Austria’s majestic, refined and beautiful capital is a city of grand palaces, world-class art museums and elegant coffee houses. Former epicentre of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Austrian capital exudes stateliness, importance and respectability, yet from mid-November onwards, Vienna’s prettiest squares are transformed into magical Christmas markets, and an aroma of bakery items and hot punch creates a festive atmosphere throughout the city. There are truly few places in Europe where the essence of the festive season is more alive than here. For Vienna Christmas World, the Rathausplatz becomes a twinkling fairytale land, with a 150+ booths selling Christmas gifts, tree decorations, sweets and warm drinks. Visitors can also skate a 3,000m² ice rink and numerous paths through the park. Close by at the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz, visitors can buy traditional handicrafts and cutesy gifts. Meanwhile the Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung, in the heart of the city, dates back to 1772.
The Billabong Pipe Masters is the last stop on the 2017 Men’s Championship Tour, designed to foster world-class performances around the globe, from Europe to the South Pacific. One of the ten most deadly waves in the world, Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline, is famous for its heavy swells that can reach up to 30ft, breaking over shallow, rocky coral reefs at high speeds to form barreling curls of water. Not only is it the perfect wave for those willing to charge, but also for onlookers on the beach watching the incredible spectacle and often death-defying boarding. Part of the allure of the Pipe Masters is that with surfing perfection occasionally come devastating consequences. The Banzai Pipeline is arguably one of the most dangerous waves on the planet, and has claimed more lives than any other wave in the world, on average one fatality a year, not to mention numerous injuries and broken boards.
Few people haven’t heard of Turkey’s famous whirling dervishes. This annual ceremony attracts more than 100,000 visitors to the Anatolian city of Konya (an hour by plane from Istanbul), to commemorate the death of 13th century Sufi poet, Mevlâna Celaleddin-i Rumi, one of the world’s great mystic philosophers. His work in poetry and religious writings are among the most cherished in Islam and beyond. Known as Rumi in the west, he is a best-selling poet in the US with legions of avid fans. Throughout this festival, whirling dervishes, dressed in white robes with voluminous skirts, dance as if they are in trance, under the observance of a seyh (master). Their performances can best be described as both mesmerising and mystifying – the ecstatic spinning accompanied by orchestral music and chanting making for a truly spellbinding spectacle. The festival’s highlight is the last night, when the entranced dervishes spin to commemorate Mevlâna’s wedding night.
As long as you have a sense of humour and appreciate a joker or two, you’ll love this annual high altitude humourfest in Mayrhofen, which is essentially a load of adults rolling around in the Austrian snow. During Altitude, the hills are alive with the sound of laughter, and the world’s biggest comics perform six days of live shows. The first daily show – known as the Après Ski set – starts at 5pm (just after the ski lifts close) and is a raucous affair that takes place in the centrally located Hotel Strass. Attracting some of the best in the business, The Gala Show is the main nightly event, where four comedians perform in the 750-seater Europahaus theatre. For those with serious comedy (and drinking) stamina, there’s a nightly Late Show kicking-off at 11.30pm, where the jokes (and heckling) get dirtier in the wee hours. For one night only during the hysterical proceedings, Altitude’s dazzling festival of lights #LightUpMayrhofen is not to be missed.
Renowned for one of the most bitterly cold winters of all Chinese cities, Harbin is known as the Ice City for its well-known winter tourism and recreations, and its world-famous ice and snow festival – the largest of its kind on the planet. It takes 15,000 ice sculptors, artisans and workers, working painstakingly for 16 days, cutting 120,000 cubic metres of ice blocks from Songhua River’s frozen surface, to create the breathtaking illuminated iced sculptures and statues, plus full-size buildings and figures, dotted around the city. However, the main highlights are the two focal exhibition areas, namely Sun Island and Ice & Snow World. Ice slides and festival food and drinks can be found in abundance in several parks and major avenues in the city, as well as winter activities such as Yabuli Alpine Skiing, snowmobile driving, winter-swimming in the Songhua River, and the traditional ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.
A Brighton tradition for more than two decades, Burning the Clocks is a unique community event that brings together the whole seaside city to mark the shortest day, the Winter Solstice. Created in 1994 by the award-winning community arts charity Same Sky, as a way to celebrate the holiday spirit regardless of people’s religious beliefs, over 20,000 spectators now turn out to watch the 2,000-strong parade and take part in this unique tradition, which is essentially a peaceful yet dramatic rebellion against the modern-day excesses of Christmas-time commercialism. Local people make their own beautiful paper and willow star lanterns, and after the procession that slowly snakes through the city, they put them into a blazing bonfire on Brighton beach to mark the end of the year. GBP100 will buy you a pair of VIP wrist bands, giving you the very best view of the fireshow and fireworks, right on the beach front.
