Attending a local festival can be a great way to get to know a place, and festivals can be a great excuse (I mean, reason) for a trip.

Thousands of festivals of all sizes are held around the world, so any list of “the best festivals” has to leave out some amazing events. In this case, we’ve chosen one (or maybe two) festivals from each continent, that we either love, or would love to attend.

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Europe: San Juan festival, Spain

We’re huge fans of Spain, and have spent a lot of time in one of its northernmost cities, A Coruña. Coruña really comes alive in summer, and never so much as on June 24, the day of San Juan. It’s a new-year type celebration of leaving the past behind and starting afresh, and for some reason, involves sardines. We’ve never quite worked that out.

There’s plenty of music pumping from the big stages that are set up around the city, and the streets are full of people. Many people start their evening in a bar for a beer or two, some tapas, perhaps a sardine from the barbecue many bars set up in the street outside their doors. Others stake out a space on the beach, in preparation for darkness falling, when the fires get lit. Coruña’s two long beaches studded with the lights of the fires is something to see! One of the big traditions is to jump over the fire, symbolically leaving the old year behind.

Another tradition takes place the next morning, when you wash your face with water that has had fragrant herbs soaking in it all night; it’s another type of cleansing.

Jumping over a fire is one of the traditions of San Juan
San Juan, Coruña

Asia: Nadaam, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This one’s high on our wishlist for its uniqueness factor. Where else in the world can you watch people compete in athletic events that have a tradition going back hundreds of years? I found it interesting that just three sports are played: wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Perhaps this simplicity has helped maintain its authenticity throughout the years.

Events are held throughout Mongolia over the summer, but the one you’re most likely to travel for is National Nadaam. This is the biggest festival in the calendar, and is held in Ulaanbaatar (the capital) from July 11 to 13. As well as the sports themselves, the opening ceremony is worth a watch, as it features music, dancing and horse-riders, as well as athletes.

Nadaam in Mongolia
Events are held throughout the country.

North America: Burning Man, Nevada, USA

We’ve published quite a few articles about Burning Man here on Indie Travel Podcast, which has really piqued our interest. The original event has inspired spinoffs around the world, including one in Thailand, and another in Africa, but I get the feeling that Burning Man itself will never be outshadowed by its imitations.

Put simply, Burning Man is a gathering of like-minded people in the middle of the Black Rock desert in Nevada. Of course, “simple” doesn’t begin to explain the atmosphere and vibe, the feeling of the temporary community that springs up for a week or so, out of nothing. A whole town emerges, with streets, camps, art installations, music, talks, events, everything you can imagine. The climax of the whole thing is the burning of a statue of a man towards the end of the festival… hence the name.

Check out our article about preparing for Burning Man for more information about Burning Man.

Burning man bikes
Burning Man

Africa: Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco

We haven’t spent much time in Africa, but we’d love to go back to Morocco to take part in the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music. Held in the gorgeous city of Fez, this festival celebrates musical traditions from religions around the world, whether that’s gospel choir music, Sufi music and dancing, or holy chanting. It sounds amazing, a great way to celebrate the sacred in gorgeous settings.

Sacred music
Sacred music

South America: Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Christian festival of Carnival (or Carnaval) is celebrated around the world in various ways, but Rio really outdoes everyone else. The word “carnival” itself means “goodbye to meat” and the holy day marks the beginning of Lent, a period of forty days of fasting, during which meat was traditionally not eaten. This means that Carnival tends to be a period of excess, as all the food that couldn’t be eaten during Lent had to be used up. And Rio takes “excess” to a whole new level.

Featuring parades, balls, feasts, costumes, street parties, music, and a whole lot of feathers, Carnival in Rio is amazing. It attracts about a million people every year. The main focus of the festival is the Samba school parades, featuring dances and floats prepared by groups of neighbours who work all year to make sure their contribution to the event is as awesome as possible.

Carnival in Rio
Carnival in Rio

Oceania: Auckland Lantern Festival and New Years in Sydney

Our favourite festival in our home city of Auckland isn’t as big or as spectacular as some of the others in this list, but it’s one we love to attend. Every year, Auckland Domain is filled with giant paper lanterns to celebrate Chinese New Year, and a walk through the park after dark is an important part of our summer. There’s music, food trucks, and a lot of people, all there to enjoy the spectacle. A highlight is the lantern that celebrates the new year; for example since 2019 is the year of the pig in the Chinese Zodiac, there was a large pig lantern at this year’s festival.

Auckland Lantern festival at Chinese New Year
Auckland Lantern festival

Continuing the New Year theme, celebrating in Sydney is a great way to see in the New Year. It features one of the world’s most amazing fireworks displays, off the iconic Harbour Bridge. If you can’t make it to Australia, why not see in the Australian New Year by watching the fireworks online, from wherever you happen to be?

Summer’s a great time for festivals, so head out and find an event that suits you — we certainly plan to!

This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by Visit Milwaukee.

Vogue Magazine says Milwaukee, Wisconsin is “the Midwest’s Coolest and Most Underrated City.” Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is the original Brew City, the home-base of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and so much more. It’s home to Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, and the city that roots for Bucks basketball and Brewers baseball. If you’re an urban kayaker, a cheese fiend, an art lover, a beer geek – it’s time to get to know Milwaukee. It’s totally random and totally wonderful.

Explore Milwaukee’s festivals at visitmilwaukee.org.

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