CULTURE CLUB • January 2019
Globe-trotting writer Alex Allen lists six eclectic festivals to tick off in 2019, from cherry blossoms in Washington DC to dancing under aurora-streaked skies in Iceland
20 December 2018-28 February 2019
Disney-style castles, giant glittering Buddhas and ice-block beer bottles the size of telephone boxes – this is the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, a frosty fest carved entirely from ice and snow. Taking place across venues in the northern Chinese city of Harbin, this is a winter wonderland featuring mind-blowing ice buildings made from the Songhua River. There's also an ice and snow carnival, Olympic scale dance performances and sports events such as ice hockey, ice fishing and ice swimming for the brave.
Nearest airport: Harbin Taiping
For three fragrant days in March, east London wake ups and smells the coffee, literally. Held in Brick Lane’s sprawling Old Truman Brewery, the London Coffee Festival is an aromatic, obsessive, caffeine-fuelled celebration of the UK’s favourite hot beverage. Expect latte art competitions and master baristas creating slurpable works of art. There’ll be coffee cocktail parties and coffee-inspired art exhibitions, not to mention free handouts from around 250 vendors brewing enough to keep a city awake for a week. If, after an espresso or two, you want to make one that good at home, tune into one of the live demos or talks.
Nearest airport: London City
20 March-13 April
Think of cherry blossom and you’ll probably picture Japan’s Kyoto, those candyfloss-pink puffballs clashing dazzlingly against the imperial red of the shrines and torii gates. Although Japan is the home of cherry blossom viewing, the biggest event of the season takes place in none other than the US capital. Here, around 3,000 trees – a gift from the Japanese government in the early 1900s – explode into bloom along the shore of the city’s Tidal Basin. You’ll find live music events, a Japanese-themed street festival and restaurants creating spring-inspired menus. The must-not-miss event though, is the closing parade, which blares down Constitution Avenue in an all-singing, all-dancing blaze of pink.
Nearest airport: Dulles International
In late April, while the Northern Lights sends plumes of light streaking across Reykjavik’s star-frosted night sky, inside the steel-and-glass honeycomb shell of the city’s Harpa Concert Hall, a different kind of light event is taking place. Lasers criss-cross and pulse over the crowds across the four indoor stages of Sonar Reykjavik, one of the world’s largest and most northerly electronic, hip-hop and alternative music festivals. It brings together the hottest and up-and-coming artists from the Land of Fire and Ice, as well as established heavyweights from around the globe.
Nearest airport: Keflavik
Like a technicoloured armada, it makes its way along Venice’s teal-hued Grand Canal: roughly 1,500 boats of all shapes and sizes, from one-man plastic kayaks to traditional wooden barges, propelled by teams of red-and-white-stripe-wearing oarsmen. The Venice Regatta is one of the most dazzling events in the water-logged city’s calendar, and has been taking place since 1974, when a handful of locals came up with the idea to help preserve the ancient tradition of rowing. These days spectators line the main thoroughfares, but you don’t just have to watch. Sign up online in advance and you could be joining the action at water level.
Nearest airport: Venice Marco Polo
16 June-14 July
Usually as laid-back and serene as a tropical breeze, the Indonesian island of Bali accelerates into full-blown show-off mode for around a month every summer, as its annual arts festival comes to town. Drawn from all over the island, but centred in the capital Denpasar, it’s where Bali’s spiritual customs meet creativity, with photography workshops, painting and cooking competitions overlapping with parades and traditional dance performances. Expect sizzling Balinese street food and pyrotechnic feats such as fire-walking, plus flamboyantly colourful theatre productions.
Nearest airport: Ngurah Rai International