Candles lit up in a specific shape for Thandygut.

Travel Guide: International Festivals you Should Know About

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about international festivals? Is it music? Fashion? Social Media? Celebrities? While music is a great pleasure, it’s not the center of every festival. And with all these things surely describing most of these events, there is more to them than “just” that. International festivals can serve a greater purpose: They unite people of all races, ages, backgrounds, social statuses and much more.

“But there are countless festivals worldwide, how can I possibly choose the right one?” – Well, I’m glad you asked. On one hand, you could always just try the most popular ones, because they are probably known for a reason. However, on the other hand, you can read this article and find out more about the ten most interesting festivals worldwide and choose wisely based on your interests. I organized them into international festivals with a musical focus and those with a cultural focus. You will find at least one that fits your interests, pinky promise.

International Festivals with a musical focus

International festivals with a musical focus most of the time also host events with a different focus, but mainly concentrate on the art of music. Here are the world’s five leading music festivals!

America: Coachella, California

Coachella (full name: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival) is not only one of America’s top festivals, but also known worldwide. It started out as a three-day event and has been extended to two three-day weekends since 2019. Internationally known artists come to Indio, California every year to perform. The list includes Billie Eilish, The Weeknd, Beyoncé, Prince, and could go on forever. Usually around 125,000 people attend the festival, including A-list celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio.

While musical focus lies on Rock and Alternative Indie, it has also developed into an Open-Air fashion catwalk. Influencers and celebrities take months to plan their flawless, hippie-chic, outfits. In conclusion: If you want to dance to great live music, and you’re into fashion – this might be the right pick for you. Another bright side: There is an enormous chance of you meeting an A-list celebrity – and rumor has it, a lot of them find love while attending.

Other American music festivals include: Lollapalooza in Chicago, Ultra Music Festival in Miami, and The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Picture of the amazing scenery at Coachella Festival.
Source: Andrew Ruiz / Unsplash

Australia: Field Day Festival, Sydney

The Australian Field Day Festival, not to be confused with London’s festival “Field Day“, is an annually held one-day festival in Sydney. It takes place on New Year’s Day at The Domain in Central Sydney. Running since 2002, it has become one of the most popular music events of Australia and attracts over 20,000 people every year.

Since the event is on New Year’s Day, the founders specialize their line-up on high quality party music, including house, hip-hop, indie and electronica. Not only are the performing artists, such as Bishop Briggs, Disclosure, Snakehips and Chance the Rapper, A-list material, but so is the extraordinary scenery, a beautiful park in-between some of Sydney’s most famous skyscrapers.

As I am typing this right now, I’m asking myself, what better way to start a new year, than attending a huge party with all your loved ones in sunny Sydney, Australia?

Other Australian music festivals include: Splendour in the Grass in North Byron, Meadow Festival in Bambra, and Brunswick Music Festival.

Flume performing at Sydney Field Day Festival.
Source: Danny Howe / Unsplash

Europe: Tomorrowland, Belgium

Tomorrowland festival in Boom, Belgium is probably one of the world’s biggest and most known festivals ever. It started in 2005 and is currently attracting approximately 400,000 people of countless nations every year. General genre is electronic dance music (aka. EDM). Around 400 DJs of highest quality and popularity perform. Due to the high number, I’m only going to list a few: David Guetta, Hardwell, Swedish House Mafia, Steve Aoki, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and Tiësto.

Tickets, obviously limited, are sold out in record-holding times like only 26 minutes in 2020. Evidently all tickets were refunded, once the festival had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Every year is based around a new theme like: The Story of Planaxis or The Elixir of Life. This whole event makes you forget about anything else and just concentrate on being present in the moment and taking in everything you can.

Tomorrowland truly is not just a festival; it is a whole other world. A world of music, dance and people uniting over art. If you ever get the chance to attend this wonderful madness, take it, it doesn’t come around too often.

More music festivals worth attending in Europe include: Sziget in Budapest, Ultra Music Festival in Croatia, and Rock am Ring in Germany.

Picture of the Tomorrowland Festival Mainstage in 2017.
Source: EloyBr / Wikipedia

Africa: Mawazine, Morocco

Mawazine festival in Rabat, Morocco is the world’s second-biggest international festival. In 2018, approximately 2.5 million people attended and watched around 90 acts perform in the nine-day extravaganza. It’s one of several Moroccan events trying to promote the image of a tolerant nation – and Rabat as a cosmopolitan city.

