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 October are listed below.
Theresienwiese, Munich, Germany; 16 days from late September to early October. In 1810, a horse race was held to celebrate Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s wedding. The jamboree was such a rip-roaring success that it became an annual event and morphed into today’s famously large and ribald party. The horse race was dropped in 1938, because everyone was only interested in one thing: beer. Read more.
Martigny, Valais, Switzerland; first week in October. Switzerland’s Valais region is famous for its pistes, but a far stranger sport than skiing takes place here every spring and autumn. Erdinger cows, diminutive but aggressive beasts, fight each other to decide which brown-coated contender will be ‘queen’ of the herd. The combatants snort and stamp their hooves before charging, locking horns and trying to force each other backwards. Read more.
Emir Palace Rd, Kano, Nigeria; end of Ramadan.Throughout the Islamic world, the Eid al-Fitr festival is celebrated in a variety of ways. It marks the end of Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast during daylight hours (in Arabic, eid means ‘festivity’ and fitr means ‘to break the fast’). In Nigeria’s Islamic north, the end of the testing month is celebrated with equine cavalcades called Durbars. One of the best places to see them is Kano, West Africa’s oldest surviving city and an ancient centre of Islamic learning. Read more.
Old city, Ghadames, Libya; three days in October. At the end of the date harvest in Ghadames, Libyans head to the city’s World Heritage-listed old quarter to eat dates and celebrate. Residents of the modern town return to their family homes in the old city, officially uninhabited since the mid-1980s, and throw open their doors for singing, dancing and public festivities. The shadowy old city has a network of covered walkways that provide shelter from the Saharan sun. Read more.
Jui Tui temple, Th Ranong, Phuket Town, Thailand; first nine days of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar (late September/early October). Thailand’s largest island, nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the South’, is particularly spectacular during the Vegetarian Festival. Celebrated by Phuket’s Chinese community, the event marks the beginning of the month of ‘Taoist Lent’, when devout followers of the Tao abstain from eating all meat and meat products. Read more.
Main St, Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Ireland; last Friday in August to first Sunday in October. With its population of about 1000 Celtic citizens, tiny Lisdoonvara (Lisdoon for short) is famous for two things: its spas, which made it a popular Victorian resort, and its tradition of basadóiri (matchmakers). For a fee, these Guinness-swilling Cupids would help singletons find a partner. Read more.
Praça Justo Chermont, Belém, Brazil; second weekend in October. The largest festival on the River Amazon, not to mention Brazil’s biggest hoedown after Rio’s Carnaval, Círio de Nazaré revolves around a small statue of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré (Our Lady of Nazareth). Supposedly sculpted in Nazareth (Galilee), the image is believed to have performed miracles in medieval Portugal before getting lost in Brazil. A humble cattleman rediscovered it in 1700 on the site of Belém’s Basílica de NS de Nazaré. Read more.
Alleenbrücke, Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; early October. It’s not exactly the Running of the Bulls. Indeed, the ducks involved in this bridge-to-bridge race aren’t even alive: they’re the yellow, rubber species whose usual habitat is the bathtub. Nonetheless, Tübingen’s annual contest is spectacular, if inexplicable. In a random, Germanic version of the ‘Poohsticks’ game enjoyed by Piglet et al in Winnie-the-Pooh, a truck dumps some 7000 duckies into the Neckar River from Alleenbrücke. Read more.
Laos, Cambodia and Thailand; full moon in late October or early November. Also known as Ok Watsa, Laos’ Awk Phansa celebrates the end of Vassa, the Buddhist version of Lent. During this three-month period, monks sit out the rainy season in meditation, reviving their vows and fasting. Reaching the end of the challenging period is a cause for celebration for monks across Laos, and the rest of the country’s 6.5 million people grab the opportunity for a party. Read more.
New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia, USA; third Sunday in October. It’s the world’s largest extreme-sports event. More than 450 BASE jumpers hurl themselves off a 265m-high bridge, watched by up to 200,000 spectators. BASE stands for ‘building, antennae, span, earth’, the fixed points from which the adrenaline-seeking jumpers leap. Every year since 1980, the steel structure high above the New River has proven to be a perfect launching pad. Read more.
Lima, Peru; 18, 28 and 29 October. This large procession celebrates a 350-year-old mural of the Lord of Miracles (Christ). Painted by a freed slave, the fresco has survived vindictive authorities, bumbling workmen and three earthquakes. The first procession took place in 1687, when an earthquake obliterated the chapel that housed the portrait, leaving only the altar and the miraculous mural. Read more.
Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Philippines; weekend nearest 19 October. MassKara’s name is a fusion of the English word for ‘many people’ and cara, the Spanish word for face. In this Filipino fiesta, Bacolod’s 450,000-plus residents take to the streets wearing masks with radiant smiles. Read more.
