This blog post was updated on July 7, 2021.

I’ll never forget the time I was visiting Florence and I walked out of my hotel for the night only to find the entire Arno River lit up with the ethereal glow of floating lanterns. The sky was alight with the last slivers of purple sunlight and these bright burning orbs. After grabbing a seat on the nearest curb, I asked the couple beside me what this was all for. They looked at me, surprised that I didn’t know.

“It’s the celebration of Saint John the Baptist – our patron saint!”

Though I had been planning this trip for months, I hadn’t bothered to check if I’d be in town for any cultural festivals. And while it was fun to feel like I stumbled upon this beautiful sight, how much more fun would it have been if I had been privy to the other celebrations around town that I missed out on earlier that day (while I’d been reading peacefully in the Boboli Gardens)?

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you all on your intrepid travels, here’s a shortlist of all of the coolest celebrations that travelers need not stumble upon, but can actually join in on!

Boryeong Mud Festival (South Korea)

Boryeong Mud Festival South Korea

[Above image “Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea” by Jirka Matousek on Flickr – licensed under CC by 2.0

About 200 km south of the country’s hip capital city lies Boryeong, South Korea – known for its muddy landscape. But don’t expect the beauty capital of the world to let all this mineral-rich mud go to waste! As part of an epic marketing scheme in 1998, a cosmetics company that uses the mud in their beauty products invited customers to join them in Boryeong for a day full of mud-slinging fun. A two-week extravaganza, the festival’s most popular time is during its last weekend, which is why many choose to book cheap international flights for some time in the middle of July.

White Nights Festival (St. Petersburg, Russia)

Scarlet Sails Festival St. Petersburg Russia

From May to July, the Russian city holds a festival to celebrate its arts and culture scene. Featuring classical ballet shows, magnificent fireworks displays, street carnivals, and performances from international stars (think Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones), this huge event draws over one million people to the city by the end of the festival. Marking the summer solstice, the festival celebrates the nights that are never completely dark, with the sun setting after 10 p.m. and the twilight never quite disappearing. The Scarlet Sails fireworks show, usually from June to July, brings in students from near and far as they celebrate the end of their school year.

Up Helly Aa (Lerwick, Scotland)

Up Helly Aa Scottland Festival

To mark the end of the Yule season, Scotland celebrates Up Helly Aa on the last Tuesday of January. Before the practice was banned in the 1880s, Scottish men would drag a tarred and firey barrel through the town of Lerwick – and get into several bouts of mischief en route. Since it was banned, Scottish hamlets have started to celebrate in a more controlled way: the entire town parades through the streets with burning torches, dragging a Viking-style galley. Once they reach a designated spot, they circle the galley and, eventually, throw their burning torches into it. The celebration concludes with the burning down of the ship and a round of the traditional song, “The Norseman’s Home” before the town takes the celebration indoors – into halls and pubs.

The Songkran Festival (Thailand)

Songkran Festival Thailand

This festival marks the Thai New Year on April 13, though the festival is held until April 15. Because it falls during the hottest time of the year, the city celebrates in a really cool way – by having a huge water fight! If you wander out and about the streets from April 13 – April 15, expect to be doused in water by locals (and sometimes by elephants!). Make sure to wear clothes that you’re not too fond of, as the water is sometimes mixed with colored chalks for good luck in the coming year.

Related: Asian and Pacific Islander Festivals Across the U.S. That You Should Experience

Amsterdam Gay Pride (The Netherlands)

Gay Pride Parade Amsterdam

One of the biggest Pride celebrations in the world, the Amsterdam Gay Pride is extravagant and historic. A crowd favorite, the Amsterdam Pride celebrations take the party to its illustrious canals at the Canal Parade, with decorated boats touring through the city on its waterways. You can find tons of dance parties on the streets of Amsterdam, complete with DJs, live performances, inspirational speeches, and more. Taking place sometime in July or August, depending on the year, the Amsterdam Pride Parade is one of the biggest events in the Netherlands!

Diwali (India)

Diwali Celebration in India

The Hindu festival of lights, Diwali is celebrated worldwide, but most robustly in India in the middle of autumn. Arguably one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition, Diwali is a celebration of good triumphing over evil, knowledge over ignorance, hope over despair. This is exemplified through extravagant fireworks shows, ever-present lights, and generosity showed between friends and family during the celebrations. Loved ones exchange gifts, share a feast, and watch the fireworks show together over the course of the five-day festival.

Koningsdag (The Netherlands)

Koningsdag Celebration The Netherlands

[Above image “Koningsdag” by tacowitte on Flickr – licensed under CC by 2.0]

The national holiday in the Netherlands translates to King’s Day (or Koninginnedag, meaning Queen’s Day, as it was before Queen Beatrix’s abdication of the throne in 2013). Initially observed in 1885, the day marked the Princess’s birth and was celebrated in late August. Since then, the day is used to host hundreds of outdoor markets that can be held without a permit and without tax. Patrons on the street also wear the customary Netherlands orange hue as they shop the flea markets. Concerts, parades, and performances abound throughout the day – particularly in Amsterdam.


Panafest Ghana

[Above image “Panafest 2015” by S Pakhrin on Flickr – licensed under CC by 2.0]

PANAFEST, formally referred to as the Pan African Historical Theatre Project, is a celebration of the arts in an effort to promote and encourage African unity and enhance the development of the continent itself. The festival puts on fashion, theatre, art, and poetry shows, among other performances. The event takes place alongside Ghana’s coast – an intentional setting, as monuments to those captured by the slave trade line on the shores of the country. The festival takes place both as a way to heal and as a way to show how far they’ve healed already – with fantastic shows of continent-wide creativity and achievements.

July Fourth Celebration (Nashville, Tennessee)

Fourth of July Fireworks Nashville Tennessee

Every year, Nashville makes moves to put on the biggest fireworks show in the country – their July 4th Celebration has extravagant performances from huge musical acts to weekend-long free events, and a live stream of the entire show! Past performers include Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Nashville Symphony, and many more. Best of all, the entire event is free, so you can celebrate Independence Day, hear great music, and witness the nation’s largest fireworks display without breaking a sweat.

Full Moon Party (Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand)

Fully Moon Party FestivalA tradition since 1985, the party-hard island of Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand hosts a monthly Full Moon Party to usher in – you guessed it – the arrival of the full moon. Have a throwback to those college nights and pull an all-nighter on the island with the most beautiful moon views. Every full moon party draws anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 people looking to celebrate the new lunar cycle. The festival’s success caused organizers on the island to suggest throwing Half Moon and Quarter Moon parties, but the Thai government drew the line there. Looks like we can only party hard once a month, folks.

Have you been to any of these celebrations or think we left some big ones out? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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Content Writer

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch. Mary is a content writer at Fareportal and likes annoying her coworkers with weird GIFs throughout the day.