Since countless celebrities, like Whitney Houston, Elton John, Rihanna, and David Guetta, already performed at the massive event, it is hard to believe, that most parts are actually free to attend. State owned companies like OCP or Royal Air Maroc finance the festival. International and local artists perform on stages spread around the city. Therefore, it’s easy to explore some parts of beautiful Morocco before, after, or in between acts.

You hardly ever get the opportunity to see acts like these, and more importantly: you hardly ever get the experience for free or a small amount of money. Experience Rabat and African culture while not missing out on your favorite international artists.

More African music festivals are: Bushfire in Eswatini, Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and Sauti Za Busara in Tanzania.

Maroon 5 performing at Mawazine Festival in 2015.
Source. YousraElkh9 / Wikipedia

International music festival in Asia: We The Fest, Indonesia

We The Fest is an annually held festival in Jakarta, Indonesia. The three-day event was founded in 2014 by Ismaya Live and attracts around 50,000 people yearly. It features a lot of different genres of music, such as pop, rock, indie and EDM. Big names like Bazzi, Cigarettes After Sex, Daniel Caesar, and Rae Sremmurd already took on the stages.

Starting out at Parkir Timur Senayan, it was moved to Jakarta International Expo Kemayoran in 2017 so more people were able to attend. Since it also features arts, fashion, and food, it ought to be a perfect summer experience.

Jakarta and Indonesia in general are inarguably beautiful, so why not extend your visit to experience this enormous event with internationally known artists and a beautiful scenery?

More asian international music festivals are: Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand, Sunburn festival in India, and Wanderland in the Philippines.

People in front of a festival stage with their hands up, two forming a heart.
Source: Anthony Delanoix / Unsplash

International Festivals with a cultural focus

You might think that international festivals with a cultural focus sound lame or boring, but I came here to convince you that the opposite is the truth. After you’ve learned about the following five international cultural festivals, you will definitely want to attend at least one of them.

America: Burning Man, Nevada

The Burning Man Festival, taking place in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, is anything but ordinary. This festival is about self-expression and awareness, while simply celebrating life itself. It goes on for eight days and always ends with the first Monday in September – Labor Day. The main attraction is the burning of a giant human-like wooden statue, the “Burning Man”, which happens on Saturday before Labor Day. What started with a few friends around Larry Harvey and Jerry James holding a bonfire ritual in San Francisco, has now become an international event, attracting around 80,000 people every year.

Since it is held in a desert and the initiators are firm believers in the principle of “leaving no trace”, the city of the Burning Man is being rebuilt and disassembled every time. It even includes a local airport and a hospital. Larry Harvey created ten principles which have become the general base of the multifaceted movement. These include radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance and self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

The Burning Man Festival truly is an experience of a lifetime and there’s nothing quite like it. You can learn so much about culture, social issues, art, and yourself. If I were you, I wouldn’t want to miss out!

Other American festivals with a more cultural focus include: Carnival in Brazil, Albuquerque Balloon Festival, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Scenic shot of the Burning Man festival.
Source: Nik Demidko / Unsplash

Australia: Australian Body Art Carnival, Eumundi

Relatively new, the Australian Body Art Festival came to live in 2017. The festival in Eumundi, Queensland has been attracting international visitors ever since. It is a two-day event hosting several competitions, such as an airbrush event, a special effects competition and the Bendigo Bank wearable art competition. The organizers plan every competition back-to-back. For example: On day one, artists have from 9 am to 2:30 pm to do their art on the models, while the visitors are allowed to watch from 9:30 am. At 4 o’clock the parade and Award Ceremony start. Besides only artists and their work being awarded, there are also trophies for best model and best photographer.

This festival also encourages every creative mind being present: They have painting stalls with all kinds of art supplies spread across the whole site, so you can sit down to create something yourself as soon as creativity strikes you. No matter whether you’re creative or even appreciate art, this festival brings awareness to different kinds of craft you don’t see every day. This might make you value and respect art, and all the work it takes to create, in general even more. At least that has happened to everyone I talked to about this art form.

