Events Worth Traveling For in 2011
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, China (January 5th - February 28th)
The Christmas season might be over, but there's still a chance to go walking in a winter wonderland. Harbin, China's Ice and Snow Festival began January 5, but will continue for over a month. Guests can visit massive buildings constructed from ice and illuminated nightly with vibrant colors. In addition to seeing the sculptures, visitors can participate in activities like an ice maze, ice rock climbing, ice golf and ice archery at the Harbin Ice and Snow World.
Quebec Winter Carnival, Quebec (January 28th - February 13th)
This celebration of ice and snow, complete with a giant snowman mascot named Bonhomme, began as a way to make merry before Lent. There's truly something for everyone at this winter wonderland. Kids can enjoy watching parades, viewing the snow sculpture competition, skating with Bohnomme and snow tubing. And, after all that play, adults can dance the night away at the ice palace, sample gourmet food and relax in the festivals spas and saunas. With so much to do, you may have to stay for the whole festival, from January 28 to February 13.
Mardi Gras, New Orleans (March 8th)
Perhaps one of America's best known celebrations, New Orleans' Mardi Gras is a must-do for those who are drawn to a party-like atmosphere. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, traditionally marks the last day before Ash Wednesday and the Christian fasting season of Lent. Celebrated on March 8 this year, it has become synonymous with rivers of beads, festive king cakes and colorful costumes. But, it's not just a one-day affair. Mardi Gras celebrations begin days before Fat Tuesday when parades roll down the streets of the Big Easy. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Holi, India (March 19th - 20th)
How fun was being able to get messy with finger paints and sidewalk chalk as a kid? Travel to Northern India during Holi, the Festival of Color, and you can re-live the fun again. Holi is a multi-day celebration of the arrival of spring as well as the mythological triumph of good over evil. The final, most boisterous day, falls this year on March 20. On this day, celebrants literally drench each other in vibrant color by throwing dyed powders into the air, smearing them onto others or spraying one another with colored water. It's definitely a day to leave your favorite outfit back at the hotel.
Songkran, Thailand (April 13th - 15th)
If celebrating the New Year in January wasn't enough for you, consider making the trek to Thailand from April 13 to 15 for Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year's. Though there are some more serious rituals tied to the holiday, it's best known for being, quite possibly, the worlds biggest water fight. During Songkran, Thais take to the street with water guns, buckets and the like and douse each other with icy water. Think of it as a great relief during one of Thailand's hottest months, or just an excuse to soak a nagging significant other.
The Royal Wedding, London (April 29th)
One of the landmark events of 2011 will surely be the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Set for April 29, the nuptials will take place at Westminster Abbey. If you can deal with the crowds, the royal wedding weekend will certainly be an exhilarating time to be in the city. And word on the street is hotel rates have already shot up, so those planning to make the trip should book now or forever hold their peace.
Memphis in May, Memphis (April 29th - May 28th)
Travel abroad without even having to dust off your passport at Memphis in May. This being an international festival, each year a different country is showcased. Last year it was Tunisia, and in 2011 the honoree is Belgium. Visitors to the festival can explore the country through exhibits, cuisine, performances and lectures. Other events to look forward to include the Beale Street Music Festival, a concert series known for highlighting contemporary rock, soul and blues music, and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest where the public can play judge and sample some classic 'que. Events run in intervals from April 29 through May 28.
It might not be Woodstock, but Bonaroo comes close. This music festival may be in only its 10th year, but it seems to have become a pilgrimage site for the music-minded. From June 9-12, guests will converge on Manchester, Tennessee with tents and RVs ready to camp-out and enjoy four days of music and camaraderie. Past performers include the likes of Dave Matthews Band, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder and Zac Brown Band.
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona (July 6th - 14th)
This one's for the daredevils out there. The Encierro, or bull run, is part of Pamplona, Spain's San Fermin festival, celebrated from July 6 to 14. Beginning on the 7th, the festival's signature event occurs at 8 AM daily. Thrill seekers -- and hopefully expert runners -- await a rush of bulls stampeding towards the bullring. Once the bulls are released, participants run in front of them nearly 900 yards trying not to get trampled. Those not interested in getting up close and personal with a bull's horns can watch the race from behind a double fence along the route, or from the safety of a rented balcony. Either way, be sure to stick around for the bullfights later.
La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain (August 31st)
Forget everything your mother told you about not playing with your food. At the La Tomatina festival in Buñol, Spain, it's not only allowed, it's encouraged. Held each year on the last Wednesday in August, the festival attracts thousands to a food fight of epic proportions. To fuel the melee, tomatoes are hauled in from a neighboring town by the truckload. Participants have exactly one hour to hurl crushed tomatoes at each other and enjoy the chance to roll around in squishy tomato pulp. After the hour is up, fire trucks roll through the town to spray away any evidence of the fight. We won't tell mom if you won't.
We know it's called Oktoberfest, but the majority of this festival actually takes place in September. Perhaps the people of Germany wanted to throw us off the scent so they could have all the beer to themselves -- as much as can be sold in the festival's 14 beer tents. This year the festivities will begin on September 17, and continue until October 3. During that time, Munich's Thereisienwiese is taken over by millions of visitors enjoying brats and brews and so much more. With so many people, the beer tents can fill up fast, so think about making a few reservations before your visit. Of course, it's not all about the sudsy stuff. There are more family-friendly activities like fireworks, rides, performances and parades as well.
Key West Fantasy Fest, Key West (October 21st - 30th)
It seems that October used to be a slow time in Key West tourism. So, what did they do about it? Throw a (10-day long) party, of course! As if this island paradise didn't already have a reputation for being raucous, it upped the ante with this festival. Every night between October 21 and 30, the bars and clubs of Key West will throw a number of bashes -- most involving some wild costumes -- with themes like Lunar Lunacy, Party in Plaid and Halos and Horns. And of course, after you've had your fill of kicked-up frat parties, don't forget brunch.
Dia de los Muertos, Mexico (November 1st - 2nd)
The Mexican festival of Dia de los Muertos coincides with the Catholic Celebrations of All Saint's Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). It is believed that, at this time, the spirits of departed loved ones return for a visit -- children on November 1 and adults the next day. Rather than being a somber occasion, this is taken as a time to celebrate. In addition to constructing altars with offerings to the dead, graves are also festively decorated. In some places celebrants even leave food and drink as offerings, and have nighttime picnics and parties in the cemetery.
Junkanoo, Bahamas (December 26th; January 1st)
The origins of Junkanoo are hazy, but many believe it stems from slaves' colorful celebration of their brief Christmas holiday. In the Bahamas, the largest Junkanoo celebration occurs in Nassau, but there are other parties throughout the islands. Be sure to hit the hay early on Christmas, as the festivities will begin in the wee morning hours on Boxing Day -- as early as 2am. Though it's dark, troupes of wildly costumed participants and floats light up the streets with dancing and the energetic sounds of whisles, drums, cowbells and conch horns. Don't dance until you drop, though -- they do it all over again on New Year's Day.