8 Incredible World Festivals (You’ve Never Heard Of)

I spent two weeks in Dublin last year – sightseeing, shopping and mingling with everyone who would talk to me. Halloween night landed a week into my visit. True to form, I took to the streets and spent my night crawling from pub to pub and soaking in the ambiance.

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Five bars in, I ran across a reveler I recognized as one of my tour guides from earlier in the week. We were drunk and the chance meeting excited us both in a way that only finding a vague acquaintance in a room full of total strangers can. Lubricated by Guinness, we talked for hours. I learned more about life in Dublin that night than I had in the previous week.

You’ll learn more about a place by partying there than by any number of guided tours. Alas, most people lack the time to drift around the world in search of great parties. Thanks to this list, you won’t have to. Here are eight sure-fire bets for a mind-expanding vacation.

#1: Burning Flipside (Austin, TX / May 27-31)

Burning Flipside, 2010
Burning Flipside, 2010 © OneFlameintheFire

If you’ve been to the Burning Man festival in Nevada, you have some idea of what to expect here. Dozens of theme camps, art installations, sound camps and even full-service bars sprawl out across a Pecan Orchard baking under the Texas sun. Burning Flipside is the largest regional Burning Man event and draws in between 2000-3000 people each year.

Each burn has a theme – last year was “Post-Apocalyptic Prom” and 2011 will be “Bad Idea”. No commerce is allowed inside the event, which works on a strict “Gift” economy. Bring everything you need to survive five days in the heat and be sure to Leave No Trace when you go.



Rough Cost:

$80 / ticket + Whatever 5 days of camping will cost you.

#2: Lightning in a Bottle (Irving, CA / May 27-31)

Lightning in a Bottle, 2008
Lightning in a Bottle, 2008 © Pilar Woodman

This is basically California’s answer to Flipside. Both events occur at the same time, have the same “no commerce” ethic and encourage “Leave No Trace” camping.

Lightning in a Bottle also offers a huge list of performers, plus guest speakers and Yoga classes. Tickets work on a tier system and a total of six thousand are offered every year.



Rough Cost:

Up to $205, for a 3-day tier 3 ticket. Day passes start at $65.

#3: Nowhere Festival (Zaragoza, Spain / July 8-12)

Nowhere Festival Campgrounds (2009)

Nowhere began in 2004. It was founded by a group of European Burning Man attendees looking to start a festival somewhere more convenient. The harsh Spanish desert means no giant effigy burns, but there are (controlled) fire-spinning shows and a series of workshops held in the giant center shade structure, dubbed “The Middle of Nowhere”.

While it isn’t very large today (500+ attendees) Nowhere is growing fast and set in some of the most beautiful, desolate terrain on earth. Plus, European hippy girls and awesome art.



Rough Cost:

No 2011 ticket price is listed yet, but they aren’t likely to be excessive. (Flying to Spain with enough gear to handle the desert? Well that’s a different matter …)

You may be wondering why so many Burn-style festivals made it onto the list. The reason is simple: these events tend to have very strict “no commerce” policies. When no one at the event is profiting from it, everyone is more free to enjoy. They also tend to embrace “radical inclusivity”, which is good news for a foreigner looking for insights or a long-time traveler seeking to alleviate loneliness.

#4: Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival (December 29th)

Edinburgh Hogmanay Longship

Scottish New Year’s is called Hogmanay: a time when people who can inspire awe in the IRISH for the amount of ALCOHOL that they drink decide to RAMP IT UP a notch.
Louis Black

Louis Black gave the best description of Hogmanay I’ve been able to find, “In Scotland, New Year’s is called Hogmanay. And it is a time when people who can inspire awe in the IRISH for the amount of ALCOHOL that they drink decide to RAMP IT UP a notch.”

While that gives you a good idea of what to expect, it leaves out some really amazing regional celebrations, like the Burning of the Clavie in Burghead or the Stonehaven Fireballs ceremony.

All other regional celebrations fall short of Edinburgh’s, though, because they reference goddamn Vikings. Ring in the new year by marching to Carlton Hill with hundreds of other torch-bearing drunk people and burning a life size viking longboat.



Rough Cost:

Free, although you can (and should) buy torches. All proceeds go to charity.

#5: Beltane Fire Festival (Edinburgh Scotland / April 30)

Beltane Fire Festival

Yes, Scotland again. You see, the perpetually damp climate may be bad for asthmatics and people with seasonal affective disorder, but it truly kicks ass for celebrations that involve lots of fire.

Back in the ye old days, Beltane was a Celtic festival to ring in the summer months. Since 1988, these guys have run their own modernized homage every year. The event involves a ritualized procession and drama complete with awesome costumes and lots of torchbearers. There’s also a phoenix. And, of course, lots of fire dancers.



Rough Cost:

Tickets are £6 advance, £8 on the night. There are over ten thousand attendees every year, so you’ll want to order ahead of time.

#6: Boom Festival (Idanha-a-Nova Lake, Portugal / the August full moon)

Boom Festival, Portugal
Boom Festival, Portugal © burningmax

This started off as just another psytrance festival, basically a cross between a rave and a camp-out. Over the years it has blossomed into a 10,000 person event with hundreds of shows and art installations. All participants are volunteers (and vice versa), which means you’ll see streets lined with everything from paintings to street theater troupes to giant sculptures and DJ booths.

Boom only occurs every other year, during the August full moon. It includes people from all over the world, and a strong emphasis is placed on fostering communication between people of all nations. This makes it the perfect jumping-off point for a long wander ’round the globe.



Rough Cost:

Tickets start at 125€. The stiff price is necessary to keep Boom free of corporate sponsorship and allow it to become the world’s first fully sustainable festival. Boom has eco-friendly toilets, free of chemical products. They are working on a wind and solar power grid and offer recycling and free cleaning kits to participants.

Foreign customers may purchase Ambassador tickets. These vary in price (expensive for developed nations, cheap for people from poorer countries) and give you the option of pick-up in a Boom Bus from either Lisbon or Madrid airport (for a small fee).

#7: AfrikaBurn (Tankwa Karoo, South Africa / 27 April – 2 May)

Last Sunset at AfrikaBurn (2009)
Last Sunset at AfrikaBurn (2009) © versionz

No, that isn’t the name of a white supremacist group. It’s actually the “regional” Burning Man event for the continent of Africa. It is held on a private farm named Stonehenge, adjacent to the Tankwa Karoo national park. 2,200 people attended in 2010, the festival’s 3rd year.

Africa is a continent that could sorely use more good parties. The art at this burn is (so I hear) routinely incredible, and you owe it to yourself to check out their whole gallery from 2010.



Rough Cost:

Tickets are R450 at the gate (around $65).

#8: VuuV Festival (Pritzwalk, Germany / July 22-25)

Vuuv Festival, Germany (2007)
Vuuv Festival, Germany (2007) © Kate Kirkby

This is a four day Goa trance festival. If you don’t know what that means, expect lots of electronic music and European raver kids, musicians and tons of wandering hippy nomads. VuuV is a good place to meet fellow travelers, and they allow car camping on the grounds. Expect spectacular light shows and enough dance floors to wear your legs down to nubbins.



Rough Cost:

Price is unavailable, but this is another one of those “bring what you need to survive” events. Estimate accordingly.

  1. Sooo, four variants of Burning Man, two trance festivals, a New Year’s Eve party, and a parade.

    Admittedly Hogmanay is rad.

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