Thimphu Tsechu, September/October
Paro Tsechu, March/April
Punakha Drubchen, February/March
Ura Yakchoe, April/May
Jampey Lhakhang Drup, October/November
The mercury stays low in Phobjikha and Bumthang, but things are warmer in the lower elevations of Punakha and the east, and there are loads of festivals, with few crowds.
The balmy Punakha valley hosts this unique three-day event, whose highlight is a dramatic re-creation of a 17th-century battle, featuring hundreds of costumed warriors. A three-day tsechu then follows. The festival follows the lunar calendar, so it can fall in March.
Thousands of pilgrims from eastern Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh circumambulate this stupa during two festivals, set two weeks apart. Unlike monastic festivals, this celebration feels more like a local fair. The main festival is from the 13th to 15th of the first lunar month, so can happen in March.
Bhutanese mark their New Year by painting their houses, visiting the local monastery, and holding epic archery and darts tournaments. The event follows the lunar Bhutanese calendar and there are lots of regional variations, so it can happen anytime between mid-January and mid-March.
Highlanders from as far away as Laya and Sakteng attend this tourism fair in the upper Bumthang valley, selling such local products as conical hats from Laya and fermented cheese from Sakteng. Traditional games and masked dances make it an interesting (if slightly contrived) addition to the festival scene.
Spring, from March to May, is an excellent time to visit Bhutan, for both touring and trekking. Mountain views can be cloudy, but the magnificent rhododendrons are in bloom and bird life is abundant.
Hundreds of people travel to this pilgrimage site in the east of the country for a night of celebrations and ritual circumambulations of the sacred black rock. It takes place between the 8th and 10th of the second lunar month, so can be held in April.
April is the second most-popular month to visit Bhutan, partly because temperatures are comfortably warm. The Paro tsechu is a big draw and trekking is good.
This very popular festival features four days of cham (religious ritual dance) followed by the predawn unfurling of a giant thangka (painted or embroidered religious picture) depicting the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. The first day's ceremonies are in Paro Dzong, before the action moves outside. It can also be held in March.
Warm weather and continued rhododendron blooms at higher elevations make this a fine time to trek, but there's less chance of blue skies at the top of the mountain. Bring some rain gear just in case.
The end of spring brings warm and dusty weather, with rain and cloud increasing towards the end of the month. The lighter crowds and good weather still make it a good month to visit, though it's already hot at lower elevations.
A small-town vibe marks this three-day festival featuring religious processions, dances and local moonshine. The only problem is that dates are notoriously unreliable. The festival can happen in April, but is only fixed a few weeks in advance.
On the first day of the fourth lunar month, the entire monk body moves from Punakha to the summer residence in Thimphu. The procession includes the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and several sacred relics, and local people line up along the route to receive a blessing.
June & July
Monsoon clouds can obscure views and cancel flights at Paro airport. As the rains intensify, roads can wash away. The spectacular wildflowers at this time of year in the high valleys are a botanist's dream.
Bumthang is the place to visit in the fifth lunar month. Nimalung Goemba has a three-day festival starting on the eighth day, with the final day coinciding with the nearby Kurjey tsechu. Can be held in July.
Monks from Trongsa Dzong perform religious dances for this one-day festival in Bumthang. The date also marks the birthday of Guru Rinpoche, which is celebrated by prayer ceremonies across Bhutan. A three-day tsechu at Nimalung Goemba starts two days before Kurjey tsechu.
The summer monsoon (June to September) dominates Bhutan, which receives more rainfall than any other Himalayan region. The rains peak during July, making road travel to the east precarious, but the lush foliage and fresh mushrooms, mangoes and avocados go some way to compensate.
The first half of the month is still rainy, but by the end of it the monsoon has washed the Himalayan skies clear and several big festivals coincide with the beginning of the main tourist season.
