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9 Popular Cultural Festivals of the World in 2020

  • Make lasting travel memories by experiencing some of the most popular cultural or religious festivals around the world
  • Country-by-country guide to festivals including the Cherry Blossom Festival, Diwali, and the Day of the Dead
  • Learn when festivals are in full swing, and discover some of our escorted tours and river cruises that travel during festival times

Discovering more about a destination’s culture is often a highlight of a holiday to Europe or escorted tour. And if you can watch or take part in a cultural festival, it makes for a memorable experience. From Diwali in India to the Cherry Blossom festivals in Japan, here we look at some great festivals around the world. As a bonus, some of our escorted tours travel to destinations during festivals – we’ve listed examples of our escorted tours where travelling to that country coincides with a particular festival.

Travel the world with Riviera Travel and discover incredible cultures and amazing experiences – from European and worldwide tours to European river cruises.

9 of the most popular festivals around the world

Lantern Festival

When: 8 February 2020

Where: China

With origins dating back 2,000 years, this festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations and the first full moon of the new lunar year. During the festival, which typically falls in early February, thousands of lit paper lanterns are released into the sky to bring good luck in the coming year. Colourful lanterns are hung outside houses, temples and other buildings while lion and dragon dances, parades and fireworks fill the streets. Families exchange red envelopes filled with money and eat tangyuan – ball-shaped rice dumplings with fruits and nuts – both gestures of good luck and family unity.

Rio Carnival

When: 21-26 February 2020

Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Often hailed as one of the biggest cultural festivals in the world, an estimated two million people take to the streets every day during Brazil’s lavish Rio Carnival. An extravagant, energetic and vibrantly colourful fiesta – with music performances and samba parades taking centre stage – it’s an indulgent way to start the religious period of Lent. Lasting five days in average temperatures of 30°C, parties erupt throughout the city – some starting as early as 8am – with the highlight being the flamboyant float parades at the Sambadrome. As you’d expect, coveted tickets for the Main Parades sell out quick.

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Rio Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Mardi Gras

When: 25 February 2020

Where: New Orleans, USA

The main event of Mardi Gras takes place every year on the Tuesday before the first day of Lent. Also known as Fat Tuesday, it’s a day of full-blown revelry – though you can catch festivities in New Orleans throughout the whole Carnival season, which kicks off on 6 January (Family Gras 2020 is 14-16 February). Party-goers arrive at Mardi Gras wearing the Carnival colours of purple, green and gold – make sure you also try the equally colourful king cakes – and collect beads and trinkets thrown from floats throughout lively parades.

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A Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, USA


When: 9-10 March

Where: India

Also known as the Festival of Colour, Holi is one of India’s biggest and most popular festivals. This ancient Hindu festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the arrival of spring. Following an evening of prayers and religious rituals, the following day is celebrated as Rangwali Holi – a free-for-all festival of colours which sees locals and tourists alike throwing coloured powder and paint on each other in the streets.

Our India & Shimla Extension escorted tour is a breath-taking adventure around India’s Golden Triangle.

Cherry Blossom Festivals

When: March to May 2020

Where: Japan

It’s often hard to pinpoint an actual date for the beginning of Japan’s brief cherry blossom season, but it’s a delight to witness. Beautiful blossom starts to appear towards the end of March in and around Kyoto and Tokyo, whereas it can be early May in Sapporo. Cherry blossom festivals, known as hanami in Japanese, are held throughout the spring, and family and friends gather to picnic in parks around the country, taking in their awe-inspiring surroundings. It’s also a time to reflect and appreciate life – as the blossom highlights all too well, nothing lasts forever.

Experience Japan on our 13-day Japan: Land of the Rising Sun escorted tour including return flights and transfers.

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Cherry blossoms in bloom, Japan

Día de Los Muertos

When: 2 November 2020

Where: Mexico

Once upon a time, Mexico’s Day of the Dead, or Día de Los Muertos, was a quiet, intimate affair, when families remembered their deceased loved ones at cemetery vigils. However, that was before 2015’s opening scene of the James Bond thriller, Spectre. Since then, the cultural festival has become more of a spectacle, with parades, parties, elaborate costumes and skull face painting – as well as decorating graves with candles and marigolds. Remembrance rituals take place throughout Mexico, with the gathering at Lake Pátzcuaro being one of the more authentic.

Mexico is yours to explore on our Majestic Mexico & Copper Canyon including a trip to Mexico City, exploring the colonial suburbs of Coyoacán and a visit to La Casa Azul.

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A Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, parade in Mexico


When: 14 November 2020

Where: India

Diwali, a religious festival of lights, is celebrated worldwide by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. Coinciding with a new moon, so dates vary from year to year, it’s one of the most awaited festivals in India, and homes are brightly decorated with lights, lanterns and candles. Different festivities take place in India’s different regions, but gifts and sweets are exchanged, temples hold unique ceremonies, and firework displays are commonplace. Visit Varanasi during Diwali to see thousands of oil lamps floating on the River Ganges. Celebrations at Amritsar’s Golden Temple are breathtaking too.

Our Memories Of The Raj escorted tour includes the chance to wonder at the grand colonial buildings of New Delhi and stay three nights in Darjeeling at the iconic Windamere Hotel.

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Diwali lights in India


When: 5 December 2020

Where: Germany and Austria

When it comes to festive traditions, Krampusnacht certainly must be one of the creepiest – you don’t want to be on the naughty list in Germany on the eve of the Feast of St Nicolas! According to folklore, Krampus, a devil-like creature with long horns and a goatee beard, visits homes during the night to punish children who have misbehaved. Around this date, towns and cities in Germany, and throughout Europe, take part in Krampus Runs, where locals race around wearing some frightening (but fun) disguises. Munich’s Krampusnacht event is always well attended.

Our Enchanting Rhine & Yuletide Markets river cruise brings the festive season to life on a luxury river cruise.

Whirling Dervish Festival

When: December 2020

Where: Konya, Turkey

One of the more fascinating festivals around the world, the Mevlâna Festival, commonly known as the Whirling Dervish Festival, takes place over ten days each year in the city of Konya, and other destinations throughout Turkey. It celebrates the life of Rumi, a Persian poet, scholar and Sufi mystic who believed you could realise divine love through music and dance. During mesmerising ceremonies, participants in flowing white robes whirl continuously anticlockwise to music, their arms outstretched. It’s quite a sight. Note that while it’s become something of a tourist attraction over the years, the dance firmly has its roots in religion, so be respectful.

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Dancing at the Mevlâna Festival in Turkey

As if seasoned travellers need another excuse to embark on a European tour or worldwide trip, a cultural festival really can make a holiday even more special. So when planning your 2020 adventures, why not see if you can participate in – or watch – something rather spectacular.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.