The world in parties?
September 14, 2011 8:34 PM   Subscribe

If you had a year to travel to the world's most renowned festivals, where would you go? Oktoberfest in Munich, Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Mardi Gras in New Orleans... help me make a list of the biggest parties in the world.

Looking for large-scale events that are held annually that are embedded in the local culture. Events the population collectively looks forward to and people travel to see (or would if they knew)

I'm not especially going for obscurity so feel free to chime in on the big ones. If you've been: What were your experiences like? Would you do it again?

Also feel free to weigh in on less well-known but still regionally celebrated festivals where you've had a great time.
posted by ista to Society & Culture (73 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
The Palio
posted by Jahaza at 8:37 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Brazilian Carnival and Jamaican Junkanoo are the first two that came to mind.
posted by banannafish at 8:42 PM on September 14, 2011

Burning Man.
All the southern kids I know go to Bonnaroo.
posted by phunniemee at 8:45 PM on September 14, 2011

La Tomatina.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:57 PM on September 14, 2011

Telluride's bluegrass festival. Aspen's food and wine festival. Both are amazing!
posted by TheBones at 8:57 PM on September 14, 2011

Falles in Valencia Spain.
posted by smackfu at 8:57 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I hear a lot of the locals clear out of Cheyenne for rodeo days, which is sort of my metric.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:01 PM on September 14, 2011

I loved Yosakoi matsuri in Kochi, Japan. There are local matsuri (festivals) all over Japan, in the summer/autumn especially but it depends on the region.
posted by illenion at 9:02 PM on September 14, 2011

posted by pompomtom at 9:02 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Songkran (especially) inChiang Mai, Thailand
posted by backwards guitar at 9:02 PM on September 14, 2011

I'm originally from Cheyenne. Frontier Days suck. Don't bother unless you want to spend a lot of money for nothing.
posted by Lobster Garden at 9:04 PM on September 14, 2011

For sure Burning Man. Just don't get too attached to the idea that you'll actually make it to the meetup!
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:13 PM on September 14, 2011

The Fringe in Edinburgh.
Bumbershoot in Seattle.
Jazz Fest in New Orleans.
posted by tomwheeler at 9:18 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not really a party, but possibly the worlds largest gathering, the Kumbh Mela.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 9:20 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

After reading your question more carefully (oops)- I'll elaborate on Burning Man.

What were your experiences like?
It was completely out of this world. This was my first year, and I remember being overwhelmed by the thought that I'd want to describe it to people when I got back home and I knew there was no way I'd be able to. Nor do pictures really do it justice, not even professional ones you see online and in magazines. It's just so vast, and when it's dark you just see lights and stuff as far as the eye can see in every direction. And you just talk to anyone and everyone. It's really just sort of like being on another planet, in a good way. Anyway, feel free to memail me and I'll elaborate . . . much of the experience is not stuff I'd like to post publicly!

Would you do it again?
I'm gonna do everything in my power to keep going back every year. Like, possibly for the rest of my life if I can.

Although it is a "festival" it's really sort of more intense than that. If you're going to go, you need to be well prepared, and you need to go for as long as you can (so like a week) and you'll need time to recuperate a bit after you come home. For me, the first couple days were fun but I had a hard time seeing how I was going to handle being there for an entire week. By the end of the week, I felt profoundly sad that soon we were all going to be gone. It really is a (wild, surreal) city that you're all living in together- you have to stay there long enough to get that feeling, for it to be worth it. IMHO.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:22 PM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Carnivale in Rio.
posted by Errant at 9:34 PM on September 14, 2011

The Calgary Stampede. The annual blessing/curse of living here.

Started as a rodeo (and it's still a damn fine one) but it's become an orgy of tight jeans and drunkenness, with a bizarre civic spirit where absolutely everybody dresses up as a cowboy and every public-serving business in town kitsches up their establishment to look like a saloon. But it's a load of fun; went to the evening show with my boss this year; it was his first time, and he compared the fireworks to the Somme.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:36 PM on September 14, 2011

I haven't been for several years, but the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a great party! I have a friend who lived in Albuquerque and I went several years in a row in the late 90's.

It's 9 days of hot air balloons of various sizes, shapes and a myriad of colors. The last time I was there there were over 1200 balloons. On 1-2 days there is an early morning mass ascension in which almost all balloons participate. The sight of the sky decorated with hot air balloons as far as you can see is awesome! At least one evening is devoted to a "balloon glow" when after dark, the field of tethered balloons "flicker" off and on. It is beautiful... There are other activities during the 9 days and some of the participants do offer balloon rides.

