12 months of the quirkiest festivals around the world

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.05.2024

The whole world loves a party, and a good one provides a great excuse to travel. Here’s twelve months of some of the more interesting ways people celebrate during festivals around the world.

January: World Buskers Festival, Christchurch, New Zealand

Clever street performers: they head to the southern hemisphere this month, where they can perform al fresco in midsummer. The ten-day congregation of singers, dancers, jugglers and more – one of the largest in the world, with 300,000 attendees – has been held in Christchurch since 1993.

The festival often kicks off with a Comedy Gala, featuring a lineup of top-notch comedians from around the world. Many of the performances at the World Buskers Festival are free to attend.

February: Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan

For a week in early February, Sapporo (the city that once hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics) holds its annual Snow Festival. The open spaces are turned over to massive ice and snow sculptures, from temples to animals to mazes — some towering over 15 meters (almost 50 feet) tall. 

This tradition began when local high school students built a few snow statues in Odori Park. Since then, it has grown into a world-famous event attracting around two million visitors each year.

This festival is also known for its many food stalls offering Japanese street food favourites like takoyaki (octopus balls) and yakisoba (fried noodles).


Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan © samshutterstock/Shutterstock

Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan © samshutterstock/Shutterstock

March: St. Patrick’s Day, Georgia, USA

You thought St. Patrick’s Day was an Irish thing? Silly you: the free-wheeling southern city of Savannah (almost completely lacking in an Irish population) has adopted the fest so fully that it’s the largest party here. Plus it’s drawn out over a full two weeks.

Savannah boasts the second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the United States, following New York City. Each year, hundreds of thousands flock to the city to take part in the festivities.

Leading up to St. Patrick's Day, the entire city of Savannah turns green. Green fountains, green beer, and shamrock-decorated restaurants offering green-themed specials. 

April: Vappu, Finland

Put on your ylioppilaslakki! That’s a white hat all Finnish students get when they graduate high school and it’s traditional wear for the start of summer. Starting near sundown on the last day of April and carrying through the whole next day, Vappu is celebrated all over Scandinavia, but for Finns, it’s one of the biggest national holidays. 

If you’re lacking a Finnish hat, any funny one will do, along with goofy sunglasses and overalls.

Vappu is celebrated with picnics in parks all over Finland. People gather with friends and family to enjoy traditional Finnish foods like munkki (donuts) and sima  (a sweet, low-alcohol drink). Champagne is also a popular beverage during the festivities.

St Patrick's day

Floats are picture perfect during St Patricks Day © furtseff/Shutterstock

May: Bun Bang Fai, Yasothorn, Thailand

This three-day Buddhist festival in Thailand starts with an all-night party of trancey mor lam music (a traditional Lao form of song). The second day has a cross-dressing, phallus-themed parade. So by the third day, you’ll be all softened up for the giant rockets, hand-built and hoisted onto bamboo towers by teams of inebriated men. They’re not kidding about the “bang”.

The origins of Bun Bang Fai traces back to ancient agricultural rituals practised by the early Thai communities to encourage rainfall during the dry season. While Bun Bang Fai remains deeply rooted in tradition, modern elements have been incorporated into the festivities over the years, including live music performances, beauty pageants, and food stalls offering a variety of Thai cuisine.

June: Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco

This annual gathering draws nerdy ethnomusicologists and spinning hippies for concerts held in the courtyards of many-centuries-old houses in the storied medina. Master sitar players, passionate flamenco guitarists and Morocco’s own Gnawa troupes put attendees in a trance.

This melting pot of cultures has been held annually since 1994, making it one of the longest-running festivals of its kind in the world. As the name suggests, the festival takes place in the medieval city of Fez, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its historic architecture. See our guide to Morocco in June.


Music Festivals are a great way to experience culture © Shutterstock

July: International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Global shoppers, get your credit cards ready. This four-day outdoor market  in Santa Fe brings artisans and their handicrafts from some 60 countries. This is one of the largest folk art market in the world, and the scene at the tents, with Kyrgyz felt workers next to Haitian painters, is like the ultimate global bazaar. 

Each year, thousands from around the globe come to seek out intricate textiles, beadwork, ceramics and more. On the last day, entrance is cheaper, and vendors are ready to make amazing deals.

August: Mount Hagen Cultural Show, Papua New Guinea

This weeklong sing-sing gathers over 100 tribes from PNG to display their traditional dress and dance. Expect to be dazzled by feathers, face paint, rattles and drums. The tribe that gets the most applause from the audience wins the festival, with bragging rights as well as cash.

This is one of the largest cultural events of the country, and began in the mid-20th century as a way for different tribes to peacefully showcase their unique cultural practices, amidst increasing modernization and influence from outside cultures.


Papua New Guinea

Sing-sing in Papua New Guinea © Shutterstock

September: Guérewol, In-Gall, Niger

In Niger, Guérewol is an annual gathering that holds significant cultural and social importance for the Wodaabe people. It's a time for them to showcase their traditions, values, and beauty standards.

At the heart of Guérewol is a beauty contest where young Wodaabe men compete to win the admiration of young women. The men sport elaborate makeup, beads, feathers and embroidered clothing. Line dances last for days, as women assess potential mates for stamina and grace.

Guérewol involves the entire Wodaabe community, including elders, women, and children. It's a time for storytelling and passing down cultural heritage from one generation to the next.

October: Fantasy Fest, Florida

At the end of October, Key West, the last in the string of islands that stretches south from Florida, plays host to one of the wildest fancy dress free-for-alls on Earth. 

Fantasy Fest is a music- and rum-fuelled party marathon that reaches its zenith with a massive themed costume parade. The Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest procession consists of brilliant bands, outlandish dancing groups, and dazzling floats – some blaring music or breathing “fire”, some sporting elaborately realized pink elephants and other creatures of fantasy.

The festival usually lasts for about ten days, with events and activities  taking place both during the day and at night.

Beach view with a vivid sunset at Key West, Florida USA © Shutterstock

The beach of Key West, Florida, USA © Shutterstock

November: Day of the Dead, Guatemala

Mexico’s celebration of this feast day is the best known, but in fact, it’s celebrated throughout Latin America. In Guatemala, families fly giant round kites, painted with the faces of loved ones, and eat a fiambre, an elaborate cold salad of up to fifty ingredients, from vegetables to cheese to meat.

The Day of the Dead celebration in Guatemala often brings families together in a joyous and reflective atmosphere. It's a time for remembrance, honoring ancestors, and sharing stories about the deceased.

Discover even more festivals Guatemala has to offer with our guide to the best time to visit Guatemala. Also for better planning, read our breakdown of how many days are optimal for visiting Guatemala.

December: Christmas, Philippines

So it’s not exactly as offbeat as the rest, but pair a majority-Catholic population with the end of the rice harvest, and you get Christmas food and festivities like nowhere else

Look for puto bumbong, sweet purple sticky rice in bamboo tubes, and star-shaped paper lanterns calles paroles. The best are in San Fernando City, the so-called Christmas Capital of the Philippines. The season starts December 16 (though anticipation starts in September) and carries well into January.

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