World's best destinations for big celebrations: The best days to travel in 2017 (and the ones to avoid)

When it comes to the world's major events, to its biggest celebrations, it's all about location.

Major festivals and celebrations around the world in 2017: Where to experiences the year's biggest cultural celebrations

  • Carnival in Brazil is a multi-day celebration that engulfs cities in a riot of dancing and drinking. Photo: Global Pics

    Carnival in Brazil is a multi-day celebration that engulfs cities in a riot of dancing and drinking. Photo: Global Pics

  • Child actors on a traditional parade on Chinese New Year in Guangzhou, China.

    Child actors on a traditional parade on Chinese New Year in Guangzhou, China.

  • A dragon dance performance celebrating Chinese New Year in Beijing, China. Photo: Keren Su

    A dragon dance performance celebrating Chinese New Year in Beijing, China. Photo: Keren Su

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    Location, location, location. That's what the real estate experts are always talking about, and for travellers it rings just as true, because when it comes to the world's major events, to its biggest celebrations, it's all about location.

    This year, you want to find yourself in the best possible destinations to join in the fun. You want to be in the places where these special days all began. You want to experience them with the people who truly feel the passion for them deep in their hearts. We're talking New York City for Independence Day, Beijing for Chinese New Year, Bangkok for Songkran.

    The global calendar is full of interesting, exciting events, but many of them so often pass us by in Australia with little more than a thought. What does Cinco de Mayo mean for someone in Sydney? What significance does Carnival have for a resident of Melbourne? It's only when you go to the heart of these celebrations that their true importance, their true joy, can be appreciated and observed.

    In 2017, it's time to think about location. Where will you be for the globe's most important dates? Will you celebrate Christmas in  Vatican City? Will you experience Easter in Jerusalem? Will you join London's Kiwi population for Waitangi Day? Or watch a Boston parade in honour of St Patrick?

    The great thing about these celebrations is that they're not exclusive – everyone is invited, and everyone can have fun. You just have to know the location.


    WHEN January 28

    THE PLACE TO BE Beijing, China

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Singapore; Shanghai

    There are several great locations through the world in which to see in the Chinese New Year, from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, San Francisco to Sydney. However, surely the best of them all is the Chinese capital of Beijing, a city that has been hosting festivities for hundreds of years. While New Year's Eve for the Chinese is a time to spend with family, the main celebration in Beijing is one of more social interaction, with fireworks displays (both official and frighteningly unofficial), temple fairs, flower shows, folk-art demonstrations, concerts, athletic competitions, dragon dances and the Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival, which features more than 400 ice carvings.


    WHEN February 6

    THE PLACE TO BE London, Britain

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Waitangi; Wellington

    It's a quirk of many cultures that people don't feel particularly patriotic about their homeland until they've left it. This is certainly true of the Kiwis, who celebrate Waitangi Day – commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi – with only mild interest in New Zealand, but with true black-jerseyed, face-painted gusto in hotbeds of Antipodean infestation such as London. For the ultimate in British-based, NZ-loving debauchery this Waitangi Day, join the annual "Circle Line pub crawl", a rolling booze-up attended by several thousand Kiwis who visit 10 pubs on the Circle tube line – and be prepared to witness multiple renditions of the haka. 


    WHEN February 14

    THE PLACE TO BE Paris, France

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Venice, Italy; New York City, New York, US

    NEED TO KNOW Is there a more romantic city in which to spend Valentine's Day than Paris? We think not. The City of Light is also the city of public smooches on park benches, of afternoons spent lying in a park in someone's arms, of evenings playing footsie at restaurants while simultaneously flirting with the waiters. Valentine's Day in Paris isn't so much about any special events, but simply about soaking up the romance of the city with the person you love. And don't be afraid to indulge in cliche: walk hand-in-hand down cobbled streets, wander through art galleries, sip coffee at cafes, take a boat ride down the Seine, dine at a quiet bistro, and end the evening watching the city lights from Sacre Coeur. Magnifique.


    WHEN March 17

    THE PLACE TO BE Boston, United States

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Dublin; New York City

    NEED TO KNOW Spend St Patrick's Day in its country of origin, Ireland, and you will undoubtedly have a great time. However, spend it in the US and you'll be swept up in the fervour of a people who might just care more about being Irish than the Irish themselves. In Chicago they stain the local river green. In Savannah, Georgia, a large fountain is turned a rich emerald. In San Francisco they have a huge festival. In New York there's a famous parade. And in Boston, where 16 per cent of residents claim Irish origin, there are celebrations across the city that attract more than a million spectators and party-goers. Slainte.



    WHEN May 5

    THE PLACE TO BE Los Angeles, California, US

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Austin, Texas; San Diego, California

    NEED TO KNOW This celebration of the Mexican army's victory over France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862 is met largely with indifference in Mexico, and with wild festivity in the US. The holiday has become something of a proxy celebration of Mexican-American relations, a day on which homage is paid to Latino culture and heritage, mostly in the form of smashed pinatas and guzzled Coronas. Given its huge Mexican-American population, Los Angeles is one of the best places to be, with street fairs, parades and parties happening throughout the city for most of the day and night. 


