Though differences in culture and customs can be vast, there’s at least one thing that unites people across the planet– the desire to celebrate. Holidays and festivals have long been part of the human tradition, commemorating the spiritual, sacred and at times just plain weird.
Traveling for a holiday can give you the unique opportunity to take a deep dive into another country and make new friends along the way. From sipping beers on St. Patrick’s Day in the brick-lined pubs of Ireland to savoring the spiritual experience of Holi in the ancient streets of India, here’s our comprehensive list of holidays worth traveling for.
New Year’s Eve
- Where: Sydney, Australia
- When: December 31st/January 1st
If Australians have a reputation for one thing its that they like to party. New Year’s Eve is a beloved celebration around the world and each major city celebrates in a unique style. There’s no greater place to say goodbye to an old year and ring in the new than Sydney, however.
Not only is Australia one of the first land masses to ring in a new year due to its proximity to the international date line, the Sydney harbor also puts on one of the world’s biggest parties. Imagine yourself watching fireworks glow above the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge all while you enjoy some delicious Australian wine.
Explore all tours and trips in Australia.
- Where: India
- When: Between End of February and mid-March
Known as the Festival of Colors, bright colored powder fills the air during Holi, a Hindu celebration full of joy that commemorates the victory of good over evil and the end of evil. This festival is celebrated on the last full moon of the lunar month so the date varies, falling between the end of February and mid-March.
Holi is one of the most important holidays in India and travelers will be impressed by the celebrations all throughout the country. Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, an important figure in Hinduism, is an especially powerful place to experience the holiday.
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St. Patrick’s Day
- Where: Dublin, Ireland
- When: March 17
Modern St. Patrick’s Day bears little resemblance to its roots as a religious celebration of Saint Patrick, a Christian Missionary who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland (and amongst other legends driving snakes out of the island as well).
While the holiday gained much of its current notoriety thanks to the churnings of American capitalism, celebrating this holiday in Ireland’s capital city of Dublin is an experience not to be missed. Cross the Ha’Penny Bridge and head straight for Temple Bar, a brick-lined district chocked full of pubs where beer and traditional Irish music will spill out into the night.
Book an 8-day tour of Ireland over St. Patrick's Day to learn about Christian history and St. Patrick himself!
- Where: Seville, Spain
- When: Easter Week
Holy Week, the week commemorating the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, is celebrated in Christian nations, cities, and communities throughout the world. Perhaps nowhere are celebrations more elaborate, however than Seville, Spain, where Semana Santa celebrations fill the streets. A procession with wooden statues depicting the biblical scenes leading up to Jesus’ death and the Virgin Mary is marched through the streets of this southern Spanish city by processions of brotherhoods in traditional dress.
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Boryeong Mud Festival
- Where: Boryeong, South Korea
- When: July
Don’t expect to come home clean after experiencing the Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea. Famous for its mineral-rich mudflats, visitors flock to Boryeong during two weeks in July to cake themselves in mud, swim in grey pools and enjoy the party, complete with music and fireworks. There are even mudslides and a mud skiing competition for those who are seeking the ultimate mud adventure!
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- Where: Bunol, Spain
- When: The last Wednesday in August
From mud to tomatoes, things also get a bit messy in summer in Bunol, a small town in Spain’s Valencia province at Tomatina, the world’s biggest food fight. Thousands of tomatoes are crushed during a compact hour of chaotic fun. Participants wear goggles to protect themselves from the flying red fruit and the streets quickly fill with red tomato sauce.
Book a tour to experience La Tomatina for yourself.
- Where: Munich
- When: Mid-September to October
From rivers of tomatoes to a flood of beer, Oktoberfest has become popular in many corners of the world, but to truly experience this cultural wonder you’ll need to head to its birthplace; Munich, Germany. During this weeks-long Bavarian beer festival, tents pop up throughout the charming city of Munich where beer-lovers can experience traditional German music, dancing and of course golden lager.
Book a tour to raise your own glass at Oktoberfest in 2018.
Dia de Los Muertos
- Where: Oaxaca, Mexico
- When: November 1 and 2
Each November pueblos and cities alike throughout Mexico light up in honor of the dead during Dia de Los Muertos. During this celebration Originally celebrated by pre-Colombian inhabitants of the Mexican Peninsula, the celebration was later moved to November to line up in accordance with the Catholic Holidays All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Celebrations are most flamboyant in Oaxaca, where every home hosts a beautiful altar decorated with pictures of the dead, brightly-colored marigolds and sugar skulls.
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- Where: Germany & Austria
- When: December
Ok, so we know Christmas markets aren’t actually a holiday, but the Christmas season is so on point during the Christmas Markets in Germany and Austria that we had to include this one.
During the month of December cities and towns throughout Germany and neighboring Austria turn into a winter wonderland, celebrating all things good with the winter season. Local artisans sell crafts (that just so happen to make perfect Christmas gifts), vendors sell food and warm wine is served. Some Christmas markets will even line entire streets and come complete with ice rinks, carols and twinkling lights overhead.
And there you have it -- a comprehensive list of the festivals and holidays worth traveling for. Remember, holidays are some of the most sacred traditions people around the world hold dear to their hearts. There’s perhaps no better way to truly understand a culture different from your own than to partake in their beloved celebrations, side-by-side with locals. So roll up your sleeves and dive into those tomatoes!
This article was originally published in November 2011 and updated in November 2017.