It's about this time of year that people start thinking about Oktoberfest. Bavarians will be preparing for their annual festival of delicious ale; Australian tourists will be getting ready for their yearly carnival of boozy debauchery.
Oktoberfest is amazing, but it's not exactly under the radar. Everyone knows about it. You'll hear plenty of foreign languages being spoken (or slurred) in among the German and Bavarian in any Oktoberfest tent. It seems like the whole world descends on Munich for a few weeks in late September.
It makes you wonder if there are other festivals out there that aren't quite so popular – the sort of places where you'll be able to celebrate with locals, not just other tourists, where the culture is quirky and the traditions run deep. Start with these.
Instead of Carnival in Rio…
Inti Raymi, Peru
Rio's Carnival is an amazing experience, but how about Inti Raymi, the traditional ceremony of the Incan Empire, the marking of the winter solstice, still practiced today each June across the northern Andes? Probably the most impressive festivities are held in Cusco, in Peru, where a series of parades and re-enactments are held at various Incan sites, preserving the traditions of that famous culture. This is one colourful, strange and unmissable festival.
Instead of La Tomatina…
Haro Wine Festival, Spain
Spain has plenty of famous festivals – La Tomatina; the Running of the Bulls; Las Fallas – but it also has a slew of celebrations that are a little smaller and more local in flavour. One of those is the Haro Wine Festival, also known as the "Wine Fight", in the Rioja region. In late June in the town of Haro, thousands of locals hit the streets and the surrounding countryside to eat, drink, party, and chuck wine all over each other. It's a blast.
Instead of Sapporo Snow Festival…
Wakakusa Yamayaki, Japan
Unsurprisingly, given Japan's penchant for quirk, the country has a heap of interesting and occasionally bizarre annual festivals. One of the most enjoyable for visitors is Wakakusa Yamayaki, held in Nara around the end of January. During the festival, the dry grass on the side of nearby Mount Wakakusayama is set alight, creating a spectacular blaze, and visitors make their way to various temples throughout the historic city.
Instead of Oktoberfest…
Erlangen Bergkirchweih, Germany
Oktoberfest is great. It's a riot. But it's also extremely popular with foreign tourists. If you want a beer festival with a local flavour, check out Erlangen Bergkirchweih, which has been held in Erlangen, a small Bavarian town just north of Nuremberg, since 1755. This is an area that's well known for its excellent beer, and at Bergkirchweih, held in May, the finest producers brew special festival ales and then open beer gardens in the shadows of the castle for their consumption and enjoyment.
Instead of Chinese New Year…
Zhongyuan Jie, Taiwan
This is also known as the "Ghost Festival", a Buddhist and Taoist celebration that marks the opening between the realms of heaven and hell and that of the living. It's a time to pay your respects to the dead, when meals are served to empty seats to sate the hungry ghosts, when incense is burned and folk festivals held. And in the port city of Keelung, in Taiwan, elaborate lanterns are set alight and floated out into the sea. It's the perfect time to visit.
Instead of Christmas…
If Christmas to you has always felt a little too safe and lovey-dovey, then you need to check out Austria's Krampusnacht, when Krampus, a horrific, fanged goat-demon, takes to the streets in the middle of the night in the hopes of terrorising children into behaving well. It's effective, if nothing else. Held every December 5, Krampusnacht is best experienced in a small, atmospheric alpine town, and feel free to BYO unruly kids.
Instead of Songkran…
Thaipusam, south-east Asia
Songkran, or Thai New Year, is a raucous festival that involves a lot of water and a lot of fun. It's also a pretty hectic time to be in south-east Asia. For a slightly quieter but definitely gorier festival, head to Malaysia (or Sri Lanka, or Tamil Nadu in India) to witness Thaipusam, a traditional Tamil festival that's observed through dance, through food, and through piercing parts of your face with large metal skewers.
Instead of Lollapalooza…
US rapper Kendrick Lamar performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2019. Photo: AP
The US iteration of the Lollapalooza music festival might be the original and probably still the best, but there's something to be said for an event with a more exotic flavour. And for that, you have Lollapalooza Chile. This version of the American institution has been held annually in Santiago for the past decade, and it includes plenty of bands both international and Chilean. It's also the most exciting thing about Santiago.
Instead of Holi…
International Kite Festival, India
Kites in India aren't just fun – they're weapons. Kite lines are covered with a mix of glue and ground glass, making them capable of slicing through the other flyers' lines, which is precisely the aim during a kite-fighting event at Uttarayan, a huge festival in the Indian state of Gujarat. Not all kites here are for fighting: some are purely decorative, and intricately designed. This is a hugely popular event, and worth a visit for the spectacle alone.
Instead of the Melbourne Cup…
OK, so no one is going to cancel their plans for Melbourne in favour of a little jaunt to Ulan Bator. But what else do you compare Naadam, this amazing annual festival, with? It does, after all, include a horse race that stops a nation – it's just that it's a horse race that's up to 30 kilometres long, and goes out into the middle of nowhere, and involves jockeys who are barely out of primary school. Naadam also features archery and wrestling competitions, and it's an absolute sight to behold.
What's your favourite festival around the world? Have you been to any no one else will have heard of? Have you been to Oktoberfest or another well-known event?
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