12 Days of Travel Themes: Fairs and Festivals

Last Updated on December 24, 2020 by Janet Frost

Fairs and Festivals

This is our second installment of the 12 Days of Travel Themes. Traveling cross-country or around the world to experience fairs and festivals has been a way to plan trips for centuries.

As we happily say good-bye to 2020, it is hard to imagine our world will go back to the way it was. Every fair and festival across the world has shut down this year due to Covid. But I truly believe that these events will start to return. Perhaps the return will be slow at first, but humans will get together again to celebrate the seasons, the harvest, and our sacred holidays.

Let’s Go Learn Things about fairs and festivals around the world…

Fairs and Festivals have drawn pilgrims and travelers for centuries.

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

Festivals have their origins in religious observances. 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. Christkindlesmarkts celebrate European Advent Season with food, music and vendors. El Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, celebrations happen all over Latin countries and throughout the southwest of United States. Mexico City, Mexico puts on quite a Day of the Dead 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).


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….


Fall is about harvesting and reaping.  It overflows with abundance and gratitude.  These festivals celebrate community. One last Hurrah! as the season fades to winter.




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.

Cultural Festivals

Cultural festivals are truly special and can be found all over the world. These festivals 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 focus on production and process in addition to industry celebration.  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.

These two are slurping up the iconic cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair

County Fairs

County fairs really take you to the heartland of any state or country.  I love the idea of traveling your state or the country to experience the variety of regional fairs. The State Fairs have really become large urban entertainment venues.  If you are looking for that rural heritage feel, county fairs might be a better fit.

Minnesota State Fair
Hmmm, is your mascara smudged?

State Fairs

State Fairs are very popular travel destinations as well. I can’t help but believe that we will flock to these events by the summer of 2021, after missing them in 2020.

State Fairs 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, etc. 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 And seemingly the home of continual campaigning politicians.
  • Great New York State Fair-Best Wine
Minnesota State Fair
It might be a dreary day but it is always bright on the Wonder Wheel. Minnesota State Fair

Fairs Outside the US

Special Interest Shows

This list of special interest gatherings are both fairs and festivals with the focus predominately on the Arts.

Plan your trip to a fair and/or festival soon.

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.

Be sure to follow along with all of 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 : National Parks

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