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6 of the world’s most colourful festivals (plus 1 for colour-weary eyeballs)


From nature’s pretty hues to gaudy neon splashes, there’s a spectrum of colourful festivals to experience on your next trip. Whether you want to shiver beneath an illuminated ice sculpture, picnic under a cloud of blossom or join crowds of people joyfully chucking coloured powder, there’s a colourful festival out there for you – and it’s probably highly photogenic. Failing that, you could go all out for brown, beige and taupe…

Image by Rajesh_India on flickr

Inject some colour into your travels at these 6 spectacularly colourful festivals (plus one that’s really not).
1. Hanami, Cherry Blossom Festival, Japan
The colour of spring in Japan is pastel candy pink, and its arrival is celebrated across the country with the sakura matsuri, or cherry blossom festival. When the rush of colour – and delicate scent – reaches its peak, join the locals in the tradition of hanami (flower viewing) and have a picnic beneath a blossoming tree. Time your visit carefully though – the cherry blossoms are only in bloom for a few weeks in March/April. (The Japan Meteorological Corporation’s forecast is fairly reliable.) The spectacle is seen as a metaphor for human lives: glorious and intoxicating, but fleeting.

2. La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain

If red is your colour, make a splash at La Tomatina, in the village of Buñol. For one hour on the last Wednesday in August, hurl (and dodge) bright red tomatoes at travel buddies and strangers in the world’s biggest food fight. There’s more to it than 120 tonnes of ripe tomatoes, with pre- and after-parties – and a possible place as a candidate for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. A few tips: places are limited, so book your tickets well in advance; squash the tomatoes before throwing them so they won’t hurt; wear swimming goggles; don’t wear any clothes or shoes you want to keep! Then, when you’ve picked all the tomato seeds out of your ears, explore Valencia.

3. Carnevale di Venezia, Venice, Italy

The weeks before Lent see Venice’s streets and canals fill with people wearing elaborate and colourful costumes topped off with exquisite masks that have been hand-painted and gilded. They’re works of art and the award for Best Mask is highly coveted. On the Carnevale de Venezia programme is the Official Venice Carnival Dinner (dress code: masked), the Flight of the Angel (featuring a costumed guest zip-lining over Piazza San Marco), workshops, art exhibitions, talks – and countless opportunities to brighten up your photo albums and Instagram feeds!


Image by Sergey Galyonkin on flickr

4. Holi, worldwide

The spring festival of Holi (one of the most revered Hindu festivals) is also known as the Festival of Colours, which says it all, really. It’s a literal explosion of colour as people celebrate by throwing vibrantly coloured powder called gulal at each other and dancing to folk music. It takes place around the world, but especially in India and Nepal, on the last full moon of the lunar month of Phalguna. In fact, the colour throwing is just one part of Holi, which actually starts the night before with symbolic pyres that signify good defeating evil. Holi is also known as the festival of love, and, er, a big old rave!
5. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico, USA

As if the blue skies of the Rio Grande Valley weren’t bright enough, every October they fill with more than 500 multi-coloured hot-air balloons for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Get there early for the greatest spectacle, as the balloons ascend in a wave of colours from 7am. For an extra blast of colour, stick around for the twilight balloon glows, when hundreds of balloons tethered to the ground are illuminated from within by flashes of fire. It’s followed by fireworks.

Image by Joe Ross on flickr

6. Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, Harbin, China

If Carnival is the tropical take on a colourful event, then the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is the polar interpretation. Millions of people visit to ogle the massive ice and snow sculptures, which include some of the biggest in the world. Around 200,000 cubic metres of snow and ice is used to create elaborate ice castles and artworks as well as slides. It’s blindingly white during daylight, but come night, the snowy canvas is lit up in a sparkling, month-long display of colour that’s balm to winter-weary souls in the depths of January.

Image by Ian Carvell on flickr

7. Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea

Finally, if your eyeballs need a break after being doused in every shade under the sun, head to the Boryeong Mud Festival. It’s on the other end of the colour spectrum as people from around the globe dance and play in mud glorious mud. While the colours may be muted, the noise certainly isn’t; the muddy mischief is carried out to a live soundtrack of the best Korean pop music (and there’s more to K-pop than Gangnam Style).