World Festival Calendar: Ithaka Recommends The Best Festivals for 2020
We as humans break bread together, sing our hearts out or dance like there’s no tomorrow – all in the name of festivals. This is our way of saying that we’re not alone, but a part of a beautiful community.
As we approach the end of another decade, perhaps this is driven further home with a desire to travel the world and see more of how people live in it. How little things like throwing tomatoes, wearing masks, or flying kites, together with strangers and loved ones alike, matter the most in this huge world.
Read ahead as we’ve assembled for you in months, a potpourri of fun festivals from all around the world that you cannot miss in the upcoming year of 2020.
Snow Bike Festival, Gstaad, Switzerland
Start your new year with an adrenaline-fueled bicycling adventure in the snowy mountains of Switzerland. This 3 day festival at Gstaad attracts amateur as well as professional riders from all around the world, where they cruise the enchanting Swiss landscape on snow bikes.
It’s a different world up there, riding down icy slopes on quaint paths that wind through dense woods and villages. As you whizz by at fast speed, you will behold a world of white, where the snow beautifully blankets the tops of trees and roofs of tiny houses. At this alpine altitude, the only sounds you hear are of tires crunching in the snow, and of course, the cheering crowd!
Carnevale, Venice, Italy
Visit Venice to attend the carnival of all carnivals. A grand extravaganza, the Carnevale is a time when the whole city puts on a sensory display of all kinds of hues, with people strutting about on the streets in painted velvet masks and elaborate costumes. All you need to do to join is to don a mask and wander around the town to dance in masquerade balls, dive into delicious food, and behold candle-lit boat parades on the rippling waters of the grand canal.
The festival has ancient roots in the city, right from the 11th century when the Venetians started to indulge in this revelry to enjoy their excess of riches before the start of Lent (A 40-day fast from meat and festivities till Easter). During medieval times, this was also a transgressive time, where different classes of people could freely mingle with each other, behind a mask!
February – March
Lemon Festival, Menton, France
If life gives you lemons, host an enormous lemon festival. This is the motto of Menton, a town on the French Riviera, famous for its abundance of citrus orchards. A legend here says that the first lemon in this town directly comes from the garden of Eden!
Come mid-February to March, Menton’s streets are adorned with majestic structures made from these yellow beauties. From Egyptian Queens and dinosaurs to even the Taj Mahal, these floats are the subject of much fanfare! Painted dancers and folk drummers perform acts for the inquisitive crowd, often with a touch of tomfoolery to suit the whimsical air of this festival.
Tulip Festival, Netherlands
Welcome the fresh scents and hues of spring by frolicking amid Tulip fields in the Netherlands. During April, these gorgeous flowers bloom all around the countryside, swaying lightly in the spring breeze. From florist stalls and gardens to huge buildings, pretty tulips adorn the streets in bold colours of bright orange and yellow, deep red, and blush pink!
For the grand flower shows, it’s perfect to wander around the lanes of Amsterdam, Holland, or the Keukenhof Gardens in the town of Lisse. If you’re looking for an offbeat experience where you can beat the crowd, we recommend the island of Goeree-Overflakkee in South Holland.
National Cheese Festival, Trujillo, Spain
Do you love savouring the soft, creamy texture of cheese? Well, for all the cheese lovers and worshippers out there, we recommend the cheese festival at Trujillo. Tucked in a corner of Spain, this town is a hidden gem that comes alive in the first week of May, with hundreds of stalls that sell around 300 varieties of cheese!
Expect a burst of piquant flavours in your mouth when you try the local cheese, sprinkled with paprika or served with figs. Some stalls also sell wines, which can be excellently paired with the cheese – a complete meal, bound to satisfy your palate. You can also learn the local art of crafting cheese from sheep or goat milk – a perfect recipe for you to try a hand at making delicious cheese back home.
Stonehenge Summer Solstice, England
It’s the first day of summer and you can experience it right from the most ancient wonder of the world – Stonehenge. How this peculiar pattern of stones came to exist has been a mystery since ages! People from all around the world, especially druids, gather here to celebrate the shortest night of the year and watch the summer solstice.
It’s certainly a kind of ethereal magic to watch the darkness dissolve into daylight as the first rays of the sun hit the huge circle of stones with beautiful precision. In fact, the pattern of the rays channelled on the stones is so perfect that it’s eerie how it was built with such symmetry in the bronze age – a world without science! We hope that the Outlander fans can guess it for the rest of us.
