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Europe/Amsterdam Shares Six of the Wackiest Festivals Around the World

Exploring the world opens the eyes of travelers to all sorts of sights, but the most unique and unusual are often the most memorable. Countries all over the globe host festivals, competitions and carnivals that are integrated into local history, culture and customs. But some of these events are purely bizarre and can make the jaw drop of any witness bemused and bewildered by the festivities. As two-thirds (66%) say experiencing new and different lifestyles is a key motivation to travel,* travelers can be assured of being propelled out of their comfort zone with these traditions. For those seeking an extreme escape from everyday life, we share six of the wackiest festivals around the world for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Travelers can witness a human tower building in Spain or a monkey banquet in Thailand to even a massive organized food fight consisting only of oranges. 

Concurs de Castells (October 1-2, 2023) – Tarragona, Spain

Located in northeast Spain on the coast of the Mediterranean, Tarragona is a port city in Catalonia bursting with delicious seafood and a rich history. On the 1st-2nd October over two days, the town hosts a unique festival in the Tàrraco Arena Plaza, the Concurs de Castells where teams compete to build the highest human towers. Dating back to the 18th century, and included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative List, the festival draws in crowds of bewildered spectators who watch the 32 teams of all ages demonstrate their balance, strength and agility to build human towers up to 42 feet high. Displaying the ultimate demonstration of teamwork, the festival is truly something to behold and visitors can enjoy dance performances, live music and spectacular fireworks, ideal for the 72% of travelers who say their motivation to travel is driven by their desire to see as much as possible.* After witnessing some extraordinary human towers, travelers can also behold the towering cathedral of Tarragona in the city’s medieval city or even visit the ruins of the coastal amphitheater from Roman times to discover the competitions of the past. After sitting at the edge of their seat at the festival, visitors can enjoy some peace and quiet at the Parc Samà and walk among the picturesque vineyard and olive and almond trees, spotting colorful peacocks on the way. 

Where to stay: The H10 Imperial Tarraco 4* Sup is a gorgeous boutique hotel with picture-perfect views of the Mediterranean sea and is just a short walk away from where the Concurs de Castells is hosted. Featuring an outdoor swimming pool, beautiful garden and fitness center, guests can take inspiration from the Concur de Castells and work on their strength and mobility for human tower building. The hotel has a great restaurant serving Mediterranean and European cuisine and even a fun food truck by the outdoor pool serving delicious salads and burgers. As a Travel Sustainable stay, the hotel invests a percentage of revenue back into community or sustainability projects and is also a certified Travel Proud property welcoming all guests. 

Lopburi Monkey Banquet (November 26 2023) – Lopburi, Thailand 

On the 26th November, the local community of the town of Lopburi in Thailand and visitors from far and wide congregate together for the annual monkey banquet. Yes, that’s right, the monkeys of the town are spoiled and treated to an incredible feast with colorful fruit, vibrant vegetables and a wide selection of juices. Founded by a local businessman in 1989, the festival’s aim is to thank the local monkeys and express the town’s gratitude to the adored animals who attract visitors to the town and promote local tourism. The Phra Prang Sam Yot temple, a place of Hindu worship dating back to the 13th century, hosts thousands of monkeys who are provided with tons of bananas, apples, grapes and juices which also provides an incredible photo opportunity for witnesses to capture. Located north of Bangkok, Lopburi is a hidden Thai gem home to countless welcoming and friendly monkeys. Visitors can explore the magnificent temples while culture vultures can visit the National Museum and King Narai Palace to see incredible treasures from historical eras. For those seeking some adventure on a day out, a Khao Yai National Park Tour will immerse travelers in tropical nature on an incredible hike around waterfalls and local flora and fauna.

Where to stay: MRK Resort & Massage offers a small, traditional stay just outside the center of town in Lopburi and a short drive away from the Monkey Banquet. The charming stay offers air-conditioned rooms to cool off in the Thai heat and has a lovely garden to unwind in and guests can, of course, relax at the end of the day with a traditional Thai massage. This Travel Sustainable stay serves deliciously spicy Thai food using locally sourced ingredients in its restaurant that guests can dig into before attending a grand banquet that is only for the town’s monkeys. 