Crowds can be thick during the four days of spectacular monk dancing in Trashi Chhoe Dzong (over 3000 tourists attend each year). The event can also fall in October. The preceding three-day dromchoe festivities (celebrating the defeat of the Tibetans in the 17th century) are generally open to Bhutanese only.
Sleepy Haa only truly wakes during this festival. Monk dances are held on the eighth and ninth days of the eighth lunar month in the courtyard of the Lhakhang Kharpo, before the final day's action moves to nearby Wangchulo Dzong.
Tamshing Phala Choepa
The Bumthang valley offers a double shot of festivals in the eighth lunar month. From the ninth to 11th you can enjoy dances at Tamshing Goemba, before relocating three days later to nearby Thangbi Goemba for three days of festivities. Both festivals can be held in October.
You may have to camp to catch this remote three-day festival, but if you do, you'll get to see masked dances and the performance of a 300-year-old folk song called goenzhey, believed to have been composed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal when he first came to Bhutan via Laya in 1616.
October is the single most popular month to visit Bhutan. Temperatures are warm, mountain views are clear and tour groups are everywhere. Make your hotel and flight bookings well in advance.
Jampey Lhakhang Drup
Cham dances and bonfires commemorate the establishment of this 7th-century temple. The first evening features a famous midnight 'naked fire dance'. The fun lasts from the 15th to the 18th of the ninth lunar month, so it can occur in November. The four-day Jakar tsechu occurs a week before.
This three-day festival at Prakhar Goemba, in the Chumey valley, shares the same dates as the Jampey Lhakhang Drup, so you can easily double up.
Trekking is superb everywhere in Bhutan in October and this is when most tour companies operate their treks. Nights can be cold at high elevations, but the views of snowy peaks such as 7314m Jhomolhari are superb.
A good month weather-wise, though pack a jumper for the evenings. Several smaller festivals offer a good alternative to the over-visited Paro and Thimphu tsechus.
Black-Necked Crane Festival
This modern festival in Phobjikha is held on 11 November. Local children perform dances in crane costumes in the courtyard of Gangte Goemba to celebrate the winter return of more than 300 black-necked cranes.
Mongar offers a smaller, more intimate festival experience than most others in Bhutan, with more opportunities for photography and cultural interaction. The little-visited Trashigang tsechu occurs on the same three days, which can fall in December.
Ngang Lhakhang Shey
This three-day festival at Ngang Lhakhang (Swan Temple) in upper Bumthang features some unusual dances by noblemen from two local clans, as well as masked dances. The festival can fall in December.
A little-visited, three-day festival in the far east that includes the unveiling of a large thangka and the displaying of a statue of Guru Rinpoche in the main courtyard on the last day. It shares the same dates as tsechus in Mongar and Pemagatshel.
December marks the beginning of winter, with possible snow at higher elevations, though it's not a bad time for touring western Bhutan. The high passes to Haa and the east may be temporarily snowbound.
Very few tourists make it to this remote monastic festival, way out in the extreme northeast of the country. Festivities also take place simultaneously in nearby Dungkhar. The festival can be held in January.
This is one of the oldest and least-visited festivals in the country. Three days of dancing run from the ninth to the 11th of the 11th lunar month, so it can be held in January. The final day features the hanging of a giant thondrol (a special-occasion thangka).
Druk Wangyel Tsechu
This new festival on 13 December features masked dances performed by the Bhutan Army atop the Dochu La, set against a rather splendid backdrop of Himalayan peaks.
Several new tourism-oriented festivals have been inaugurated in Bhutan in recent years. While they may lack the authenticity of Bhutan's main religious tsechus, they can be fun and are worth a visit if you are in the region. All offer traditional sports such as archery, wrestling and darts, plus mask dances, cultural dances and plenty of local foods and products. Apart from the Nomad's Festival in upper Bumthang, try the Alpine Festival in Haa in the first or second weekend in July, the Mushroom Festival in Ura in August and the Takin Festival at Gasa in the third weekend of February.