World’s Best, Most Rare And One-Off Festivals And Events

If you’re heading to Russia for this year’s FIFA World Cup, or you’re already at, or going to, the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games here in Australia, lucky you.

You won’t only enjoy a world sporting showcase and the accompanying fan frenzy that goes with it, but you’ll have the chance to explore great host cities too: if you’re going to Russia, there’s not just Moscow and St Petersburg, but the fortified Kremlin at Kazan, old trading town Nizhny Novgorod, and Volgograd with its mighty World War II monuments.

The World Cup runs from June 14 to July 15 but, while it’s likely too late to get organised now, there are plenty more recurring events that provide a marvellous hook on which to hang an entire holiday.

Sporting events are an obvious enticement, but you’ll have to wait four more years for the next World Cup in Qatar and the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. You’ve also just missed the once-in-a-decade Sculpture Project in Munster, Germany, an invigorating showcase of controversial public sculpture, which is next held in 2027.

And if you weren’t around in the 1980s, you’ll have to hang on until 2061 for the heavenly sight of Halley’s Comet.

The good news is that there are many other cyclical events, from art exhibitions and religious festivals to unusual natural phenomena, coming up over the next few years – and a few that will soon be gone forever. Get planning now to see these forthcoming special happenings and rewarding travel destinations.


WHEN Every two years, next from May 26 to November 25, 2018.

WHY GO The world’s original art biennale, and one of the most prestigious, covers art, architecture, cinema, dance, music and theatre. Avant-garde works contrast wonderfully with Venice’s historic surrounds. Many Biennale events are held in Arsenale and Giardini, inviting visitors to explore often overlooked parts of Venice.

START PLANNING Buy 48-hour access tickets online or at booths on the day for €30 ($48). There are guided tours and creative workshops for families. Hotel rooms are always in short supply in Venice, so book well in advance.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME You’re not short of cultural and architectural attractions year-round, with Titian and Tintoretto on show at the Academy Gallery ( and a dozen churches hung with paintings. The world-class Peggy Guggenheim Collection ( houses modern art. The Doge’s Palace ( and St Mark’s Basilica ( are other wonders.



WHEN Every eight years or so. Rainfall and stream flow are currently below average, but Queensland flooding presages water later this year.

WHY GO This is one of Australia’s most elusive sights, since Lake Eyre has only filled to capacity three times in 150 years. Decent rains come more often. The cracked lakebed swells with water, greenery and wildflowers erupt, and the air fills with huge assemblies of happy birds.

START PLANNING Lake Eyre ( is 700 kilometres north of Adelaide and best tackled with a 4WD. The Bureau of Meteorology ( provides rain updates, and the improbable Lake Eyre Yacht Club ( has a great satellite image in red and blue.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Glittering white saltpans in dry periods, or a vast pink lake as water evaporates, are spectacular on a scenic flight. Nearby William Creek is halfway along the legendary 620-kilometre Oodnadatta Track outback drive.



WHEN Every five years, next from June 18 to September 25, 2019.

WHY GO The ”museum of 100 days” is one of the world’s most important showcases of contemporary art, spread across the town’s parks, squares, shopping malls and museums. This isn’t soft art; Documenta is particularly interesting for addressing difficult political issues, such as racism, immigration and Europe’s far-right-wing resurgence.

START PLANNING Kassel is two hours north of Frankfurt Airport and well connected by rail to major German cities. Kassel Marketing ( helps with accommodation and information. Two-day tickets can be purchased online ( or at local booths for €38 ($61).

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Permanent art installations from previous Documenta dot the town. Wilhelmshohe Palace ( is World Heritage listed for garden design and historical water features. Grimmwelt ( celebrates fairytale writers the Brothers Grimm. The 600-kilometre Fairy Tale Road ( is a pretty, historical driving route.


WHEN July 2, 2019, with seven more worldwide in the next decade (2028 in Australia).

WHY GO OK, it’s just the moon temporarily blocking the sun’s light, but we’re primitive beings at heart when it comes to this irregular, eerie and awe-inspiring astronomical event. You may see ribbons of light spouting from the sun’s corona.

START PLANNING The eclipse will be visible just before sunset within a small band across Argentina above cities such as San Juan, Bragado and Junin, with easy access just south of Buenos Aires. A small area of Chile around La Serena will also experience the total eclipse.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Buenos Aires’ UFO-like Galileo Galilei Observatory ( has a meteorite museum and great star shows, and is part of a Museum Mile of numerous attractions. Soccer, tango and nightlife are vibrant parts of the capital, one of South America’s most architecturally elegant cities.



WHEN Once a generation (about every 21 years), next from July 26 to August 11, 2019.

