Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
Take your classic winter carnival, put it on steroids and you’ll get the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China. There are four vast theme parks—Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, Harbin Ice and Snow World, Songhua River Ice and Snow Happy Valley, and the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair—and each one is more fantastical and rainbow-coloured than the last. Marvel at colossal sculptures that seem remarkably lifelike for frozen water and partake in sledding competitions and parades. Don’t forget your furs as the temperature can hit a bone-chilling -30C. January 5 to February 8; harbinice.com.
Cartagena International Music Festival
For eight days each January, Cartagena, one of Colombia’s most photogenic cities, opens its bougainvillea-covered colonial spaces to the public for performances by classical musicians from around the world. Founded by the late Italian-American harpist Victor Salvi and his Colombian wife Julia, there are also masterclasses with top musicians and, in true Colombian style, endless opportunities to dance in the streets, cocktail in hand. January 6–16; cartagenamusicfestival.com.
Carnival of Venice
Walking around the Italian carnival is like stepping into a world you last experienced in literature class at the age of 16. Men in ruffles and knickerbockers prance down narrow walkways while women in petticoats flirt with amorous gondoliers as they glide around the city. There are carnivals and parades each morning and masked balls in the evening—if ever there was a moment to let your hair down and enjoy the more eccentric side of Italian life, this is it. February 11–28; carnevale.venezia.it.
If the idea of adventure travel gets you going then look no further than Beyond Sahara in Morocco, an activity-based festival, for your next holiday. Options include sand-boarding, a 5km desert run and camel races. Happily, the organisers behind it know that even adrenalin junkies need a few luxuries—think traditional Moroccan cooking by candlelight and four-poster beds to collapse into after a day in the sun. March 3–6; takemebeyond.co.uk.
The largest Asia-based art fair in the world, Art Basel in Hong Kong has cemented the city’s growing reputation as the art hub of the region. With more than half of the participating galleries in 2017 having exhibition spaces in Asia, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in contemporary Eastern art. And with the already frenetic city putting on its sparkliest party shoes for art week, visitors can expect incredible soirées everywhere from the Mandarin Oriental to penthouses on The Peak. March 23–25; artbasel.com/hong-kong.
Skiing and jazz: an admittedly unusual but undoubtedly wonderful combination. Although not one we would have thought of if it weren’t for the Tanzcafe Arlberg festival—a new fixture on the Austrian ski scene’s calendar. Every April, the small town of Lech gets transformed into a snowier version of New Orleans with hundreds of jazz bands and swing orchestras filling up all the cafes and bars. Try to time your dates for the end-of-season musical extravaganza at the Kristiania Hotel on the 17th. April 2–17; lechzuers.com/tanzcafe-arlberg.
National Cheese Festival
Are there any two words in the English language more tempting than “cheese festival?” Clearly not to the 100,000 avid fans of fromage who flock to the historic main square in Trujillo, Spain, each spring for this three-day celebration of all things cheese. Visitors can sample over 500 different types of queso and dine in one of the square’s six restaurants, all of which create cheesy regional menus complemented by local wines. April 29 to May 2; trujillovillasespana.com/fiestas-festivals.
Stars of the White Nights Festival
Let’s be honest, you probably won’t visit St Petersburg too many times in your life. So when you’re there, why not try to fit in as many cultural events as you can? The best way to do this is by visiting during this annual Russian festival featuring a series of classical ballets, operas and orchestral performances. While the festival has only been in existence since 1993, some of the traditions that are part of it—such as the Carnivals of the White Nights, and the Scarlet Sails fireworks display—date back many years. May 26 to July 23; mariinsky.us.
It goes without saying that a seven-day, 250km race in China's Gobi Desert’s stifling heat is not for the faint-hearted. Often described as the antidote to modern life, this race will show you exactly where your limits lie. June 18–24; 4deserts.com/gobimarch.