Fun Fact to end this paragraph: It’s free, and who doesn’t like free things, even better – free events?

Other Australian festivals focusing on culture, rather than music, include: the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Lexton, Vivid Sydney, and the See Change Festival in St Georges Basin.

Picture of a woman body-painted with glitter and gold at the Sydney Body Art Festival.
Source: Thiago Biizzarro / Unsplash

Europe: La Tomatina Festival – Spain

La Tomatina Festival in Valencia, Spain is a Spanish tradition happening at the Wednesday of the last week of August. Fun Fact: Most of the attenders are not Spanish, they are visitors. Around 20,000 people yearly attend this event in Valencia to throw overripe tomatoes at each other all over the city. The first Tomatina probably took place in 1945 and there is no consensus about the original background and start to this extraordinary tradition.

With the actual battle starting at 11 am sharp, it only lasts until 12 pm sharp. Everybody strictly follows the code of honor, and not one person throws a tomato after the clock strikes midday. In 2014 nearly 140,000 tons of tomatoes were used, which obviously leads to a giant mess left behind. However, the code of honor also states, that every attender is committed to cleaning up afterwards.

There are clearly way more European festivals focusing on culture than only this one, but La Tomatina might just be the most fun. Although it is not the most sustainable way to use even overripe tomatoes, the biggest food battle in the world is definitely worth attending. Hasn’t everybody always dreamt of taking part in a food battle? This is your chance to make it a reality.

More culture-focused festivals in Europe include: Venice CarnivalAgitAgueda in Portugal, and the Girona Flower Festival in Spain.

Picture of people throwing tomatoes at each other at La Tomatina Festival.
Source: Graham McLellan / Wikipedia

Africa: Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Ghana

The Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Accra has its name from the word Chaleo Wote, which means Flip Flops, but can also be translated to “Man, let’s go!”. It is a week-long festival all over the city which promotes fashion, visual arts, dance, music, film, and performance. The founders Mantse Aryeequaye and Sionne Neely founded the event in 2011. It started out as a community gathering to create and promote a sustainable creative industry.

It has now become a festival in which local and international artists can show and exchange art, techniques, and knowledge. The event hosts a lot of different activities including photo exhibitions, street painting, street boxing, movie screening, and design labs. Therefore, artists worldwide can learn about traditional African art and might even implement it into their modern work.

This event teaches you awareness for art forms you might not be used to. It is an opportunity to deeply get to know the incredible African culture.

More culture-focused festivals in Africa include: Lake of Stars in Malawi, Africa Burn in South Africa, and HIFA in Simbabwe.

Wall art drawn by a little child at Chale Wote Festival.
Source: Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng / Wikipedia

Asia: Thadingyut, Myanmar

Thadingyut Festival is a Buddhist Lighting Festival all over Myanmar. It takes place at the full moon day of Thadingyut, which is the seventh month in the Burmese Calendar. The event lasts for three days, one day before the full moon day, the actual full moon day, and the day afterwards.

This public holiday celebrates the descent of Buddha from heaven. Heaven is where he preached to his mother Maya, who was reborn in heaven. They do so in enlightening and festooning everything from streets to houses and public buildings. During these three days there are several stage and movie shows for anyone to attend free.

Thadingyut is one of the most beautiful cultural festivals in the world. You can feel the euphoric spirit in the whole country. It takes your experience of Asia to a whole new level. I wouldn’t want to miss out on the experience – it’s simply breathtaking.

More festivals with a cultural focus in Asia include: Phi Ta Khon in Thailand, Bon Om Touk all over Cambodia, and Thingyan Festival all over Myanmar.

Candles lit up in a specific shape for Thadingyut Festival.
Source: Aung Myint Htwe / Wikipedia

The Charm of International Festivals

To say the least: Festivals are simply exciting. Everything about the process is – from choosing your outfits and the people you go with, to exploring the city it takes place in, seeing the artists, singing, and dancing, over to looking back at the great memories you made.

Furthermore, they allow you to take a break from everyday life and give you a deeper insight into the culture of the community. You get to live through experiences you wouldn’t usually just visiting the city or country in general. Festivals bring awareness to the true beauty of diversity – in art forms, cultures, and humanity.

Feature image source: Vonecia Carswell / Unsplash

Leave a Reply