World's best, most rare and one-off festivals and events

If you're heading to Russia for this year's FIFA World Cup, or you're already at, or going to, the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games here in Australia, lucky you.

You won't only enjoy a world sporting showcase and the accompanying fan frenzy that goes with it, but you'll have the chance to explore great host cities too: if you're going to Russia, there's not just Moscow and St Petersburg, but the fortified Kremlin at Kazan, old trading town Nizhny Novgorod, and Volgograd with its mighty World War II monuments.

The World Cup runs from June 14 to July 15 but, while it's likely too late to get organised now, there are plenty more recurring events that provide a marvellous hook on which to hang an entire holiday.

Sporting events are an obvious enticement, but you'll have to wait four more years for the next World Cup in Qatar and the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. You've also just missed the once-in-a-decade Sculpture Project in Munster, Germany, an invigorating showcase of controversial public sculpture, which is next held in 2027.

And if you weren't around in the 1980s, you'll have to hang on until 2061 for the heavenly sight of Halley's Comet.

The good news is that there are many other cyclical events, from art exhibitions and religious festivals to unusual natural phenomena, coming up over the next few years – and a few that will soon be gone forever. Get planning now to see these forthcoming special happenings and rewarding travel destinations.

ART BIENNALE, VENICE, ITALY

WHEN Every two years, next from May 26 to November 25, 2018.

WHY GO The world's original art biennale, and one of the most prestigious, covers art, architecture, cinema, dance, music and theatre. Avant-garde works contrast wonderfully with Venice's historic surrounds. Many Biennale events are held in Arsenale and Giardini, inviting visitors to explore often overlooked parts of Venice.

START PLANNING Buy 48-hour access tickets online or at booths on the day for €30 ($48). There are guided tours and creative workshops for families. Hotel rooms are always in short supply in Venice, so book well in advance.

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IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME You're not short of cultural and architectural attractions year-round, with Titian and Tintoretto on show at the Academy Gallery (gallerieaccademia.org) and a dozen churches hung with paintings. The world-class Peggy Guggenheim Collection (guggenheim-venice.it) houses modern art. The Doge's Palace (palazzoducale.visitmuve.it) and St Mark's Basilica (basilicasanmarco.it) are other wonders.

MORE labiennale.org

LAKE EYRE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA, AUSTRALIA

WHEN Every eight years or so. Rainfall and stream flow are currently below average, but Queensland flooding presages water later this year.

WHY GO This is one of Australia's most elusive sights, since Lake Eyre has only filled to capacity three times in 150 years. Decent rains come more often. The cracked lakebed swells with water, greenery and wildflowers erupt, and the air fills with huge assemblies of happy birds.

START PLANNING Lake Eyre (environment.sa.gov.au) is 700 kilometres north of Adelaide and best tackled with a 4WD. The Bureau of Meteorology (bom.gov.au) provides rain updates, and the improbable Lake Eyre Yacht Club (lakeeyreyc.com) has a great satellite image in red and blue.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Glittering white saltpans in dry periods, or a vast pink lake as water evaporates, are spectacular on a scenic flight. Nearby William Creek is halfway along the legendary 620-kilometre Oodnadatta Track outback drive.

MORE southaustralia.com

DOCUMENTA, KASSEL, GERMANY

WHEN Every five years, next from June 18 to September 25, 2019.

WHY GO The ''museum of 100 days'' is one of the world's most important showcases of contemporary art, spread across the town's parks, squares, shopping malls and museums. This isn't soft art; Documenta is particularly interesting for addressing difficult political issues, such as racism, immigration and Europe's far-right-wing resurgence.

START PLANNING Kassel is two hours north of Frankfurt Airport and well connected by rail to major German cities. Kassel Marketing (kassel-marketing.de) helps with accommodation and information. Two-day tickets can be purchased online (shop.documenta.de) or at local booths for €38 ($61).

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Permanent art installations from previous Documenta dot the town. Wilhelmshohe Palace (wilhelmshoehe.de) is World Heritage listed for garden design and historical water features. Grimmwelt (grimmwelt.de) celebrates fairytale writers the Brothers Grimm. The 600-kilometre Fairy Tale Road (deutsche-maerchenstrasse.com) is a pretty, historical driving route.