WHY GO Held in a giant outdoor theatre, the festival celebrates all things grape-related with musicians, dancers, floats and a parade. It was established in the 17th century by local winemakers and now involves 5000 participants.

START PLANNING Tickets go on sale from mid-September 2018 online and at Starticket outlets ( in Switzerland, and will cost around SFR 150 ($200). Vevey accommodation is limited, but Montreux and Lausanne are nearby.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Route des Vignerons ( meanders through spectacular vineyards above Vevey, linking numerous cellar doors. Lavaux Vinorama ( provides a good introduction to this World Heritage-listed wine region. The villa of former resident Charlie Chaplin is now a museum ( dedicated to his career and movie influence. You can walk flower-flanked lakeshore promenades to Montreux and Chillon Castle (



WHEN Every 10 years, next from May 16 to October 4, 2020.

WHY GO The famous play based on Jesus’ life has been performed since 1634 in gratitude for being spared the plague, and is a surviving relic of once-popular Christian dramas. Some 2000 villagers take part in the five-hour spectacle, which breaks for lunch. It features drama, music and static tableaux vivants of costumed performers.

START PLANNING You can already book two- or three-day packages that include accommodation. Sales of individual tickets open online in 2019. There are 100-odd performances in all, five days a week. Viking Cruises ( has special Danube River cruises with access to the plays.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Oberammergau, whose houses are painted with colourful frescoes, is on the 450-kilometre Alpine Road ( that threads through spectacular Bavarian scenery of lakes and snow peaks and passes several of King Ludwig II’s castles, including Neuschwanstein (



WHEN Every 12 years, likely next from late 2021 to early 2022. Other Kumbh Melas are held every three years in Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain.

WHY GO The world’s largest religious gathering – upwards of 120 million people attend over six weeks – is especially known for its sadhus and other Hindu holy men, many naked and smeared with ash. Some meditate standing on their heads, others immerse themselves in the Ganges.

START PLANNING Hardiwar is 230 kilometres north-east of Delhi. Sheer numbers make a visit daunting, so sign up with tours designed for foreigners, or stay at resorts such as Lakshmi Niwas (

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME Religious activities take place daily in Hardiwar, one of the most sacred sites of Hinduism. More relaxed Rishikesh, another 20 kilometres up the Ganges, is also a pilgrim destination and epicentre of yoga. Further into the mountains, Mussoorie is a quintessential British-era hill station.



WHEN Every three years, next from August to October 2020 (exact dates to be announced).

WHY GO One of Japan’s most important art exhibitions is notable for showcasing the latest cutting-edge Asian artists (and those from beyond), attracting dozens of big names. Each triennale has a distinctive theme, such as islands in 2017, and covers paintings, sculpture, photography and more.

START PLANNING Yokohama is an hour south of Tokyo by train. Triennale tickets go on sale in April 2020 and have previously cost around ¥2100 ($25) online, or a little more if purchased on the spot.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME One of the host venues, Yokohama Museum of Art (, is one of Japan’s foremost art institutions. A very lively Chinatown ( is crammed with shops and eateries. You can also explore the redeveloped waterfront of this historic trading port (, and visit traditional Sankei Gardens (



WHEN One-off, closing December 31, 2020.

WHY GO This extraordinary installation from British artist Bruce Monro features 50,000 lights on short stalks, conceived to represent blooming dessert flowers after rain. The lights pulse and change colour and are entrancing whether you’re walking among them, or viewing the entire spread (and Uluru in the background) from nearby dunes.

START PLANNING Book on tours from Ayers Rock Resort for access. These include a simple transfer and visit ($42), sunset tour with drinks and canapes ($90) or an evening including dinner and an astronomy talk ($250). It has proved very popular in the previous two years, so reserve well in advance.

IF YOU VISIT ANY TIME For lights of a different kind, take an Astro Tour for a stunning look at a great sweep of Milky Way and various constellations. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park ( is a great wonder of Australia.




The annual display of colour that erupts in the aridity of Western Australia annually between July and November (depending on location) is a fabulous spectacle of kaleidoscopic colour. Yellow and pink everlastings, coneflowers and flamboyant wattles are especially vivid. Numerous wildflower driving routes crisscross the state. See


The annual migration of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles in Serengeti National Park sees vast numbers of animals follow new grass growth on the savannah, starting from late December. As rains end, the migration moves back northwards in May and June, with animals attempting dramatic crossings of the crocodile-infested Grumeti and Mara rivers. See


The aurora borealis or Northern Lights, unfolding in a kaleidoscope of violets, electric blues and eerie greens, is one of nature’s wonders and all the more exciting for its unpredictability. Generally, the lights make their best appearance in winter, and well above the Arctic Circle in destinations such as Tromso or Svalbard. See

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