Here Are The Best Festivals Around The World This Spring

cherry blossoms

Photo: Andrew Hickey

As winter wanes and the days grow longer, the itch to get outside and explore fresh scenery can inspire even hibernating homebodies to travel.And with nature bursting into bloom the world over and summertime heat and crowds still on the horizon, spring is often considered the top season for travel.

But in the months between ski vacations and beach getaways, where best to go?

See This Year’s Top Spring Travel Destinations >
We’ve scoured the world over for the perfect spring trips and have come up with an array that spans time zones and interests. Blossoming flowers and newly emerging wildlife are some of the season’s signature pleasures—and events like the annual Keukenhof Flower Festival in Holland (featuring seven million flowering plants) or National Park Week at Yosemite National Park (where the famous waterfalls are at their fullest) offer perfect opportunities to experience them.

Springtime brings just as much excitement for urban adventurers. In cities around the world, April and May are rife with exciting cultural events, from London’s pre-Olympics culture festival, with thousands of shows, exhibits and concerts, to the PEN World Voices festival in New York with its panoply of literary events. Music-lovers and foodies, too, can partake in events ranging from New Orleans’s rollicking Jazz Fest to Chang Mai’s processions, concerts and traditional dishes celebrating Songkran (Thai New Year).

It’s no accident that some of the year’s best cultural offerings are happening now—nothing inspires artistic sentiment quite like spring. “We actually moved the festival into May so that it would take place during springtime in New York,” says Jakab Orsos, the director of the PEN World Voices Festival. “Good literature and good art is galvanizing and liberating, and nothing invokes that more than the freshness of spring, so we’re calling on the season to help us emphasise the way people experience the written word.” In keeping with this theme of awakening, says Orsos, the festival organisers are even putting out their own New York City travel guide for the week, including the best places to find creative inspiration and rub elbows with literary heroes.

Whether the draw is the culinary scene in Austin, Grand Slam tennis in Paris or classical music in Istanbul, now is the time to indulge in a little wanderlust. Herewith, a Departures index of trips guaranteed to shake the winter doldrums.

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This story was originally published by Departures.

The Cultural Olympiad, London

April 5--September 9

With the Olympics beginning in late July, London will be one of this summer's major travel destinations--but spring might be an even better time to visit. As a precursor to the games, the city plays host to a cultural extravaganza: the London 2012 Festival, which is the culmination of the four-year long Cultural Olympiad. There will be thousands of events to attend, from a multinational Shakespeare festival at the Globe to the biggest Bauhaus exhibit in the UK in over 40 years, to of-the-moment artist Damien Hirst's first major retrospective in his home country, at the Tate Modern.festival.london2012.com

Where to Stay: The newly opened Corinthia Hotel is both luxurious and well-placed. Occupying a restored Victorian building, it's walking distance from Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and the National Gallery. The lobby also houses its own Harrods outpost--the first for a hotel. corinthia.com

The French Open, Paris

Of the four biggest tennis tournaments of the year (the Grand Slam tournaments in Paris, Wimbledon, Sydney and New York), the French Open is the only one played on clay, which makes matches more dramatic--and big upsets more likely. Visitors can watch the greatest tennis players alive skid across the courts and then take an afternoon stroll through the Tuileries Garden or browse the Matisse exhibit at le Centre Pompidou in the evenings.rolandgarros.com

Where to Stay: Le Meurice, originally built as a palace in 1771, redesigned in 2007 by Phillippe Starck. Guests can enjoy beautiful views over the Tuileries, an excellent spa and a salon by Christophe Robin. lemeurice.com

Istanbul Music Festival, Turkey

May 31--June 29

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Istanbul Music Festival, when the city will flood with 750 local and foreign musicians for a month of classical programming. This year will feature 23 concerts all over the city, including performances from pianist Helene Grimaud, the Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin and the Zurich Ballet, and a world première from Turkish composer Fazil Say. Acclaimed Turkish soprano Pevcin Çakar will also perform with cello quartet ÇellIstanbul. muzik.iksv.org

Where to Stay: The House Hotel Bosphorus, a 19th-century historical landmark turned glamorous hotel, with deluxe suites that look right over the namesake river. For guests who want to explore beyond the music festival, the hotel offers customisable tours of everything from the city's historic inner centre (including the Blue Mosque and the Spice Bazaar) to ancient fishing villages. thehousehotel.com

Jazz and Heritage Festival, New Orleans

The legendarily lively city of New Orleans gets even livelier in late April, when the 43rd annual Jazz and Heritage Festival comes to town. This year's lineup includes stellar jazz greats like Herbie Hancock and Esperanza Spalding; pop icons Bon Iver, Janelle Monae and Florence + the Machine; and, of course, native New Orleans performers like the Neville Brothers and Irma Thomas. Between concerts, browse cultural exhibits and sample the festival's vast array of Cajun cuisine--or head for the French Quarter and explore the city's legendary nightlife. nojazzfest.com

Where to Stay: W New Orleans, which has a beautiful rooftop pool, in-room massages and personal chauffeur service to the festival, or anywhere in the city. starwoodhotels.com

Keukenhof Flower Festival, Amsterdam

March 22--May 20

There may be no sight more emblematic of spring than blooming tulips--and there's certainly no better place to see tulips than Holland. The annual Keukenhof Flower Festival, about a half-hour outside Amsterdam, is a showstopper, with some seven million flowers on display. Wander through the thousands of tulips, orchids, freesia and more at one of the festival's many flower shows; stroll through one of seven themed gardens (like the historical castle garden, featuring rare blooms cultivated for hundreds of years); or borrow a bike and ride through the acres of tulip fields. keukenhof.nl.

Where to Stay: Hotel Pulitzer, which occupies 25 restored 17th- and 18th-century canal homes in the historic centre city. The hotel has a delightful terrace and gardens, where guests can dine, take afternoon tea or just relax.pulitzeramsterdam.com

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