MORE documenta.de

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE, ARGENTINA

WHEN July 2, 2019, with seven more worldwide in the next decade (2028 in Australia).

WHY GO OK, it's just the moon temporarily blocking the sun's light, but we're primitive beings at heart when it comes to this irregular, eerie and awe-inspiring astronomical event. You may see ribbons of light spouting from the sun's corona.

START PLANNING The eclipse will be visible just before sunset within a small band across Argentina above cities such as San Juan, Bragado and Junin, with easy access just south of Buenos Aires. A small area of Chile around La Serena will also experience the total eclipse.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Buenos Aires' UFO-like Galileo Galilei Observatory (planetario.gob.ar) has a meteorite museum and great star shows, and is part of a Museum Mile of numerous attractions. Soccer, tango and nightlife are vibrant parts of the capital, one of South America's most architecturally elegant cities.

MORE turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar

WINEMAKERS FESTIVAL, VEVEY, SWITZERLAND

WHEN Once a generation (about every 21 years), next from July 26 to August 11, 2019.

WHY GO Held in a giant outdoor theatre, the festival celebrates all things grape-related with musicians, dancers, floats and a parade. It was established in the 17th century by local winemakers and now involves 5000 participants.

START PLANNING Tickets go on sale from mid-September 2018 online and at Starticket outlets (starticket.ch) in Switzerland, and will cost around SFR 150 ($200). Vevey accommodation is limited, but Montreux and Lausanne are nearby.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Route des Vignerons (region-du-leman.ch) meanders through spectacular vineyards above Vevey, linking numerous cellar doors. Lavaux Vinorama (lavaux-vinorama.ch) provides a good introduction to this World Heritage-listed wine region. The villa of former resident Charlie Chaplin is now a museum (chaplinsworld.com) dedicated to his career and movie influence. You can walk flower-flanked lakeshore promenades to Montreux and Chillon Castle (chillon.ch).

MORE fetedesvignerons.ch

PASSION PLAY, OBERAMMERGAU, GERMANY

WHEN Every 10 years, next from May 16 to October 4, 2020.

WHY GO The famous play based on Jesus' life has been performed since 1634 in gratitude for being spared the plague, and is a surviving relic of once-popular Christian dramas. Some 2000 villagers take part in the five-hour spectacle, which breaks for lunch. It features drama, music and static tableaux vivants of costumed performers.

START PLANNING You can already book two- or three-day packages that include accommodation. Sales of individual tickets open online in 2019. There are 100-odd performances in all, five days a week. Viking Cruises (vikingrivercruises.com.au) has special Danube River cruises with access to the plays.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Oberammergau, whose houses are painted with colourful frescoes, is on the 450-kilometre Alpine Road (deutsche-alpenstrasse.de) that threads through spectacular Bavarian scenery of lakes and snow peaks and passes several of King Ludwig II's castles, including Neuschwanstein (neuschwanstein.de).

MORE passionsspiele-oberammergau.de

KUMBH MELA, HARIDWAR, INDIA

WHEN Every 12 years, likely next from late 2021 to early 2022. Other Kumbh Melas are held every three years in Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain.

WHY GO The world's largest religious gathering – upwards of 120 million people attend over six weeks – is especially known for its sadhus and other Hindu holy men, many naked and smeared with ash. Some meditate standing on their heads, others immerse themselves in the Ganges.

START PLANNING Hardiwar is 230 kilometres north-east of Delhi. Sheer numbers make a visit daunting, so sign up with tours designed for foreigners, or stay at resorts such as Lakshmi Niwas (lakshminiwas.com).

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Religious activities take place daily in Hardiwar, one of the most sacred sites of Hinduism. More relaxed Rishikesh, another 20 kilometres up the Ganges, is also a pilgrim destination and epicentre of yoga. Further into the mountains, Mussoorie is a quintessential British-era hill station.

MORE uttarakhandtourism.gov.in

YOKOHAMA TRIENNALE, YOKOHAMA, JAPAN

WHEN Every three years, next from August to October 2020 (exact dates to be announced).

WHY GO One of Japan's most important art exhibitions is notable for showcasing the latest cutting-edge Asian artists (and those from beyond), attracting dozens of big names. Each triennale has a distinctive theme, such as islands in 2017, and covers paintings, sculpture, photography and more.