Night of the Radishes (December 23 2023) – Oaxaca, Mexico 

Christmastime and the festive period are full of festivals and celebrations, but Oaxaca in Mexico hosts a unique and unusual festival on December 23 each year. The Noche de los Rábanos, translating to the Night of the Radishes, is a special event revolving around the art of carving oversized radishes. As Oaxaca has strong wood carving traditions, the quirky festival originated from farmers carving radishes to grab the attention of customers at the Christmas markets. In 1897, the city created a formal competition, and the local government even had to dedicate land to the growing of radishes especially for the event. The festival now attracts thousands of amazed visitors each year from all over the world and radishes are carved into dramatic scenes, wild animals or mythical creatures the more alternative the better, and is still a fantastic way to promote local agriculture. Oaxaca is blessed with beautiful plazas and majestic churches connected by tranquil streets oozing with Latin American culture. Travelers can enjoy the local flavors by pursuing local markets and bohemian bars. If in Oaxaca for the Night of the Radishes, travelers can embrace the vibrant arts and crafts scene with an Oaxaca Artisan Villages Tour and visit local studios to witness the process of making ceramics, belts, textiles and wood figures.

Where to stay: Located in the city center a short walk away from Oaxaca Cathedral, Grana B&B is an authentically traditional stay with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The B&B has simply decorated spacious rooms with some lucky enough to feature a private balcony to admire the city. The hotel’s terrace is a sociable space that has comfy hammocks that guests can relax in while reading a book or indulging in a snooze. Travelers can enjoy a drink with other visitors to the city and exchange notes and thoughts on the radish festival. The Travel Sustainable stay also provides guests with info about local ecosystems, history, culture, and visitor etiquette for those seeking to be fully immersed in the city of Oaxaca. 

Lerwick Up Helly Aa (January 30 2024) – Shetland, Scotland

Lerwick is the main town and port of the archipelago of Shetland in Scotland and is a remote but majestic destination that especially comes to life on the last Tuesday in January every year during the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, the biggest annual fire festival in Shetland with smaller festivals alighting over the island. This traditional festival which originated in the 1880s involves a series of marches with participants dressed in Viking traditional wear which culminates in a huge torch-lit procession and the burning of a galley boat perfect for the two thirds (66%) of travelers who said finding thrills and adventure is a key motivation to travel.* This dream-like festival has been nicknamed the northern Mardi Gras and encapsulates the island’s spirit and heritage by performing pagan Norse rituals to mark the Sun’s return after a long dark winter. The volunteer-led festival is also steeped in secrecy, especially around what the head of the festival the ‘Guizer Jarl’ will wear and which character from the Viking tales they will represent. Besides the festivities, Lerwick has much more to offer. Featuring stunning sandstone buildings and cute bakeries, it’s a town full of Scottish charm where travelers can enjoy walks in the fresh sea air. 

Where to stay: Located in the center of Lerwick, just a short walk to where the action of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa takes place, the Islesburgh House Hostel is a grand Victorian building that has been converted into a charming hostel. Situated near the idyllic Bain’s Beach, the stay overlooks the stunning Jubilee flower park and also has a garden of its own for guests to soak in the fresh Scottish air on the UK’s most northerly island. The stay features mixed dormitories and private rooms for guests seeking to get into the community spirit during Lerwick Up Helly Aa to enjoy the company of other travelers during this unique and sociable festival. 