The high point of the season for all Bahamians, is when Nassau’s main artery, Bay Street, is transformed into a sea of sight and sound that delights, amazes and entertains all who experience Junkanoo. Tracing its roots to the music and dance spectacles of West Africa, Junkanoo is one of the oldest surviving street festivals in the Caribbean, dating back to the 17th century. Legend has it that slaves of old decorated themselves using whatever scrap materials were available, the easiest to lay their hands on being paper and feathers which were sewn onto their clothes, whilst flour paste was used to paint their faces. Nowadays Junkanoo is a wonderful celebration of life and freedom and the major cultural festival of the Bahamas. But you’ll need stamina to be part of Junkanoo, because each year it is celebrated in the early hours of the morning on Boxing Day, 26 December, whilst the main event is on New Year’s Day!
Repeatedly name-checked as one of the top 100 things to do before you die, three days of spectacular events, big bands and electrified crowds from every corner of the globe come together in Edinburgh every year for one of the world’s biggest and best New Year’s Eve celebrations. See Shetland Vikings bearing fire lit torches, hear beautiful choral singing in St Giles’ Cathedral, enjoy birling to traditional Scottish music in the Old Town, and watch incredible fireworks from Princes Street Gardens. In years gone by, 150,000 revellers from over 70 countries have even been known to join hands for the world’s biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne! This year’s packed programme includes pioneering British 80s electronic band The Human League headlining the Waverley Stage. Treacherous Orchestra, Barns Courtney, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 on the East End Stage. And frontman of American rock/hip hop band Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Huey Morgan, on the Castle Street Stage.
Don your finest winter-wear to trip the ice fantastic at the grand Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House, which must surely be one of Europe’s most stunning locations for seasonal skating. No matter how impressive (or amateur) your skills, a visit to this 900-metre square outdoor rink will look the very picture of glamour in your Christmas snaps! Skating by day is a veritable family affair, with kids and parents of all ages on the ice. Whilst “Skate Lates” feature a specially curated programme of music throughout the season, including takeovers by the likes of radio station Balamii, Field Day founders Eat Your Own Ears, and London’s biggest hip hop and R&B night Supa Dupa Fly. Recharge après skate at Fortnum & Mason’s Lodge, in the west wing of Somerset House, and munch on British classics like Welsh Rarebit and mince pie with clotted cream, or splash some holiday cash at the rink-side Christmas shopping arcade.
For eight days every January, the historic Colombian walled city of Cartagena opens to the public some of its most charming colonial spaces – indoors and out – for the Festival Internacional de Music. Performances by classical musicians from around the world quite literally completely fill Cartagena with music, including the Teatro Heredia and the beautiful chapels of the Hotels Santa Clara, Santa Teresa, Iglesia de Santo Toribio and the Plaza San Pedro Claver. The festival program is divided into three main matrices, with the audience hearing music composed in Europe, music from different eras made in the New World, and works composed in Europe with influences from unpublished languages of the New World. This year’s performers include The Schumann Quartet, a much-celebrated German-Estonian string quartet founded in 2007 in Cologne, consisting of the three brothers Erik, Ken (violin) and Mark Schumann (violoncello), plus accomplished violist Liisa Randalu.
For lovers of all things mardi gras, Ati–Atihan is the Philippines’ most spectacular festival, and its historical roots can be traced back to early Borneo settlers. Whilst Filipinos are known worldwide for their gracious hospitality and friendly nature, this particular feast festival, held annually in January, in honour of the Santo Niño (the Infant Jesus), allows visitors a glimpse of their wild, colourful and playful side, a facet of these devout and thoughtful people rarely seen in public. Ati-Atihan is a festival of constant movement, drumming and feasting – basically a non-stop riot of exhibitionism, costume, music and dance. Soot-black painted faces, feather headdresses and animal bones create a show-stopping visual treat throughout the proceedings. After days of relentless drumming and festivities, it’s nigh on impossible for even the most reluctant and restrained traveller not to get covered in soot and join in the raucous and romping all-night closing masquerade ball.
Formerly a volcano and rising 342 meters above sea level, Mount Wakakusayama, in the Japanese city of Nara, is the location for this annual event held on the fourth Saturday of January, which sees the entire hill fired-up in a controlled burn. Following a parade that includes a giant rice cracker tossing competition, a torch is lit with sacred fire at Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Buddhist monks then carry this sacred fire down to a small shrine at the foot of the hill. First, interfaith members of Kofuku-ji, Todai-ji and Kasuga Taisha ignite the hill. Then hundreds of fireworks are launched, followed by the ritual burning of the hill, for roughly an hour, with the grasses on the slopes blazing as if a red hell is draped over the mountainside. When all of Mount Wakakusayama is eventually alight, like a gigantic flickering torch, unsurprisingly the fire can be seen across the entire metropolis.
