This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.
Festivals are a living, dancing museum of cultures and traditions in an increasingly globalised world. There is no better place for travellers to understand a country than an event where it proudly celebrates its individuality, whether through music, camel races or monumental food fights.
The top festivities for April are listed below.
Location: Antigua, Guatemala and Seville, Spain. Seville’s carrera oficial (official route) begins on Calle Campana, follows Calle Sierpes to Plaza de San Francisco and then joins Avenida de la Constitución to the cathedral.
Dates: Easter week
Easter week is a big deal across the Spanish-speaking world but, an ocean apart, it’s Antigua and Seville that celebrate it with the most gusto. In the Americas, Antigua really comes alive during Semana Santa, when the streets are covered in breathtakingly elaborate alfombras (carpets) of coloured sawdust and flower petals. Read more.
Location: Braga, Portugal. Celebrations are centred on Sé Cathedral.
Dates: Easter week
A religious power base since the 6th century, Braga is known as the Rome of Portugal, so it should be no surprise that, like Seville and Antigua, it holds one of the world’s great Easter celebrations. To help drive out worldly thoughts during Holy Week, Gregorian chants are piped throughout the city centre, and at night streets are ablaze with makeshift candlelit altars. Read more.
Location: The Greyhound, Tinsley Green, England
Date: Good Friday
You probably played marbles as a kid but did your parents ever tell you that if you knuckled down and worked on your tolleys you could be a world champion? The championships are held each year in the car park of this West Sussex pub – the Wembley of marbles. Read more.
Location: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain or Nasik, India
Dates: Vary widely, occurring when Jupiter enters Aquarius and the sun enters Aries. The event lasts for more than one month.
The largest religious gathering on earth occurs four times every 12 years, when tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims come together to take a ceremonial dip in the sacred Ganges, Shipra or Godavari Rivers. Location:s for the gathering hopscotch across the plains between Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, cities where drops of the nectar of immortality were spilled from its kumbh (pitcher) during a battle between demi-gods and demons. Read more.
Location: Khalna Tole, Bhaktapur, Nepal
Dates: Mid-April (the beginning of the Nepali month of Baisakh)
Bisket Jatra heralds the start of the Nepali New Year and is celebrated with the most aplomb in Bhaktapur. In one of the most exciting annual events in the Kathmandu valley, a huge and ponderous chariot carrying images of the god Bhairab is hauled by dozens of villagers to Khalna Tole. Read more.
Location: Shīdòng, China
Dates: Begins on the 15th day of the third lunar month (usually mid- to late April)
Love is in the air in this courtship ritual in eastern Guìzhōu, when young Miao (or Hmong) women and men set about finding themselves partners through the medium of sticky rice. Read more.
Location: Throughout Thailand
Dates: 13–15 April
The Lunar New Year in Thailand marks a time when the country literally goes to water. Part a time of respect and part riot, Songkran is an occasion when images of the Buddha are ‘bathed’ and young Thais seek the blessing of their elders by pouring scented water over their hands (a ceremony known as rod nahm dum hua). Read more.
Location: El Real de la Feria, Seville, Spain
Dates: Two weeks after Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter Sunday)
A jolly postscript to sombre Semana Santa, the Feria de Abril is the biggest and most colourful of all Andalucía’s ferias (festivals). If the name suggests pie bake-offs and apple bobbing, it’s misleading, for the Feria de Abril promises a week of full-blown partying. Read more.
Location: Expoplaza, Aguascalientes, Mexico
Dates: Dates: vary: starts mid-April and runs for almost a month
Mexico’s largest annual state fair started out in 1828 as a simple agriculture and livestock show but now routinely attracts one million visitors with exhibitions, a beauty pageant, rodeos, free concerts (recent performers have included Shakira and Julio Iglesias), the National Poetry Award and an extravaganza of other cultural events. Read more.
Location: Brocken, Harz Mountains, Germany
Date: 30 April
What better way to see out April than on a mountain top in the company of witches and warlocks. According to local mythology, said witches and warlocks gather on Walpurgisnacht (which takes its name from Saint Walburga, whose feast day is 1 May) at locations throughout the Harz Mountains before flying off to 1142m Brocken on broomsticks or goats. Read more.
Location: Fair Grounds, New Orleans, USA
Dates: Last weekend of April and first weekend of May
Where else would you want your jazz than in the city that spawned it? After Mardi Gras, ‘Jazz Fest’ is New Orleans’ second-biggest reason to party, a feel-good musical smorgasbord served up on more than 10 stages across two weekends. Jazz Fest began as a celebration of the city’s 250th birthday in 1968, an event that attracted musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck. Read more.
Location: Alcoy, Spain. The processions converge on Alcoy’s main plaza.
Dates: 22–24 April
More than 80 towns and villages south of Valencia hold a Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos to celebrate the Reconquista, the region’s liberation from Muslim rule in the 13th century. Biggest and best known of the festivities are those in Alcoy, where hundreds of locals dress up in elaborate traditional costumes representing different ‘factions’ or filaes. Read more.
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date: 30 April (if 30 April is a Sunday it’s celebrated on 29 April)
Birthday celebrations for queens are supposed to involve tea and polite conversation, but the Dutch like to give their queen a more rollicking party. This nationwide holiday honours Queen Beatrix (though it’s held on the birth Date: of her mother Queen Juliana) and in Amsterdam in particular it’s a crazy, wonderful madhouse celebration. Read more.
Need more festivals? Here's a list of further events in April
Golden Mask Festival (Moscow, Russia; throughout April) www.goldenmask.ru Two weeks of performances by Russia’s premier drama, opera, dance and musical performers, culminating in a prestigious awards ceremony.
Carnaval Des Soufflets (Bellows Festival; Nontron, France; first weekend in April) A bizarre day in which the townsfolk use bellows to blow air up each others’ nightshirts, claiming that they’re blowing away evil spirits.
Kanamara Matsuri (Kawasaki, Japan; first Sunday in April) The ‘Festival of the Steel Phallus’ sees a huge pink penis paraded through the streets…it’s all about protecting 17thcentury prostitutes from syphilis, apparently
One World Unity Party (Rustler’s Valley, South Africa; Easter) Music festival in a remote and stunning valley near the Lesotho border.
Trelawny Yam Festival (Albert Town, Jamaica; Easter Monday) Capers such as yam-balancing races, best-dressed goat and donkey and the crowning of the Yam King and Queen.
Aurudu (Throughout Sri Lanka; 14 April) The Sri Lankan New Year is a time of family rituals and special Aurudu food; Sri Lankan expats like to celebrate it in the cooler hills around Nuwara Eliya.
Bun Pi Mai Lao (Luang Prabang, Laos; 13–15 April) The Lao New Year is celebrated in similar, damp style to Thailand’s Songkran.
Chaul Chnam (Cambodia; 13–15 April) A lively New Year in Cambodia, when the Khmers go wild with water and talcum powder, as well as exchanging gifts and making offerings at wats
Beltane Fire Festival (Edinburgh, Scotland; 30 April) www.beltane.org A Scottish variation on Walpurisnacht, this pagan fi re festival sees more than 10,000 people converge on Calton Hill for an incredibly wild and wacky night.
Fêtes Des Masques (Dogon Country, Mali; April) Five days of dance featuring traditional Dogon masks.
See festivals in other months of the year here.
This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.
This article was first published in December 2010 and was refreshed in March 2013.