Features // Festivals & events

Ten weird and wonderful British competitions
Ten weird and wonderful British competitions

The British appetite for all things eccentric – particularly anything with a competitive element – ensures that on any given weekend you can find a bunch of people who lead otherwise sensible lives in a damp field somewhere snorkelling through bog water, racing pigs or chucking around black puddings. Here are the best ones to…

Music, dance and drama in ancient Aspendos, Turkey
Music, dance and drama in ancient Aspendos, Turkey

It’s a hot summer’s evening; overhead is a soft, purple-black and star-strewn sky. The incessant chirrup of cicadas mingles with the murmur of thousands of voices – Turkish, German, English, Russian – and the popping of corks, as the 15,000-strong audience settles down, passes round wine and olives and eagerly awaits the entertainment ahead. All…

Into the valley: hearing a Welsh choir
Into the valley: hearing a Welsh choir

The road into Senghenydd from the imposing Welsh castle town of Caerphilly snakes along the side of a steep slope that drops into a rocky valley below. Lined with red-toned terraced houses constructed from local stone, the village almost clings to the hillside, and though coal mining died out here long ago, the landscape still…

Floating through Xochimilco, Mexico
Floating through Xochimilco, Mexico

Spend a few days in the intoxicating, maddening centro histórico of Mexico City, and you’ll understand why thousands of Mexicans make the journey each Sunday to the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the country’s very own Venice. Built by the Aztecs to grow food, this network of meandering waterways and man-made islands, or chinampas, is an important gardening centre…

Party in the sun at Boom, Portugal
Party in the sun at Boom, Portugal

Twenty thousand revellers each year come to Boom, Europe’s greatest outdoor dance-music festival, which takes place for a week over the August full moon on a lakeside ranch about 60km from Lisbon. In true summer-of-love fashion it combines non-stop dance music with eco-idealism: here you’ll find sustainability workshops, recycling and composting bins, a permaculture garden…

Watching the hurling at Croke Park, Ireland
Watching the hurling at Croke Park, Ireland

The player leaps like a basketball star through a crowd of desperate opponents and flailing sticks. Barely visible to the naked eye, the arcing ball somehow lodges in his upstretched palm. Dropping to the ground, he shimmies his way out of trouble, the ball now delicately balanced on the flat end of his hurley, then…

Ten things to do in Manchester for free
Ten things to do in Manchester for free

The IRA’s 1996 bomb in Manchester city centre was one of the city’s darkest days. Extensive damage was done, but ultimately it served only to unleash a flurry of investment that carries on to this day. This means, of course, that there are myriad ways to spend your pennies here these days. Yet deep down,…

Fight night in Bangkok, Thailand
Fight night in Bangkok, Thailand

The Thai people are predominately Buddhist, and through much of their country Siddhartha’s spirit is palpable. Even in the noisy and overcrowded capital city, hard-faced nationals will soften their features and treat visitors with a respect given all living creatures. The exception that proves the rule is the brutal national sport of muay thai or Thai boxing – where…

On the trail of Gauchito Gil in Argentina
On the trail of Gauchito Gil in Argentina

Argentines are a superstitious lot – many taxi-drivers religiously garland their rear-view mirrors with rosaries; fur-clad ladies-that-lunch avidly read their horoscopes; busmen faithfully display images of the Virgin of Luján over their dashboards; nearly everyone routinely tucks a banknote under their plate of gnocchi at the end of each month in the hope of better…

Celebrate Qoyllur Riti, Peru
Celebrate Qoyllur Riti, Peru

Most visitors to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco in southern Peru are drawn by the extraordinary ruined temples and palaces and the dramatic scenery of the high Andes. But the only true way to get to the heart of the indigenous Andean culture is to join a traditional fiesta. Nearly every town and village in the region…

Tucking into a hangi feast
Tucking into a hangi feast

A suitably reverential silence descends, broken only by munching and appreciative murmurs from the assembled masses – the hangi has finally been served. Pronounced “hungi”, this traditional Maori meal, similar to the luau prepared by the Maori people’s Polynesian kin in Hawaii, is essentially a feast cooked in an earth oven for several hours. It can’t be found on…

Fire festivals around the world
Fire festivals around the world

A great fire festival should be on everybody’s bucket list. Here we rundown some of the greats… Guy Fawkes Night, UK “Remember, remember the fifth of November – gunpowder, treason and plot” – a rhyme Brits have grown up reciting in the run-up to Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night).…

