Eat Up! The World's Biggest Food Festivals
One of the joys of travel is discovering different cultures through food. Enjoying fresh pastries in Paris, dumplings in Hong Kong, paella in Madrid or a nice, cold beer in Munich is a huge part of the fun.
This makes international food festivals a great excuse to travel. Celebrating their signature foods, cities open their kitchens to foreigners, ready with empty stomachs. Many of these festivals include more than a bite to eat; they are also filled with music, shopping, entertainment and recipes to take home.
These international (and national) food festivals are among the world's best and biggest — some even welcome millions of attendees each year. Add one or more to your bucket list to show your palate a good time.
11. La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
Celebrated since: 1944
Dates: Last Wednesday of August
Must-try food: Paella
No. of attendees: 20,000
Not all food festivals are about stuffing your face. Some are about stuffing food in the face of your friends!
Join thousands of people in the Valencian town of Buñol for the world’s largest food fight. Every August, the small town of 2,000 residents fills with people who come to this world-renowned, tomato-throwing festival.
Also known as the Tomato Battle, more than 100 tons of tomatoes are thrown in the streets for one official hour. During the fight, there is also a greased pole with a ham at the top (the Palojabon). Whoever can make it to the top can keep the ham.
Due to the crowds, the event began limiting entrance to just 20,000 people. The tickets are free, but you have to register in advance if you want to get in on the fun.
10. Pizzafest, Naples, Italy
Celebrated since: 1995
Must-try food: Margherita pizza
No. of attendees: 30,000
From the city that invented pizza comes a festival that celebrates it. With more than 100,000 pizzas served, the annual event welcomes more than 30,000 pizza lovers.
For several days, pizza-makers from around the globe compete in Naples to create masterful pies. Visitors can sit at tables and sample the offerings, with a jury combining the results to determine the winner of the best "pizzaiolo" in the world.
The traditional margherita — made with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, salt and extra-virgin olive oil, and first created in Naples as a nod to Italy's green, white and red colors — is the star of the show.
9. Onion Market, Bern, Switzerland
Celebrated since: 1405
Dates: Fourth Monday of November
Must-try food: Onion tart
No. of attendees: About 50,000
More than 50 tons of onion and garlic have taken over the Swiss capital of Bern since the 15th century. Known as Zibelemärit, this annual one-day folk festival fills the air with a pungent smell as chefs begin cooking onion and garlic tarts in the city center at dawn.
Thousands of people attend the annual event, which features artistic onion and garlic braids decorated with dried floral arrangements. Locals arrive as early as 4 a.m. to buy these creations and stock up for the winter. Officially open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Old Town, the festival has more than 200 stalls, people in colorful costumes, a confetti battle and a parade.
The market also features items you can buy as Christmas presents, including toys, clothing, jewelry and pottery. Be sure to grab a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine) to keep you warm as you shop.
8. Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Orlando, Florida
Celebrated since: 1995
Dates: Lasts a few months throughout fall
Must-try food: Charcuterie in a cone from the Spain Marketplace
No. of attendees: Hundreds of thousands
Disney’s Epcot features a World Showcase, with foods, clothing and samples of cultures from 11 countries. So, it is apropos that they put on one of the biggest food festivals in the U.S.
Requiring its own ticket in addition to a park entrance admission, visitors can enjoy all-you-can-eat dining and tastings during the festival, which lasts for months. Length changes every year, but in 2022, it will last a record-breaking 129 days! The festival may not be the biggest in terms of the number of vendors, but its impressive length earns it a spot on this list.
The event features dishes from more than 25 different nations and hundreds of chefs. It has served up more than a million food samplings, plus hundreds of thousands of glasses of beer and wine.
Besides food stalls, the festival features cooking demonstrations, book signings with celebrity chefs, concerts by big-name artists, wine and beer tastings, and much, much more — this is Disney, after all.
7. Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, Italy
Celebrated since: 1808
Dates: From Carnival Sunday to Fat Tuesday
Must-try food: Fat beans of Ivrea, a hearty beans and pork dish.
No. of attendees: 100,000
Spain’s tomato fight may be more well-known, but in Italy, they battle with oranges in the northern city of Ivrea as part of an annual Carnival dating back to 1808.
The celebration is actually an homage to the town's history, when a tyrannical marquis’ abuse of power resulted in an uprising. Nine teams with thousands of locals participate in the event, throwing nearly 600,000 pounds of oranges (brought to the city from Sicily).
You won’t have a chance to toss oranges at your friends or strangers; this event is for locals only to participate in and for visitors to watch.
6. Salon du Chocolat, Paris, France
Celebrated since: 1996
Dates: Late October to early November
Must-try food: Chocolate éclair
No. of vendors: 150,000 (before the pandemic)
All things chocolate are celebrated for five days in Paris at the Salon du Chocolat Festival, where more than 500 chocolate-makers, representing 60 countries, provide delicious products for chocolate lovers to sample.
