Travel insights from Jenna Buege, associate editor of The Compass

6 Winter Festivals Around the World

Warm drinks, impressive sculptures, twinkling lights and hot, hot fire, people around the world have been embracing winter with style for as long as we can remember. So while it may be a universal joy to complain about the time of year when the air hurts your face, why not surrender to the season with the longest nights and coldest days with these six fantastic winter festivals around the world.  

1. Shetland Viking Festival

Start the new year in a fierce way at the Shetland Viking Festival, the UK’s 24-hour extravaganza that celebrates the area’s Viking heritage. Referred to by some as the “Northern Mardi Gras,” the Viking Festival is a sleepless night filled with fabulous costumes, live reenactments, dancing, light drinking and fire. Lots and lots of fire. While mixing and mingling is fun on its own, the main event starts at 7:30 p.m. when nearly a thousand costumed volunteers light their torches and set a dragon-shaped ship ablaze.

2. Lemon Festival

Each spring the town of Menton, France hosts one of the region’s most popular events: Fete du Citron, aka the Lemon Festival. Dating back to 1928, the Lemon Festival is a celebration of the Menton lemon, a local favorite, as 120 tons of citrus fruit is used to decorate larger-than-life structures and floats. The floats focus on a different theme each year; past themes include Disney, Bollywood, Broadway and Fantastic Worlds.

3. WinterWonderGrass

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Bluegrass may not be the first thing to come to mind when you think of winter festivities, but concert-goers in Colorado, California and Vermont beg to differ as they strap on their winter gear and head to WinterWonderGrass, a weekend-long bash that tours three different cities from February to April. But great music isn’t the only appeal; WinterWonderGrass is also famous for its impressive spread of craft beers and fabulous mountain scenery, making it the perfect event for travelers looking for an outdoorsy weekend getaway.

4. Amsterdam Light Festival

With a new theme each year, the Amsterdam Light Festival is sure to keep festive travelers on their toes. An event where artists, designers and architects come together, the Amsterdam Light Festival is an immersive holiday experience where the historic city streets are transformed into thought provoking, playful and interactive open-air displays. This year’s theme is “Disrupt” and it focuses on the disruptive nature humans have on the world around us. The Amsterdam Light Festival runs from late November until January.

5. Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Attracting over one million visitors a year, northeastern China’s Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival dons the title of “World’s Largest Winter Festival.” Ice sculptures you’ve seen in the past have got nothing on Harbin’s, many of which tower around 150 feet high. In the beginning mainly Chinese residents participated, however, over the years the festival has evolved into an international affair with the participation of countries around the globe. To see these impressive sculptures for yourself, be sure to book a January trip to Harbin.

6. Quebec Winter Carnival

Bundle up and get ready to embrace winter fun at the Quebec Winter Carnival in Canada where locals celebrate the chilliest time of year (February) with ice sculptures, canoe races and an epic parade. After the main events, warm up with a hot cup of Carnival Grog, a strong alcoholic beverage made of Bonhomme’s Syrup, a tasty blend of maple syrup, pure cranberry juice, cinnamon, sweet grass and cloves.

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