It is a very well attended event, and family oriented—kids love the special shaped balloons (animals, cartoon characters, castles, etc.). It's held at a beautiful time of the year in Albuquerque, very pleasant during the day, but often very cool in the morning and at night. Speaking of which, if you want to go this year, you'd better make up your mind quick; it starts October 1 and runs until the 9th. You can go any or all of the days. It is an annual event however, if you want to make plans to go next year. Check out the link above for event details. Don't forget your camera!
posted by konig at 9:45 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it kosher to plug your own website? If so, I've got a list of festivals in Australia.

It depends on what you're into. The biggest annual music festival is probably Big Day Out, which has a nice mix of acts. Parklife and Future Music Festival are good for dance music. There's a 5 day Blues & Roots Festival in Byron Bay in April, which usually has amazing lineups (headliners this year were Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, for example). Splendour in the Grass is also in Byron - bit more indie. That's around August.


Seconding this, though I've only gone to its relative, Golden Plains.

I've had a few friends go to the Wacken metal festival, and for punk there's The Fest in Gainsville
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:51 PM on September 14, 2011

plus the annual Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, which gets everybody in Sydney out on Oxford Street
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:54 PM on September 14, 2011

I would go to the Alps for Krampusnacht.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:01 PM on September 14, 2011

The Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
posted by aniola at 10:08 PM on September 14, 2011

Er, I wouldn't go, but it is an island tourist party that attracts 10.000-30,000 people each month.
posted by aniola at 10:10 PM on September 14, 2011

Bay to Breakers, held every May in SF, is more than just a race. It's a regional costume party that inspires folks to dress to the nines and walk across many parts of our gorgeous City. A hefty percentage of participants are drunk and in costume by 10 am. Whether you partake in the boozing or are just an observer, it's one of the most highly anticipated festival days in the City. (Unless you live along the race course, in which case you dread having drunken kids pee on your stoop, but it's a small price to pay for a 100-year tradition of Ridiculousness.)
posted by samthemander at 10:15 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Denver March Pow Wow.

It's one of the largest pow wows in the country. Maybe the largest, I'm not sure. Something like 50,000 people from all over the Western United States come to it, and the first time I ever went, I walked in while the Grand Entry was in full swing. It almost made me cry for reasons I still can't quite articulate, but I think it had something to do with the fact that Anglo-Americans have been writing about the Last of the Indians for almost as long as they have been Anglo-Americans, and that giant group of multi-generational people, dancing in unison and making the entire coliseum reverberate in time with the drums, was many things all at once, but one of those things felt like the statement: "We're still here."
posted by colfax at 11:01 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go to everything mentioned above before you worry about Mardi Gras. It can be fun, but if you're not a local or hanging with people who are, it's pretty much a mob of drunken college kids and the adults who wish they still were.

Jazz Fest, on the other hand....
posted by kjs3 at 11:44 PM on September 14, 2011

6 places to celebrate Holi in India and one place to celebrate it in the US.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:49 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tilburgse Kermis, the largest festival in the Benelux. It's held in late July.
posted by neushoorn at 12:07 AM on September 15, 2011

South by South West is cute, film and movies and tech-heads, usually a meet-up, and it's springtime in Austin, usually quite pretty; it was gorgeous this spring.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:13 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

South by South West is cute, film and movies and tech-heads, usually a meet-up, and it's springtime in Austin, usually quite pretty; it was gorgeous this spring.

Plus 50 bazillion bands.

what about Day of the Dead?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:28 AM on September 15, 2011

Edinburgh Festival: Accomodation will be expensive but you can see a lot of shows relatively cheaply. That includes a film festival in Edinburgh, but you might also consider the Venice Biennale, which incorporates film, music and other art and the Berlin Film Festival.
I was going to suggest the Oberammergau Passion Play but it doesn't happen again until 2020.
posted by biffa at 1:40 AM on September 15, 2011

The Orange Show's Art Car Parade in Houston is always a fun time. Not exactly "rollicking," but some folks take it as an opportunity to freak out the squares.
posted by GPF at 2:45 AM on September 15, 2011

What were your experiences like? Would you do it again?

