One of the best ways to really experience a new place is to experience a local festival. Steeped in history and tradition, these unique celebrations are a great way for visitors to get a better understand of local life and culture. Plus, they can be a lot of fun.
Often these festivities are annual events that bring a community together. Some recognise a change in season, others celebrate religion, some herald the new year while others are held to showcase art and culture. Whatever the reason or time of year, chances are high that there are numerous festivals around the world taking place right now.
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One note, very few of the carnivals listed here are dedicated exclusively for families, rather they are festivals that visitors of all ages can enjoy. From the multicoloured festivities of Holi in India and learning calligraphy at a medieval festival in France to the Cherry Blossom festival in Japan and the magical Just So Festival in the UK, these are some of the best festivals around the world for kids.
Festivals around the world
Day of the Dead, Mexico
At midnight on October 31, Mexico’s most colourful and most famous festival, El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), officially starts. This is one of the most popular family celebrations both in Mexico and around the world.
It’s a festival with deeply rooted traditions that go back to pre-Hispanic times, when families come together to honour and remember those who have died. During this holiday, the popular belief is that the deceased have permission to visit friends and relatives on earth and once again enjoy that which they did in life.
In the weeks leading up to the festival, bright orange Mexican Marigolds can be seen everywhere along with colourful Catrinas (the elegantly attired female skeleton with her extravagantly plumed hat). Sugar skulls iced in blues and pinks and yellows are available to buy and intricate papel picado (paper cutouts) hang in shop windows and homes.
Families will also spend time preparing ofrendas (altars) in their home and in cemeteries in memory of a relative, or loved ones, who have died.
Tip! The animated movies The Book of LIfe and Coco are wonderful ways to introduce children to the Day of the Dead.
[author] [author_info]For more ideas on visiting Mexico, take a look at our guide to Mexico City with kids, visiting Oaxaca for families, and why San Miguel de Allende makes a great holiday destination. [/author_info] [/author]
WOMAD Adelaide truly has the capacity to transport you around the world in one weekend! WOMAD is an acronym for World of Music, Arts and Dance so while it’s known as a world music festival, there’s so much more to it than that.
This festival celebrates not only amazing music, but diversity – food, cultures and humanity are celebrated in one big melting pot. One of the most special aspects of WOMAD Adelaide is the Taste The World program where WOMAD artists serve and celebrate the food and culture of their homeland.
This is an extremely family friendly festival, not only is the crowd mellow and respectful, but there is an entire kids section with visiting authors and performances. I personally love the Kidzone as its designed in a way that its stimulating for the adults while also appealing to the children. There are dance activities, nature based play and storytelling – and the best thing is that you are near one of the main stages so you can still hear the music.
WOMAD Adelaide is three days long and generally held on the first or second weekend of March, to coincide with the Adelaide Cup Day public holiday.
For our last two WOMAD weekends we have stayed in Airbnb’s as this works well for various members of our extended family to come and go as they please. Alternatively staying in the central city would save travel time on what are already long festival days for kids. I’d look at the Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury or the Quest on Franklin.
By Ariana, A World of Travels with Kids
Queenstown Winter Festival, New Zealand
The Queenstown Winter Festival is New Zealand’s premier winter event encompassing a wide range of wacky events that are perfect for kids. Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital is located in the lower South Island, however you have easy access through Queenstown International Airport.
One of the best things to do in Queenstown with kids is to check out the Queenstown Winter Festival, held in mid June each year and is a celebration of the start of the winter ski season.
You will find a range of events, from the birdman competition (where dressed up locals try to “fly” as far as they can into the icy lake) to the suitcase races on the mountain and dog races in the snow. Then get onboard the best Queenstown attractions such as the Earnslaw steamship and the Skyline Gondola.
The main square is humming with local artist performances and a big fireworks display. Active relaxers may even like to join in the 1km fun run through the town centre (kids can jump in on this too) In the evening, dance to the music at the lakeside stage and try delicious food and drink at market style stalls.
