If you love tomatoes (enthusiastically), this festival should be just what the doctor ordered. La Tomatina occurs every year on the last Wednesday of August, but the celebration starts earlier in the week. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, festival-goers convene in the small village of Buñol, Spain for the world’s biggest tomato fight.
In recent years, the messy festival has grown to epic proportions, jam-packing the small village with around 50,000 people (normally the population is around 10,000). It’s grown so much that the town had to start charging a £10 fee to mitigate the costs of providing tomatoes, public showers, and cleanup services, as well as keeping traffic manageable.
Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival
Thousands gather every year in Gloucestershire to participate in a race against…Cheese? Despite actually catching the 8-pound round block of cheese before it reaches the bottom of the hill being impossible (it quickly reaches speeds of 70 mph), the festival has no shortage of racers willing to risk life and limb to take home the coveted Double Gloucestershire Cheese-block as the prize.
So many people participated in 2009, that the city was forced to call off the next year’s event due to concerns over traffic and safety. Now, a recently added £20 fee keeps the crowds down and helps cover the costs of the festival. The town makes a marginal profit, which it pumps back into the local economy and infrastructure.
EXIT Music Festival in Serbia
The festival certainly takes place on one of the most stunning backdrops on this list. On the first weekend of July every year, the EXIT Music Festival happens in the Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, Serbia. Attendees are treated to a diverse lineup of bands and musicians from genres ranging from heavy metal to techno and everything in between.
Festival-goers pay £99 to enjoy a weekend of music on the fortress where Austrian rulers hid their wealth while Napoleon was trying to conquer the world. Recently, the festival organizers have been butting heads with some of the local bars and businesses, who assert the festival has become less than accommodating. Businesses have cited exorbitant percentages demanded by the EXIT promoters and complained that the festival separates attendees from the bars by installing fences too close to their entrances.
International Hair Freezing Contest in Canada
The Takhini Hot Pools in Yukon, Canada host an annual hair freezing contest. Basically, you dip your head in the pools and style your hair in the wackiest way possible before it freezes solid in the frigid air. First prize is $750, but some of the photos are priceless.
The contest usually takes place in the month of February, on any day it’s cold enough to freeze hair. People take their pictures and submit the photos to the judges, who decide on the winners in March. All it costs is a $12.50 ticket to the pools to attend. Considering people flock there in droves, they’re sure to turn a profit.
Glastonbury in England
The legendary Glastonbury festival has been around a while — the first iteration happened in 1970, and it ran sporadically for a decade thereafter. Since 1981, the festival runs every year, with a break every 5 years. The festival has grown drastically, with around 177,000 guests attending each year (the first Glastonbury festival housed only 1,500 people).
Despite some rough years and notoriously unpredictable weather, the festival is considered a huge financial success. As of 2016, the festival was estimated to have resulted in an economic benefit of £35,000,000. An earlier study found that the festival was estimated to have created 10,000 jobs. Festival-goers each pay a steep fee of around £293 to see a diverse selection of musicians. Everyone from The Who to Katy Perry have headlined over the years.
You had to figure this would show up on the list somewhere, right? What began in 1999 as a one-day festival in Indio with around 10,000 concertgoers, has grown to massive proportions. 20 years later, the festival now holds about 125,000 people on each of its two weekends. People from all over the world fly in to see the hottest and hippest acts in music — and pay top dollar! The average ticket costs a whopping $425, and it sells out the day tickets go on sale every year.
The L.A. times estimates the festival has a total economic impact of around $704,000,000 and about $106,000,000 is injected into the economy of Indio alone. With $3,180,000 generated in taxes from ticket sales, you can see why other cities would want to imitate their success.
The Historic Carnival of Ivrea
If you like oranges and history, this may be the event for you. Every year, people gather to participate in the carnival, which culminates in “The Battle of Oranges,” an epic food fight that commemorates the town rebellion against the tyrant King Arduino. Multiple teams recreate the heroic battle of 1194, except with oranges as weapons. It’s free to attend and participate, but if you prefer to be a spectator, you’ll have to don a red cap. This lets others know not to pelt you with oranges.
Since discarded oranges are shipped in from Sicily and intense cleanup is required, it’s hard to imagine the city coming out ahead financially, even if it’s great for local hotels and businesses. But hey, you can’t always put a price on tradition.
Desert Daze in California
Dubbed the “anti-Coachella” by many attendees, this relatively tiny event promises a more intimate experience, hearkening back to the days when music festivals focused more on the music and less on Instagram marketability and the bottom line. The event takes place mid-October every year near Lake Perris, southeast of Los Angeles.