START PLANNING Yokohama is an hour south of Tokyo by train. Triennale tickets go on sale in April 2020 and have previously cost around ¥2100 ($25) online, or a little more if purchased on the spot.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME One of the host venues, Yokohama Museum of Art (yokohama.art.museum), is one of Japan's foremost art institutions. A very lively Chinatown (yokohamajapan.com) is crammed with shops and eateries. You can also explore the redeveloped waterfront of this historic trading port (goyokohama.jp), and visit traditional Sankei Gardens (sankeien.or.jp).

MORE yokohamatriennale.jp

FIELD OF LIGHTS, ULURU, AUSTRALIA

WHEN One-off, closing December 31, 2020.

WHY GO This extraordinary installation from British artist Bruce Monro features 50,000 lights on short stalks, conceived to represent blooming dessert flowers after rain. The lights pulse and change colour and are entrancing whether you're walking among them, or viewing the entire spread (and Uluru in the background) from nearby dunes.

START PLANNING Book on tours from Ayers Rock Resort for access. These include a simple transfer and visit ($42), sunset tour with drinks and canapes ($90) or an evening including dinner and an astronomy talk ($250). It has proved very popular in the previous two years, so reserve well in advance.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME For lights of a different kind, take an Astro Tour for a stunning look at a great sweep of Milky Way and various constellations. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (parksaustralia.gov.au) is a great wonder of Australia.

MORE ayersrockresort.com.au

FIVE MUST-SEE CYCLES OF NATURE FROM AROUND THE WORLD

WILDFLOWERS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

The annual display of colour that erupts in the aridity of Western Australia annually between July and November (depending on location) is a fabulous spectacle of kaleidoscopic colour. Yellow and pink everlastings, coneflowers and flamboyant wattles are especially vivid. Numerous wildflower driving routes crisscross the state. See wildflowerswa.com

WILDLIFE MIGRATION, TANZANIA

The annual migration of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles in Serengeti National Park sees vast numbers of animals follow new grass growth on the savannah, starting from late December. As rains end, the migration moves back northwards in May and June, with animals attempting dramatic crossings of the crocodile-infested Grumeti and Mara rivers. See serengeti.org

AURORA BOREALIS, NORWAY

The aurora borealis or Northern Lights, unfolding in a kaleidoscope of violets, electric blues and eerie greens, is one of nature's wonders and all the more exciting for its unpredictability. Generally, the lights make their best appearance in winter, and well above the Arctic Circle in destinations such as Tromso or Svalbard. See visitnorway.com

SARDINE RUN, SOUTH AFRICA

Between May and July each year, millions of newly spawned sardines move up South Africa's east coast, providing a handy feast for whales, dolphins, sharks and seabirds. Tour operators in KwaZulu-Natal will take you scuba diving (or just sightseeing from boats) to see the mindboggling shoals. See southaustralia.com

MOUNT STROMBOLI ERUPTIONS, ITALY

Hike up before sunset, and as darkness falls you'll enjoy a pattern of eruptions at this island volcano's summit craters, featuring volcanic bombs of incandescent lava sometimes thrown high into the air. It's safer than nearby explosive Mount Etna, which sometimes catches sightseers (and volcanologists) unawares. See visitsicily.info

WHY WAIT: EVENTS THAT COME EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR

CHANGING OF THE GUARDS, ATHENS, GREECE

Each morning at 11am at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square, guards in kilts and pompom shoes act out the world's strangest guard change, memorably described by the Berlitz guide as akin to the mating dance of eccentric ostriches. See visitgreece.gr

OLD FAITHFUL, YELLOWSTONE, US

The world's most famous geyser erupts for a few minutes 17 times daily, though you might have to hang around a bit, as intervals range from 60 minutes to nearly two hours. It flings almost boiling water around 40 metres into the air. See nps.gov/yell

LAST POST, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

At 4.55pm daily, this moving ceremony is held in the Australian War Memorial's Commemorative Courtyard. It features the national anthem, piper's lament and laying of wreaths, and tells the story of an individual soldier on the Roll of Honour. See awm.gov.au

DUBAI FOUNTAINS, DUBAI, UAE

The world's tallest performing fountains, accompanied by coloured projectors and music, erupt in the evening beneath the world's highest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa. You can get closer to the action by boat or on a new floating platform in the lake. See burjkhalifa.ae

