Most Fantastic Festival Cities in the World
In a tight, scrappy, valiantly-fought contest, we managed to whittle our favourite festival destinations down to a very convincing top ten. See if you agree.
Is Brooklyn in the house? The Great GoogaMooga Festival, Prospect Park, Brooklyn – Photo credit
New York City
You may intuitively know that New York City has a deluge of festivals but to truly appreciate why they call it “The City That Never Sleeps”, open up The New Yorker from one week to the next. The “Goings on About Town” section is so replete with winners, it is prone to induce anxiety spasms in any culture vulture who happens to be in town (do I have time to catch Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Schoenfeld, that cabaret-chamber-punk act at Le Poisson Rouge and that Max von Sydow retrospective at BAMcinématek?). Oy, what a city!
Fave New York fests: PEN Festival of International Literature, Great GoogaMooga Festival, Fashion Week, LGBT Pride March, Vendy Festival (food carts on Governors Island), The Armory Show and, yes, The New Yorker Festival.
Where to stay: Nolitan Hotel New York
Arts and culture-wise, it is Berlin, where civic support for festivals is sturdy, not London, that may be most like New York City. The Big Currywurst’s bona fides start with the Berlin Film Festival and endure with the likes of the Karneval der Kulturen at Pentecost, Festival Days at the Staatsoper, Gallery Weekend, DMY International Design Festival and the Berlin Biennale.
Where to stay: Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin
The International Festivals and Events Association World Festival and Event City Award – quite a mouthful but one that Sydney is happy to express for the second year in a row. Yes, it seems the Harbour City’s heyday as a festival hub is now. So get on with it then, from the spectacular Sydney Festival to Crave Sydney International Food Festival, Big Day Out to the Biennale of Sydney.
Where to stay: The Sebel Pier One Sydney
While a toss-up between Rotterdam and Amsterdam for some, we give the edge to Mokum for jewels like Holland Festival, the Cannabis Cup, Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), Gay Pride and, ultimately, Uitmarkt.
Where to stay: Sofitel Legend Amsterdam The Grand
Canada’s mammoth first metropolis sprawls with suburbs but condenses a ton of festival fun in the city core. Now Toronto, for the most, is where the money is in Canada so the scene can get glitzy and, indeed, feel oddly American at times (is this Philadelphia or Chicago or Toronto?). But regardless, the Queen City scores with big-ticket events like TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival a.k.a. Caribana, Luminato arts festival and Pride Week.
Where to stay: The Hazelton Hotel Toronto
Japan’s pillar of culture emerges time and again as a festival pivot with cosmic influence. Choice bets include Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival, Fukagawa Matsuri, Sanja Matsuri, Ueno Summer Festival and Kanda Matsuri.
Where to stay: Conrad Hotel Tokyo
The second city of Australia may just come first in festivals (despite Sydney’s accolades of late to the contrary). Melbourne seems to have a bash for every whim and subculture. The ones that get the press – Melbourne Fringe, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Moomba, barely scratch the surface.
Where to stay: Ovolo Hotel Melbourne
When you punch above weight as consistently as Munich in the arts and culture department, you deserve a place in our top ten (sorry, Düsseldorf). Our second city from Germany to make the cut triumphs on the shoulders of titans like Oktoberfest, A•DEvantgarde, Spring Festival, Tollwood Summer Festival, Opera Festival and Munich Film Festival.
Where to stay: Hotel Munchen Palace Munich
Brazil has carnavales galore but only one city in South America has the cosmopolitan chops to make this list. South of the equator, the capital of Argentina is “The City That Never Sleeps”. Porteños and porteñas dine late – fiendishly late – and love a good party. In Buenos Aires, we adore the Buenos Aires Tango Festival, Feria de Vinos y Bodegas, Festival Internacional de Teatro Buenos Aires, Abierto Argentino de Polo, Fashion Buenos Aires and La Rural farm fair.
Where to stay: The Glu Hotel Palermo Soho
The linchpin city of la belle province, Québec, is not flush with green like Toronto but is rich in artistic integrity. Québecois culture makes Montréal singular in North America, of course, but the city, most notably, is the most trilingual on the content. The multicultural mosaic and gustatory gem duly delivers festival upon festival, from month to month. Top of mind (and just for starters): The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (tops in the world in attendance), Just for Laughs comedy festival (tops in the world in attendance), Les FrancoFolies de Montréal (top French-language music festival in the world), Festival International Nuits d’Afrique (top world music festival in the world), L’International des Feux Loto-Québec (fireworks festival with total attendance in the 3 million persons range), Montréal en Lumière (massive multi-disciplinary winter festival held in February) and Divers/Cité (gay pride par excellence).
Where to stay: Hotel St. Paul Montréal