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Whether it’s taking part in the world’s biggest tomato fight, drinking beer with six million people or running alongside bulls, there’s an event for it

In many cases, these now world-renowned festivals started off as small village traditions. However, the locals couldn’t keep them secret for long, as the colourful and sometimes dangerous events caught the eye of intrepid travellers, who regaled their tales to other backpackers. People now gather en masse for these huge celebrations. Here are our 10 faves.

Up Helly AA, Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland

When: January 31
What: This is the largest fire festival in Europe. More than 1000 costumed revellers (known as the Jari Squad) march holding burning torches to pay homage to the Shetland’s Viking heritage. The ceremony ends as the hundreds of flaming torches are thrown into a long-ship. Then the celebration really kicks off, with music and entertainment ‘til the early hours. The following day is a public holiday, to allow for recovery – so expect a party to remember.
Getting there:  Fly to Shetland from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Orkney. There are also ferries operating.
Accommodation: Dorm beds start from £10, private rooms from £17. Book accommodation early.
Visa: No visas required if you have one for the UK.

Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: February 17-21
What: While some cities like to boast they host the world’s best festival, there’s no doubt that Rio’s Carnival is the biggest, sexiest, most colourful and most famous. It’s a hedonistic festival, which dates back to the Ancient Greeks celebrating Dionysus, the god of wine. And no one does hedonism better than the Brazilians. For five days Rio is a riot of festivities, culminating in a parade where dancers and drummers strut their stuff to see which samba school will be crowned champion. Don’t miss it.
Getting there: Most London airports fly to Rio.
Dorm beds start from £12 – however, during carnival time, this obviously rises.
Visa: No visas required for stays less than 90 days for South Africans and New Zealanders. Australians will need a visa in advance of travel.

Las Fallas, Valencia, Spain

When: March 17-20
What: A spectacular celebration of fire and pyrotechnics to mark the arrival of spring. Giant puppets (fallas), some lifelike, some grotesque, are built and displayed in every neighbourhood in Valencia. The papier-mache puppets are first placed around the city and then, on the final night, burned in a pagan-feeling ceremony accompanied by fireworks. Nights are debauched as the city heats up and three million flame-loving revellers take to the streets. During the day, parades, live music, paella contests and beauty pageants keep the party alive.
Getting there: Most budget airlines fly to Valencia. You can also get there by rail and coach from Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish cities.
How much: Four-day tours start from about £160.
Accommodation: Dorm beds start from £10, private rooms from £17. Book accommodation early.
Visas: New Zealanders and Australians don’t need visas. South Africans need a Schengen visa.

Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain

When: July 6-14, with the bull run taking place at 8am every day. Six bulls are brought back to be killed by a matador in the arena at 6.30pm.
What: This has become a cult event, although the younger generations are increasingly boycotting it on ethical grounds. Its excitement can’t be denied and if you go, you should take part. However, if you chicken out, there are plenty of great (safe) vantage points. Lots of drinking is involved; expect to stay up all night and get slaughtered. In solidarity with the bulls.
Getting there: Fly to Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao or Biarritz and then catch a train or bus to Pamplona. Or fly direct to Pamplona from Madrid or Barcelona.
How much: Tours start at £200. Book in advance.
Accommodation: Rooms in Pamplona get booked early, but there are campsites outside town. You can also base yourself in Bilbao, San Sebastián or Zarautz.
Visas: Aussies and Kiwis don’t need a visa. Saffas need a Schengen visa.


La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain

When: Last Wednesday in August
What: Always dreamed of throwing more than your weight in tomatoes while stumbling around in a gloopy soup, covered from head to toe in squelchy liquid? Then this is for you. The streets of this usually sleepy town turn to puree as 50,000 people do battle with lorry-loads of ripe tomatoes in an orgy of silliness. Expect to be hosed down afterwards and don’t wear anything you love. Girls should don sports bras to avoid the inevitable.
Getting there: The closest airport is Valencia. Many people also choose to base themselves in Valencia as accommodation in Buñol is limited.
How much: Three-day organised tours from £189.
Accommodation: In Valencia, dorm beds start from £13, and private rooms from £17. Book early to avoid disappointment.
visas Australians and New Zealanders do not need a visa, but South Africans will need a Schengen visa.

The Antipodeans' guide to the world's biggest and best festivals
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