Kyoto Gosho, Kyoto, Japan; 22 October. Compared with the former Japanese capital’s other major festivals, the Aoi and Gion Matsuris, Jidai Matsuri is a newcomer. It began in 1895 to raise the city’s morale after the Imperial Court shifted to Tokyo. The main event is the historical parade, featuring period costumes from eras dating back to 794, when the city began its 1000-year tenure as capital. Read more.
New York City, New York, USA; 31 October. The shrill cry of ‘trick or treat’ from children on the doorstep, dressed as a blood-curdling gang of zombies and ghouls, is as synonymous with the States as baseball and Big Macs. It’s an important part of American family life and Hollywood slasher movies. Read more.
Tanta, Egypt; end of the cotton harvest in late October. One of Egypt’s most important moulids (religious festivals), held at Tanta in the Nile Delta, honours a Moroccan Sufi who fought the Crusaders in the 13th century. Some two million pilgrims arrive from across the Arab world to pay their respects at the main mosque, which holds al-Badawi’s tomb. Read more.
Mumbai, India; fifteenth day of the Indian lunar month of Kartika (October/November). Having celebrated Krishna’s birth and Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon-king Ravana at the Janmashtami and Dussehra festivals, India’s Hindus now burn butter and oil lamps to lead Rama home from exile. Read more.
Duval St, Key West, Florida, USA; ten days ending on the last Sunday in October. One of the most outrageous parties in the lead-up to Halloween is this camp blowout in subtropical Florida. Started in 1979 as a ploy to liven up a quiet period for the local tourist industry, Fantasy Fest is a mind-bending series of fancy dress parties and parades. Read more.
Kathmandu, Nepal; fifteen days ending on the full moon in late September/early October. Nepal’s biggest annual festival takes place during the Himalayan kingdom’s post-monsoon period, when the sky is clearest, the air is cleanest and the rice is ready for harvesting. Against this breezy background, followers of the goddess Durga carry out the year’s largest-scale animal sacrifices, to satiate the bloodthirsty Hindu deity. Read more.
Need more festivals? Here's a list of further events in October:
- Lake of Stars (Malawi; weekend in early October). Superstar DJs and homegrown stars play on the sandy shores of Lake Malawi.
- P’Chum Ben (Cambodia; 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar). On ‘Ancestors’ Day’, Cambodians pay their respects to dead relatives by leaving money and rice at the temples.
- Paul Bunyan Show (USA; first weekend in October). Ohio’s premier lumberjack sports tournament features log rolling, axe throwing and chainsaw wood-carving.
- Alexandrias of the World Festival (Alexandria, Egypt; four days in October). Delegates from the world’s 40-plus cities named Alexandria gather for much backslapping.
- Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (USA; second week in October) www.balloonfiesta.com. The world’s largest and most photographed ballooning event sees 700 balloons fill the New Mexico skies.
- Thimphu Tsechu (Thimphu, Bhutan; September or October). The Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon lives up to its name in the masks worn by dancing Buddhist monks.
- Melbourne International Arts Festival (Melbourne, Australia; 17 days in mid-October) www.melbourne festival.com.au. One of Australia’s top arts festivals fills Oz’s cultural hub, with performers from musos to clowns.
- Pukul Sapu (Mamala and Morella, Bali; seven days after Eid al-Fitr). Bare-backed men from two villages beat each other with broomsticks, then apply restorative coconut oil.
- Manca Fiesta (La Quiaca, Argentina; third Sunday in October). At the Pot Festival, Bolivian and northern Argentinean indigenous craftsmen arrive with llamas and burros laden with pots to trade.
- Mani Rimdu (Tengboche Monastery, Nepal; nine days around the full moon in October) www.tengboche.org. High in the Himalayas, Sherpas sing and masked monks dance to celebrate Buddhism’s victory over the Tibetan Bön religion.
- Koneisto (Helsinki, Finland; third weekend in October). Electronic music, liquor that tastes like liquorice and lots of good-looking Scandinavians, come together in an old cable factory.
- Kinetic Sculpture Race (Ventura, USA; last Saturday in October) www.kineticrace.com. Frenetic contraptions, resembling everything from a giant fish to a moon buggy, must negotiate mud, water and sand.
- Creole Festival (Seychelles; six days at the end of October) www.festival-kreol.sc. Celebrate the Indian Ocean’s Creole culture with a street party, an all-night traditional dance and plenty of fish curry and banana chips.
- Festival du Vent (Calvi, France; five days starting in late October) www.lefestivalduvent.com. Hundreds of artists and wind freaks bring out their kites, balloons, hang-gliders and sculptures to celebrate the freedom of the breeze.
See festivals in other months of the year here.