The best part about traveling is getting to experience local culture. There's no better way to do this than to view or even participate in cultural traditions. If you want to experience this local flavor, don't leave it to chance. Make a point to travel for these unforgettable cultural traditions and events around the world.
While the Day of the Dead has become an extension of Halloween in some parts of the world, the street festival known as Dia de Los Muertos has retained its significance in native Mexico, where revelers use the day to honor their departed loved ones. From November 1st to the 2nd, streets fill with costumed people adorned with intricate makeup and costumes. You've likely seen the iconic combination of skeletons and flowers and skeletons or skulls. Day of the Dead isn't just a party; it's about remembrance. So treat people and their customs with respect.
Through spring and summer, you can watch a variety of physical feats in Scotland known as the Highland Games. More than 30 events take place each month; although, most occur on the weekends. From throwing hammers to group tug-of-war, these games are sure to test competitors' abilities and are made all the more difficult thanks to the traditional Scottish kilt. Another Scottish tradition, the bagpipes, accompanies the games, with musicians smartly dressed.
While Japan offers a variety of cultural events year-round, Tokyo's Cherry Blossom Festival, or Hanami, is the best known. Each spring, when over 1,000 trees are in full bloom, residents, and tourists alike flock to Ueno Park to take in the feast for the eyes—and nose. The festival also includes traditional Japanese street food, which you must try while you're there!
Northern India's festival of colors is one of the country's biggest. In fact, it spans two days! Holi falls after the full Moon in March and marks winter's end. On the first day, a large bonfire that symbolizes the burning of evil is constructed. The next day, participants "play with colors" by coating themselves in colorful powders and liquids. Make no mistake; you'll never wear those clothes again. But celebrating Holi will be a treasured memory, and you can wrap up the festivities with a traditional vegetarian meal.
Some traditions on this list have spread across the globe and can be enjoyed in more than one location. That's not the case with the Croatian Moreška sword dance. On Korcula Island lies a town straight out of medieval fairytales. In late July every year, locals dress up as either Christians and Moors to swing their weapons in a fantastic reenactment of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. While the modern tradition is a dance, the original battle prevented the Ottoman invasion.
For a more relaxed cultural tradition, check out Sunshine Day in Iceland. The northern island rejoices when the sun finally returns over the mountains after a long winter. Although the sun only remains for a few minutes that first day, residents celebrate with a cup of coffee and pancakes or the more traditional buttered flatbread topped with lamb (hangikjö). You can join this tradition in many cities but must schedule your visit to coincide with Sunshine Day in each city.
Not all traditions have serious roots, and Newfoundland's annual Screech-In certainly provides this! These cheeky "kitchen parties" play out in bars and boat tours, with tourists allowed to become honorary Newfies if they're willing to kiss a codfish or do a shot of a local and potent rum called Screech. During the Screech-In, visitors have a chance to learn local slang and dress up in rain boots and jackets. Skipper's Hot Lounge hosts a notable Screech-In with live music, and participants can even join on stage to play the "Ugly Stick."
You'd never imagine the quiet town of Hahoe in South Korea would host an annual festival where fiery barrels are launched from a cliff as onlookers chant each year, but it does! The drop designates the end of the weeklong Mask Dance Festival in nearby Andong city at the end of September. Fire is the common theme over the Nakdong river, where fireworks are launched, and small bags of charcoal are lit ablaze to create the illusion of falling stars. Finally, residents light barrels full of twigs and throw them over the cliff in a chaotic, exhilarating, and sometimes frightening display!
In Cambodia, residents traditionally gather at pagodas to receive the traditional water blessing from Buddhist monks. The monk chants while pouring blessed water over the participants' heads. They may leave soaked with cold water, but they remain serene during the ceremony. While these ceremonies quickly end, they're touching and make great photo opportunities.
It's one thing to see the Māori of New Zealand perform a war dance online but another thing entirely to experience it in person. The group posture dance, known as the Haka, is a well-known cultural tradition. It involves rhythmic foot stomping and chanting, which originated as ways for tribes to display their strength. Every two years, a performing arts competition, Te Matatini, gives tribes a chance to show off their war dances.
If you find yourself in Bunol, Spain, on the last Wednesday of August, things are bound to get messy. Crows launch tomatoes in the hundreds of thousands of pounds at each other. It sounds wild, but people travel from around the world to see and participate in La Tomatina, the world's largest food fight, which has been happening each year for the last eight decades.
Armenia hosts its own messy annual festival, Vardavar. However, instead of throwing tomatoes at each other, participants spray each other with water. This unusual festival harkens back to the story of Noah's Ark in the Bible, in which Noah instructed his sons to spray each other with water after the floodwaters finally receded. Vardavar (sometimes Vartavar) happens 14 weeks after Orthodox Easter, and no one abstains from the festivities. So remember to carry your own "weapons," whether it's a jug, water gun, or balloons.
You don't need to wait until the warm summer months to enjoy cultural traditions. Just look at Ukraine and Northern Moldovan's New Year celebration, Malanka, which happens in January and has been compared to Mardi Gras. Participants don furry costumes modeled after bears, goats, and other animals. There are feasts, skits, singing, and dancing in anticipation of the coming spring. When Malanka wraps up, costumes are stored for next year's event.
New Mexico welcomes over 40,000 visits to its annual Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, which features 2,000 dancers, for three days each April. Visitors can purchase goods crafted by Native Americans and experience traditional native cuisine. American and Canadian native musicians play from Stage 49. If you can't make it in person, the live stream is the next best thing.
Alaska isn't all snow and polar bears, and the Golden Days festival proves it. Head to Fairbanks during the third week of July, and you'll be surrounded when residents honor their Gold Rush history by dressing as minors and "floozies." Everyone gets in on the action during the 5-day festival, which includes the state's biggest parade, rubber ducky race, and a barbecue competition, most of which happen at the beautiful Pioneer Park.