From buffets for monkeys to mud fights to burning Viking ships, these 10 festivals offer unique and sometimes bizarre experiences that you can’t get anywhere else!
- Up Helly Aa
When: The last Tuesday in January
Where: Lerwick, Scotland
Up Helly Aa is a Viking fire festival held in the town of Lerwick in Shetland, a Scottish archipelago between the UK and Norway. Dating back to 1877, Up Helly Aa was introduced as an alternative to tar barreling, a practice where men would drag burning barrels of tar through the town. It started as a torch procession and later a burning galley was added. Today as many as a thousand men dress up in viking disguises and march through the town to a burning Viking ship. The “guizers” are led by their elected chief for the night, the Guizer Jarl, who dresses up like a different Norse god each year. After the procession, the different guizer squads head off to parties at halls throughout the town, where it is their duty to perform a skit and dance with at least one lady before moving on to the next hall. The festivities last until the next morning, which is a public holiday in Shetland as the town recovers. The festival is open to spectators and no tickets are required.
When: April 4-9, 2016
Where: Mayrhofen, Austria
Snowbombing is a weeklong music and skiing festival held every Spring at the Mayrhofen Ski Resort in Austria that combines extreme sports with raves, concerts, and parties. The event was started as an apres-ski nightclub promotional exercise by English promoters at the French ski resort, Risoul, and has been held at the Mayrhofen resort in Austria since 2005. With 2,500 feet of vertical drop and 53 lifts, there is plenty of great skiing and snowboarding, including the death-defying Harakiri, a slope that features a 78% incline (steeper than a ski jump) and literally means “suicide.” For those seeking different kinds of thrills, the week features DJ’s from all over the world, over 50 pools and saunas, and out-of-this world parties, including a backcountry party and an arctic disco in an igloo at 6000 feet. Just remember that alcohol and elevation don’t always mix well.
3. Highland Games
When: Throughout Spring and Summer
Where: Scotland and around the world
The Highland Games are a traditional Scottish competition and celebration of history and culture. It is thought that the origin of the Highland Games was a foot race held by King Malcolm III in the 11th century to determine who would be his royal messenger. Every spring and summer throughout Scotland, men and women compete in feats of strength and fitness, including the Scottish hammer throw and the caber toss where participants throw a small tree. In addition to the athletic events, spectators can also expect to see kilts and bagpipes, as traditional music and dancing also play an important role in the celebration. The Cowal Games in Dunoon, Scotland boasts the most competitors, but there are many other events held by Scottish communities around the world. The Highland Games with the most spectators is actually hosted in Pleasanton, California by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco on September 5-6, 2015.
When: April 13-15, 2016
Where: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos
Songkran is the world’s largest water fight. The festival is held over several days in mid-April, which was traditionally the Thai New Year. It is Spring Cleaning in a physical and spiritual sense as people make New Year’s resolutions and throw away things they don’t need. If you’re traveling during this time, be sure to cover your backpack with plastic, and place phones and electronics in waterproof bags – no one is immune from getting sprayed! Songkran is a celebrated time of equality, as young and old, rich and poor, foreign and local join together in the festivities. Differences are forgotten as everyone gets wet!
5. The Rhino Charge
When: May 31, 2015 (check the Rhino Charge website for 2016 dates)
Where: Aberdare National Park, Kenya
Rhino Charge is an extreme off-road motorsport event that raises funds for the conservation of rhinos and their habitat in Aberdare National Park. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are less than 5,000 Black Rhinos left in the world. The event has been running since 1989 and raised over 100 million KES (over 1 million USD) in 2014. Competitors are given a map and the coordinates of 13 guard posts the night before the event. The winner must take the shortest route to visit all 13 guard posts. Hundreds of spectators camp out every year to cheer on the competitors and support the rhino conservation movement. Tickets are available at http://rhinocharge.co.ke/spectators/?tab=Tickets.
6. Boryeong Mud Festival
When: July 17-26, 2015 (check their website for 2016 dates)
Where: Boryeong, South Korea
Prefer to get dirty? Check out the world’s biggest mud fight held every summer in Boryeong, South Korea. The festival originated as a marketing ploy to increase sales of cosmetics and now lasts ten days attracting millions of visitors from all over the world. Activities include a giant mud slide, mud wrestling, and a photo contest. At night, there are parades and concerts with popular Korean singers and DJ’s on the beach.
7. La Tomatina
When: The last Wednesday of August
Where: Buñol, Spain
Every kid has dreamed of having a food fight in the school cafeteria. Well it’s not too late. Head down to the Valencia region of Spain for La Tomatina–where you can throw tomatoes at your friends, enemies, and complete strangers; to your heart’s content. The festival started in 1945, when a young person in a fit of rage started throwing tomatoes at a parade. Today, the tomato fight lasts one hour, during which about 150,000 tomatoes (or 40 metric tons) come to a sticky end.
8. Highline Meeting Monte Piana
When: September 10-15, 2015
Where: The Dolomites, Italy
The Highline Meeting Monte Piana is a slackline festival that takes place hundreds of feet in the air in the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is part of the Italian Alps. Hundreds of slackline enthusiasts spend six days camping at a base camp and spending much of their time suspended above the Alps on slacklines. First started by two slackliners in 2012, the festival now attracts over 300 attendees. The festival also features musical jam sessions, yoga workshops, outdoor film screenings, local food tastings and tandem paragliding; a kitchen and a bar are available to festival goers. The €40 ticket includes the campsite fee, hot water, insurance, a tee shirt, a cooking set, an entrance to the sauna, and a beer. All you need to bring is a sleeping bag, a tent, climbing gear, a musical instrument, and a smile.
9. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
When: October 3-11, 2015
Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Cappadocia, Turkey is often known as the place to go for hot air balloons. But the largest hot air balloon festival is actually in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The festival started with 13 balloons in 1972 as a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a local radio station. Today it attracts 20,000 people and over 500 balloons. There are several competitions, including the Fiesta Challenge, where participants attempt to drop a marker from a balloon and land it as close to a target as possible; and the Gas Balloon Race, an endurance race won by the balloon that travels the farthest. Some balloons have made it all the way to Canada or the East Coast of the United States.
10. The Monkey Buffet Festival
When: November 28-29, 2015
Where: Lopburi Province, Thailand
Every year, the people of the Lopburi province of Thailand prepare a saliva-inducing buffet of fruit, vegetables, and other treats for the area’s resident primate population. The festival started in 1989 after a businessman had the idea as a way to increase tourism and give thanks to the monkeys for their role attracting visitors. Today, the monkey buffet has grown to over 4000 kilograms of food and attracts thousands of visitors (human and monkey) each year.