    WHEN July 4

    THE PLACE TO BE New York, US

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois

    NEED TO KNOW Few national holidays attract such global attention as US Independence Day, held each year on – you know this already – the 4th of July. While the entire country pauses to celebrate this important day, the biggest party is reserved for New York City, which hosts an almost ridiculously overblown fireworks display, as well as street parades, open-air dance parties, film festivals, food festivals, block parties, cook-outs, hang-outs, and just about everything in between. You might not be American, but it's impossible to avoid being swept up in the party atmosphere of New York City on July 4.


    WHEN October 19

    THE PLACE TO BE Jaipur, India

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Amritsar; Singapore

    NEED TO KNOW It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the Indians can do a celebration properly. This is a country of colour and fun, of emotions often unrestrained, where even a cricketing victory is reason to hit the streets and party. You can imagine, then, how seriously people take Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights that's celebrated each northern autumn. While it's technically only one evening in which families light lamps and candles and head out on the streets in their finest clothes to watch fireworks displays both official and improvised, in reality, particularly in cities such as Jaipur, Diwali involves a fortnight-long preparation of shopping, eating, socialising and celebrating.


    WHEN December 25

    THE PLACE TO BE Vatican City

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Nuremburg, Germany; New York City

    NEED TO KNOW In the lead-up to Christmas you'll want to spread your attentions across Europe, to the charming, historic markets in Nuremberg, to the "home of Santa Claus" in Finland, and to the "Krampus Run" – a festival in which locals dress up as alpine monsters and tear through the streets scaring children – in Salzburg. For the big event, however, there's no better place to appreciate Christmas' true significance than the Vatican. The Pope holds a midnight mass every Christmas Eve in St Peter's Basilica, for which members of the public can reserve tickets in advance. Even for non-believers, this is an unforgettable occasion; and as an added bonus, you then get to wake up on Christmas Day and eat Italian food.


    WHEN December 31

    THE PLACE TO BE Hawaii, US

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS Dubai, UAE; Sydney, Australia

    NEED TO KNOW If you're one of those people who likes to draw out the anticipation – leaving your Easter eggs in the fridge for weeks, or waiting until late evening to open your Christmas presents – then have we got the New Year's Eve party for you. The Hawaiians have to wait a full 21 hours longer than those on the east coast of Australia to see in the New Year and they make it worth hanging around for, with beach parties, live entertainment, food trucks, fireworks and the "Pineapple Drop": an imitation of New York's famous illuminated ball in Times Square, only with a giant, glowing pineapple.



    January 21

    This American celebration – where else? – encourages people to hug their families and friends, and to remember to do it more often. The day was first observed in Clio, Michigan in the US in 1986. One of the best cities to feel the love is San Francisco.


    April 7

    Cue choruses of "that's every day for my partner" etcetera as this fairly silly celebration is observed worldwide – inside pubs, hopefully – by those who do the bulk of the work for 364 days a year.


    May 4

    Budding Jedis can publicly celebrate their geeky love for Han, Chewie, Luke Skywalker and co every May the fourth. As in, "May the fourth be with you". Film locations in Ireland and Tunisia are popular places to mark the date.


    May 13

    This is a celebration with a good cause, designed to raise awareness of the need to protect migratory birds and their habitats. It's also a good reason for twitchers to properly geek out by searching for some of Australia's avian visitors, such as the eastern curlew.


    May 20

    Drinkers and non-drinkers alike are encouraged to raise a wee dram and enjoy the water of life every May. As if we needed any prompting. Whisky lovers, head straight to Scotland.


    September 2

    What better time to make a pig of yourself than on this imporkant – sorry – day, when bacon lovers the world over can unite and enjoy a delicious sandwich. We'd recommend an English bacon buttie.


    September 19

    Unfortunately we arrrrrr serious about this one. Every September 19, people across the globe are supposed to talk like pirates. Why? No idea, me hearties. Head directly to the Caribbean for this one.


    September 30

    Goddamn this is a fun festival. Though some may find it offensive, the general idea of IBD is to remind the world that even religion should be freely criticised and examined. Maybe do this in the Netherlands, one of the world's least religious countries.


    THE DAY Australia Day, January 26

    THE PLACE Whistler, Canada

    THE REASON There are certain experiences that make you proud to be an Australian; however, watching a bunch of your drunken compatriots roar down a ski hill, naked but for an Australian flag draped across their shoulders, is probably not one of them.

    THE DAY Christmas Day, December 25

    THE PLACE An aeroplane

    THE REASON Miss Christmas entirely? While the grinches among us would probably enjoy it, everyone else would surely be saddened by the idea of flying from the US to Australia on Christmas Eve and landing on Boxing Day – missing December 25 in its entirety.

