Want to know what the biggest festival in the world is? Then read on below. These are the biggest festivals in the world by visitor number – I’ve been to three of them!
We often associate the word ‘festival’ with scenes of loved-up revellers dancing around in fields, usually with cans of cider.
And, yes, a good old-fashioned musical knees-up is certainly one type of festival. But they can also be religious gatherings, expressions of cultural identity or commemorations of important events.
The world’s biggest festivals each have their own unique flavour and attract tourists from all over the planet. It’s no wonder – the chance to explore and meet new people can be life-affirming (and, of course, lots of fun).
So, if you’re compiling a bucket list, here are 9 of the world’s biggest festivals to attend…
The Biggest Festivals In The World
Want to know where to find the largest festivals in the world? Here they are, broken down by purpose.
What is the biggest festival in the world?
The biggest festival in the world is in fact, the Kumbh Mela. A gathering in India of more than 130 million people at a time and place dictated by astrology. I went in 2019, and my Kumbh Mela experience was definitely one to remember.
1. Biggest Festival In The World For… Musical Memories: Glastonbury
Where: Pilton, Somerset, UK
When: 2022 event takes place 22 to 26 June
When Glastonbury started as ‘The Worthy Farm Pop Festival’ way back in 1970, just 1,500 tickets were sold at £1 each.
This year, 210,000 lucky festival-goers are expected to attend with more than 100 stages spread across 900 acres of Somerset countryside.
In terms of numbers, it may not be the biggest festival around the world, but it’s certainly iconic. And it’s definitely one of the world’s biggest music festivals – although Summerfest in the USA is bigger with a visitor tally of 445,611 in 2022, but just 49,500 per day. At Glasto most of the 210,000 are on site every day as day passes are only available to locals.
The wide-ranging performances include lectures, poetry recitals, circus acts, comedy skits, interpretive dance shows… in fact you name it, the chances are it’s going on somewhere at Glastonbury.
But music is at the heart of it. It’s without doubt one of the most important events in the British cultural calendar. Performances by Radiohead (1997), David Bowie (2000), Stevie Wonder (2010), Beyonce (2011) and Dolly Parton (2014) are among the many that are still talked about today. Very few of the world’s biggest festivals can match it for those iconic “I was there” moments.
2. Biggest Festival In The World For… Displays Of Devotion: Thaipusam
Where: Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
When: Annually, January/February
Thaipusam is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar. A million people make the pilgrimage to Batu Caves in Malaysia every January or February during the Tamil month of Thai.
What happens there is striking. Devotees pay their respects to Lord Murugan, the God of the Tamil people. Some pierce their own bodies with large spikes and hooks before walking barefoot to Lord Murugan’s temple (the largest of its kind) carrying offerings. Often these are large, colourful ‘Kavadi’ – homemade artistic works designed to gain the god’s blessings. It’s one of the most important religious festivals of the year.
3. Biggest Festival In The World For… Jazz Fans: Montreal International Jazz Festival
Where: Montreal, Canada
When: 2022 event takes place 30 June to 9 July
If you like your music complex and improvised then all your Christmases will come at once at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. It’s the biggest festival around the world for jazz music, with more than 350 concerts taking place in the city’s Downtown area, attracting close to 2 million attendees each year.
In 2022, headliners include hip hop legends The Roots, sax supremo Kamasi Washington and Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi.
Montreal is a wonderful place to visit – check out my guide to exploring Montreal in a weekend.
4. Biggest Festival In The World For… Colour: Holi
Where: Mathura, India
When: 2022 dates are 17 to 18 March
Otherwise known as the ‘Festival of Colour’, Holi is a Hindu festival that’s about forgetting all resentment and banishing any bad feelings you might harbour toward your fellow humans. That’s a cause we can all get behind!
While celebrations take place all over India, the Holi festival at Mathura is hyped for a good reason – the excitement lasts for days as the locals shower each other with paint and coloured water, eat amazing food and generally have a blast.