Covering the gamut from electronic to experimental, funk to free and mainstream to modern, Denmark’s winter jazz festival has been thawing the Scandinavian chill with smoking tunes for more than fifteen years, gradually growing into one of the biggest European gatherings of the musical genre. Taking place over three weeks, there are more than 500 concerts to experience at 100+ different venues across Denmark. International stars on tour, new award-winning productions and different concert themes drop anchor in both the country’s cities and the suburbs, and Vinterjazz very much kick-starts the season for the country’s clubs, and helps keep the music playing throughout the year. Highlights of the 2018 festival include the Fire! trio of Mats Gustafsson (sax), Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werlin (drums), with their fresh approach to improvised music drawing on influences from free jazz, psychedelic rock and noise. And musician Omar Souleyman, who hails from the village of Tell Tamer near the city of Ra’s al-‘Ayn in the northeastern region of Syria.
The most important day of the professional American football season, when millions of fans who can’t make it to the stadium are glued to the couch for the duration of what is often the most watched US television program of the year, Super Bowl LII will be the 52nd Super Bowl and the 48th modern-era National Football League championship game. It will decide the league champion for the 2017 NFL season and be played at fixed-roof U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Janet Jackson had her infamous wardrobe malfunction during 2004’s half-time show. Lady Gaga wowed the crowd last year, with her stellar performance which dramatically moved from the roof to the stage, in one of the most acrobatic & incredible halftime shows of all time. This year it’s the turn of Grammy-award winning pop star Justin Timberlake, who will make his third appearance at Super Bowl half time. Pepsi, the Super Bowl’s sponsor, is taking advantage of all the JT hype by starting a behind-the-scenes series leading up to the NBC nationally televised event.
Now one of Japan’s most popular winter events, the first Sapporo Snow Festival was held in 1950, featuring just six snow statues built in Odori Park by local high school students. Since then, the event has snowballed into a winter wonderland, which attracts more than two million people from around the world to the capital of the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, a popular ski spot also known for its beer. The annual festival, known as Yuki Matsuri locally, is centred on Odori Park in downtown Sapporo, where giant sculptures of snow and ice are erected alongside a 1.5km trail that is illuminated at night. There are two other sites: Tsudome, a community dome with large snow slides and a tobogganing zone, where the festival starts a few days earlier on 1st February. And Susukino Ice World, which features an ice sculpture contest and show, the opportunity to touch and ride some sculptures and an ice bar serving hot drinks.
Attracting more than two million people per day onto the streets of the famous Brazilian city, from different parts of the globe, Rio is considered the world’s biggest and most glittering carnival, and the party of a lifetime for many, with those who attend prepared to samba the day and night away for five days straight. Beginning with the crowning of King Momo (the Fat King), who is presented with an over-sized silver and gold key by Rio’s mayor, street bands, dancers and party folk take over the squares and the streets as the festivities get underway, led by traditional samba schools hailing from the city’s favelas. While the main parade at the Sambodromo might be the most iconic in the world, the real festivities happen in and around the streets, with more than 500 parties taking place across the city before and after carnival weekend, bringing the huge metropolis to a colourful and loud standstill. Be sure to catch a Bloco, sometimes called bandas, which are free street parties that take place throughout the city, plus at least one outrageous costume party.
For the people of Colombia, the start of a new year is not just about fresh goals and aspirations, it also marks the beginning of carnival season. This vibrant, four-day extravaganza – the biggest carnival in the world after Rio – may kick off mid-February, but the party atmosphere in Barranquilla starts weeks earlier, when enthusiastic participants adding finishing touches to elaborate floats and rehearsing dancers can be seen on the city’s streets. Pre-carnival events include the crowning of King Momo (the leader of carnivals) and the Carnival Queen, and the reading of the Lectura del Bando – a traditional declaration of carnival – serve as a call for citizens to begin celebrating. The Queen leads the first day’s festivities with the main event – the Batalla de Flores – an extravaganza of flowers, folk dancing and masked entertainers, with spectators in fancy dress filling the streets cheering the passing floats. The Grand Parade on day two features a thrilling, multi-coloured mass of flamboyant characters bedecked in lavish costumes, all vying for a place in the following year’s main event.
Founded in West Berlin in 1951 and celebrated annually in February since 1978, the 68th outing of Europe’s best-respected film festival, will kick off at the Berlinale Palast on 15th February with the world premiere of Wes Anderson’s film Isle of Dogs, the first animated film to ever open the Berlinale, and “a film that will capture audiences’ hearts with its Wes Anderson charm,” says Festival Director, Dieter Kosslick. Generally ranked number two in the world after Cannes, the Berlin’s film festival features over 400 films per year, including a number of international or European premieres. Films of every genre, length and format find their place in the various sections: great international cinema in the Competition, independent and art house in Panorama, films for young audiences in Generation, new discoveries and promising talents from the German film scene in Perspektive Deutsches Kino, avant garde, experimental and unfamiliar cinematography in the Forum and Forum Expanded, and an interesting exploration of cinematic possibilities in Berlinale Shorts.