The best places to visit in November
The best places to visit in November

As the Northern Hemisphere is getting colder in November, below the equator things are hotting up as spring gets ready to give way to summer. The cooling temperatures aren’t all bad however, as the temperature in Egypt and India becomes far more bearable, and autumn in South Korea is a sight to behold. Check out…

Painting the town red at La Tomatina in Spain
Painting the town red at La Tomatina in Spain

On the last Wednesday of every August, 130,000 kilos of over-ripe tomatoes are hurled around the alleyways of Buñol until the tiny town’s streets are ankle deep in squelching fruit. What started in the 1940s as an impromptu food fight between friends has turned into one of the most bizarre and downright infantile fiestas on…

Ten things to do in Madrid for free
Ten things to do in Madrid for free

Sophisticated, globally minded and perfect for late-night parties – Madrid can be an expensive place to enjoy. So if you want to see the sights on a budget, timing is crucial. Many of the city’s best museums, galleries and historic buildings are free to visit but only for a few hours at a time, so…

Joining the festivities on Norwegian National Day
Joining the festivities on Norwegian National Day

The seventeenth of May is just another day to most people, but in Oslo (and all across Norway for that matter) it’s an eagerly anticipated annual event: Norwegian National Day. A celebration of the signing of the Norwegian Constitution, National Day is a joyous and rather rambunctious affair. It has the usual parades, bands, street…

Getting in line at Mardi Gras, Louisiana
Getting in line at Mardi Gras, Louisiana

America’s most over-the-top and hedonistic spectacle, Mardi Gras (the night before Ash Wednesday) in New Orleans reflects as much a medieval, European carnival as it does a drunken Spring Break ritual. Behind the scenes, the official celebration revolves around exclusive, invitation-only balls; for such an astonishingly big event, it can seem put on more for…

Twelve things we learnt at Edinburgh’s festivals
Twelve things we learnt at Edinburgh’s festivals

If you’re thinking of heading to Edinburgh for the festivals during August, there’s one thing you need to bring: time. Come loaded with lots of it, as much as you can, because it runs out quickly and you’ll head home lamenting the hundreds of treats you missed. A weekend is the bare minimum, a week…

Indulging in a Welsh tea feast in Patagonia
Indulging in a Welsh tea feast in Patagonia

By Shafik Meghji In 1865, 153 Welsh men, women and children boarded a tea-clipper, the Mimosa, in Liverpool and set out on an 8,000-mile journey to what they hoped would be their Promised Land. Fleeing cultural and religious persecution in the UK, the pioneers wanted to create a “little Wales beyond Wales” – a place…

Show no restraint at Rio Carnival, Brazil
Show no restraint at Rio Carnival, Brazil

Brazil might not have a monopoly on exhibitionism, but it comes pretty damn close. There’s no other country on the planet where the unbridled pursuit of pleasure is such a national obsession, transcending race, class and religion. Brazilian bacchanal reaches its apogee during Carnaval, when the entire country enters a collective state of alcohol-fuelled frenzy.…

Exploring the Brecon Beacons in a Twizy: An Eco Tour
Exploring the Brecon Beacons in a Twizy: An Eco Tour

A new green initiative has been launched in the Brecon Beacons. The Eco Travel Network was established by local researchers and business owners to offer a pool of electric vehicles to visitors who want to explore the region while keeping their carbon footprint low. These Renault Twizys carry two people and run on batteries that can be…

Reliving the Wild West at the Calgary Stampede
Reliving the Wild West at the Calgary Stampede

For ten days each year, during the middle of July, the usually conservative city of Calgary loses its collective head (or finds a new cover for it, at least). Virtually everyone turns out in white Stetsons, bolo ties, blue jeans and hand-tooled boots. Indeed, everything seems, well, more western – which for a city like Calgary means shifting…

Moonlit manoeuvres through Hoi An, Vietnam
Moonlit manoeuvres through Hoi An, Vietnam

Once a month, on the eve of the full moon, downtown Hoi An turns off all its street lights and basks in the mellow glow of silk lanterns. Shopkeepers don traditional outfits; parades, folk opera and martial arts demonstrations flood the cobbled streets; and the riverside fills with stalls selling crabmeat parcels, beanpaste cakes and noodle soup. It’s all…

Champagne tasting in Epernay, France
Champagne tasting in Epernay, France

Champagne is an exclusive drink, in all senses of the word, what with its upmarket associations and the fact that it can be made only from the grapes grown in the Champagne region of northern France. The centre of champagne production is Épernay, a town that’s made much of its association with the fizzy stuff, and where all…

Experience Tapati festival on Easter Island, Chile
Experience Tapati festival on Easter Island, Chile

