7 Unusual Festivals To Make You Rethink Festivals

By Abi King | Travel Lists

Feb 21

Unusual Festivals

Festivals aren’t only music and mud y’know. When I delved headfirst into the #mustlovefestivals project, I discovered festivals I never could have imagined existed. Literary festivals. Arty festivals. Animal-throwing festivals. The list of unusual festivals around the world went on and on and on.

Some I tried myself, only to vow never to return again (the rotten tomato throwing Tomatina, for one.)


Well, let me make a start by introducing you right here, right now to seven of my favourite unusual festivals from around the world. No hippy flower shirts required.

Drumroll please…


1) The Creative Unusual Festival

Papier Mache Party: Festival Gracia, Barcelona

Gracia is the cool neighbourhood of Barcelona. It’s the part of the city that wasn’t even connected to the city when Gaudi began his masterpieces and Barcelona expanded along its famous Passeig de Gracia. So it seems fitting that the most unusual festival in Barcelona takes place here.

Meet the Festival Gracia, where giant papier mache figures glide along narrow streets amid music and traditional food.


2) The Icy Unusual Festival

An Igloo Festival, Japan

Kamakura. It’s one of those words I’d never heard until I went to Yokote in north Japan.

Snow was falling as I arrived in the city, 260 miles from Tokyo. Softly at first, like a scene from a story book, before whipping itself into airborne swirls that revealed a thousand miniature igloos sprouting up from the school grounds. Among the bright white and inky darkness, I watched Yokote throw itself into its kamakura matsuri a two day festival studded with snowflakes, sake and most of all – igloos.

Travel Inspiration Igloo Festival Japan

3) The Literary Unusual Festival

Bloomsday, Dublin

In a city full of literary history, pursuits, and festivals, Dublin excels itself with Bloomsday. Held every 16th June since 1954, Dubliners celebrate arguably the greatest work from arguably one of their most talented authors by retracing many of the steps and the scenes from the book.

By the end of the day, we’ve taken in the Guinness-lit stone of central Dublin, the waves around the Martello Tower where Joyce himself once lived and the heather-tinged cliffs in Howth, the seaside town where Molly said yes (though, to be truthful, we snuck there the day before as well as the sprawling Glasnevin Cemetery that also features in the book.)

But it’s the plan for the evening that for me held the biggest draw.

Reading James Joyce on Bloomsday in Dublin via @insidetravellab

4) The Outdoorsy Unusual Festival

The Calgary Stampede, Canada

There are moments in life that you never see coming: moments when clothes, colours, flavours, words, and maple syrup pancakes combine in a kaleidoscope of surprise and deep-fried sandwiches.

The Calgary Stampede takes those moments then flings them into a dirt-stomping, buckle-shining extravaganza of week-long events that left me gasping for breath after just two days.

Dubbed “the greatest outdoor show on earth” by some locals, and the “trampede” by others, one thing’s for sure: Canada’s biggest rodeo is no place to go if you’re looking for a quiet life.

Cowboys at the Calgary Stampede

5) The Romantic Unusual Festival

The Candle Festival, Malta

Beyond the candlelight, the festival proceeds like many others. A stage speckled with spotlights forms a focus for the fun while at the edges, stall sell candyfloss, burgers, and palate-scraping cola sweets.

Children skip and dance as though in a 1950s filmset. Grannies natter and the young n cool hang out on stone steps. The night wears on and the crowd thickens, the music pulses.

It’s a kaleidoscope view of the islands themselves. At once beautiful, on deeper viewing complex, with shifting patterns of commerce and artistry, warmth and rigid rules, children, foreigners, locals, music, sweetness, salt…and reptiles.

Candle Festival Malta

Streets of Malta dripping with candles during the Birgu Festival

6) The Historical Unusual Festival

Bardentreffen Festival, Nuremberg

A single trumpet pierces the air. The church bells chime. And a woman in a blooming white lace blouse sloshes a tankard down next to the bowl of covered pretzels. The foam spills over the edge, the bubbles slide into glass and the sound of psychedelic rock swells across the parasols, between the fluttering leaves and down to the table where I am sitting writing this.

I am at the Bardentreffen festival in Nuremberg, and what a beautiful, bewildering affair it is

Bardentreffen’s direct translation means “the meeting of the Bards” but it’s as far from a medieval flute-and-horn playing jig as a sense of humour is to airport security.

Bardentreffen Main Stage Nuremberg

7) The Democratic Unusual Festival

Edmonton Street Performer’s Festival, Canada

I was in western Canada covering five festivals for the wonderful mustlovefestivals project. Rodeo fascinated me; Vancouver I longed to see.

And Winnipeg, well, it just has too amusing a name to miss.

But Edmonton? And street performers? It was honest work, it was intriguing work. It was a wild card.

The English Gents at Edmonton Street Performers Festival via @insidetravellab


If you're looking for festivals that are a little unusual and beyond the traditional offering, take a look at my suggested list. They've all been visited and enjoyed by me, and you'll remember every second you visit these fantastic celebrations. - via @insidetravellab


About the Author

Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!

  • What an unusual collection! Would love to attend the igloo festival in Japan someday, sounds blissful.

    • Abi King says:

      It was one of my favourites…I have a soft spot for warm lighting in cool conditions and this town was so, so beautiful.

  • Xplorato says:

    I am up for the unusual id love to go for the Japanese Igloo festival that looks like my cup of tea :)

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