Expanding on Las Fallas, Valencia, Spain:

Before going I read something to the effect of "if you are traveling anywhere in Spain during the Fallas, you should be in Valencia." I went here on an overnight-road-trip from Barcelona (left BCN in the evening and back in the wee hours of the morning) to see the big burning (Crema) and fireworks.

There is lots of street food, a crush of people, and fire everywhere. Nonetheless we were still chily because it is March/April. Having never been to Valencia, this was a surreal way to see it: dark of night lit up by the burning statues around us.

I would totally go again, but I would not do the same crazy road trip version.

Another one that is not here yet is the Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. There are lots of giant ice and snow sculptures, ramen, and beer. Personally I found the one in Sapporo to be too commercial - with many sponsored sculptures and ones that looked like Disney castles - and was much more excited by the one in nearby Otaru. Otaru itself and its festival are smaller and more "familial," a great community feel. I have heard the one in Harbin, China, is amazing but have not been.
posted by whatzit at 3:02 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Proms in London

Wacken in Germany - "biggest heavy metal open air in the world"
posted by guessthis at 3:57 AM on September 15, 2011

Personally, I would love to go to the Holi Festival.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:19 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Milwaukee is called The City of Festivals. While the city hosts some sort of ethnic or cultural festival literally every weekend of the summer, the most notable are:

As one of the largest music festivals in the world, Milwaukee's Summerfest is an eleven-day mega festival filled with food, music and shopping. The event got its start in the 1970s and since then has hosted some of the biggest names in the music industry. Held from late June to early July, Summerfest includes comedy acts and Fourth of July fireworks, which usually conclude the festivities. Each year an estimated 1 million people attend Summerfest in Milwaukee and in 1999 the function was named the largest music festival by the Guinness Book of World Records and still retains that title today. (promo videos)

Irish Fest
Dubbed by the Smithsonian Institution as "the largest and best Irish cultural event in North America," the Irish Fest in Milwaukee celebrates Irish heritage with a four-day event. The festival has been around since 1981, and over the years, has picked up a great amount of steam. The festival includes Irish food, dance, education and even its own 40-piece choir put together specifically for the event. Milwaukee's Irish Fest aims to be an outreach outlet for the Irish community in Wisconsin with children's activities, a dance pavilion and contests. The festival usually takes place in mid-August at Henry W. Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee.

If you can't afford to go to Ireland every year, just remember that Ireland comes to Milwaukee every August.
posted by j03 at 4:24 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Burning Man
Songkran (different thing entirely but Full Moon is crap)
Notting Hill
Kumbh Mela
Edinburgh Festival
The Proms
Brighton Pride since the Love Parade ended
posted by turkeyphant at 4:47 AM on September 15, 2011

The Mummer's Parade in Philadelphia if you don't mind the cold.
posted by Mchelly at 4:54 AM on September 15, 2011

Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:25 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Kazantip. A month-long rave in Russia held on the Black Sea. More beautiful young naked Russian woman than you could ever imagine.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:51 AM on September 15, 2011

So, a little more info on Las Falles, because I was posting from my phone before. It's a traditional Catholic town festival. Except at some point each neighborhood decided they should make big displays like floats called Falles, but they don't move, they are just in the center of their area. And over time, that got a little competitive, so nowadays they are 50 feet tall, and made of foam and are brightly colored and are themed. Meanwhile, there are also fireworks twice a day, once at lunch which are just loud for the sake of it (Mascletà), and then a show each night. This all builds up to the last day, which has a parade of fire walkers, a massive fireworks show in the main square, and oh yeah, they light all the big displays on fire, all except the losing one, and they are massive fireballs filled with toxic smoke. Also, tons of street drinking, including street "bars", and people party all night. I would go back in a heartbeat... although you might want to add a couple of days on, because I didn't see a single Valencia tourist attraction.
posted by smackfu at 5:56 AM on September 15, 2011

Tilburgse Kermis, the largest festival in the Benelux. It's held in late July.

