Getting involved in traditional celebrations can be one of the best ways to enjoy an unforgettable holiday experience. From landmark festivals to astonishing natural phenomena, here are some of the world's most thrilling events.
Colour in the caves: Thaipusam festival
On 25 January 2024, the Batu Caves in Malaysia come alive with the Tamil Thaipusam festival, an intense showcase of Hindu devotion. To the soundtrack of fierce drumbeats, devotees make their way up the painted steps of the caves, chanting, decked in peacock feather decorations and carrying intricate kavadis, to pay penance to the Hindu God, Lord Murugan. The surrounding streets buzz with markets selling flower garlands and mouthwatering vegetarian food. When night falls, the caves light up with countless candles creating a surreal atmosphere. The overwhelming crowds and shocking rituals mean it’s not a festival for the faint-hearted, but we guarantee it’s a day you’ll never forget.
Welcome in spring: Tet Nguyên Đán, Vietnam
Signifying starting afresh, Tet Nguyên Đán, or the Vietnamese Lunar New Year (10 February 2024), is the country's most important festival. Flowers are a central part of the celebrations and Ho Chi Minh City hosts Flower Street, an event showcasing beautiful blooms, artwork and light displays that attracts huge crowds, while impromptu ﬂower markets pop up in ﬁelds and roads, ﬁlling the air with delicious spring scents.
To dye for: Holi, India
After the bleakness of winter, spring bursts forth on 24 March 2024 with an abundance of colour, which is signified by the vibrant dyed powders thrown around during the ancient Hindu festival of Holi. Different areas of India bring their own regional flavours to Holi so depending on where you visit, the experience will be unique. But wherever you go, joining in is a must. Be sure to pack old clothes: you can expect to be dusted head-to-toe in bright fuchsia, green and yellow.
Bask in the pink: cherry blossom season, Japan
Where better to see the sights of Tokyo and Kyoto than against a stunning backdrop of pink. The ethereal blooms of sakura (cherry blossom) burst into life across the Japanese countryside from late March into April. A celebration of the powerful but fleeting beauty of flowers, hanami (flower viewing) is the tradition of gathering under cherry blossom trees to share food, drink sake and enjoy music.
In bloom: Flower Festival, Madeira
The annual festival (2 May to 26 May) is one of Madeira’s biggest events and is not to be missed if you’re visiting the island in spring. Stay in the picturesque capital, Funchal, to catch the festival’s main event, the Allegoric Flower Parade. The streets are ﬁlled with music, colour and ﬂoral aromas as a glorious parade of ﬂoats pass by, accompanied by dancers and children in ﬂower-bedecked costumes.
See ‘The Harbour City’ aglow: Vivid Sydney
You’ll be dazzled at Vivid Sydney, an annual event that transforms the city into a mesmerising playground of light, art and music from 24 May to 15 June 2024. From the illuminated sails of the Sydney Opera House to interactive installations throughout the city, it’s a visual extravaganza like no other. Stroll along the glimmering waterfront and watch live music performances – Written in the Stars, the biggest drone show in the Southern Hemisphere, is particularly impressive as the sky blazes into a mesmerising light show. Arrive early and grab a spot at the Opera Bar for the best view.
Land of the free: Independence Day, Washington DC, USA
Jaw-dropping fireworks, noisy parades and endless barbecues – Independence Day in the US is a huge deal and there’s nowhere better to experience it than the US capital. The 446-acre US National Arboretum and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden are two of Washington’s best outdoor spots to visit with the Fourth of July in mind. Get dressed up in red, white and blue and be part of the Independence Day Parade on Constitution Avenue, where a jubilant procession winds its way from 7th to 17th Street, featuring towering balloons, lively bands and notable appearances by dignitaries and celebrities.
The miracle of nature: The Great Wildebeest Migration
A million herd animals, including wildebeest, zebras, gazelle and antelope, make a treacherous journey from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya; it’s a sight that’s incredibly moving to witness. Large groups of animals search for a safe place to cross the Mara River, evading the waiting lions and stepping into surging crocodile-ﬁlled waters. Read here for valuable insights on how to make the most of this renowned wildlife spectacle.
A whale of a time: Hermanus Whale Festival, South Africa
Blessed with deep waters close to shore, Hermanus is a small South African seaside town with a massive natural attraction. Swimming right into the bay, migrating southern right whales can be seen from beaches and cliff tops. The annual Whale Festival from 28-30 September 2024 features exhibits alongside live music, food trucks and a lively street parade. The town even has its own ‘whale crier’ who sounds a kelp horn when the whales have arrived.
The life and soul of the party: Day of the Dead, Mexico
Far from spooky or macabre, Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a vivacious, evocative festival to celebrate loved ones who have passed. Street parties bursting with colour, elaborate costumes, face paint and feathered hats take place across the nation. Offer your own tribute at public altars decorated with ﬂowers, candles and sweet treats such as sugar skulls, before dancing the night away.
Make a fresh start: Loy Krathong, Thailand
Thailand’s Loy Krathong (which means ‘to float a basket’) festival is a celebration of new beginnings, taking place on 15 November 2024. During this event, ornately decorated banana-leaf baskets bearing incense and candles are released into lakes, rivers and canals by nightfall. All over the country you’ll witness Thai people paying their respects to the goddess of water, and the sight of thousands of twinkling candles drifting under the moonlight is enchanting to see. For an all-encompassing experience, time your trip right and you can pair this event with the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai on 22 November, where countless flickering lanterns ascend into the heavens.
A winter wonderland: New York, USA
Spending Christmas in New York is nothing short of magical. From the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree to the captivating holiday window displays along Fifth Avenue, festive cheer blankets every corner. Lace up your skates at Central Park’s Wollman Rink, sip hot chocolate in Bryant Park and shop for unique gifts in the charming markets. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the world-famous Rockettes is a show not to be missed. Stay at The Plaza for the full Home Alone 2: Lost in New York experience, which includes a limousine ride (complete with a cheese pizza) to see the movie’s famous filming locations and an over-the-top ice cream Sunday delivered to your door.
If you'd like to be part of the festival action on your next holiday, talk to one of our experts who’ll share their advice and plan a seamless trip.