The aesthetically pleasing boutique festival has more than doubled in the few years it’s been around — an estimated 10,000 guests braved the Southern California desert in 2018. Despite its success, the event has been able to retain its boutique vibe, largely in part to the niche acts that get booked each year. Weekend tickets start at $258, and many guests pay extra for camping and VIP-tent packages, proving that having a small but enthusiastic crowd can still be profitable.
Kaljakellunta (Beer Floating) Festival in Finland
Beer and a river — what a winning combination! Every year on August 5, a giant crowd descends on Vantaa River in Finland to float and drink. The event is free and has no official organizers — just show up and B.Y.O.Beer and raft.
The event has drawn criticism for the debris left behind. Past years put the estimation at £40,000 footed by the city of Vantaa to clean up the river and neighboring towns. The large bulk of costs stem from having to pay workers to come pick up all the trash. A recently added volunteer cleanup day has knocked the costs down to around £10,000.
Winter Fest in New York City
This will be the second time on this list we return to Brooklyn for another failure of an event. Winter Fest promised a pop-up Christmas town on the Brooklyn Museum grounds with all types of paid attractions for the entire month of December 2018. Entry was free, but guests were generally disappointed by the high costs and low quality of the event’s attractions.
For example, a wine-tasting attraction cost $50 and promised five different high-quality wines to sample. In reality, the attraction had only five wines, and the most expensive of the bunch retails at only $10 a bottle. Due to the negative backlash, six days into the festival the attractions were all made free, and everyone who paid was refunded.
Batalla del Vino Haro
What’s better than drinking wine with friends? Soaking your friends with wine, obviously. This annual wine festival in La Rioja, Spain, which runs from June 27th to 29th, concludes with an epic wine battle. Locals and visitors alike show up wearing white…and leave wearing purple.
Aside from the battle, there are numerous other events, including bull-riding (actually they’re heifers), dancing, and drinking. There is no cost to attend — besides wine, a change of clothes, and lodging. Many packages are available for purchase that include flights, and hotel rooms (or camping, if you prefer) that can cost a pretty penny.
Lopburi Monkey Banquet in Thailand
Monkeys are among the most beloved animals on the planet. With their mischievous personality and cute looks, it’s easy to understand why. The locals in Lopburi, Thailand consider the creatures good luck and so every year at the end of November, the crab-eating macaques that populate the area are treated to a great feast in their honor.
Expensive foods of all kinds are placed around the town, mostly around the Khmer ruins, for the monkeys to enjoy. While this undoubtedly sounds like a good time, visitors should be wary that the beasts are not always as friendly as they look and have been known to harass and steal from their fellow primates (humans).
Latitude Festival in England
The Brits sure love their festivals, and the Latitude Festival is one of the largest and most successful in the country. Despite the high ticket cost and large crowds, the festival has somehow been able to preserve the bohemian vibes of a much smaller event. The event takes place annually in mid-July in the city of Suffolk.
With an average ticket price of $300, this festival is not for the faint of wallet. That being said, the festival frequently sells out, and with multiple stages and big-name acts like Lana Del Ray and Ben Folds, it’s easy to see why.
World Toe Wrestling Championships in Ashbourne
Many people might not be aware that toe wrestling is a real sport…they’d be even more surprised to learn there’s a world champion! However, this obscure sport has a small but enthusiastic following, especially in Northern England. Competitors gather from all around the world to put their phalanges to the test.
Tellingly, the annual event takes place in a bar, where all performance-enhancing substances are banned, unless you count alcohol. 15-time champion Alan ‘Nasty’ Nash apparently earns a good living at the sport, despite multiple broken bones and various injuries. Last year, he tried to insure his toe for £1,000,000 but was denied.
Burning Man in Nevada
Burning Man attendees might balk at this event being labeled a festival. Really, it’s a temporary city erected in the desert where no one can be a spectator —everyone must contribute and people tend to get very weird and creative. The party begins on the last Sunday of August and lasts a whole week, culminating in “the burn” on the last night, where a giant wooden statue of a man and various other statues are engulfed in flames. Black Rock City, the name of the makeshift city, becomes one of the largest cities in Nevada for the duration of the event. Afterward, it returns to a barren empty desert for the rest of the year.
Of course, “Burners” pay quite a bit for the privilege to attend. The cheapest tickets cost $190 and it’s an extra $80 to bring a vehicle. The event is meant to “leave no trace” which means everyone who brings something in, is responsible for taking it out. Of course, this system isn’t perfect, but they do a pretty good job, passing inspection from the Bureau of Land Management.
Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne
This is the second time the city of Ashbourne appears on this list, and for an equally odd reason. Every year for centuries, the town holds the largest rugby match in the streets of the city. Hundreds join each side to attempt to run the ball across the 3 mile “field.” The only rules are: no driving, no hiding the ball in a bag, and no killing your opponents.
The event takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. This year, victory was claimed by the Down’ards (from the south side of town), who triumphed over the Up’ards (from the north side). Hundreds participate each year, and local shopkeepers are forced to close down and board up their windows for obvious reasons.
Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race in Brawby
The locals of Brawby, UK participate in a yearly boat race across Bob’s Pond. Except these aren’t regular boats, they’re giant pudding boats. The large puddings are coated in boat varnish so they (hopefully) won’t fall apart before reaching the finish line. Competitors sit in the center and use oars to paddle as fast as they can across the lake.
Unfortunately, the event was canceled in 2017 and there doesn’t seem to be any plans to continue it in the coming years. Hopefully, the organizers can make it happen again soon since this is one of the most absurd events on this list.
World Bog Snorkeling Championships in Wales
How fast do you think you could swim while snorkeling? If your answer is “really fast,” consider making the trip to the tiny town of Llanwrtyd Wells this August to compete in the World Bog Snorkelling championship. It only costs £10 to enter, but be warned — you may be humbled. People take this event seriously; last year’s champion broke the world record for the 120-yard race.
Lonely Planet listed the event as one of the 50 “must do” things from all over the world, so it makes sense that hundreds of people from all around the world show up in wetsuits and snorkels ready to slosh through the trench, while many more show up simply to watch.
Organizers of the annual festival, Stagecoach, recently announced that the show would be postponed due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. Stagecoach is one of the largest music festivals celebrating country music.
A quote from officials reads, “At the direction of the County of Riverside and local health authorities, we must sadly confirm the rescheduling of Coachella and Stagecoach due to COVID-19 concerns. While this decision comes at a time of universal uncertainty, we take the safety and health of our guests, staff and community very seriously. We urge everyone to follow the guidelines and protocols put forth by public health officials.”
La Pourcailhade in France
La Pourchailhade is a festival where people celebrate all things pig related. There’s piglet racing, a best pig costume contest, and sausage eating. One of the most popular events of the festival is the “Cri do Cochon,” or “Cry of the Pig” where contestants compete to see who can deliver the most accurate imitation of a pig squeal. Seriously.
The local vendors love the event because they set up markets all throughout the streets of Trie-sur-Baise featuring their tasty pork dishes. The city undoubtedly sees an uptick in tourism revenue, as foodies from all over the world attend the event.
Up-Helly Aa in Scotland
Every year on the last Tuesday of January, people gather in Lerwick to celebrate Scotland’s Viking heritage. This 24-hour festival goes on no matter the weather which, as you may have guessed, gets brutal during Shetland’s winter. Attendees celebrate by setting fire to a Viking galley, drinking, and dancing.
The celebration continues after the fire dies, mostly in the local halls. Tickets to these halls are tough to come by — available to family and friends of the organizers and in limited quantities advertised in the local newspapers. Many locals spend a lot of money on building the galley and elaborate dress. It is considered to be a high honor to be part of the Guizer Jarl’s (the leader of the procession) inner circle, and these will be the men dressed as Vikings.
Electric Forest in Michigan
This four-day music festival takes place in Rothbury, Michigan in late June and features some of EDM, hip hop, and rock’s most popular acts. What really causes it to stand out from other festivals is its location in the middle of a forest, instead of an open field or concert venue. This year’s diverse lineup includes Bassnectar, T-Pain, and Kygo.
Tickets for the festival aren’t cheap, with weekend passes starting around $300. Considering many of the guests will be camping on the premises and will require camping and parking passes, total costs for an individual can easily creep up to $1,000 and above. Many guests are willing to fork over the fees, since the festival promises to be a truly one of a kind experience.
Floating Lantern Festival in Hawaii
Thousands of people gather every year in Honolulu, Hawaii on Memorial Day to remember their lost loved ones. Lanterns are provided on a first-come-first-serve basis, and people come from all around to customize their lanterns and send them out on the water. The result is a solemn and stunning display of remembrance.
It is free for all to participate, but the event relies on donations to cover costs. The costs include providing the lanterns, as well as fitting them with rope to ensure they don’t float out to sea and cause negative environmental impact. What a very environmentally responsible lantern festival!
