The world loves a celebration and everyone’s invited. Put these annual cultural festivals in your diary now to really experience the life and soul of the party.
Day of the Dead
Mexico’s ancient Festival of the Dead combines elements of Spanish and Aztec traditions. Each year, from October 31 to November 2, the country’s streets are transformed into living art galleries that honour those who have passed away. The celebrations can be very personal for many Mexicans so if you want to do more than admire the brightly coloured ofrendas (offerings), hire a knowledgeable guide.
If Instagram invented a festival, it would look like Holi, the joyful Hindu celebration of spring that compels locals in northern India to shower one another with brightly coloured powder. Small towns like Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh, and colourful Pushkar – 150 kilometres from New Delhi and Jaipur, respectively – are its heartbeat and where you’re likely to experience authentic revelry. If you’re sticking to a larger metropolis such as New Delhi, keep away from backpacker areas, where things can get a bit out of hand. But wherever you end up, don’t forget to wear your best couture. Kidding. Wear clothes you’re happy never to see again and cover yourself in moisturiser to help remove the dyes. Be aware that many Holi dyes are thought to be toxic so if you want to throw some powder yourself, look for natural brands such as Organica or the hand-blended Swarang from Red Earth India, which can even be delivered to your hotel.
Sundance Film Festival
Park City, US
Cannes may be the glittering leading lady of the film festival calendar but Utah’s Sundance plays a worthy supporting role. Founded by Robert Redford – and named after his career-defining role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – this is the go-to festival if you actually want to see the films and spot the stars. Online ticket sales usually open in October for the late-January festival and you can purchase packages or individual tickets. Première screenings are notoriously hard to get into but otherwise there’s no reason to miss anything on your list. The classic place to stay is Sundance Mountain Resort because of its proximity to the festival’s epicentre, Park City (and you can go skiing while you’re there). An increasing number of festivalgoers are heading to Salt Lake City, where many of the movies are screened. Its Mormon traditions make it a fascinating place to use as a base.
New Orleans, US
A riotous parade of dancing, feasting and French/American/Creole mysticism, Mardi Gras – or Carnival, as the week of activities is known to locals – is the essence of New Orleans. To truly immerse yourself in this celebration that ends on Shrove Tuesday, join a krewe (crew) so you can board a float. Hotels such as the Sheraton offer expensive Krewe VIP packages where they arrange your membership and secure a spot at the best parties. But most smaller krewes, allow anyone over 18 to sign up on their websites and include pre- and after-parties as part of their memberships. If you’d rather experience the event from a more sedate distance as a spectator, watch the old-society Rex Parade roll through the city centre on Mardi Gras day.
Only tourists would be cheesy enough to dress up in lederhosen and dirndls at Munich’s world-famous annual celebration of beer, meat and bacchanalia, right? Wrong. The tourists at Oktoberfest, which actually starts in mid-September and goes for 16 to 18 days, are the ones wearing shorts and T-shirts. So cast aside your reservations and go the full petticoat and pantaloons if you want to blend in. A reservation you shouldn’t abandon, though, is the one you can make for a table in a beer tent. The Löwenbräu tent is a good all-rounder, while Marstall is great for families. If you don’t book a spot in advance or arrive at the crack of dawn, you’ll be wandering around in your embroidered short pants with your arms full of pilsner, feeling like a bit of a twit.
Chinese New Year
Colour, lights, temples and parades are the foundations of Chinese New Year – a celebration Hong Kong takes very seriously. A magnificent hotel in the city is Hullett House, which dates back to 1881 and has been reimagined with 10 designer rooms named after Hong Kong’s bays and islands. The personalised butler service will help you skip the queue at a popular tea house or get you trackside at the New Year horseraces. It’s a tradition to give flowers and plants at this time of the year; ask your concierge about the best place to see the famous Hong Kong Flower Rush at markets around the city.
The guest list alone tells you that Wimbledon is no ordinary sports event; it regularly hosts the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as “royalty” from the other side of the Atlantic, such as Beyoncé, Jay Z, Bradley Cooper and Ellen DeGeneres. So if you’re going to attend the world’s oldest tennis tournament, which takes place over a fortnight every June and July, grab the glamour with both hands and do London in style. Hotel du Vin’s historical Cannizaro House is close to the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where the matches take place. It does a smashing Wimbledon-themed afternoon tea served with sloe gin and tonic.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
It’s the largest arts festival in the world and, in the United Kingdom, festivals mean camping. We wouldn’t advise roughing it completely – even in August, when the Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes place, the weather is famously unpredictable – but an elegant bell tent complete with mattress, bedding, mood lighting, bacon rolls and (hallelujah!) hot showers sounds like the perfect compromise. The tents book out fast so go online to secure one as soon as they become available, which is usually mere weeks after the previous festival ends. If you’re not the camping kind, you could do a lot worse than The Glasshouse hotel, which is an easy skip from the Edinburgh Playhouse, or the buzzing, colourful Tigerlily in the heart of New Town, close to some of the city’s most happening bars and restaurants.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The most flamboyant event on Earth begins on the Friday before Lent each year, finishes on Shrove Tuesday and brings two million party people onto the streets of Brazil’s second-largest city. There are essentially two focal points: the parties on the streets and the samba-school competitions in the Sambadrome, which take place on Sunday and Monday from 9pm until dawn. Luxury tour company Bespoke Brazil can tailor an itinerary that gets you top seats in the Sambadrome or – if you’re truly a slave to the rhythm and don’t mind flashing a bit of flesh – supply you with a costume and escort you to an assigned samba school so you can dance in the parade. It’s hard to imagine a more exhilarating experience than dancing nonstop for up to 90 minutes in front of a vast, cheering crowd. ￼