8 epic festivals you should attend at least once in your life

Throngs of revelers make annual pilgrimages to iconic events around the world—Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Brazil, Burning Man in Nevada and Coachella in California—to experience epic celebrations and debaucherous parties that last into the wee hours. For travelers, there’s no better way to experience a new town than to mingle with like-minded partygoers.

Looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience for your next adventure? From getting doused in water in Thailand to narrowly escaping charging beasts on the streets of Spain, here are eight electrifying festivals that are stuff of legends.

1. Tomorrowland In Boom, Belgium

Each summer, hundreds of thousands of ravers flock to the quiet town of Boom, Belgium, to attend Tomorrowland, the preeminent electronic music festival featuring House, EDM, drum and bass, techno and hardstyle. Steve Aoki, Tiësto, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and deadmau5 join nearly 100 other local and international DJs on various stages over two weekends in July.

This year, eight other countries, including Dubai, Israel, South Korea and Spain, will take part in “Unite with Tomorrowland,” a “mirror festival” where fans who were unable to get tickets to the sold-out show can enjoy streaming of live DJ sets in their own locales.


2. Rock In Rio In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Since Rock in Rio debuted in 1985, more than 8.5 million people have rocked out to over 1,500 world-renowned artists ranging from Prince to Sting to Bruce Springsteen. After decades of military dictatorship, the newly democratic Brazil was the first South American country to host such a large-scale music festival.

Subsequent events have been held in Madrid, Lisbon and Las Vegas. In September 2017, the festival returns to Cidade do Rock (City of Rock) in Rio de Janeiro, with headliners including Lady Gaga, the Who, Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys.

rock in rio photo
Getty Images | Alexandre Loureiro

3. Festival International de Jazz de Montréal In Montréal, Canada

The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal was not kidding around when it set out to be “the biggest jazz festival in the world.” The 10-day summer fete of 150 jazz, blues, folk, pop, rock, world music and electronica concerts attracted nearly 2 million people in 2004, landing a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

This year, Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, King Crimson and The Harlem Gospel Choir, along with artists from 17 countries, will perform at 11 indoor venues around the picturesque Canadian city.

@montrealjazzfest/Facebook (Photo Credit: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin, Photographer)
@montrealjazzfest/Facebook (Photo Credit: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin, Photographer)

4. Songkran In Bangkok, Thailand

April is the hottest—and wettest—month of the year in Thailand. During the Thai New Year (April 13–15), locals and tourists celebrate the Songkran festival with delectable street food, wild block parties and a massive water fight.

The playful objective is to get each other drenched, so water pistols, trash cans and buckets brimming with H2O and streaming hoses are all fair game. The Land of Smiles sure knows how to make a splash!

Songkran photo
Getty Images | Borja Sanchez Trillo

5. Fuji Rock Festival In Niigata Prefecture, Japan

Once held near the base of Mount Fuji, Japan’s biggest rock music festival has since found a new home around 200 miles away at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture, Japan.

The annual Fuji Rock Festival draws more than 200 rock, pop, dance, hip-hop and electronica musicians—Gorillaz, Björk, Lorde and The xx, among others—to seven main stages over three days in July. Other activities include morning yoga, hikes in the woods, a delightful kids’ play area and plenty of street food.


6. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana 

The birth of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was a serendipitous occurrence in 1970 when the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was attending a heritage fair with Duke Ellington, noticed a crowd following the Eureka Brass Band. Festival producer George Wein handed the microphone to Jackson and she joined the parade in song.

The original crowd of 350 nearly 50 years ago has since grown into an annual audience of almost half a million. The 2017 lineup includes big names like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Maroon 5, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and Alabama Shakes, as well as an additional 500 pop, rock, R&B, soul, gospel, jazz, Zydeco, Americana and rap performances over seven days.

@JazzFest/Facebook (Photo Credit: Josh Brasted)
@JazzFest/Facebook (Photo Credit: Josh Brasted)

7. San Fermin Festival In Pamplona, Spain

Brave or foolish (or both)—the tradition of the running of the bulls has been a rite of passage for millions of nimble folks since the 1400s. A million partygoers flood the streets of Pamplona, Spain, during the lively San Fermin Festival each July.

After the pop of firecrackers, valiant souls bolt through narrow streets, trying to outrun bulls and steers amidst cheers from the crowds. The gallant dash is followed by a series of parties, parades and fireworks.

San Fermin Festival photo
Getty Images | Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

8. The Burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Standing at 50 feet tall, the big-eared Old Man Gloom gets set ablaze during the annual burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Each September, more than 40,000 people come to see Zozobra (“the gloomy one”), a muslin-and-lumber marionette effigy stuffed with “gloomy” messages (police reports, divorce papers, report cards and woeful notes), go up in flames.

The quirky event, which kicks off the weeklong Fiestas de Santa Fe, also features live music, food vendors and beach-ball parties.

Zozobra photo
Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla

Need more bucket-list inspiration? Check out Insider’s list of the best massive parties and festivals around the world.

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