Family-Friendly Festivals Around the World
One of the best ways for kids to experience a new country or city is to witness a local festival or event. Often steeped in tradition, these unique cultural experiences offer families a glimpse into local lives that you might not witness otherwise.
They can often be the thing that children remember most from a holiday; how could a kid forget throwing coloured paint powder at their parents during Holi in India? Or learning calligraphy at a medieval festival in France? Or making clay faces on trees in the British countryside?
What’s more, these events don’t have to be dedicated “family” festivals for children to enjoy them. Here, 14 family travel bloggers share their favourite family-friendly festivals from around the world.
1. Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival, Tokyo, Japan
The cherry blossoms, or sakura, have a two-week window of blooming and the Japanese know how to celebrate spring and their national flower. Most people flock to the Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival at Ueno Park. Over 800 cherry trees are scattered throughout the 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.
There were various musical events scheduled. We enjoyed sampling some of the unique delicacies at the various food stands too. 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.
When: Usually late March / early April (approx. 2-weeks)
What: Celebration of Spring
Where: Ueno Onshi Park, Tokyo, Japan
2. Holi, India
India’s yearly Holi festival, also known as the Festival of Colours is one of our family’s favourite holidays to celebrate. 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.
When: On the day after the full moon in March every year
What: Hindu Spring Festival
Where: Across all of India and Nepal (and may other countries where Hinduism is practised).
3. Provins Medieval Festival, France
Provins Medieval festival is held once a year in the UNESCO world heritage site of Provins. The festival celebrates all things medieval and has a different theme each year. Last year when we attended the theme was children’s games in medieval times. The festival is held over a weekend in June every year. 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.
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. Its amazing there are activities and events in every direction. Stadium shows are also available at Provins where you can witness jousting events, birds of prey and war games from the middle ages.
What: A weekend celebrating medieval times.
Where: Provins, France
4. Just So Festival, Cheshire, 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 fun begins straight away and there is a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air for the weekend ahead.
The list of events and activities is so extensive that you might wonder where to explore first. 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. b (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.
Tip! Let the kids jump up and down in muddy puddles (and yes you can do that too!) and have fun. 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.
What: A spellbinding weekend of art, music and literature in a woodland setting
Where: Rode Hall Parkland, Cheshire, North-East England, UK
4. 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! 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. 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!
What: A family-friendly parade on Bourbon Street
Where: New Orleans, U.S.A.
Chosen by Lisa Nass Grabelle, Hilton Mom Voyage
5. Quebec Winter Carnival, Canada
For two weeks each February, one of Canada’s most historic cities gets their winter party on. 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.
For an even more unforgettable experience, book a themed room at the Ice Hotel (Hôtel de Glace). 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.
What: Two weeks of winter fun
Where: Quebec, Canada
6. Al Dhafra Festival, UAE
If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, only to be found in one small corner of the world 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 stuff, 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.
What: A beauty contest for camels!
Where: Western region of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
7. Palio in Siena, Italy
The Palio di Siena (Tuscany) is a famous traditional bareback horse race that takes place twice a year during the summer. 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 with kids: 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 (“ours” was 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!
When: Held twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th
What: A spectacular and frantic two-minute bareback horse race
Where: Palio, Siena, Italy
Chosen by Virginie Auguste-Dormeuil, Travel with my Kids.
8. Chalk Walk, Knoxville TN, U.S.A.
With its stunning display of bright colours and imaginative chalk murals, the Knoxville Chalk Walk is a family-friendly sensory delight. This festival is actually a competition for artists of all ages and skill sets. For the complete novice, the festival organisers provide a free chalk art lesson on the evening prior to the event. For judging purposes, the entries are grouped by both age and skill level. But honestly, everything seems to look amazing in chalk!
When visiting Knoxville, Tennessee in early April, this is truly a can’t miss event!
Tip! To get the most out of the festival, it is best to attend from mid-afternoon to early evening. If you go any earlier, many of the drawings will be incomplete.
What: A chalk art competition
Where: Knoxville Tennessee, U.S.A.
Chosen by Erica Cardinal, Mom Explores the Smokies.
10. The Kite Festival of Sumpango, Guatemala
If you, too, have a child whose favourite holiday is Halloween, you should really consider Antigua, Guatemala for a night of costumes, trick or treat, and sombre 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. Local media interviews both the natives and the foreigners who travel from all over Guatemala to participate. The kites are judged on creativity and length of flight, and have taken weeks and 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.
When: November 1st
What: A giant kite festival
Where: Sumpango, Guatemala
Chosen by Kalli HIller, Portable Professionals.
11. 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 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 including 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.
Tip! Make sure you take some time to enjoy Jodhpur while here, it’s one of our favourite cities in India.
What: A festival of local and international music held in a magnificent fort.
Where: Jodhpur, India
Chosen by Victoria from globetotting. For more information on visiting the Jodhpur Riff with Kids, take a look here.
12. Carnival de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
We took our kids to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and we all loved it. I would highly recommend getting tickets to the Sambadrome parades. Even though the tickets are pricey, it is completely worth it. All the tourists are put in one section of the Sambadrome. There were other families there. You could feel the joyous atmosphere and it also felt safe. It starts around 7pm and goes until the wee hours of the morning (around 4 AM).
In the afternoon, we all took a long nap so that everyone was ready for 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 gotten to see lots. 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 and so getting a taxi is out of the question!
When: It’s held seven Sundays before the Sunday of Easter (varies from March 22nd to April 25th)
What: Rio’s biggest party with lots of incredible parades
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
13. 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 and other rides, chatter of carnies, cheers of crowds watching the parade, live music, car show, and more. Summer is the best time to enjoy these festivals all across the country, including 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, 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.
What: A family-friendly festival with a cowboy rodeo
Where: Golden, Colorado
14. Day of the Dead, Mexico
At midnight on October 31, Mexico’s most colourful and most famous festival officially starts. El Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an annual celebration held to honour and remember those who have died. It’s a very vibrant festival, as well as being very moving; a celebration of life marked with colour, flowers, food and more.
Day of the Dead is also one of the country’s most popular festivals and is still celebrated enthusiastically, especially in small towns and villages. It is also now celebrated around the world. But despite its growing popularity, this is a festival with deeply rooted traditions that go back to pre-Hispanic times. 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.
For kids, this is a very fun festival as well as an important one. It’s a way for them to learn about death and to understand that it can be something to be celebrated rather than feared.
Tip! The animated movie The Book of LIfe is a wonderful way to introduce children to the Day of the Dead.
When: October 31st
What: A festival to honour and remember those who have died
Where: Mexico, throughout Latin America and other locations around the world.
Chosen by Katja from globetotting. For more information on experiencing Dia de Muertos with Kids, take a look here.
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