Rapa Nui – Easter Island – is shrouded in mystery. How did its people get there? Where did they come from? How did they move those gigantic statues? Some of that enigma comes to life during January’s fortnight-long Tapati, a festival that combines ancient customs, such as carving and canoeing, with modern sports, such as…

The best places to visit in October
The best places to visit in October

As autumn looms in the north and spring is blossoming in the south, October is a beautiful month around the world. From the last of that European sunshine, to the wacky festivities of Halloween in the USA, here are the best places to go for holidays in October. Browse and buy leading art, London, UK…

A first time guide to Edinburgh’s festivals
A first time guide to Edinburgh’s festivals

At any time of the year, Edinburgh is a city of culture, books, and tradition – but in August, thanks to a variety of festivals, all three are amplified to full volume. From the hundreds of theatre, comedy and cabaret shows of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, through the pomp of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, to…

Calling in the heavies at the Highland Games
Calling in the heavies at the Highland Games

Throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands, summer signals the onset of the Highland Games, from the smallest village get-togethers to the Giant Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, which draws a crowd of 10,000. Urbanites might blanch at the idea of al fresco Scottish country dancing, but with dog trials, tractors, fudge stalls and more cute animals than you…

Joining the Gilles at Binche Carnival, Belgium
Joining the Gilles at Binche Carnival, Belgium

Taking place in February or March, the four-hundred-year-old Binche Carnival is a magic combination of the country’s national preoccupation with beer – outdoor beer tents are stacked high with a huge variety of Belgian brews – and a bizarre tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. The spectacular March of the Gilles is a…

Britain’s top music festivals
Britain’s top music festivals

From Marc Bolan and free milk to stadium rave and boutique festivals, this damp isle has long been a fine place for a party. It may have nothing quite as hot as Valencia’s Benicassim or as far-out as Nevada’s Burning Man, but this wild bunch – from Butlins-brewed indie to Wiltshire-based world music, with stopoffs…

Listening to Mozart in Salzburg, Austria
Listening to Mozart in Salzburg, Austria

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the original musical prodigy, an eighteenth-century pop idol whose fame took him to Vienna, Prague and the capitals of Europe, and in the years since his death he has become an industry. No Mozart connection, however slight, is ignored. There are Mozart views to savour, Mozart chocolates to devour and any…

Swinging sticks at the Argentine Polo Open
Swinging sticks at the Argentine Polo Open

It’s the most prestigious polo club tournament in the world. But unlike similar sporting events elsewhere, there’s no snobbery involved in the invitations. Turn up at the ground in Buenos Aires’ leafy Palermo district, hand over less cash than you’d spend on a beer in an upmarket London pub, and you’ll find a seat in…

Clearing your calendar for bacalhau, Portugal
Clearing your calendar for bacalhau, Portugal

On Lisbon’s Rua do Arsenal, whole window displays are lined with what looks like crinkly grey cardboard. The smell is far from alluring, but from these humble slabs of cod the Portuguese are able to conjure up an alleged 365 different recipes for bacalhau, one for each day of the year. Reassuringly, none of this mummified fish dates back…

Joining the truffle train in Buzet, Croatia
Joining the truffle train in Buzet, Croatia

Even the most committed of culinary explorers often find the truffle an acquired taste. Part nut, part mushroom, part sweaty sock, the subtle but insistent flavour of this subterranean fungus inspires something approaching gastronomic hysteria among its army of admirers. Nowhere is truffle worship more fervent than in the Croatian province of Istria, a beautiful…

Arrivals: a travel news round-up
Arrivals: a travel news round-up

Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week. More tourists welcome, but heavy planes are not Climbers could soon be getting their crampons into five additional Nepalese peaks over 8,000m. Currently, just eight of the country’s highest mountains are accessible, but overcrowding…

Jungle boogie in Sarawak, Malaysia
Jungle boogie in Sarawak, Malaysia

In this excerpt from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth, one Rough Guides writer experiences a memorable three-day music festival. Afternoon, the first day of Sarawak’s Rainforest Music festival. People are mingling ahead of show time when the famous Malagasy band Tarika will perform. For now though, a local Melinau musician with a hat…

La Tomatina: the greatest tomato fight on Earth
La Tomatina: the greatest tomato fight on Earth

“You are the smartest person I know.” The girl seemed serious in her praise, but I couldn’t help but doubt her accuracy – after all, I was wedged in the middle of a crowd of 45,000 other people, waiting to throw tomatoes around for an hour, and she was talking about the fact that I’d…

