From Hogmanay in Edinburgh to Bonfire Night in Lewes, Britain is home to a whole range of excellent festivals and events throughout the year. If you're planning a visit anytime soon we recommend you build you trip around one of these memorable parties.
But the backbone of Carnival is mas, the parade of costumed bands that winds its way through the centre of the event. Crowds line up along the route, and Ladbroke Grove becomes a seething throng of floats and flags, sequins and feathers, as the mas (masquerade) bands cruise along, their revellers dancing up a storm to the tunes bouncing from the music trucks. And for the next two days, the only thing that matters is the delicious, anarchic freedom of dancing on the London streets.
Notting Hill Carnival takes place on the Sunday and Monday of the August bank holiday weekend.
The evening starts with a candlelit concert in St Giles Cathedral, the hulking medieval church on the Royal Mile. From then on the tempo rises, with a massive street party on Princes Street and a boisterous ceilidh in the Princes Street Gardens, followed by a large-scale concert. At midnight, the fireworks kick off, and from Calton Hill to Salisbury Crags, from the new town to the old town, from the pubs and from the castle esplanade, the whole city looks skywards and celebrates. Auld Lang Syne is belted out, and any last shreds of Presbyterian reserve are abandoned, as people bound around hugging and kissing each other.
Edinburgh's Hogmanay is now a ticketed event, so book ahead at www.edinburghshogmanay.com.
The biggest celebration of Diwali outside India takes place in Leicester, one of the UK's most diverse cities. Every autumn, tens of thousands of people - including followers of the Sikh and Jain religions, who also celebrate Diwali - crowd onto Belgrave Road in the heart of the city's Indian community to take part in the "festival of lights".
The celebrations start with the switch-on of the Diwali lights: after music, dancing and speeches (in English, Hindi and Gujarati) from local dignitaries, a noisy countdown starts, climaxing at 7.30pm with the switch-on of around 6500 multicoloured lights, an explosion of confetti and a cacophony of cheers. Eventually the crowd works its way down the road - dubbed the "Golden Mile" - to the nearby Cossington Street recreation ground where an extremely loud firework display ensues.
For more information visit www.goleicestershire.com.
The itinerary changes a little every day but archery lessons are always on offer for a small fee, and most days host high-octane jousting and rather vicious skirmishing between Robin Hood and the evil Sheriff's men in the shade of the Major Oak, a gargantuan tree said to be over 800 years old, which attracts many visitors in its own right. The festival is a paradise for little boys and girls who have always dreamed of being Robin Hood or Maid Marian. Green felt caps, bows and arrows and garlands of flowers are ubiquitous fancy-dress props, and every day there are opportunities for children to join in theatrical re-enactments of the Robin Hood story, to the hilarity of their parents.
Robin Hood Festival, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire (www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/robinhoodfestival)
The one thing which Pride in Brighton and Hove has in spades is inclusiveness. Unlike Sydney, whose more militant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups have been known to spit fire at the thought of non-LGBT revellers muscling in on their Mardi Gras, Brighton is happy for anybody and everybody to join the party. You don't have to dress up, but if you'd like your photo to grace the galleries that pop up all over the web straight after the event, you most definitely should.
The main events of the Pride in Brighton and Hove summer festival (www.brighton-pride.org) are on a Saturday in early July
It's possible to have a fabulous time and see no shows at all, heading instead from temporary bar to venerable pub, nattering with the performers, punters and hangers-on that come here like moths to a month-long flame. But better to feel the heat of the action, wading through the drunks and the dross in the hope of spotting that rare and wonderful beast: genius making a name for itself.
Check www.edfringe.com, www.edinburghartfestival.com, www.eif.co.uk and www.edbookfest.co.uk.
In a unique ritual generally believed to be some sort of ancient Celtic fertility rite - May Day itself has its origins in the Celtic festival of Beltane - two Osses, monstrous, masked effigies with huge, hooped skirts, are paraded through the streets to the accompaniment of song, accordions and drums. It's best not to get too hung up on the meaning behind it all, and instead grab a pint and a pasty and get swept away in the festive ambience. Indeed it's impossible not to get swept away in the tangle of bunting-bedecked streets crammed with revellers.
For general information see www.padstow.com.
The party starts early in the morning of the first day of the New Year, the date of which changes each year, with stunning lion, unicorn and dragon dances, fireworks galore in a daytime display on St George's Square, t'ai chi demonstrations and at least 18,000 carnival-goers who bring the centre of Liverpool to a standstill. The lion in particular is not to be missed - its red colouring is believed to bring good luck, hence the prevalence of red in all the decorations. This is a great opportunity to get acquainted with some of the spectacular Chinese street food which is made to commemorate the beginning of a new year.
For information on the events organized see www.visitliverpool.com.
The week-long calendar kicks off with a carnival that sets the tone for good-humoured silliness. Enthusiastic pub crews, families in themed costumes and semi-professional brass bands all parade noisily down the packed, narrow high street. A local girl, decked in the hydrangeas that flourish in Cornwall in August, is crowned Queen of the Carnival, and the day culminates in partying on the quays and a firework display that fills the estuary with light, noise and smoke.
It's this estuary, above all, that makes Fowey magic. The little town is scraped along the side of a miniature fjord that's a fantastic amphitheatre. When bands play or guns go off to announce races, the noises swirl and bounce around. When the big yachts sail in from Falmouth, or the gig boats race, oars swinging madly, or the torchlight boat procession passes on the last night, the boats all parade in full view along the waterfront.
If wholesome homeliness is the draw, consider also visiting the little-known regatta at Polruan, Fowey's villagey neighbour, which lies a two-minute ferry ride across the water. There's hymn- and shanty-singing, a sand-castle competition, a tombola in aid of the lifeboat, and a race of bouncing balls along the tiny street that cascades down the hill towards the harbour. It's like Britain in the 1950s - and none the worse for it.
Fowey Regatta (www.foweyroyalregatta.co.uk) is usually held on the third full week of August.
Lewes' Bonfire Society parades take place on the night of November 5; for details, see www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk.