What’s On This Year: 31 Festivals And Events Worth The Journey In 2016

From Tomorrowland in Belgium to Kashmir's Tulip Festival, here are our top picks for the year.  
The People of Mexico
Mexico comes alive to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Photo: mbtrama/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Kenduli Mela, India

January 14-16

Visit the little village of Jaydev Kenduli in West Bengal, about 200km/4hr from Kolkata by road, for the Kenduli Mela. The village lights up for Makar Sankranti with this annual fair. Visitors can buy handicrafts and sample local cuisine, but the best part about the festival is the performances by the Baul musicians, the state’s wandering minstrels. Soak in their soulful music over terracotta cupfuls of steaming chai. Read more about the festival here.

A single olive turtle goes along its way

A baby olive ridley turtle journeys to the sea. Photo: Caulier Gilles/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Velas Turtle Festival, India


Head to Velas, a village in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district (about 300km out of Mumbai), to watch newly hatched baby turtles make their first journey into the ocean. From October to April, the beaches in and around Velas become nesting grounds for olive ridley turtles. This is one of the few places in the world where the endangered reptiles turn up to nest. If you’re lucky, you could see as many as 50 turtle hatchlings on your visit. Read Features Writer Kamakshi Ayyar’s story of her visit to the festival. Dates are decided only a few weeks in advance, so check the website of Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (the conservation group that organises the festival) for details.

Munch on wild foods like huhu beetles at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo: Eli Duke/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Huhu beetles at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. Photo: Eli Duke/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, New Zealand

March 12, 2016

Paradise for adventurous eaters, this festival in the town of Hokitika celebrates the wild foods of the West Coast of New Zealand. Whether it’s stallion protein shots (horse semen that allegedly taste like milkshake), worm sushi, or chocolate-covered huhu grub, there are enough weird and wonderful bites to go around. The festival’s been organised since 1990, and in recent times, allows a lucky 10,000 to enter so book tickets as soon as you can. Hokitika is about 40km/30min from Greymouth and 245km/3hr from Christchurch. Make it a weekend getaway by renting a spot at a campsite nearby to pitch tents and park vans. www.wildfoods.co.nz

Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival, USA

April 15-17 and April 22-24, 2016

Party it up at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Photo: sputnik mi amor_/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Party it up at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Photo: sputnik mi amor_/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Every year, California’s city of Indio in the Colorado desert welcomes hipsters from across the world for this music and arts festival. This year’s back-to-back party weekends feature performances by the likes of Guns n’ Roses, Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding, the 1975, and Alessia Cara. For the best experience, camp on-site in lush fields adjacent to the performance area. www.coachella.com

The vibes are electric at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Photo: Derek Bridges/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The electric New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Photo: Derek Bridges/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, USA

April 22-May 1, 2016

Jazz was born in New Orleans over a century ago, and this festival has been electrifying the city since 1970. This year’s line-up hasn’t been announced yet, but previous editions have featured John Legend, Tony Bennet, Lenny Kravitz, Buddy Guy and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. www.nojazzfest.com.


Kumbh Mela, India

April 22-May 21, 2016

This year marks the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, which happens once every 12 years and is based on the alignment of the planets and zodiac signs. While there are four kumbh melas in the country—at Haridwar in Uttarakhand, Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, Nashik in Maharashtra, and this one at Ujjain—they take place in rotation. At Ujjain, devotees take a dip in the river Shipra (on auspicious dates, highlighted here) and also visit the famous Mahakaleshwar jyotirlinga and other ancient temples. Read about why you should stop by the Jantar Mantar at Ujjain here. While in the state, use our Assistant Editor Saumya Ancheri’s detailed guide to navigate its rich cultural heritage. www.simhasthujjain.in

Tulip Festival, India

May 7-14, 2016

Srinagar’s Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, at the base of the snow-capped Zabarwan range near Dal Lake, is carpeted with over two million blooms each April. It’s definitely a sight to see, especially since at over 30 acres, this tulip garden is the largest in Asia. The festival features daily cultural programmes and stalls selling local handicrafts and Kashmiri food.

Stars Of The White Nights Festival, Russia

May 27-August 2, 2016

A great way to experience the White Nights—when the night sky doesn’t get dark in some of the world’s northernmost regions—is via this festival in St. Petersburg. The months-long festival celebrates the arts and spotlights music, ballet, opera and film. Sword-swallowers, fire-eaters and mime artists dot the streets along the Neva River at night-time. Read more about this stunning party in the land of the midnight sun here.

Summer Solstice At Stonehenge, UK

June 21, 2016

Watch the sun rise on the longest day of the year at this architectural landmark in Wiltshire, around 141km/2hr out of London. It’s one of the only times in the year when visitors are permitted to actually touch the stones, and around 37,000 people—some druids and pagans, others spectators—gather for the iconic event. There’s also a four-day camping festival in grounds near the Stonehenge site.

Tomorrowland, Belgium

July 22-24, 2016

The quaint town of Boom, about 32km/40min north of Brussels, has been playing host to one of the world’s biggest electronic music festivals since 2005. Expect performances from artists like David Guetta, Alesso. Afrojack and Tiësto on the surreally designed stages. Visitors from the world over gather for the festival and camp out on the “Dreamville” festival grounds. It’s the kind of festival you’re bound to never forget. www.tomorrowland.com

Hemis Festival, India

July 14-15, 2016

Attend masked performances at the Hemis Festival. Photo: Madhav Pai/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Attend masked performances at the Hemis Festival. Photo: Madhav Pai/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

This is one of the biggest festivals held in Ladakh, at the Hemis Monastery. The two-day festival commemorates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, one of the founders of Tibetan Buddhism. Watch traditional masked dances, listen to the musical performances and visit the monastery’s museum during your visit.

Elephant Migration, Sri Lanka


Minneriya National Park, about 200km/4hr out of Colombo, undergoes a drastic transformation each year when herds of Asian elephants migrate to the area. This happens because the park’s lush greenery during this time is perfect for feeding, mating, and socialising. While the migration season lasts until November, June to September is the best time to catch this magnificent wildlife sight.

Summer Olympics, Brazil

August 5-21, 2016

After hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil is now gearing up to host the mega Summer Olympics across four regions in Rio de Janeiro. Athletes will be competing for the gold in 42 sports, and with nearly 7.5 million tickets available (they are already on sale), there’s a fair chance of catching some of the world’s best sportsmen and women giving it their all for Olympic glory. www.rio2016.com

The city turns into a hub of art and excitement during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo: Laura Suarez/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The artsy Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo: Laura Suarez/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Scotland

August 5-29, 2016

The world’s largest arts festival pops up all over the city for three weeks of the year. With a schedule brimming with events, there’s something for everyone. Read Alexander McCall Smith’s piece on why you should visit the cultural cityhere. In 2015, more than 300 venues hosted over 50,000 performances, of everything from spoken word and cabaret to dance, comedy and children’s shows. www.edfringe.com


Nehru Trophy Boat Race, India

August 13, 2016

Each year, Kerala’s Punnamada Lake, which is the section of the Vembanad Lake in Kuttanad, welcomes nearly two lakh spectators for this boat race. Snake boats, measuring around 130ft with raised prows that were once used as navy boats by warring rulers of the land, race to compete for the trophy that commemorates the visit of India’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952. www.nehrutrophy.nic.in.

International Mariachi Festival, Mexico

August 26-September 4, 2016

Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, turns the spotlight on this folk music form. Mariachi, which emerged around the 19th century, usually employs violins, trumpets and guitars. While there will be performances by the country’s best mariachi musicians, don’t miss the tequila tastings and gala nights. www.mariachi-jalisco.com.mx

London Design Festival, UK

September 17-25, 2016

One of the most striking facets of this festival is the design projects and installations that pop up across the city, turning London into an artistic playground. The festival came about to highlight the city’s creativity by drawing on a slew of thinkers, practitioners, retailers and educators to celebrate design. There are exhibitions in museums, design fairs and a host of other aesthetic events each year. www.londondesignfestival.com

Oktoberfest, Germany

September 17-October 2, 2016

Queue up for a beery breakfast in Munich at this festival. Back in 1810, it started out as a horse race to celebrate the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s wedding, but today, approximately seven million litres of beer get consumed at the festival each year. Hit the tents to guzzle a range of locally brewed beer. To really get into the spirit of things, dress up in traditional Bavarian costume. Use our guide to navigate your way through the festival. www.oktoberfest.de

Terra Madre Salon Del Gusto, Italy

September 22-26, 2016

Celebrate slow food, a movement that aims to preserve local and traditional culinary styles, in the gorgeous city of Turin with this unique food festival. Every two years, thousands of farmers and food producers from 150 countries step into the city. The festival puts into practice ideas of the Slow Food movement. This edition of the event will take place not in a convention centre, but at palaces, theatres and cultural centres across the city. The 2014 event had sessions on urban farming, tasting sessions and cooking workshops along with projects like the Ark of Taste which documents food products that are becoming extinct. www.slowfood.com

Monarch Butterfly Migration, Mexico


Each year, monarch butterflies leave the cold winters of North America and Canada and fly over 4,000km to warmer forests in Mexico. Head to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve—which now has a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List—which is around 100km out of Mexico City. According to local legend, since the arrival of the butterflies coincides with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in early November, these creatures are souls of the deceased returning to Earth. The best time to see the winged wonders are between February and March when mating season begins. To see other wildlife migrations, go here.

