13 Killer Halloween Festivals from Around the World

Photo by: Mishele Wells
by Marcus Dowling | @marcuskdowling Thu October 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Whether we're talking mainstream EDM megafests, cultural traditions, or beloved community events, the world’s Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations are as diverse as they are spooky and colorful. Thanks to trippy costumes, reverence for the dead and supernatural, and a veil of darkness and mystery, the holiday lends itself to surreal experiences. Here are a few of the most raucous ways to celebrate All Hallows' Eve, the day after and beyond!

Voodoo Experience, October 28-October 30

In a city spooky enough to be the “House of the Rising Sun” and home to above-ground graves and ghostly voodoo legends, the New Orleans-based Voodoo Experience is the perfect music festival to capture the spirit of Halloween event. The three-day event, after nearly two decades in existence, always delivers: 2,000-plus artists and over 300,000 music fans gather in New Orleans’ City Park amidst picturesque lagoons and one of the world’s largest collections of mature oak trees. Any lineup able to blend artists as diverse as The Weeknd, G-Eazy, Tool, and Arcade Fire under the same banner is worth dressing up for.

Escape Halloween, October 28-29

EDM giant Insomniac Events brings the “Psycho Circus” to its Escape Halloween event in San Bernardino, California. Gargantuan sets and psychedelic light shows will certainly put you in the mood to get weird, as you hop between stages with names like the Slaughterhouse, Ghouls’ Graveyard, Chopping Block and Cannibals’ Tea Party. With a mix of legends like Above and Beyond, Moby, John Digweed and Richie Hawtin, plus rising stars like Bro Safari, and Mat Zo booked to entertain 40,000-plus revelers, this is a truly over-the-top way to celebrate Halloween weekend.

Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival, October 28-31

Derry County, Ireland is the ancestral home of Halloween’s Celtic roots, so you can be sure the celebration here is appropriately amazing. Derry's Halloween isn’t just limited to one day; the festivities spread out over a week-long period. Twenty-five thousand true Halloween enthusiasts worldwide flock to Derry for events including the Chateau Le Fear haunted house in Ebrington Square, the light, fire, sculpture and circus-centric Awakening of the Walls , the fancy dressing Gothic Ball and the Diwali Festival of Light , as well. It's Europe's biggest Halloween parade, and this year marks its 30th anniversary celebration so the costumes are going to be crazier than ever. The event's website even says: "We should warn you however; the crazy costumes that pass through the City at this time of the year are not for the faint-hearted!" We can definitely get down with that.

Salem Festival of the Dead, October 1-31

Salem, Massachusetts isn’t just the home of famous witch trials anymore. These days, it’s also the host of the Salem Festival of the Dead, which features nine huge events (and smaller events throughout October) that cover everything from ghost hunting, to speaking to the dead, to a psychic fair and witchcraft expo to ritual transformation. But the highlight might just be the Salem Witches' Magic Circle (which draws inspiration from Celtic tradition of Samhain) where participants will gather on a hilltop to honor deceased loved ones, and Halloween Ball on October 28. The ball sounds incredible for 2016, as the first floor features dancing while on the second floor, the organizers note, “Witchdoctor Utu and the Dragon Ritual Drummers will lead rituals and magic in the old ways of Witchcraft!” and "Join us as in days of old when fires burned on every hilltop and Witches gathered to feast, rejoice, and cast spells for the new year!" This may be the most honest-to-tradition Halloween event in America.

Celtic Samhain Festival, October 31

Scotland and Ireland's Celts have deep and ancient ties to Halloween; the day is linked to their ancestral Samhain holiday, which honors the god of the dead, marks the end of the harvest season, and hails the onset of winter or the "darker” months of the year. Thus, taking a trip to Crannog County, Scotland for its annual Samhain event will give any visitor a different view of what Halloween means in this part of the world. The organizers ask attendees to dress up to witness fire shows, a wicker ram sacrifice, traditional, natural incense burning, the telling of myths and legends, plus more. While a smaller event (though there are many throughout this region), its roots in ancient, mystical traditions fit right into this time of year's vibe of darkness and mystery.

Suwannee Hulaween, October 28-30

Three years ago, String Cheese Incident founded this event in Live Oak, Florida, and play each year for their hoards of dancing, noodling fans. In 2016, they'll perform 7 times, including a special all-cover Halloween set. Other headliners include My Morning Jacket, Big Gigantic, a DJ set from Disclosure, STS9, Logic, Umphrey's McGee, Claude VonStroke, and too many more to list. There is also magic in almost gothic environs of where Hulaween is held, in the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. It's 800 acres of Old Oak Trees draped in Spanish moss, with lush beautiful campgrounds, a lake, and white sand beaches. There is a main venue field already built into the grounds and a natural amphitheater for the two alternating main stages all weekend. Add to that fire-fueled iron sculptures, live painting, projection mapping, lasers, and lights, which all bring the forest and moss-covered trees to life at night.

The Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze, September 30, October 1-2, 7-10, 13-31, November 3-6, 10-13, 19-20, 25-26

Hundreds of skilled carvers gather to create more than 7,000 jack-o-lanterns for a mesmerizing walkthrough experience at the historic Van Cortlandt Manor in upstate New York. Organizers truly create a spectacle all with pumpkins. Here's what you'll find: constellations in the Pumpkin Planetarium, a Circus Train rolling into town featuring colorful clowns and animals, flying pumpkin ghosts, the Headless Horseman (made out of pumpkins, of course), gourd-filled Jack-in-the-Boxes, slithering snakes, a giant spider web, a working doomsday grandfather clock, a  giant sea serpent, squash-eating Venus pumpkin traps sprout in the garden, and the perennially popular Jurassic Park, which includes a triceratops, a pterodactyl, a brontosaurus, and a T-Rex.

Hangtown Halloween Ball, October 20-23

This Placerville, California, Halloween camping fest has been going strong for five years thanks to its stellar lineups and epic costumes. This year, music from Railroad Earth, Medeski Martin & Wood, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Wood Brothers, and more down-home, funtime bands will take over the tunes, while costume themes range from Wild West, to Mardi Gras, to Monster Mash, to Funky Forest Fantasy. Get ready to rush Gold Country during the week leading up to the holiday Halloween weekend.

The Village Halloween Parade, October 31

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Photo by: Art Gimbel

Manhattan’s progressive paradise of Greenwich Village is an ideal place to march around on Halloween. Fifty thousand costumed revelers gather yearly for an event that organizers say showcases “[attendees’] darker side, their sexier side, [or] their more playful or silly side—you can’t help but literally go with the flow, and be moved not only by thousands of people parading behind you, but by the pulsation of life that moves through these famous streets.” And with watering holes and restaurants all over town open far into the wee hours of the morning, this sleepless version of Halloween is for the most dedicated of partiers.

Día de los Muertos, November 2

Throughout Mexico and in countries celebrating 3,000-year old Aztec traditions worldwide, November 2’s Día de Los Muertos honors deceased loved ones and welcomes their souls home as a blessing by throwing a feast for the living and the dead alike. Though Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is often confused with Halloween due to the proximity in time, this holiday is not about ghouls and goblins. Altars and offerings are a way to remember family members who have passed into the afterlife. Festivities occur nationwide, but Oaxaca is Mexico’s capital of departed souls and the best place to dance with the dead. In this culture, the lines between life and death are blurred and the acceptance of mortality becomes a liberation from fear. Daytime is a time for resting and reflection, while the night is for remembrance and celebration. In a festival this dark, nighttime is when the dead really come alive. Candlelight processions and vigils occur around the altars, while roving Mariachi bands provide a lively soundtrack. Indeed, life and death live on parallel planes in Mexico. 

Neewollah, October 21-29

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If carnival rides are more your jam, then Independence, Kansas' Neewollah Festival is up your alley. In 1918, pranksters wanting to re-design the holiday for less trick and more treat, spelled the holiday’s name backwards, and indoctrinated parades, vendors and beauty queens into the tradition. These days, 75,000-plus partiers invade the normally tiny town for carnival activities, seasonal food, and concerts featuring the likes of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Merle Haggard, Three Dog Night, and more.

La Calaca, October 31-November 2

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Photo by: Mishele Wells

If you’re a fan of arts and music events and also happen to like Halloween, pack your bags for San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and celebrate a different kind of Halloween here. Though less than five years old, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico’s La Calaca festival encompasses the spirit and style of Mexico’s Día de los Muertos celebration. Event organizers state that the event is “a participatory arts festival that brings together interactive arts installations, local businesses, individuals and arts organizations.” Daytime events immerse participants in cultural activities, such as live art installations, creative workshops, and tours of cemeteries and traditional altars. The evenings are dominated by costumed processions, musical performances and parties that last until sunrise.

Freaknight, October 28-29

Freaknight is a Halloween staple in Tacoma, Washington, and this year marks its 20th anniversary – so you know it's gonna be a big one. Put on by USC Events (the folks who also do the massively popular Paradiso Festival at the Gorge), it's an EDM extravaganza that gives other West Coast events like HARD Day of the Dead a run for its money. In the two decades of Freaknight's existence, audiences have seen everything from Nero’s live band on the mainstage, to Figure's signature Halloween-apropos bass. This year, the lineup goes harder than ever with some of the biggest names around. We're talking Martin Garrix, Armin Van Buuren, and Zedd as the headliners, who are backed by major turntable talents like Neptune Project, Freedom Fighters, Shiba San, Vincent, Nathan Barato, 3LAU, Morgan Page, Jamie Jones, Pegboard Nerds, and many more big names that'll keep the sound systems throbbing and the crowds pulsating all night long. Just make sure your costume is as freaky as the music.