I hate to go all my-local-festival-is-better-than-yours, and it probably depends on how you define what, but the Vierdaagse in Nijmegen is usually considered to be the biggest event in the Netherlands with over 1.3 million(!) visitors in 2011.
posted by Sourisnoire at 5:58 AM on September 15, 2011

Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland!
posted by hannahlambda at 6:10 AM on September 15, 2011

came to recommend the Palio. my husband was there for it once and said it was INSAAAANE. it is the race depicted in Quantum of Solace.
posted by supermedusa at 7:03 AM on September 15, 2011

Zozobra in Santa Fe, NM.
Burning the world's largest puppet is a great spectical, extra points for easy access to green chile.
posted by montaigneisright at 7:03 AM on September 15, 2011

Montreal International Jazz Fest - the largest Jazz festival in the world. There are so many free performances and events, it is incredible! There is always a free opening and closing concert too, with big name acts - in 2009, for the 30th anniversary of the fest, Stevie Wonder opened the fest, and that night remains one of my favourite memories of Montreal.
posted by unlaced at 7:05 AM on September 15, 2011

St Patrick's Day is better in NYC and Chicago than in Ireland.
posted by Flood at 8:10 AM on September 15, 2011

Montreal is also known for the amazing Just for Laughs festival with comedians, acrobats and other goofiness.
posted by musofire at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2011

The more well-known Montreal events have already been listed, so I'll throw out a lesser-known one that is tons of fun and certainly embedded in local culture: igloofest! An outdoor electronic music festival, held on a pier in the dead of winter. Dancing into the night in your best cold-winter gear, surrounded by thousands of people in their own michelin man gear. What could be better?
posted by googly at 9:30 AM on September 15, 2011

CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival (outdated wiki page, current CMJ page) is an annual music festival in New York City, akin to SXSW, but vaguely focused on college radio music. It's an increased number of events throughout NYC, and you can get access to venues with one pass. Unfortunately, many venues have a cap on the number of badges allowed in, so you might end up waiting for some badge-holders to leave, or you could just pay the cover charge.

Carnival of Venice -- festival of masks and such

World Cup (a migratory, sporadic festival of sorts) -- Vuvuzela fever! Oh, and rowdy soccer fun

Anime Expo -- the largest anime convention in North America (if you consider swarms of fans a party)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:51 AM on September 15, 2011

Seriously, Burning Man.
posted by Freen at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2011

The Movement Festival in Detroit (often referred to as DEMF, or Detroit Electronic Music Festival) is held annually on Memorial Day weekend in Detroit, Michigan.

Since techno originated in Detroit and the city continues to boast strong performers (not to mention the rich cultural and musical heritage that's there - Motown, anybody?), it's one of the few places in the U.S. where you can see hundreds of artists for less than $50 over a long weekend.

I've tried to attend every year since I first went there (2005), and it's never been anything but a massive good time. Almost 100,000 people went in 2011; also, the festival manages to book controversial acts and artists that have trouble getting into the US by other means, most likely by sneaking them in from Windsor, Canada.

There are also ~10-30 afterparties and tertiary events happening during the festival, including repertory films and cultural events. Between the amazing architecture (there's a lot of Art Deco treasures embedded in the city, if you look - like the Guardian Building) and the Heidelberg Project, there's a lot to photograph or just look at if you're into art.

In nearby Dearborn, you'll find a wealth of delicious food, amazing culture and the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:12 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to do Carnaval in Brazil, do Rio for the glamour version or Salvador for the street party.
posted by wallaby at 3:31 PM on September 15, 2011

Deniliquin Ute Muster - Australiana and pickup trucks

Greazefest Custom Culture Festival - rockabillly and hot rods
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:35 PM on September 15, 2011

Go to everything mentioned above before you worry about Mardi Gras. It can be fun, but if you're not a local or hanging with people who are, it's pretty much a mob of drunken college kids and the adults who wish they still were.

Jazz Fest, on the other hand....

Complete and utterly disagree. Granted, I've only lived here for three years, but Jazz Fest really ain't my thang, and I know a lot of other locals who feel the same way, increasingly so because it's gotten so expensive for regular folks to go to.

If your only impression of Mardi Gras is what you see on the first 5 blocks of Bourbon, well, frankly, yer doin' it wrong. Though I would agree it's a lot better with locals. But hey, last year some MeFites had a parade route meetup!! We're a jolly bunch around that time of year, we'll be your local friends.

My favorite time around Mardi Gras is the Thursday-Saturday before it, at the beginning of the Uptown parade routes and on Frenchmen. Now THAT's a party. Muses, the all-women's parade that goes out the Thursday before Mardi Gras is one of the most epic things you'll ever see in your life. So much that I've talked my mother into coming down from the Midwest for it.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:13 PM on September 15, 2011

St Patrick's Day is better in NYC and Chicago than in Ireland.

