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There are few ways better to get under the skin of a new destination than by joining in with the local festivities.
Delve into long-upheld traditions and learn about intriguing customs celebrating alongside like-minded travellers and local people.
From the colourful flamboyance of Harbin’s Ice and Snow Festival to the spiritual cacophony of the Ardh Kumbh Mela in India – whatever ignites your wanderlust, there’s a festival to help you celebrate!
Here’s our top picks of the best festivals around the world…Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin
2016’s theme of ‘Happy Ice Snow, Exciting City’, perfectly encapsulates the sense of spectacular whimsy that permeates the Harbin Ice Festival – one of the world’s greatest winter festivals.
Massive sculptures expertly crafted from ice and snow and brightly illuminated in kaleidoscopic colours create an otherworldly landscape for visitors to explore, climb and play on.
Creations can be up to 160 feet tall and are often painstakingly detailed replicas of iconic buildings and examples of architecture, such as the Great Wall of China – complete with slide!
Find out more: China tours
Ardh Kumbh Mela
Ardh Kumbh Mela is the largest peaceful gathering in the world, up to 100 million people can be expected to gather and bathe in the Ganges in 2016.
The Kumbh Mela Hindu pilgrimage comes to the Ganges at Haridwar for the half or Ardh Kumbh Mela only every 12 years. Thousands of holy men and women, clad in saffron sheets and daubed in ashes, attend the month-long event, holding religious discussions and participating in darshan, or respectful visual exchange, with the public.
The sheer scale of the Kumbh Mela is as impressive as it is profoundly moving: an entranced Mark Twain marvelled after his visit in 1895 that ‘It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys’.
Find out more: India tours
Nadaam Festival in Mongolia
The three games of men: archery, horse racing and wrestling. The hardy nomadic people of Mongolia take their sports very seriously, and never more so than during the Naadam Festival.
This annual event sees Mongolians flock to the capital Ulaan Baatar to watch in awe over two days as competitors battle it out in the “Eriyn Gurvan Naadam” – the “three manly sports”.
Parades of monks, athletes and soldiers marching to the beat of the Morin Khuur – the country’s national instrument – mark the start of this epic event, so grab a front-row spot; you’ll want to be close to the action as horses thunder past, arrows twang on targets and wrestlers grapple on the dusty steppe.
Find out more: Mongolia trips
Thimpu Festival in Bhutan
As this, the largest of Bhutan’s festivals, takes place in the capital of this unique and enigmatic country, you’ll want to secure your place early in the day if you’re hoping to capture some striking photographs of masked dancers swirling around the courtyard of the Tashichho dzong.
The square becomes ablaze with colour as performers adorn the stage to conduct their religious ritualistic dances to bless their onlookers and to honour of Guru Pinpoche – who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 8th century.
Find out more: Bhutan trips
Whirling Dervish Festival in Turkey
Rumi, popularly known as Mevlana, was a 13th century Sufi poet and mystic who believed that a union with God was possible through dance, which the Mevlevi Order, or Whirling Dervishes, practise as a spiritual act.
Every year in December, the city of Konya comes alive as 100,000 devotees come to observe the ancient ceremony at the Whirling Dervish Festival. In turn sombre and rhapsodical, this mesmerising festival includes poetry and music to accompany the soaring dancers.
Find out more: Turkey trips
Browse more festivals from around the world below.