Holi is one of the most famous festivals in the world.
5. Biggest Festival In The World For… Dancing: Rio Carnival
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When: 2023 dates are 17 to 23 February
No list of the world’s biggest festivals would be complete without a mention of Rio Carnival. Brazil’s biggest street party sees the city transformed into a sea of elaborate floats, extravagant costumes and of course, serious amounts of steel drums and samba dancing.
The festival takes place in February before Lent and while the official party happens in a purpose-built parade area called the Sambadrome, the ‘Blocos’ are where the fun’s really at.
These block parties are organised within each neighbourhood. They have their own bands, music and dances. Well-established Blocos such as Bola Preta (or ‘Black Ball’) attract millions of revellers to their parades. Grab a caipirinha and start shaking those hips!
6. Biggest Festival In The World For… Mask Wearing: Mardi Gras
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
When: Shrove Tuesday (in 2023 that’s 21 February)
No city in the world knows how to party quite like New Orleans. The locals take letting their hair down extremely seriously and, given that Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana, you’d better believe this is one wild occasion.
Known for its music, parades, food, floats and general excitement, one of the great Mardi Gras traditions is the throwing of beads and other trinkets. Spend more than a couple of minutes on the streets and you’ll have no shortage of decorative bling around your neck.
7. Biggest Festival In The World For… Beer Drinking: Oktoberfest
Where: Munich, Germany
When: 2022 dates are 17 September to 3 October
Oktoberfest is a celebration of Bavarian culture. What that means is traditional costumes (lederhosen for the men, dirndl for the ladies), thigh-slapping alpine folk music, plenty of (usually meat-based) food and, perhaps most importantly, beer. It’s undoubtedly the biggest festival around the world for the frothy stuff.
More than 6 million people flock to Munich to dress up and party like the locals each year. The beer tents are Oktoberfest’s biggest draw, but other attractions include the opening day parade through Munich, the brass band extravaganza that is the Wiesn Landlords Concert and a fun fair. Although hitting the rides may not be such a good idea with several litres of lager in your stomach.
My week at Oktoberfest is one of my favourite travel memories!
8. Biggest Festival In The World For… Water Fights: Songkran Water Festival
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
When: 13 April
If, as a child, you were happiest around paddling pools, water balloons and Super Soakers, then you’ll probably have the time of your life at Songkran Water Festival. It takes place across Thailand as the locals mark their new year, but the celebrations in Chiang Mai in the north of the country are particularly wild – they go on for almost a week!
The water signifies cleansing; it washes away any baggage from the previous year and helps everyone start afresh. For the same reason, the holiday also features lots of spring cleaning. So don’t be afraid to grab a brush and help out!
9. Biggest Festival In The World For… Religion: Kumbh Mela
When: Changes with the moon
The Kumbh Mela is the biggest religious gathering in the world, and so, the biggest festival in the world. In 2013 over 120 million people attended. And in 2019, I joined the other 30 million that took the religious pilgrimage. You can find out about my experience at the Kumbh Mela here.
The Kumbh Mela is a pilgrimage. Hindus gather to bathe in points along the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati Rivers in India.
The Kumbh Mela takes place in India every three years. It works on a three year cycle, with the 12th year (the Mahakumbh Mela) being the most important, the 6th year (the Kumbh Mela) the second, and the third and ninth the least ‘important’. The date, duration and location is decided by astrology. The Kumbh Mela gathering is so large, it can be seen from space. No exaggeration (so I’m told) – it’s the biggest festival in the world.
Largest festivals in the world
So there you have it, the largest festival in the world by visitor number is in fact, the Kumbh Mela, dwarfing the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. I’ve been in the thick of it, and I can tell you, it was incredibly overwhelming. So much to do and see!
The 210,000+ that go to Glastonbury – the biggest festival in England – are nothing compared to the 130 million that attend the Kumbh Mela every 12 years.
Which one of these huge worldwide festivals makes you want to book a ticket?