GANGA AARTI, RISHIKESH, INDIA

Every evening, these Hindu prayers and purifying rituals are carried out on the Ganges riverbanks. Then pilgrims cast flickering candles and marigold petals into the current in a joyful and peaceful experience as the sun sets. See uttarakhandtourism.gov.in

ILLUMINATIONS, NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA

As darkness falls, Niagara Falls glows with multiple colours projected onto the waterfalls to spectacular effect. If you're here on special occasions, the colours will match: green for St Patrick's Day, red and white for Canada Day. See niagarafallstourism.com

SYMPHONY OF LIGHTS, HONG KONG, CHINA

The world's largest permanent sound-and-light show lasts 13 minutes and lights up the harbour each evening, combining laser beams with LED lights on skyscraper facades, accompanied by synchronised music. See discoverhongkong.com

ALMS GIVING, LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

As the sun rises, processions of orange-robed monks emerge and Buddhist devotees kneel to present them with alms in the form of daily food rations. It's strangely beautiful and captivating, though turning into something of a tourist spectacle. See tourismlaos.org

FLAG RAISING CEREMONY, BEIJING, CHINA

Every dawn, an honour guards marches out of the Forbidden City's Gate of Heavenly Peace and onto Tiananmen Square to raise a gigantic flag to the strains of the national anthem. The rigid, synchronised steps and flourishes are impressive. See ebeijing.gov.cn

FLAG LOWERING CEREMONY, WAGAH, INDIA-PAKISTAN

The world's most bizarre face-off takes place at this border post every day at dusk to the sound of patriotic songs and cheering spectators. The almost camp display of jingoism features elaborately costumed soldiers performing flamboyant goosesteps. See incredibleindia.org

THE NEXT MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS

CRICKET WORLD CUP, ENGLAND-WALES

WHEN May 30 to July 14, 2019.

WHY GO The opening match is at The Oval, the final at Lord's and Australia is taking part – what more does a cricket fan need? While many host cities aren't high on the tourism agenda, they do sit in the midst of great scenic destinations such as Yorkshire, Northumberland and Somerset.

HOW TO BOOK Ticket ballot opens from May 1 2018. From September, remaining tickets are sold online on a first-come, first-served basis. See icc-cricket.com

RUGBY WORLD CUP, JAPAN

WHEN September 20 to November 2, 2019.

WHY GO Australia has qualified, and 12 match venues across Japan give you a good excuse to see plenty of this fantastic travel destination. Host cities such as Yokohama, Oita, Kobe, Fukuoka and Kunamoto are surrounded by attractions that include samurai castles, country hikes and hot-spring resorts.

HOW TO BOOK General ticket sales start in September 2018 with a ballot system. Remaining tickets go on general sale from January 2019. See rugbyworldcup.com

UEFA EUROPEAN FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS, EUROPE

WHEN June 12 to July 12, 2020.

WHY GO If you were too late for the World Cup in Russia, then here's your chance for another football extravaganza. As a one-off, it will be held across 10 countries, providing a tour around some of the continent's top cities, including Rome, St Petersburg, Amsterdam and Budapest. The final is in London.

HOW TO BOOK Register a ticketing account on the official website and specify date and team preferences to receive updates on ticketing procedures. See uefa.com

OLYMPIC GAMES, TOKYO

WHEN July 24 to August 9, 2020.

WHY GO The world's greatest sporting event takes place in the world's largest and undoubtedly most exciting city, with its giant department stores, pulsating entertainment districts and outstanding dining scene. Beneath the ultra-modern veneer, you'll find palaces, temples and tranquil alleys too. Sumo and baseball are other sporting lures.

HOW TO BOOK Not announced yet, but you can likely buy tickets online or from Japan-related travel agencies like JTB (jtbtravel.com.au) from 2019. See tokyo2020.org

COMMONWEALTH GAMES, BIRMINGHAM

WHEN July 27 to August 7, 2022.

WHY GO Sports apart, the city that was central to the industrial revolution has a long history of trade with nations from the former empire, and has recently revamped many of its Victorian-era squares and canals. It has great green spaces, museums and an energetic dining scene and nightlife, as well as a convenient central-England location.

HOW TO BOOK You can't book yet (the Games were only awarded last December after Durban, South Africa, relinquished its hosting rights), so stay tuned. See birmingham2022.com

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