A spring vacation is a unique opportunity to experience another culture. After all, this is the time to shake off the chilly memories of winter, and people around the world tend to do so in extravagant ways. In the space of a few months, hundreds of spring celebrations take place across the globe, some big, some small. There are festivals to suit every sort of traveler, especially those who are willing to stray off the beaten path, so if you’re looking for a vacation to remember, consider indulging in one of these eye-opening celebrations.
1. Water Festival (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China
Several countries in Southeast Asia bring in the New Year with elaborate, city-wide water fights to symbolically cleanse and bless the community. But the term “water fight” isn’t entirely accurate, given that these events take place during the sweltering month of April -- most people will happily take a splash of water in the face or a bucketful over the head.
These celebrations usually have a religious element which calls for some ritual and reverence, but good-natured, communal water splashing is always involved. This would be a great introduction to a less familiar culture, when language barriers melt away and strangers unite in kind-hearted fun.
2. Prague Spring Festivals (Czech Republic)
May is a celebratory month in Prague, with four renowned festivals to highlight the city’s cultural history and achievements. First up is the Prague Spring music festival, among the best of its kind, showcasing world-class musicians throughout Prague’s beautiful historical venues. If food and drink is more to your taste, the Prague Food Festival invites visitors to try different Czech dishes in different locations around the city, and the Czech Beer Festival (held just outside Prague center) runs through the whole month of May. But if you’re after a truly distinctive experience, make a point to visit Khamoro, the World Roma Festival. The Romani culture is deeply traditional, yet full and lively -- their week-long celebration is as informative as it is entertaining.
3. Zythos Beer Festival (Belgium)
Beer lovers unite! While Oktoberfest is a veritable circus of polka music, fresh pilsner and uninhibited partying, the Zythos festival of Leuven, Belgium is something for the connoisseur. One hundred Belgian artisanal brewers gather in a hall to share their fare, giving you the chance to sample over 500 brews from this mecca of European beer, most of which will never reach past Belgian borders. Held just outside the city center, it’s easy to get to and one of the best kept secrets of the local community (though they happily welcome visitors!)
4. Seville Feria (Spain)
Seville’s spring fair is a deliciously colorful event that follows the religious celebration of Semana Santa each April. Set by the river to the southwest of the city, this fair celebrates the advent of spring with vigor: elaborate parades and bullfights pepper the week-long celebration, and revelers eat, drink, dance and socialize around the clock. If you’re lucky enough to secure an invite into a private tent (casita), you will experience the height of Seville hospitality; for the rest of us, there are public casitas filled with just as much tapas, wine, dance and laughter as the exclusive areas.
5. Cherry Blossom Festival (Japan, Vancouver)
A world-renowned event that takes place each spring when the Sakura (cherry blossom) trees begin to bloom. In Japan, the festival begins in February in the southern regions and lasts until May in the northern reaches, as the weather warms and the delicate pink flowers spill over the landscape. It truly is a beautiful time to visit Japan, but the adventure lies in navigating the throngs of people who gather around the blossoming parks and meadows. Can’t make it to Asia? Vancouver and Washington each hold a cherry blossom festival in early spring, with craft exhibitions, parades and musical performances to complement their spectacular natural attraction.
One great bonus to spring travel is that most places are still in pre-season mode. You can get great deals on transportation, tours and accommodations, which may save you enough to add another destination – and another fun, memorable festival – to your itinerary.