Travel Themes Part 2: Fairs and Festivals

Theme #2: Fairs and Festivals

Initially I worried that Fairs and Festivals were too seasonal and fair-weather dependent. But as I started to compile my ideas I realized that cities and towns host festivals throughout the year, despite the changing seasons. As a matter of fact, many fairs and festivals celebrate the changing seasons.
As in the other editions of this series, I will share a broad collection of Fairs and Festivals intended to pique your curiosity and creativity. Some of these will be fascinating to you and some, crazy. Remember to push past your comfort zone and Go Learn Things…..

Fairs and Festivals draw travelers.

Fair vs Festival

We often use these words interchangeably, but there is a nuanced difference between them.
Traditionally, festivals were the celebration of a religious holiday. Today festivals embrace both religious and secular celebrations. Most of the secular festivals revolve around seasonal events.
A fair on the other hand is a gathering of vendors or tradespeople for the purpose of selling. Most fairs have grown to provide as much entertainment as commerce. The popular State and County fairs fall within this category.

Straddling both definitions is the concept of Fun. Let’s find a fair or festival to add to your travel plans.


Religious Festivals

Many festivals have their origins in a religious observance. For instance, the decadent Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the kick-off to Lent in Christian faiths. The Hindi faith celebrates Holi the Festival of Colors which commemorates the divine love of Radha for Krishna. Christkkindlesmarkts celebrate European Advent Season with food, music and vendors. El Dia de Los Muertos celebrations happen all over Latin countries, Mexico City, Mexico puts on quite a display.  Any of these colorful festivals are worth planning travels around.

Seasonal Festivals

Festivals around the world have celebrated the passing of seasons and the fruits of the land for centuries.


Spring brings a sense of rebirth and renewal.  This fresh green season refers to love, hope, youth and growth. The festivals of this season reflect these themes, fruits and flowers abound.

  • Barrel Tasting in Napa and Sonoma, CA. This festival extends over a couple of weeks in early March. It is the opportunity for winemakers to share their new vintages and for the tasters to buy into the “futures” of these wines.  A celebration of hopes.
  • Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A raucous party similar to Mardi Gras, ushering in the Lenten season.
  • Verona in Love Festival ( think Romeo and Juliet) 
  • Cherry Blossom Festivals occur around the world. Japan and Washington DC are popular destinations for blossom travelers.
  • Tulip Festivals draw travelers to Holland (Keukenhof) and to small Dutch communities around the US (Holland, MI; Pella, IA).
Fairs and Festivals
Barrel Tasting
fairs and festivals
Love in Verona Festival

Tulip Festivals
Fairs and Festivals
Cherry Blossom Festivals


Summer is a time of light and heat.  There is a sense of long lazy days and nights full of joviality and vitality. The festivals of this season are reckless and raucous. 

  • Solstice Fests: The Golowan Festival in Penzance Cornwall celebrates Midsummer with parades, art and fireworks (replacing the bonfires of old).   
  • World Tango Festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Palio Horse Race in Siena is a wild and woolly event showing off regional and provincial pride. 
  • Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Need I say more….


Cedarburg Strawberry Festival


Fall is all about harvesting and reaping.  It overflows with abundance and gratitude.  These festivals celebrate community. One last Hurrah!

Fairs and Festivals
Oktoberfest in Munich


Fairs and Festivals
Cranberry Festival

Fairs and Festivals
Albuquerque Balloon Festival


The symbolism for winter is often very dark. A sense of loneliness and end-of-life.  Interestingly, the winter festivals are about overcoming this dark season with light.  In the northern regions there is a commitment to embracing the cold with ice festivals and outdoor craziness.

  • Winter Festivals:
    Fodor’s Coolest Winter Festivals

    Canadian Winter Festivals


Cultural Festivals

These festivals can be found all over the world and are a great opportunity to learn the history, culture and folk art of a destination.

  • Up Helly Aa Fair a Norse Heritage Festival on the Shetland Isles.
  • Renaissance Fairs,
  • Navajo Rug Auction in Southwest USA
  • Amish Auctions in Midwest USA
  • Highland Games
  • Historical Reenactments


Regional Fairs

As I mentioned before, fairs revolve around trade and traditionally the agricultural trades.  They usually differ from the seasonal fairs with a focus on production and process in addition to celebratory.  There are typically grass roots competitions around farming and crafting, especially at the smaller regional fairs.  I originally thought that County and State Fairs were strictly a part of Americana.  But I was able to find some equivalent events in the UK and Australia.  I believe that most regions with a heavy agricultural economy have some version of a Fair.

County Fairs

These fairs really take you to the heartland of any state or country.  This year I did some traveling to State Fairs and at one stop I met a couple that had been traveling the state of Wisconsin enjoying the County fairs. I love this idea and may try it myself next summer.  The State Fairs have really become large urban entertainment venues.  As such, they have lost some of that rural heritage feel that I enjoy.  County fairs might be a better fit for me.


State Fairs

State Fairs are very popular travel destinations these days. They have become a mixing bowl of urban and rural entertainment. Most States put on a Fair that is a celebration and culmination  of summer in their region. A list of “best state fairs”  is a very personal thing.  Every visitor is looking for something different and State Fairs can provide that.  Lists rank them by biggest attendance, biggest and best carnival rides, best music attractions, best agricultural education, best food….  Conveniently, the state fair dates are staggered allowing for a traveler to put together quite a road trip of State Fairs.
Fairs frequently found in Top State Fair Lists are:

  • State Fair of Texas-Everything BIG
  • Minnesota State Fair-Second biggest attendance and best family educational activities. Visit my post on the Minnesota State Fair.
  • Iowa State Fair-Best Food
  • Great New York State Fair-Best Wine
    Minnesota State Fair
    View towards the Midway at Minnesota State Fair

Fairs Outside the US


Special Interest Shows

This list of special interest gatherings are both fairs and festivals.  The names fair and festival are used interchangeably, but the focus is predominately on the Arts.


Obviously, this list is crazy long and I could go further. Suffice it to say that Fairs and Festivals are great events to add to a trip itinerary or to plan an entire trip around. Check out the other Travel Themes:

Be sure to check out all the posts in The 12 Days of Travel Themes;
Part 1: Culinary Tourism
Part 2: Fairs and Festivals
Part 3: Historic Destinations
Part 4: Museums
Part 5: Boozy Trips
Part 6: Get Outdoors
Part 7: Agritourism
Part 8: Urban Adventures
Part 9: Scenic Road Trips
Part 10: Literary Travels
Part 11: The Arts
Part 12 : Oddities




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