fights dominate the streets.

The water symbolises washing away misfortune, but the festival has also just become a fun excuse to cool off during one of the hottest months of the year, and locals arm themselves with water pistols, hoses, and buckets. Bangkok is just as crazy as you’d expect during Songkran, but things are a little calmer (but no less wet) in Chiang Mai. Be warned, though: locals love to target non-Thais!

9. Inti Raymi, Peru

Inti Raymi, Peru

All around the world, solstices have spiritual and religious significance, and things are no different in South America. Inti Raymi (the sun festival) is an Incan tradition that’s celebrated by Andean people all over the continent, though its roots are in Peru. The Spanish outlawed the festival in the 1500s, but it was reinstituted in 1944, and the biggest celebrations take place in the Incan capital of Cusco.

The solstice falls on the 24th of June in Peru and the celebrations last for nine days, giving visitors a fascinating glimpse into the rich culture of the Incan people. Locals dress in historic costumes and perform traditional dances, there are processions through the street, and delicious food is shared around. There’s even a llama sacrifice – although, happily, nowadays this is only a simulation!

Search over 2,000 holiday deals

Whether you’re looking for a last-minute getaway, city break or the trip of a lifetime – our travel section has over two-thousand deals from top providers, with options to suit all budget levels.

Find my next holiday

10. Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan

Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan

Japan is an expert on cultural celebrations; an estimated 300,000 festivals are held each year, from small events to enormous celebrations. Gion Matsuri falls into the latter category, and as one of Japan’s biggest annual events, it’s celebrated for the whole of July. Originally held to pray for Kyoto’s protection from the plague, today the festival is part ancient tradition, part full-throttle street party.

Locals and visitors flock to the streets dressed in traditional, colourful robes, feasting on delicious street food and sipping on local beer. The highlight of the celebrations is two huge parades, and the floats are nothing short of spectacular – think huge works of art that showcase Japanese art and culture at its best. Then, in the evening, the buzzing Yoi-Yama street parties go on all night.

Final thoughts…

If you want to see a new destination at its best, you might want to think about timing your visit with a cultural festival. Witnessing one, and joining in the celebrations yourself, is one of the best ways to get to know a new place and feel connected to the local people.

From the euphoric celebrations of Rio’s Carnaval to the mystical rituals of the Peruvian Inti Raymi, and the heartfelt meaning of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos to the tomato-splattered madness of Buñol’s La Tomatina, cultural festivals can be inspiring, exhilarating, transformative, and eye-opening.

Immersing yourself in new cultures and appreciating the different values and beliefs around the world is a great way to celebrate diversity, as well as gain a new perspective on our wonderful world – and aside from discovering a new favourite destination, you may make new lifelong friends too.

For more inspiration for your next trip, why not check out our top travel deals page?

Have you been to any of these cultural festivals? Or are you thinking about making the trip? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.