Chocolate and pastries are the focus, with chefs providing demos, exhibiting chocolate sculptures, providing tastings and talks, and giving pastry how-to’s during workshops. Kids have their own family area to enjoy during the cocoa-event.
The fashion capital even turns chocolate into fashion at the Chocolate Fashion Show, where models walk the runway in chocolate dresses, hats and jewelry.
The Salon du Chocolat also travels around to different cities, but the annual Paris event is the creme de la creme. In fact, it is the biggest chocolate-related festival in the world.
5. Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Australia
Celebrated since: 1993
Dates: Vary by year
Must-try food: Australian-style fish and chips
No. of attendees: 300,000
In the land Down Under, Australians spend two weeks visiting Melbourne for this all-star festival. More than 250 events featuring culinary arts and wine bring the best of the best to the streets, including Michelin-starred and award-winning chefs from around the world.
Take part in the World’s Longest Lunch, where the festival’s three-course outdoor lunch seats nearly 1,000 people on a table more than 1,000 feet in length.
The MFWF features farm-to-table meals, craft brewery tours, master classes on wine and cheese pairings, tastings in Melbourne restaurants and the special Eat the Street Central Geelong Laneway food crawl.
4. National Cherry Festival, Traverse City, Michigan
Celebrated since: 1925
Dates: Late June to early July
Must-try food: Cherry pancakes
No. of attendees: 500,000
Celebrated for nearly 100 years as a Blessing of the Blossoms, the National Cherry Festival in upstate Michigan is an eight-day event with over 150 activities.
Be prepared to eat more than you can handle. Food events include cherry-pancake breakfasts, a Great American Picnic with overhead performances by the U.S. Air Force, and a saucy "Blues, Brew & BBQ" opener.
The Cherry Farmers Market is open daily throughout the event, which also features three parades, family fun, concerts and performances by world-renowned acts, plus the crowning of the National Cherry Queen.
3. The Dumpling Festival, Beijing, China
Celebrated since: 278 B.C.
Dates: Fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar
Must-try food: Beijing-style rice dumplings filled with dates
No. of attendees: Millions
On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, people in China, and Chinese expats around the world, celebrate the Dumpling Festival.
The worldwide feast is in honor of Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese scholar. It features feasts of zongzi, rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. The day is a national holiday, with businesses and schools closing in its remembrance.
As legend has it, when Qu Yuan's hometown was invaded he threw himself in a river. The villagers couldn't save him, so they threw cooked rice into the river to prevent fish from eating his body. Over time, the holiday morphed into an event focused on eating rice dumplings and racing dragon boats on the river (a nod to locals racing in their boats to try to save Qu Yuan after he threw himself into the water). The event also goes by the name Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival.
More than 30 racing teams compete in Beijing at the National Dragon Boat Invitational Race, taking place at Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park. Other races occur in Beihai, Taoranting and Jingshan parks.
Given its global appeal, it's hard to know exactly how many people celebrate this wonderful food festival.
2. Taste of Chicago, Illinois
Celebrated since: 1980
Must-try food: Deep-dish pizza
No. of attendees: 3 million
The largest food-specific festival in the world takes place in the U.S., when Chicago’s Grant Park welcomes more than 3 million people to its five-day event. Nearly 100 food vendors cater to locals and visitors, providing, well, a taste of Chicago with local dishes and specialty cuisine from the city's various ethnic neighborhoods.
The free event includes nighttime concerts by chart-topping artists, plus daily activities like chef-cooking demos, tastings and pairings, and arts and crafts at the Street Art & Graffiti Alley.
Every day at 3 p.m., catch the “March of the Puppets," which celebrates the Chicago International Puppet Theater’s coolest creations making their way along the Michigan Avenue park.
1. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
Celebrated since: 1819
Dates: Late September to early October
Must-try food: Wiesn-Hendl (butter-basted grilled chicken) and fries — paired with a pint of beer, of course!
No. of attendees: 6 million
Beginning as a wedding celebration for a Bavarian prince who opened his October reception to the people of Munich, Oktoberfest became an annual beer and folk festival. (It moved to late September due to the better weather, but to keep its name true, it always ends on the first weekend in October.)
The over 6 million attendees consume more than 2 million gallons of beer. Only beer made in Munich can be served, with six breweries providing the kegs of suds.
Oktoberfest begins with a parade and a barrel-tapping, with the mayor enjoying the first taste of brew. Then 12 gunshots are fired to alert the restaurants, beer tents and beer gardens that it's time to begin serving.
Throughout the festival, live music, competitions and games keep the parties going well into the night.