The Battle of Oranges, February 11-13 2024 – Ivrea, Italy 

In northwestern Italy,the quaint town of Ivrea transforms into a vibrant carnival in mid-February each year. The Carnival of Ivrea culminates with the Battle of the Oranges, and the clue is in the name of this festival which is perfect for citrus lovers. Dating back to 1808, the Battle of the Oranges symbolizes and commemorates a local revolution in the town but involves oranges and protection padding in the present day instead of swords and weapons. This hilariously unique festival involves nine teams of Arancini, the orange throwers, and some even ride horse-drawn carriages through the town of Ivrea. Around 7,000 people flock to the streets of Ivrea and it’s estimated that over 6,000 tonnes of oranges are sacrificed which equates to 4.2 million oranges. Situated on the road to the Aosta Valley, Ivrea is a small and charming town steeped in history with picturesque buildings. The city of Turin is also an hour’s drive away and is a fantastic visit to soak up the cultural, metropolitan city and feast on delicious pasta for those seeking an escape from oranges. To uncover Turin’s fantastical history, a Myths and Legends Guided Tour at Night will take travelers on a historical journey through the lively Quadrilatero and Centro districts for a night of storytelling with an expert local guide. 

Where to stay: Overlooking the Dora Baltea river, the Dora maison de charme is just as charming as its name suggests. This lovely guest house is blessed with stunning views of the picturesque town and its light and modern interiors matched with the juxtaposition of its traditionally classic Italian building create a fantastic stay just walking distance from where the giant orange food fight takes place. The guest house provides an exquisite English or Italian breakfast for guests to start the day right and also offers bikes to rent which is the perfect way to explore the surrounding natural area. The Travel Sustainable stay also provides guests with information regarding local ecosystems, heritage, and culture for travelers interested in hearing more about the traditions and customs of a town that hosts such a unique festival.

International Hair Freezing Contest, March 2024 – Yukon, Canada

In the northwest corner of Canada, the International Hair Freezing Contest held in Yukon each year, is one of the wildest and wackiest events in the world and is not for the weak-hearted. Held in the mesmerizing Takhini Hot Springs, the competition was founded in 2011 and has grown into a viral sensation creating some unbelievable photos. The competition features several categories and participants use the perfect weather conditions to freeze their hair in temperatures of -20℃ (-4℉) in under a minute while keeping toasty warm in the hot springs which are cozy and up to 40℃ (104℉). The winners will have the craziest hairstyles and win an unlimited pass to enjoy the Takhini Hot Springs throughout the year. Yukon itself is blessed with incredible natural settings and jaw-dropping views of the beautiful wilderness. In winter, travelers can ski through nature reserves and skate across glistening lakes. In June and July, Yukon gets around 21 hours of sunlight a day and is ideal for mountain biking, canoeing and the hiking trails in the Kluane National Park and Reserve come highly recommended. 

Where to stay: Just a short drive to the local town of Whitehorse, the cozy Inn on the Lake - Whitehorse is located on the shores of the picturesque Marsh Lake and is just under an hour’s drive away from the chillingly fun festival. This relaxed and wooden lodge has a warm and homely feel and some guests may be lucky enough to witness the Aurora Borealis, the local and spectacular Northern Lights. The stay offers kayaking, mountain biking, and snowshoeing activities for guests seeking a Canadian expedition. For a more relaxed stay, guests can unwind in the lodge’s outdoor hot tub and even attempt to practice freezing their hair during the colder months if brave enough to enter the international competition. 

*Research commissioned by and independently conducted among a sample of 42,513 respondents across 33 markets (2,000 from USA, 1,008 from Canada, 2,000 from Mexico, 1,000 from Colombia, 2,000 from Brazil, 1,000 from Argentina, 2,000 from Australia, 1,000 from New Zealand, 2,000 from Spain, 2,000 from Italy, 2,000 from France, 2,000 from UK, 2,000 from Germany, 1,000 from Netherlands, 1,000 from Denmark, 1,000 from Sweden, 1,000 from Croatia, 1,000 from Switzerland, 1,000 from Belgium, 1,000 from Ireland, 1,000 from Portugal, 1,000 from Israel, 2,000 from India, 1,000 from China, 1,005 from Hong Kong, 1,000 from Thailand, 1,000 from Singapore, 1,000 from Taiwan, 1,000 from Vietnam, 1,000 from South Korea, 1,000 from Japan, 500 from UAE). In order to participate in this survey, respondents had to be 18 years of age or older, had to have traveled at least once in the past 12 months, and planning to travel in 2023 and be either the primary decision maker or involved in the decision making of their travel. The survey was taken online and took place in January and February 2023.