Rajasthan International Folk Festival, India

October 13-17, 2016

The always imposing Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur becomes even more magical during the Rajasthan International Folk Festival, when musicians from around the world perform here. In the mornings, bhajans reverberate against the stoic walls. Folk musicians perform by its shimmering waterbodies and in the evening, fusion performances unfold against its imposing facades. While you’re there, make time to go ziplining around the sandstone fortress and visit the Mehrangarh Fort Museum for the gorgeous Mughal miniature paintings. www.jodhpurriff.org

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, USA

October 1-9, 2016

Wacky hot-air balloons go up in the air at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Photo: Lee Ruk/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Wacky hot-air balloons go up in the air at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Photo: Lee Ruk/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Don’t miss the riot of colour in the skies of Albuquerque in New Mexico when giant hot-air balloons take to the air. Whether it’s choreographed displays or balloon races, there’s something going on from the break of dawn to late at night. The balloons come in all shapes and sizes, including fun ones like cows, suns and even Darth Vader. The best part? You don’t have to watch from down below, go up in a hot-air balloon yourself. www.balloonfiesta.com

Bacardi NH7 Weekender, India

November-December (Dates to be announced)

Don’t miss one of India’s best-organised music festivals, which promises to be a camping festival this year. In 2015, NH7 Weekender played in five cities: Delhi, Pune, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and Shillong with headlining performances by Mark Ronson, Megadeth, Flying Lotus and AR Rahman, plus home-grown artists like Nucleya, Prateek Kuhad and Niladri Kumar. www.nh7.in/weekender

India Surf Festival, India

November 2016 (Dates to be announced)

Surfers from across the world unite at this week-long festival in Odisha. Participate in the excitement by watching surfers show off their freestyle moves, stand-up paddleboard races and kite-surfing competitions, or hit the water to learn the basics of these sports yourself. Take a break from the water to head to the musical performances in the evening or catch a yoga session. www.indiasurffestival.org

Saffron Rose Festival, Spain

October 28-30 2016

The tradition of harvesting saffron in the town of Consuegra in Toledo, about 130km/1.5hr out of Madrid, goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Arabs first introduced the spice to this area. The threads of saffron, which are the flower’s stamens, have to be plucked out by hand—and there aren’t too many who still engage in this process. The festival hosts harvesting competitions, local foods, and craft displays.

Dia De Los Muertos, Mexico

November 1-2, 2016

Honour the departed the traditional Mexican way, with painted faces and elaborate costumes. Souls of the departed are believed to revisit their earthly abodes during this time, and are welcomed with their favourite foods, sugar skulls, and floral arrangements. Colourful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons) are recurrent motifs seen on everything from candies to clothes. Use our food trail in Oaxaca and Mexico City on your visit.

Guy Fawkes Night, UK

November 5, 2016

“Remember, remember!/ The fifth of November,/ The Gunpowder treason and plot…” For over 400 years, this celebration has commemorated the arrest of Guy Fawkes, arguably the most infamous conspirator in English history. Elaborate firework displays and burning effigies bring a warm sense of camaraderie to the crowds that gather for this spectacle. York, where Fawkes was born, celebrates the event with great gusto, while other cities like London also rise up in revelry that night.

Rann Utsav, India

November 1, 2016-Feb 20. 2017

The white sands of the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat are a marvellous sight. Spread over a vast 7,505sqkm, the Great Rann—the world’s largest salt marsh—lies in the heart of the Thar Desert, touching Pakistan’s Sind Province on one side. The Rann Utsav, which takes place in a portion of the expanse, brings together local artisans, performers, musicians and folk artists in an attempt to recreate the state’s rich culture. Camp out in tents, but to make the most of your trip, customise it based on your interests.

Mevlana Whirling Dervishes Festival, Turkey

December 10-17, 2016

To grasp the power of poet Rumi, head to this 10-day festival in Konya, a 1hr15min flight from Istanbul. Whirling dervishes spin to commemorate the poet’s death, a tradition that has been on since 1273, and is a glorious spectacle to witness.

Madras Music Season, India

December (Dates to be announced)

Chennai comes alive during Carnatic music season. The month-long celebration is the highlight of the city’s old-school cultural calendar. For six weeks each year, 3,000 small and large concerts are organised by various sabhas. Most day-time performances are free, the evening shows are ticketed. www.musicacademymadras.in.

Revellion, Brazil

December 31, 2016-January 1, 2017

What could be better than bringing in the New Year on a beach in Rio? Watch stunning firework displays and follow the crowds to participate in a plethora of good-luck traditions to usher in a grander future.

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    Fabiola Monteiro is Features Writer on National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.

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