Actually, St. Patrick's Day is better in Savannah, GA. Of all places.
posted by phunniemee at 6:22 PM on September 15, 2011

Chinese New Year in China?
posted by davismbagpiper at 6:23 PM on September 15, 2011

Don't forget Eid ul-Fitr somewhere in the Muslim world!
posted by Enneking at 7:55 PM on September 15, 2011

Er...scratch that. That's not exactly a raucous party most places.
posted by Enneking at 7:57 PM on September 15, 2011

The Kaiserball (Imperial Ball) held at New Year's in Vienna. I have a friend who went and said it was an awesome and incredible experience. He's not such a world traveler but I will say the description sounds kind of cool.
posted by librarylis at 8:59 PM on September 15, 2011

If you like bluegrass at all, or if you think you might, Telluride (late June, Colorado) is just what you're asking for.

It's a bit much for me, though, so I've become very enamored of Delfest, Memorial Day weekend in Cumberland, Maryland. It's smallish (a few thousand people), but it's a terrific time with a wonderful atmosphere. Cumberland is a small town in the mountains, on the Potomac River on the border between Maryland and West Virginia.
posted by kostia at 10:10 PM on September 15, 2011

The Indy 500 has seats for 400,000 people. It's hard to find a larger event.
posted by talldean at 8:16 AM on September 16, 2011

Guca Trumpet Festival. It's absolutely as wild as the wiki makes it sound.
posted by vecchio at 4:53 PM on September 16, 2011

Mohacs festival in Hungary (video).
posted by benzenedream at 11:24 PM on September 16, 2011

La Tamborrada in San Sebastian in Spain, January, via a useful site called Festival Pig.
It was simply awesome, fantastic atmosphere, food and drink in the most beautiful small city in Spain
posted by Wilder at 1:25 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oppps, sorry link is here
posted by Wilder at 1:26 PM on September 17, 2011

How about Gentse Feesten? It's ten days long and features live music (esp. jazz), theatre, comedy, and street performances. I don't know how old you are, but I was nineteen when I visited Ghent and found it to be a very friendly college town with lots of young people. It's on my list of places to return to while I'm still in my twenties. Cheers!
posted by yaymukund at 4:40 PM on September 17, 2011

Winter Music Conference -- another music even, this one in Miami. It's a big dance music business event, but it's also a huge, week-long party in March each year.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:10 PM on September 17, 2011

The Sevens rugby tournament in Wellington, NZ, turns the whole town into a party.
posted by Metro Gnome at 11:30 PM on September 18, 2011

What a pity you didn't get more responses as there are plenty!
La Feria de Abril en Sevilla, Seville in Southern Spain, and that link brings you to many more of the Spanish Festival. Moros y Cristianos is another recommendation. Also Easter Week celebrations in either Seville or Ibiza.

Oberammergau in Bavaria Southern Germany is very famous.

Lewes in East Sussex has an amazing bonfire night celebration that is wonderful and hardly known outside England.

The annual Cheese rolling festival in Coopers Hill.

In Scotland the Cowal Highland Gathering is the biggest in the world and includes a caber tossing competition.

The Finnish Wife Carrying championships

Anything to do with Dia de Los Muertos in a multitude of Lat-Am countries.

This (commercial) website lists some of the African festivals by month and I would LOVE to go to the scared music festival in Fez.

A friend has been to the Tuareg Music Festival in the Desert and raved about it [the link loads with music so maybe NSFW]

please DO NOT go to Dublin on St Patricks day, its not a great festival to be honest. A much better way to discover Ireland is through traditional music festivals, see some here. A really interesting one I would like to see for historical reasons is the one in West Belfast,

Not a festival per se but very much worth seeing, the Beatification of anyone in St Peter's in Rome, atheist freinds were in Rome when this happened and were blown away by the atmosphere.

Another thing to look out for is whatever your particular interest is, so the Slow Food festivals are usually good. Film Festival in San Sebastian, Monte Carlo or Venice are all wonderful if a little expensive (the last 2 not the SS one)

I've run out of time but could go on like this for ages. The ones I mention are either, 1) I've been there, 2) I keep prmising myself I'll go there, or 3) friends have been and loved them.
posted by Wilder at 10:11 AM on September 20, 2011

I have attended Winter Blast twice, an annual convention/show-and-tell for professional and amateur pyros.

If you're into fireworks, Winter Blast and the PGI events further East can't possibly be beaten. You'll see things in the sky at these events that you've never seen before.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:03 PM on September 21, 2011

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