Seven days in the warm heart of Africa
Seven days in the warm heart of Africa

Of all the sights, sounds and sensations stamped in my mind from my week in Malawi, one stands out above all others: Everlasting’s laugh. Our brilliantly-named driver was guide, companion and entertainer over several hours and countless bumpy miles around this sliver of sub-Saharan Africa, and his protracted guffaws were a law unto themselves. Oscillating…

Ten great places to celebrate Independence Day
Ten great places to celebrate Independence Day

America goes all out for 4th of July celebrations. Sure, people are remembering that historic declaration on the fourth of July, 1776, but they’re also ready to enjoy a three-day weekend right in the middle of the summer. That usually means barbecues, parades, free concerts and fireworks. Whether you celebrate in a big city or…

The best places to visit in May
The best places to visit in May

May is the perfect time to travel in the northern hemisphere. With the weather warming up, fewer tourists and lower prices than the peak summer months, the beaches of the Caribbean and the Med are prime targets, but there’s plenty going on elsewhere. From New Orleans jazz to a whale shark festival in Australia, here…

Catching the Loy Krathong Festival of Light, Thailand
Catching the Loy Krathong Festival of Light, Thailand

In the days leading up to Thailand’s annual Loy Krathong Festival of Light, pretty little baskets fashioned from banana leaves and filled with orchids and marigolds begin to appear at market stalls across the country. On festival night everyone gathers at the nearest body of water – beside the riverbank or neighbourhood canal, on the…

St Petersburg’s White Nights
St Petersburg’s White Nights

Imagine spending all day sightseeing, taking a shower and a nap, and then looking out of the window to see the sky as bright as midday. Your body kicks into overdrive, and the whole day seems to lie ahead of you. The streets throng with people toting guitars and bottles of champagne or vodka; naval…

Bollywood glamour at the Mumbai Metro, India
Bollywood glamour at the Mumbai Metro, India

If you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie before, think John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease, then pump up the colour saturation, quadruple the number of dancing extras, switch the soundtrack to an A.R. Rahman masala mix and imagine Indo-Western hybrid outfits that grow more extravagant with every change of camera angle. Like their classic…

Hitting Ibiza’s closing parties
Hitting Ibiza’s closing parties

Ibiza’s summer clubbing season is an orgy of hedonism, full of beats, late nights and frazzled young things. It reaches a messy climax in September, when the main club promoters and venues host a series of seratonin-sapping parties to round things off and extract a few final euros from their battered punters. These end-of-season events…

Witnessing the power of the haka, New Zealand
Witnessing the power of the haka, New Zealand

Few spectacles can match the terrifying sight of the All Blacks performing a haka before a test match. You feel a chill down your spine fifty metres away in the stands so imagine how it must feel facing it as an opponent. The intimidating thigh-slapping, eye-bulging, tongue-poking chant traditionally used is the Te Rauparaha haka,…

A Rough Guide to San Francisco’s fetish fair
A Rough Guide to San Francisco’s fetish fair

OK, it’s now time for Rough Guides to get a little, er….rough. On 29th September, over 400,000 men, women, masters, slaves, subs, bears, dominatrixes and more will all descend on San Francisco for the city’s annual Folsom Street Fair. Arguably the world’s most famous fetish fair, the event is about to celebrate its 30th year…

Better than Disneyland: the Ghibli Museum, Japan
Better than Disneyland: the Ghibli Museum, Japan

Move over Mickey Mouse: in Japan it’s a giant cuddly fur-ball called Totoro who commands national icon status. This adorable animated creature, star of My Neighbour Totoro, is among the pantheon of characters from the movies of celebrated director Miyazaki Hayao and his colleagues at Studio Ghibli – Japan’s equivalent of Disney. Just like Walt,…

The best places to go in December
The best places to go in December

December might be dark and chilly in much of north America and Europe, but it’s by no means a dull month to travel. There are world-class classical music events, a clutch of colourful festivals and oodles of southern-hemisphere sunshine. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in December:   DIVE THE BLUE…

10 free things to do in Montréal, Canada
10 free things to do in Montréal, Canada

As the largest city in Québec province, there’s plenty to do in Montréal. Fill up on complimentary samples at the Jean-Talon food market and then take advantage of the city’s huge variety of free cultural and outdoor activities, from festivals to art exhibits to tango. Here’s our roundup of the best free things to do…

The World Outgames, Antwerp
The World Outgames, Antwerp

From synchronised swimming to same-sex dancing, the World Outgames is an Olympic-style competition with a difference – it’s one of two sporting competitions held by the world’s gay community. In August Antwerp played host to the third ever World Outgames, and Rough Guides writer Michael Turnbull went along to discover more about the city’s LGBT community. The…

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