5 Festivals Worth Travelling For
Few months highlight the planet’s cultural diversity more than November. If you’re searching for late-autumn travel inspiration, look no further – these five festivals and events are among the most colourful and idiosyncratic in the calendar.
Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out.
Banner Image Credit: iStock.com/rightdx
Pushkar Camel Fair, India
When: Early November
Image Credit: iStock.com/Prabuddharay
Nowhere does colourful large-scale events quite like India, a country where even the blandest day can provide a full-blown sensory assault. The Pushkar Camel Fair – held each November in the Rajasthan town of the same name – is nominally a livestock market, although the hordes of camels, sheep and cattle on show are offset by a rainbow spread of other stalls, sights and glimmering diversions. The result is a magnificent chaos. Even the camels are decked out in bells, bangles and beads.
The long-running event draws well in excess of 250,000 spectators and traders, while some estimates put the number of camels traded each year at 25,000. It’s also an occasion on which traditional sports get an outing, with tug-of-war, horse racing and a locals-versus-tourists cricket match among the spectacles on offer.
Did you know? The fair also includes a “longest moustache” competition, in which various local men compare their richly groomed whiskers. The all-time record for the contest is an astonishing 11 foot 6 inches.
Lewes Bonfire Night, UK
When: 5 November
Nowhere celebrates Guy Fawkes Night with quite the same verve and gusto as Lewes. The East Sussex town spends most of the year quietly swaddled by the South Downs, but when the 5th of November comes around it brings out its wild side. This annual transformation into a vision of fiery bacchanalia is mainly due to the fact that the event remembers not just the Gunpowder Plot but also the earlier martyrdom of seventeen local Protestants.
Image Credit: iStock.com/Sotiris Filippou
As such, seventeen flaming crosses are carried along the town’s heavily packed streets as part of a smoke-heavy night that can involve more than 30 separate processions. Expect big crowds, marching bands and more burger and drink stalls than you can poke a Roman candle at. As the evening wears on, there are bonfires and fireworks at ticketed sites around the town – it’s wise to book ahead.
Did you know? As part of the celebrations, various large effigies are pulled through the streets before being burned. Those who have had the dubious honour of being immolated include Sepp Blatter, Osama bin Laden and David Cameron – the latter complete with a pig.
Day Of The Dead, Mexico
When: 31 October until 2 November
To those accustomed to Western traditions, Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos to the locals) can seem odd, macabre or even downright improper. The reality, however, is an upbeat multi-day occasion on which death isn’t so much mourned as embraced. It’s held as a way of celebrating the lives of deceased friends and family members, who are believed to return to earth once a year.
Image Credit: iStock.com/Woodkern
As well as showcasing an archetypally mestizo mix of ancient Aztec beliefs and more formal Catholic traditions, the celebrations also tend to form an intense visual spectacle. Candle-crammed altars, flamboyant costumes and skeletal facial make-up all figure – not to mention sugar skulls, hand-carved lamps and a myriad of other cadaverous frills and embellishments.
Did you know? Marigolds (not the gloves) also play an important role in Day of the Dead celebrations. The bright flowers were once revered by the Aztecs, and their flame-coloured petals are still scattered on the ground to help guide spirits towards altars.
Melbourne Cup, Australia
When: First Tuesday in November
Few nations treat sport with quite such reverence as Australia (granted, screaming blue murder at an Aussie Rules game might not count as reverence, but you get the point). Various occasions vie for the title of the biggest in the nation’s sporting calendar, among them the Melbourne Cup Carnival, which plays host each year to the so-called “race that stops a nation”.
Image Credit: iStock.com/TkKurikawa
Perhaps best described as the Down Under equivalent of the Grand National, the thoroughbred race for the Melbourne Cup is the centrepiece of an annual horse-racing carnival that has become as much about revelry and trackside fashion as having a flutter. It regularly attracts more than 100,000 spectators – quite a step up from the 4,000 attendance it drew when it first took place, back in 1861 – and it’s estimated that 90 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 watch the race on TV.
Did you know? British model Jean Shrimpton, one of the icons of London’s Swinging Sixties, caused a furore at the 1965 carnival. Defying convention, she turned up with no hat, no stockings, no gloves and a dress that stopped five inches above her knee.
Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York
When: Fourth Thursday in November
In the US, Thanksgiving means different things to different people. For the traditional, it gives the chance to show gratitude for the year’s harvest – and perhaps catch an American football match or two in the afternoon. For the peckish, it’s an occasion to indulge in more turkey drumsticks and pumpkin pie than might strictly be sensible. And for tourists to New York? It’s all about the morning parade.
Image Credit: iStock.com/ALEXIUZ
Presented by super-sized department store Macy’s – and televised across the country since 1952 – the three-hour procession leads from Central Park down to the store’s location on Herald Square, featuring a carnival assortment of live music, decorated floats and colossal helium balloons, typically portraying cartoon characters. If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing a skyscraper-sized Snoopy float down 6th Avenue, you’re in luck. It’s far from being the only such Thanksgiving Parade in the US (Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and Houston are among those cities with similar displays), but it’s become the best known.
Did you know? Macy’s has a dedicated team of balloon creators (known, rather wonderfully, as “balloonatics”) who work for up to a year in advance on new designs. It’s not a cheap process – getting a new balloon built, tested and ready for display costs more than $190,000.