One of the best aspects of modern society and its extensive interconnectedness is that like-minded people can meet more easily than ever. Thanks to the internet, entire communities that might never have met previously have formed and evolved into organizations. There are conventions, festivals, and expos for almost everything you can think of.
For most of these festivals, their best feature is that anyone can attend. Sure, entry to a few of these festivals isn’t free, but they are nonetheless open and ready to broaden your worldview. You’ll be worldlier and wiser for attending some of these gatherings (though Burning Man has certainly killed its share of brain cells), and because of that, you should check them out.
Here are ten festivals you can attend to broaden your horizons.
The good news about Krampusnacht is that if the entire mythology is make-believe, you will leave your Krampusnacht experience with a better understanding of Germanic peoples and their culture. The bad news about Krampusnacht is that if the mythology is in any way real, you may not leave the experience at all. Instead, you might spend the rest of your life, however brief, being tortured by the meter-long tongue of a goat demon.
The demon’s name is Krampus, and he sneaks into every house on December 25th, punishing naughty children. Depending on the version, he may also enslave them, torture them, and eat them. Either way, Krampusnacht is truly absurd fun. Any of the many Krampusnacht festivals in central and northern Europe are a sight to see; entire cities come alive with parades, drinking, stories, and some of the most elaborate costumes you will ever see.
9 Just For Laughs
The Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, Canada, is one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world. Unlike so many other festivals that have reached that top tier of patronage, however, Just For Laughs can still feel intimate and special, like missing any one act can rob you of a beautiful, ephemeral moment and epic story down the road.
Thanks to Montreal’s cozy, multi-lingual, metropolitan feel, Just For Laughs has maintained an inclusive, diverse atmosphere, even as it has exploded in popularity. This led to many great moments over the years, as comedy legends have yielded their time to rising stand-ups, and small-town improv teams have found themselves in scenes with megastars.
8 Bristol Renaissance Faire
Though any Renaissance Faire will broaden your horizons, there are a few that stand out among their peers. The Bristol Renaissance Faire takes place yearly, just outside of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and one day there will make even the most hardened frat boy bros yell “Huzzah!” in sincere glee.
The atmosphere is uncommonly welcoming, and guests show up as knights, pirates, zombies, samurai, and even regular people. Within the fest’s 30-plus acres, you can chug mead, throw axes, cheer on a jouster, throw tomatoes at an insult comic (sorry: court jester), buy a one-of-a-kind gas-powered steampunk sword, and more.
7 Health and Mindfulness Retreats
You may hear the phrase “Mindfulness Retreat” and instantly think of rich, pretentious actors who pay irresponsible amounts of money to cleanse their toxins by bathing in yak dung or drinking only fermented eel saliva. Worse, you might think of the queen of that gullible cult: Gwyneth Paltrow and her, ahem…interesting…line of Goop products. Though those people certainly exist, and some places cater to them, there are also a great many resorts and retreats across the world that are financially feasible. They are only there to make you leave feeling healthy and happy, and sell absolutely no eel saliva.
Take the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. An average weekend stay at the center consists of organic meals, meditation, yoga, scenic hikes, and lessons on feeling happy and healthy. That’s a far cry from the possible pretension and sure to broaden your horizons positively.
Okay, we need to put a large asterisk on this one. The first SantaCon took place in San Francisco in 1994, and since then, the tradition has spread to dozens of cities worldwide—with sometimes disastrous results. As John Oliver once notoriously pointed out, many SantaCons have evolved into violent, drunken bar crawls that inevitably end in arrests. The New York City SantaCon, in particular, is the worst of the worst.
Instead, experience the right SantaCon in the right city, and you’ll leave with a twinkle in your eye. The original festival location in downtown San Francisco is a much tamer, more joyous affair. Children walk the streets, meet movie-quality Santas, eat themed treats, and learn the mythology’s history from jolly, bearded Saints. The Portland SantaCon, as well, made a point to keep the festival near to its roots.
Also, it is worth pointing out: if you are someone that has never engaged in a loud, messy bar crawl, the New York City SantaCon may end up broadening your horizons.
If there is an entry on this list you haven’t heard of, it’s Anthrocon. If you have heard of it, there’s at least a 50 percent chance you only heard of it in a punchline on some late-night comedy show. And it’s just for that reason that Anthrocon, the world’s largest convention for furries, may be the festival that broadens your horizons the most.
True, the majority of people may have no interest in dressing up as animals and acting like them. In fact, most people likely openly laugh at the Furry community for their position at the social fringe. But they are people, too, and many, if not most, aren’t there to engage in salacious acts of faux-bestiality. They’re there to share a common passion, to build a community, and to showcase some of the most dedicated cosplay there is. Given public (mis)perception of furries, Anthrocon is statistically almost guaranteed to broaden your horizons.
4 Burning Man
Burning Man is worth a trip. More than that, Burning Man is worth twenty trips. Though the festival has seen its fair share of out-of-control moments, it is precisely that unpredictability that makes the festival worth it.
Burning Man changes from year to year, from camp to camp, and from community to community. But the one constant is its passionate commitment to individuality and freedom of expression. After one day at Burning Man, you may find yourself with an unexpected tattoo of an ancient deity you’ve never heard of, a new group of friends who are both bikers and social activists, a newfound interest in polyamory, and quite possibly anything else you can, and can’t, imagine.
3 Montreux Jazz Festival
Music fans know the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, as one of the absolute peaks among the true music festivals. Unlike many of its more populated counterparts, like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, Montreux is about enjoying the music and only the music. That’s not to say that the social music festivals aren’t worth your time, but if you’re a true music lover and aficionado, you likely already know that Montreux is a must.
Though the festival began as a pure Jazz affair, it quickly evolved into a larger, more encompassing music fest. These days, you can hear almost any genre of music on its various intimate stages.
If you’re looking for proof of Montreux’s esteem, look no further than the sheer volume of live albums recorded at its venues. Everyone from Alanis Morissette to ZZ Top has recorded a live album or two at the fest, thanks in part to the superb sound quality at its venues and the exceptional fervor of its live audiences.
2 Nerd Conventions (Just Not the Big One)
It’s a tough call whether this entry or SantaCon needs a bigger asterisk. All in all, as millions worldwide can attest, one of the best experiences you can have is seeking out a few thousand people as passionate about your interests as you are and gathering to heighten each other’s mania. Nerd conventions, such as comic, board games, cosplay, anime, and video game conventions, are a truly inspiring place to meet fellow fans, craftspeople, and artists—you just have to avoid the big ones.
The biggest of them all, the official Comic-Cons like those in San Diego (the original) and New York City, have evolved over the years into a mix of Hollywood trailer reveals and overpriced merchandise that you could find in major chain stores. But the smaller cons, which are too many to name but take place all year round in thousands of cities and towns, offer dizzying arrays of panels, meet-and-greets, homemade crafts, emerging artists, live bands you’ve never heard of, inventive costumes, and more.
1 The Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe may just be supreme among all festivals, across all genres. As bold a statement as that is, the Fringe has the credentials to back it up.
The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, and as you would expect, there is simply more to experience there in one month than you could take in over a decade. The Fringe hosts a blend of the world’s most popular comedians, musicians, actors, poets, and visual artists, as well as a who’s who of up-and-coming talent.
Like Just For Laughs, The Fringe’s host city Edinburgh plays a major role in keeping the festival’s atmosphere non-commercial. You will need tickets and be offered merch, but you’ll also see the world’s best performers at the top of their game. In fact, the wildly funny and clever comedy series “Fleabag” began as a one-woman show on one of the Fringe’s many stages.