Kids will really love the range of spectator events, so quirky they are entertaining for everyone. The best places to stay are in the city centre. With parking at premium, you will want to be close enough to walk. We can highly recommend the Garden Court Apartments which offer great value with a nice large kitchen.
So if you love the snow, get a kick out of some oddball activities, then book your trip to the Queenstown Winter Festival.
By Jennifer, Backyard Travel Family: Active Family Travel Specialists in New Zealand
St Patrick’s Day Festival, Ireland
If you are visiting Dublin, Ireland in March, make sure you are there for the 17th so you won’t miss the St Patrick’s Day festival. What used to be just one day a year to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, has become a five day festival culminating in the St Patrick’s Day Parade in the city centre. While other towns and cities have their own parades, nothing compares to the spectacle of the largest one in Ireland in Dublin.
There is often a theme to the festival such as storytelling in which visitors can learn about the country and get a rich introduction into the country’s history and culture. During the five days leading up to March 17th, there are exhibitions by artists and performers, science shows, children’s readings and workshops, live music, food demonstrations and stalls and lots more taking place. Many of these can be found in the Festival Village on Merrion Square.
Other venues across the city will have other events on during the few days before March 17th which when the main event takes place, the parade. This is a huge event which closes down a good part of Dublin City Centre from Parnell Square on the northside to St Patrick’s Cathedral on the southside, a route which is 2.5km long. Marching bands, floats, performers, artists, dancers and more take part from all corners of the world and with a large contingency from the United States.
The St Patrick’s Day Parade is hugely family-friendly and kids will love seeing the colourful floats and performers passing by. You do need to arrive early to stake your claim on a spot at the barriers but it’s worth it. You cannot miss the St Patrick’s Day Festival in Ireland if you are visiting in mid-March!
By Cath, Travel Around Ireland
Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, China
The incredible Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is held annually in Heilongjiang province, in the northeastern corner of China. It was first held in 1963 and is now the largest ice and snow festival in the world.
Some 220,000 cubic meters of ice and snow are carved from the Songhua River and then transported to the festival venue. Here, they are used to create life-sized bridges, castles and pagodas. Some years, there’s even a fully-functioning hotpot restaurant.
There is a different theme every year. Past themes have included the Beijing Olympics and Chinese tourist sites. The festival attracts visitors from around the world who arrive in Harbin, China to see the incredible ice and snow structures and to take part in activities like sledging, ice hockey, ice football, speed skating and Alpine skiing competitions. There are also competitions that see ice sculptors arrive from all over the world to show off their skills.
The official festival start date is January 5th and it runs until mid-February. However, if the weather cooperates then the festival may open earlier and run until March.
Deer Shed Festival, Yorkshire, U.K.
One of the best things to do with kids in Yorkshire is the family friendly Deer Shed Festival at rural Baldersby Park near Topcliffe. The music-based festival has been running for 11 years and takes place over 3 days in late July.
Deer Shed puts children at the heart of its festival with more child friendly activities than even the most energetic family will be able to fit into three days. There are live science shows and workshops such as code breaking and forensics as well as a wide range of sporting activities including wrestling, canoeing, hula hooping, skating and parkour.
Kids will love the Wilderwild activities where they can learn stone carving, wood whittling and fire lighting. In addition to all this, there are family friendly literary talks by contemporary authors plus live theatre performances.
Children are welcome at Deer Shed’s comedy stages as well as the festival’s four music stages. Indulge in re-energising wellbeing activities including yoga, Tai Chi and massage or simply enjoy a soak in a hot tub. All ages are catered for as there is even a designated activity tent for children under five.
And at the end of a full day of activities, weary feet can relax whilst watching an outdoor movie on a big screen. There is camping available on site for tents or live-in vehicles or families can hire a fully equipped tent for up to 8 people. For something extra special, families can hire a luxury tipi or yurt.
By Sinead, Map Made Memories
Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival, Japan
One of the most popular spring festivals around the world is the Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival at Ueno Park in Tokyo.
The cherry blossoms, or sakura, have a two-week window of blooming and the Japanese know how to celebrate spring and their national flower. Over 800 cherry trees are scattered throughout Ueno Park and over 1,000 lanterns hanging on the trees are lit up at night to extend the flower viewing.
Festival dates vary each year based on when the flowers bloom but usually late March to early April. During this two-week period, the Japanese gather under the cherry trees to eat, drink and celebrate with friends and family.
We loved the festive atmosphere, beauty of the flowers and unique cultural experience. My kids enjoyed exploring the different structures around Ueno Park all underneath the pink and white canopy of flowers. For a unique view of the blossoms, swan-shaped boats can be rented for a tour around Shinobazu Pond.
Tip! Go an hour or two before sunset and stay until it gets dark. There’s plenty of time to admire the flowers and enjoy the festivities during the day. But, it’s also a great opportunity to see the lanterns lit up once it gets dark and do some nighttime hanami.
By Mary, World is A Book.
India’s annual Holi festival, also known as the Festival of Colours is one of our family’s favourite holidays to celebrate. It’s also one of the most unique festivals around the world.
Holi is celebrated for several days every year in March throughout India and Nepal. Festivities include prayers and bonfires, with the main event being the throwing of colour powder. Adults and children alike take to the streets to throw gulal (powder) and spray dyed water (from water guns, buckets or water balloons) on everyone they can find.
If you think India is chaos on a regular day, wait until Holi! Its anarchy!
Holi is a day that adults get to be kids again and kids get to really let loose. Throwing water balloons and coloured powder on parents is typically a child’s number one priority on Holi.
Tip! Celebrating Holi on the streets in India with kids can be overwhelming. We suggest finding an organised party at a local hotel, expat club or within a housing compound. These parties will be less chaotic than on the streets, also allowing children to escape from the festivities easily if they need to.
Another tip is to wear sunglasses and a hat to help keep the colour from getting in your eyes. Mostly, remember to let go and enjoy one of the world’s most exciting festivals to welcome the coming spring season.
By Karilyn, No Back Home.
[author][author_info]If you’re travelling to India with kids then make sure to read our guide! Here are some of our favourite places to visit in India for families and tips on things to do in Delhi with kids.[/author_info] [/author]
Provins Medieval Festival, France
Provins Medieval Festival is one of our favourite family festivals in Europe. The festivals is held for one weekend in June every year in the UNESCO world heritage site of Provins and celebrates all things medieval. There is a different theme every year. The year when we attended the theme was children’s games in medieval times.
The festival is two-day event of epic medieval proportions. People dress in costume, bands play music from the period, markets stalls, activities and food all from the a bygone era will whizz you back to the medieval age.
Our kids had a ball trying out calligraphy, archery and medieval ball games. Stadium shows are also available at Provins where you can witness jousting events, birds of prey and war games from the middle ages.
Provins is located one hour from Paris by train. If interdependent travel to the event is not your thing there is day trips from Paris available and accommodation in the town.
By Mark, Wyld Family Travel
[author] [author_info]Provins is just 1.5hrs from Paris; make the most of visiting France’s capital with our guide to Paris with kids. [/author_info] [/author]
Just So Festival, UK
As you go through the entrance archway to the Just So Festival (made out of suitcases, incidentally) it is like you are sprinkled with fairy dust and transported to a magical place far away from the stresses of everyday life.
The list of events and activities at this family festival is so extensive that you might wonder where to start.
There is a woodland area complete with fairy trail with little fairy houses and a number of smaller activities like Clay Faces (making faces on trees from clay), toasting marshmallows over an open fire, and magical stories round the camp fire.
In the central area there is tight rope walking, hula hooping and circus tricks. The Peekaboo zone designed for babies has a changing area, baby baths, feeding tent and some lovely activities like Clay Babies which under 2’s love too.
The main stage is the centre point for the tribal activities – you can choose to join a tribe (all named after animals) and take part in fun activities to score points for your tribe over the weekend.
Fancy dress is positively encouraged and you will be amazed at some of the fantastic family efforts on display! As night time falls you can settle down to some great stories around the campfire or watch films such as Mary Poppins at the outdoor cinema where everyone sits on the sloped hill on a picnic blanket or camping chairs.
If it rains, which in the UK is a distinct possibility, then simply pop on your waterproofs and in true British fashion the show will go on with all the outdoor events moving under trees or into the many tents around the site.
The food is good with lots of different options and you can end a long and tiring day eating freshly made pizza and chips in a barn listening to a live acoustic set from one of the many bands who play throughout the day on the outdoor music stage.
By Karen, Mini Travellers
[author][author_info]Read more about why Just So is the ultimate child friendly festival here! [/author_info] [/author]
Easter Parade in New Orleans, U.S.A.
The Chris Owens’ Historic French Quarter Easter Parade is a small scale family-friendly version of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The morning parade begins at the famous Antoine’s Restaurant, takes a stop for mass at the St. Louis Cathedral, then resumes after a promenade in Jackson Square.
Your kids will delight in the elaborate costumes, fancy over-the-top hats and talented marching bands in the family friendly parades. Fully decorated carriages and convertibles will pass you by with the paraders throwing out stuffed animals, colourful beads, Easter toys, candy, and trinkets!
Family friendly fun on Bourbon Street…Who would have thought! Line the streets of the French Quarter and join all the other families thrilling in the Easter festivities!
Tip! Your kids will get lots of loot and candy while watching the parade. Bring along an empty bag to collect all the goodies!
By Lisa, Hilton Mom Voyage
Quebec Winter Carnaval, Canada
For two weeks each February, one of Canada’s most historic cities gets their winter party on at the Quebec Winter Carnaval.
Kids will love meeting the the famed mascot Bonhomme at his ice palace home, watching the Carnaval parade, trying the local maple syrup candy (tire d’erable) and participating in a myriad of winter activities. Choose from tubing, horse pulled sleigh rides, snow bowling, ice fishing, dog sledding, tobogganing, skating under the stars and so much more.
Don’t be shy, don your special Carnaval sash (called the ceinture fléchée) and join the very festive, rosy-cheeked crowd. Just remember, it can get very chilly during this festival, so be prepared to dress as if you are hitting a ski hill.
Tip! While the Ice Hotel is a bit of a splurge and books up fully on weekends, they often run specials deals for weeknight stays.
By Tara, Pint Size Pilot.
Al Dhafra Festival, UAE
If you’re looking for a truly unique experience then look no further than the Al Dhafra Festival.
Held every December in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, this event was established 10 years ago to allow Emirati’s to embrace and celebrate their traditional Bedouin culture – often forgotten among the skyscrapers and shopping malls.
There are all sorts of events to enjoy from saluki (dog) racing to camel racing, date packing to a classic car display and traditional souk.
But what has the Arabs flocking to this small corner of the desert is the centrepiece event – the Camel Mazayan – a beauty contest for camels. This is no laughing matter, rather it’s taken very seriously by the owners. There are daily prizes of 4×4’s to be won and some serious cash exchanged – upwards of a million dirhams for the best breeding camels!
It is worth the long drive into the desert for all the family to enjoy this event first hand and get a true taste of what Bedouin life was like. Although much of the proceedings are conducted in Arabic, the local representatives couldn’t be more hospitable to overseas visitors, trying to explain the process and making you feel very welcome at their event.
By Keri, Our Globetrotters
Palio in Siena, Italy
The Palio di Siena (Tuscany) is a famous traditional bareback horse race that takes place twice every summer, once in July and once in August. For over 300 years, the champions of the 17 historic districts of Siena have been competing in the city’s beautiful main square.
The race itself, spectacular and frantic, lasts only two minutes, but several days of celebrations are going on; banquets, parades, horse blessings … The whole town is celebrating!
The two-hour-long procession in historical costume preceding the race is not to be missed; drums rolling, horse-riders and flag bearers wearing medieval costumes, with colourful banners, lamps, and wall plaques of the 17 districts. You can buy your own flag to support your team (we chose the Owl!).
Tip! To observe the race, avoid the Piazza’s central area with children, it is over-crowded, strollers are not allowed and you’ll be stuck there for several hours.
