There’s no better way than hanging out at a cultural festival to understand something of a place’s history, politics, and people. Meeting locals and fellow travelers, sharing in eccentric performances and cuisines and reveling at an event made for just that purpose can make for some of the best travel memories and experiences you will have.
These are some of the colorful, interesting and bizarre festivals you will find around the world.
1.) Kanamara Matsuri, Kawasaki, Japan
This “Festival of the Street Phallus” originated as a superstitious means of warding off sexually transmitted diseases but has morphed into something that involves the entire family. Not only is there a procession involving a large pink phallus, but there are penis-shaped candies and other treats, and the theme pervades even children’s playground equipment. Today the purpose of the festival is to celebrate fertility and proceeds from the events are put toward HIV research. Kanamara Matsuri is held each year on the first weekend in April.
2.) Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, Harbin, China
You’d better bundle up if you’re making the trip to this winter festival, as Harbin is known for being quite cold and visitors to past festivals have said staying warm sometimes seems a near-impossible feat. However, braving the cold is worth it to witness this spectacular display of craftsmanship. In addition to the elegant sculptures, you can go ice skating, skiing and snow mobiling through the surrounding area. The festival is held from mid-December to the end of February.
3.) Texas Sandfest, United States
For some good old-fashioned fun, head to the Texas Sandfest, which will be held from April 26-28. There’s something for everyone here, and anyone can compete. There is a competition for Master Builders as well as amateurs, in which anyone can join. Texas Sandfest is now the largest Masters sand-building competition in the United States.
4.) White Nights Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia
This festival is the ultimate way to soak in some culture, by enjoying some of the finest ballet and opera performances in the world. This year, the festival will be held from May 24-July 14, and will feature works from some of the world’s greatest composers. Founded in 1993, this festival has become a staple of the theater and dance world, and sees some of Russia’s finest performers taking the stage.
5.) Dia de los Muertos, Mexico
During the Day of the Dead celebrations, held Nov. 1-2 each year, people dress up in elaborate costumes to honor and commune with their dead loved ones. Part of the celebration involves leaving favorite possessions, treats and bright flowers on the graves of those who have passed. The tradition for the festival dates all the way back to ancient Aztec culture. Skull imagery figures prominently throughout the festival. Traditional foods are also prepared and eaten during this time, and people will decorate the homes of the deceased in preparation for the celebration. It is a time to celebrate life and mourn death and ponder the meaning of human existence.