Tmrw.Tday in Jamaica
If you needed another reason to visit the lovely Carribean Island in late April/early May, the Tday festival in Negril, Jamaica will surely grab your attention. What the festival lacks in vowels it more than makes up for in music, culture, art, and fun, in a retreat-turned-party that spans four stages across the 7-mile beach. In stark contrast to the ill-fated Fyre festival, this festival is a lesson on how Caribbean festivals should be done.
The festival costs range from a reasonable $45 all the way up to $317. Considering the location and the epic cultural experience, guests are eager to pay the cost. Jamaica has long used tourism as a large source of revenue, and Tmrw.Tday can be considered another successful endeavor, injecting a ton of money in the local economy. Despite the fact that Marijuana has not been fully legalized in Jamaica, one of the largest sponsors of the festival is Canopy Growth, the first federally regulated and publicly traded North American company to produce Cannabis.
Green Man in England
This festival is as much about music as it is about beer. It takes place in the stunning Welsh countryside of Wales every year in mid-August and features distinctive ciders and ales, as well as some of the most unique artists in indie, punk, electronic music, and other genres.
Average tickets cost around $290, quite a financial blow for the guest. Despite the cost, attendees are willing to empty their pockets for the privilege, much to the benefit of promoters and the city alike. Around 20,000 people attend the event, with an estimated 5% of them coming from overseas. Cha-ching!
Firefly Music Festival in Delaware
A newcomer to the festival scene, the Firefly festival is already making a name for itself. It takes place in Dover and boasts an impressive and diverse lineup. Guests can choose to camp in the woodlands for an immersive experience or to purchase hotel tickets if they prefer luxury and comfort.
Average tickets cost $309. When you combine that with hotel or camping packages, you’ll end up spending some serious dough. Evidently, it’s not a problem for many guests — around 90,000 of them. Although the festival suffered a minor dip in attendance in 2017 (many people said it was a disappointing lineup), it came back with a vengeance in 2018. Rest assured, this festival appears to be here to stay.
Los Angeles Beer and World BBQ Festival
This event took place on February 23, 2019, and was considered a failure by a large percentage of attendees, drawing hyperbolic comparisons to the notorious Fyre Festival of 2017. The event was plagued by issues that caused the festival to start over an hour late (the event was only four hours long) and even after the gates opened, attendees were greeted with congested lines into the venue. Attendees that actually got in at all were considered lucky.
Tickets for this event started at a reasonable $15, but if you paid $83 for the VIP experience you’d be quite upset — and many took to social media to voice their frustrations with the organization of the event. Over 3,500 people showed up, and rumor has it that the fire marshal attempted to shut it down at one point. Whether they’ll try again in the years to come remains to be seen.
Grizzly Fest in Fresno, California
This annual musical festival in Fresno, California is considered a success by promoters, despite losing money. The event has featured big names like G-Eazy and Portugal the Man, but hasn’t sold well enough for promoter Vartan Hekiminan to recoup costs.
Even if they didn’t make the money they wanted to, the event’s promoters say they’re happy to have brought so many people together to enjoy the music without having the police called. Also, the event has consistently grown since its inception in 2012, recently adding a second day of music and moving to a larger venue. The city also considers it a success, albeit for more measurable reasons — the estimated economic impact ranges from $4,000,000 to $8,000,000 and plans are in the works to continue the yearly event.
The Underwater Music Festival in Florida
The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival in Looe Key Reef, Florida is an annual event that aims to celebrate and raise awareness for the environmental threats to the local ecosystem. Past years have featured mock elections with punny nominees like “Barrackuda Obama” vs. “John McClam.”
The actual music comes from a prerecorded playlist, but performers mime along with aquatic-themed instruments like the “trom-bonefish.” Apparently, listening to music played underwater is a surprisingly beautiful experience, since sound travels quicker underwater.
Unfortunately, the festival was canceled in 2016 due to lack of funding but came back in 2018, and organizers plan to continue it in the years to come — proving that some ideas are too strange to die.
New York City Pizza Festival
You’d think if there was one festival that would be impossible to fail, it’d be a celebration of one of the most beloved comfort foods — especially in the city that arguably has the best in the world (cover your ears, Chicago!). But mistakes happen, and sometimes they’re costly, and such was the case for the New York City Pizza Festival that took place in Brooklyn in September 2017.
Attendees paid up to $75 for a ticket to an event that promised a delicious variety of pizza from all over the Big Apple. What they got were disappointing portions of cold pizza. The venue blamed a delay in delivery for the misfortune and warned people not to come once it became clear the evening was not going as planned. Fortunately for the guests, an investigation by the Attorney General ensured they were all fully refunded.