There's nothing that truly gives as much insight into the culture and people of that destination than experiencing a magical special event.
From festivals to performances, parades to operas, and carnivals to concerts, special events cast a spell across cities and towns, transforming their streets into bustling, spellbinding hives of celebration and activity.
Attracting huge crowds of locals and visitors alike, the best festivals have something for everyone. Musical performances, theatrical displays and splendid art installations see cities and towns explode into life.
A classic example of a truly great festival is the Edinburgh International Festival. Running across an entire month, this celebration of Scotland's capital city sees operas performed on street corners, comedy shows on dazzling stages and music performances held in every possible venue.
Another festival which offers a very much a different feel is Keukenhof Tulip Festival in Keukenhof, the Netherlands. Bringing forth the Netherlands' impressive floral heritage, this event is a laid-back affair, inviting visitors to stroll through glorious displays of Dutch tulips, made up of all shapes and sizes which bloom around springtime. Like Edinburgh, Keukenhof Festival celebrates a unique aspect of Dutch culture, and as such, invites people from across the globe to experience the serene beauty of the tulip.
Erupting into a fantastic display of colours, carnivals celebrate a destination's culture and history with a dazzling array of resplendent floats parading through the streets. Alongside the parades themselves, the squares become lined with decorations and street vendors, selling culinary delights and ornate souvenirs.
The Nice Carnival is one of the finest carnivals in Europe, boasting some of the best and most intricate floats in the world. Held in summer, the warm weather often contributes to the holiday feel, bringing more and more people out into the streets to celebrate. The floats are the real highlight here, with some stretching high into the sky with enchanting, enthralling, bizarre and surreal constructions gazing over crowds numbering in the thousands.
Venice, in Italy, also has its own carnival which stretches back through history. Famously the reason behind the ornate masks which appear in souvenir shops across the city, this carnival entices citizens from all different backgrounds and nationalities to celebrate Venice. Ending at the start of Lent, those participating in these festivities don fantastic outfits in a myriad of colours, collecting in the squares and on the street corners.
Often, a city or town hosts a performance that brings out the townsfolk to produce a show of splendour and brilliance. These shows can take the form of operatic concerts, theatrical productions, dances or recitals. The concert halls of Vienna, for example, might host a series of Mozart concerts, and Edinburgh holds its annual military Tattoo.
One exceptional example is the Oberammergau Passion Play. While passion plays (plays detailing the last days and crucifixion of Jesus Christ) are not uncommon worldwide, Oberammergau's is regarded as one of the best. The most important reason for this is that it's the oldest passion play in the world, with its first performance taking place in 1634, as a religious offering to protect the town from the plague. The production only occurs once every ten years, making each viewing a once-in-a-decade experience - though 2020's performances have been postponed until 2022, so if this unique event is on your travel wishlist you still have time to make it a reality! And a wonderful reality it is, with the cast and crew of the play entirely made up of Oberammergau villagers - a collection of over 2,000 residents who work together to make this one of the most striking, spectacular, and grandiose theatrical performances in the world.