Beware also of the shoving after the victory, when everyone rushes to the track. That’s why we decided to follow the race on a TV screen, in a café, with a good “gelato”, safely enjoying this incredible and crazy atmosphere!
By Virginie Auguste-Dormeuil, Travel with my Kids.
[author] [author_info]For more ideas on visiting Italy with kids take a look at our guide to Puglia for families, a brilliant treasure hunt tour in Venice and making the most of Florence with kids. [/author_info] [/author]
The Kite Festival of Sumpango, Guatemala
If you too have a child whose favourite holiday is Halloween, you should really considerAntigua, Guatemala for a night of costumes, trick or treat, and parades through the streets.
The following day, November 1, is the Day of the Dead, commemorated every year in the small town of Sumpango with a kite festival, only a 30 minute drive away.
The giant kite festival boasts a launching that is one of the most beautiful sights you will see in Central America. The kites are judged on creativity and length of flight, and have taken weeks or even months to build.
Kids will love the fair food, festive atmosphere, and the multitudes of families who come to witness this unique celebration of Dia de los Muertos, one that has happened in one form or another for centuries.
By Kalli HIller, Portable Professionals
The Jodhpur RIFF, India
This fantastic family-friendly festival is a truly unique experience. Originally established in 2007 to revitalise Rajasthan’s music and arts heritage, the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) brings together more than 250 musicians and performing artists from across Rajasthan and around the world.
The daytime performances are all great for younger children. There’s dancing, singing and demonstrations where kids can try their hand at traditional Indian instruments. A number of children’s activities are also organised. These include magic shows, traditional puppetry and juggling.
At night the fort is transformed into an after-hours party where you can dance the night away or simply sit back with a drink in hand.
Previous highlights have included a bluegrass band from the U.S., Sri Lankan percussionists and a British beat-boxer as well as countless colourful local musicians and performers. The festival is also refreshingly free from crowds.
Carnival de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s biggest party and is held the seven Sundays before Easter Sunday (somewhere between the end of March and the end of April). We took our kids and everyone loved it. If you do plan on visiting Carnival with kids then I highly recommend getting tickets to the Sambadrome parades. Even though the tickets are pricey, it is completely worth it.
All the tourists, including families, are put in one section of the Sambadrome. You could feel the joyous atmosphere and it also felt safe. Festivities start around 7pm and go until the wee hours of the morning (around 4am).
On the day of Carnival, we all took an afternoon nap in anticipation of the evening’s festivities. We went with another family and sent all the children under 12 years old home around 10pm with a nanny. They got to see two of the parades (each parade lasts 1.5 hours each) and so felt they had seen a lot.
The other adults stayed on until the end. I was amazed to see how each Sambadrome school and parade were so completely different from each other.
Tip! When you buy the tickets, the package comes with shuttle buses to and from the Sambadrome. All of Rio is out partying that night so getting a taxi is out of the question!
By Shobha, Just Go Places.
Buffalo Bill Days in Golden Colorado, U.S.A.
Baby blue cotton candy, corn dogs swirled in mustard, fresh popped popcorn, twirling merry-go-rounds, the cheers of crowds watching the parade, live music, and much more. Summer is the best time to enjoy these kinds of festivities all across the country, including in my own backyard at the family friendly Buffalo Bill Days.
Located in Golden, Colorado, just 20 minutes west of downtown Denver, the annual Buffalo Bill’s Days dates back to the 1940s as a trail ride up Lookout Mountain to Buffalo Bill’s grave.
Thousands attend this family friendly event held every July, but only 30-some are chosen to participate in the Mutton Bustin’ contest, a cowboy rodeo event for kids, aged 5-7-years-old. Instead of riding a bull for 8 seconds, kids wrap their arms around a sheep and hold on for dear life. It’s a giggly fun event when the family cheers for their favourite kid – or sheep.
After the event, walk to the park to enjoy carnival rides, vendors, live music – and be sure to let the kids cool off in Clear Creek near the band stage and downtown Denver.
Tip! Get there early on Saturday as the parade is totally a nostalgic, worthwhile event.
By Diana, Traveling In Heels