    THE DAY Boxing Day, December 26

    THE PLACE New York City

    THE REASON Maybe your idea of fun really is to engage in elbow-flinging, shoulder-dropping, teeth-gnashing warfare with about a million desperate bargain-hunters piling into department stores such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's. For everyone else, steer clear of Manhattan on Boxing Day.

    THE DAY New Year's Eve, December 31

    THE PLACE Berlin, Germany

    THE REASON This is a little disingenuous, as Berlin on New Year's Eve is actually one of the best places in the world to be. However, if you're not into fireworks – and specifically, if you're not into tens of thousands of drunken amateurs setting off their own fireworks in the streets – then you'll be underwhelmed.

    THE DAY World Environment Day, June 5

    THE PLACE Delhi

    THE REASON If you've even wanted to feel more passionately about the need to conserve our environment, then trying spending June 5 – World Environment Day – in Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities. It'd make a greenie out of anyone.



    WHEN February 23-March 1

    PLACE Salvador, Brazil

    NEED TO KNOW Although the most popular city to celebrate Brazil's annual Carnival is Rio de Janeiro, the most underrated has to be Salvador, the sultry and occasionally anarchic coastal capital of the state of Bahia. Salvador's Carnival is a six-day celebration that engulfs the city in a riot of dancing, drinking, dancing, drinking, and, er, dancing and drinking. This comes in the form of roving street parties, or "blocos", as well as grandstand seating and stage performances. Mostly, however, it's a case of "samba schmamba" in Salvador, where choreographed dance performances are shunned in favour of a more chaotic system of roving sound systems that blast music at the writhing masses who follow them around for 16 hours a day.



    WHEN April 13-17

    PLACE Bangkok, Thailand

    NEED TO KNOW Warning: you will get wet. Whether you want to or not, if you're in Thailand or Laos or Cambodia during Songkran, the celebration of the solar new year, you will be shot with water pistols, slapped with wet brooms, hit with water balloons, and even drenched with buckets. That's the way things work. The water is a ritual cleansing, a blessing for the new year, and everyone is expected to get involved. In Bangkok, this ritual becomes an all-out celebration, as locals and tourists hit places such as Silom Road, Khao San Road and Royal City Avenue to drink, dance, and get drenched. Although festivities in 2017 will be slightly subdued due to an extended period of mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, this will still be a great place to celebrate.



    WHEN April 14-16

    PLACE Jerusalem, Israel

    NEED TO KNOW Where better to witness a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross than Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa – the actual site of Jesus' walk to his crucifixion? And while you're at it, why not witness Easter Saturday evening prayers at Jesus' actual tomb? Or have mass at the site of his supposed resurrection? To witness Easter in Jerusalem is to see all of these biblical places and almost mythical names come to life. Easter is no longer abstract – it's real. The city of Jerusalem is an incredibly moving, holy place at any time of the year, however, during Easter it takes on even more importance. Whether you're religious or not, you can't help but be swept up in the history and the passion.



    WHEN May 26-June 25

    PLACE Dubai, UAE

    NEED TO KNOW Although it might come as a surprise, Ramadan – the most important month on the Islamic calendar – is quite an inclusive event, and that's never truer than in Dubai. While the days are quiet as Muslims observe their ritual fast (and tourists do their eating and drinking behind closed doors), at night traditional areas such as Deira and Al Satwa come alive with families and friends gathering in their finest clothes for "iftar" feasts. Dubai embraces a true 24-hour lifestyle during Ramadan, with markets, shopping malls and restaurants staying open well into the night as fasters make the most of their chance to eat and drink and socialise. This is traditionally a time of reflection, but it's also a celebration, and respectful visitors will be welcome to share it.



    WHEN October 31-November 1

    PLACE Oaxaca, Mexico

    NEED TO KNOW This is not, officially, Halloween. However, the celebrations that take place in Mexico on October 31 and November 1 are even more colourful and meaningful than that most American of festivities. Here it's called the Day of the Dead, a traditional remembrance of family and friends who have shuffled off this mortal coil, a respect shown by dressing up in ghoulish costumes and celebrating long into the night at local cemeteries. In the central Mexican city of Oaxaca, there's nothing scary or sinister about Day of the Dead. It's an inclusive, joyous, heartfelt celebration of lives that were well lived. And everyone's invited.


    When it comes to national holidays and global events, Traveller columnist Ben Groundwater takes a non-partisan approach: he'll celebrate with anyone and everyone. "The best national holiday I've joined in on was Bolivian Independence Day a few years ago," he says. "I walked into a local bar in La Paz at about 5pm and stumbled out at around three the next morning with a whole lot of new friends. At no point could any of us understand a word the other was saying."

    The story Major festivals and celebrations around the world in 2017: Where to experiences the year's biggest cultural celebrations first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.