If the thought of falling in mud and drinking warm beer for three days leaves you cold, then fear not—you’re not too old for festivals, you’ve just been going to the wrong ones. Set in warm, beautiful Lisbon, Portugal, Nos Alive is for people who like their music festivals with a large dash of running water and a side of art galleries, sea swimming and sunbathing. And in Iberian fashion, the gates open at 4pm and shut at 4am, so you can dance all night (the xx, Foo Fighters and Depeche Mode are already confirmed) and relax on the beach all day. July 6–8; nosalive.com.
Tosca at the Verona Festival
Yes, the New York Met is rather wonderful, and the Palais Garnier in Paris is adorned with more gold than Trump Tower, but can any opera experience beat sitting in Verona’s Roman amphitheatre on a warm summer evening? Well, you’ll never know unless you try. This highly anticipated version of Tosca will be staged by Hugo de Ana and will also give you a chance to explore Verona, one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. August 5–25; arena.it/arena/en.
Great American Eclipse
For the first time since 1991 (and that one was only partially visible from Hawaii) a total solar eclipse will sweep across the United States. The first place to see it will be Oregon in the east, where at 10.15 in the morning the sun will be completely blocked by the moon for about three minutes. The spectacle will continue slowly across the country on a path that exits at South Carolina. August 21; greatamericaneclipse.com.
Despite the name, this Munich-based festival mainly takes place in September, and despite the overwhelming focus on beer, it also offers the best sauerkraut and weisswurst in the world. Oktoberfest-approved brews include Paulaner and Augustiner—but the main reason we want to go is that we know how adorable we’d look in the required dirndls and lederhosen. September 16 to October 3; oktoberfest.de.
So you know all about Coachella, but what about Oldchella, the tongue-in-cheek name given to Desert Trip? Set in the same Californian location as the celebrity-filled April festival, the line-up is a celebration of all things 1960s—The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who were all there in 2016. If this is what ageing is about, sign us up. Dates TBC; deserttrip.com.
OK, so back in the January section we made the potentially outlandish claim that Cape Town’s Queen’s Plate snags the prize for best-looking race day in the southern hemisphere. Well, the beautiful guys and girls at the Melbourne Cup have something to say about that—and rightly so, as their outfits hit the fashion pages of newspapers around the world. Dating back to 1861 and known as one of the richest turf races in the world, this is one of the most iconic events in Oz—the race that stops a nation. November 7; flemington.com.au/melbourne-cup-carnival.
Le Bal des Débutantes
One night in Paris, like the heroines of the Disney fantasies they grew up watching, well-born young women are transformed from typical teenagers into glossy, couture-clad goddesses. Run by Ophélie Renouard, a French PR guru with a not-so-little black book, Le Bal is commonly known as the Crillon Ball. Date TBC; lebal.paris.
Electric Daisy Carnival
A festival born in Las Vegas but transposed to Delhi, India sounds like something worth sampling. Excess is the order of the day at the Electric Daisy Carnival, held on a Formula One track about two hours from the Taj Mahal. Dates TBC; india.electricdaisycarnival.com.
Altitude Comedy Festival
OK, we did jazz and skiing back in April, so how about comedy and skiing to end the year? British comedians such as Jimmy Carr and Eddie Izzard have both been recent star attractions at the Altitude Comedy Festival in Mayrhofen, one of Europe’s top resorts. And what better way to end 2017 than with a good old laugh at the year and all things Christmassy in Austria? December 11–17; altitudefestival.com.
Rhythm and Vines
If you’re a competitive sort of person and want to ring in the new year before anyone else you know, why not try Rhythm and Vines in New Zealand? This music festival is set in and around a vineyard in Gisborne and has hosted acts such as Calvin Harris, Mark Ronson and NERD. Depending on your tolerance for mud, you can choose to stay in a camper van, sleep under canvas or in a traditional tepee village, or just go to a nearby hotel. There are also boat trips to Tuamotu Island on offer if you want to start the year surfing and swimming with dolphins. Dates TBC; rhythmandvines.co.nz