Tomorrowland, Boom, Belgium
Tomorrowland – A dreamland that strums soul-stirring music thrumming in sync with your heartbeats, bound to send you into an inner jamming zone! With concerts going on all across the venue in the town of Boom, this festival is graced by the likes of David Guetta or Afrojack, making it one hell of a party.
Enter this fantasy land in Tomorrowland’s private shuttles, and you’ll see gigantic artsy trolls or fairytale castles, taken straight from a Tim Burton movie set. Dancing to fast beats with glow lights in your hand in this strange setup is a thrilling experience indeed!
La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
Love yourself a good food fight? Then the La Tomatina festival in Buñol is right up your alley! It’s said that the people of this town once bombarded the city councilmen with tomatoes, and since then the tradition evolved into a festival. During this day, Buñol attracts travellers from all across the world, their eyes shining with juvenile glee as they look at the huge trucks full of tomatoes entering the city.
You start the affair by scrambling to grab a piece of ham from a greasy pole! Once this is done, there is a blast from a water cannon, and La Tomatina begins. The trucks empty their squishy load, and then it’s one mad hour of plonking tomatoes that lead to the messiest food fight on the streets. At the end of this fun spectacle, you’re half tomato soup, with a childish smile on your face.
Note: We advise you to be careful when you participate and follow all the rules of the festival to play a safe game.
Festes De La Merce, Barcelona, Spain
A 4-day street festival, La Merce is Barcelona’s creative innovation given a dazzling life! Picture fire-breathing dragons slither through the city, the streets alight with a thousand different sparklers. Behold the giant’s parade, where gargantuan statues of Kings and Queens are displayed in all their glory. All this, held in honour of the Lady of Mercy, believed to have once saved the city from a plague.
From Saint Petersburg and Stockholm to Buenos Aires, guest cities are also invited to portray their unique arts and traditions – perhaps the most fascinating feature of this festival. After all, while we celebrate our own cultures with huge pomp, it’s always interesting to know more about the other civilizations around the world.
Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
A wedding party held for Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese in Germany quickly turned into an annual bash we now call as Oktoberfest! Every year, the people of Munich and from across the world descend on a meadow outside the city with one motto – Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit (a toast to good times).
Throughout a two week celebration, you will see colourful tents strung up and the streets filled with people parading to kettle drums, where the floats are full of brimming kegs of beer. Grab a mug of ale in one hand, and a giant pretzel in the other to join in this folksy fun! Apart from the flowing beer, the wafting scent of roasted chicken, smoked fish, and gingerbread delicacies will make it hard for you to leave. If you feel a spark of boldness, it’s time to try the roasted ox!
Loi Krathong and Yee Peng, Thailand
As you approach the end of the year, it’s time to light your fears and set them awash over the water. The festival of Loi Krathong allows you to do this, where the people of Thailand set sail banana boats filled with candles and flowers onto the rivers. It’s said that this is an age-old tradition carried out to celebrate the harvest and to appease the water spirits.
Loi Krathong coincides with the northern Thai festival of Yee Peng in Chiang Mai, where thousands of fire lanterns are released to alight the night sky! Together, people celebrate these festivals to watch a surreal dreamlike world, with tons of pinpricks of light moving away into the distance. An enchanting night indeed!
Ho ho ho, it’s time for Christmas! But, what if we tell you that you can spend your December with a bad Santa this year? Stemming from pre-Christian traditions, the demonic figure of Krampus – half-man, half-goat is the real pagan hype of Austria, who comes to punish naughty children at night! A counterpart to jolly ol’ saint nick, the two together stand for a balance of good and evil.
The townsfolk of Tyrol host a huge Krampus parade to honour this legend, where you’ll find people dressed in scary masks and costumes roaming around with whips and torches. Some towns even host a race, where the participants (mostly drunk) try to outrun a Krampuslike figure sporting fake horns. A festival, bound to appeal your wild side!
Whether it’s a pompous, rowdy affair or a serene tradition, we’ve pared down the weirdest as well as awe-inspiring festivals for you. Celebrate any of these occasions, and you just might scratch the surface of a beautiful foreign culture entirely different from yours, yet quite similar in its pure emotions of human joy and happiness.