Think of a festival like a giant themed party. It’s a place where thousands of like-minded travelers get together to celebrate the thing they love most, from electronic music to classical theater, contemporary art, beer, and even movies. The exhilarating, shared experience of a festival helps travelers connect to new people, new sights, and new sounds, familiarizing them with a place.
Festivals are one of the biggest excuses for visiting a destination during peak season—that’s usually when a town or city is in full bloom, teeming with an irresistible mix of locals, visiting performers, high-brow art connoisseurs, and curious tourists. Travel + Leisure has scoured the most buzz-worthy gatherings in dozens of countries to create ultimate guides to the world’s best festivals and fairs.
What is a festival?
Festivals are a one-stop shop for full immersion in a particular genre or field of interest. Take Albuquerque’s hot air balloon festival, the largest one of its kind in the world, or Elvis Week in Memphis, Tennessee—the home of the blues. For days at a time, travelers can immerse themselves in a variety of activities, performances, demonstrations, and exhibits related to a topic they love.
Celebration is the ultimate goal, but international festivals serve as educational functions as well. Curated by experts and carefully coordinated months in advance, an international festival can be a tool for learning about native cuisine (oysters in Ireland, for example, or white truffles in Italy) or discovering local music and theater while also visiting prominent architectural landmarks or public parks and gardens.
Toast the season
For a memorable experience, plan your trip around a visit to a summer festival. Summer festivals take advantage of maximum daylight hours and warmer temperatures with a wide array of outdoor events, from street performances to outdoor yoga to arts and crafts workshops. Those who feel like diving into the creative pulse of a city will find unique attractions in summer festivals from New Orleans to Cape Town. Prefer the colder months? Our guides to rousing winter festivals—think mulled wine, holiday markets, and figure skating performances—are sure to warm you up.
Combine music and travel
Music and dance festivals offer a true sense of exploration: discovering Latin American rap in Mexico City, rocking out to electronica in an abandoned Helsinki power plant, or getting to know the beauty of Eastern Europe in the mountains of Bulgaria. Travel + Leisure connects you to the world’s most captivating and unique music festivals, sometimes set in jaw-dropping locations—like in the mountains of Japan or at a castle in Scotland. For sun worshippers, alluring summer festivals crop up throughout the season in Europe and the Caribbean, too. Navigate music festivals like a pro with our tips on what to wear, who you should expect to meet, and which bands are taking the stage in the upcoming year.