Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival
Spring is a time of renewal, revival, rejuvenation …and flower fever. Join the mass migration of botanical fans from near and far to take in this bucket list experience.
Cherry blossoms (called sakura) are a revered cultural icon in Japan, having appeared in poetry, paintings and songs for thousands of years. As such, the annual blooming of the country’s cherry blossom trees is a phenomenon of both nature and culture, the likes of which are hard to find elsewhere in the world. As soon as the first trees begin to blossom, people across Japan practice the ancient tradition of hanami, gathering with friends and family to enjoy the splendour of the blooms – and one of the best spots to do so is right in the heart of Tokyo. Ueno Park is home to more than 1,000 cherry blossom trees which erupt in a riot of pink every spring, attracting blossom-peepers in droves who come to picnic under the petals. And the spectacle doesn’t end at sundown; when night falls, the whole park is illuminated with paper lanterns for a truly magical display. Note: The start and end of cherry blossom season can be hard to reliably predict in advance, so keep an eye on websites that track the blooms.
National Pyrotechnic Festival
29 February – 9 March 2020
Set it on fire, and they will come. That seems to be the unofficial motto of this flaming festival on the outskirts of Mexico City.
If Mexico is going to have a pyrotechnic festival, this is the place to do it: Tultepec’s claim to fame is that more than half of the country’s hand-crafted fireworks are produced here. The event finds its roots in the 19th century, when local firework-making guilds began putting on an annual celebration on 8 March in honour of San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of fireworks makers. The festivities grew – some might say out of control – into the current incarnation, which sees around 100,000 festival-goers partake in 9 days of crack-bang-booming fun. Explosively popular events include the pamplonada, in which bull-shaped effigies are loaded with fireworks and paraded through the streets; the castillos, massive castle-like constructions as tall as 30 metres that are rigged with – you guessed it – fireworks and set alight; and live musical concerts accompanied by frenetic fireworks displays. Some of the less flammable attractions include street food vendors, dance performances, carnival rides and the ceremonial release of thousands of paper balloons. Note: Due to the free-for-all nature of the pyrotechnics in certain events, this festival is not for the faint of heart. Be sure to wear old clothing in layers, ideally made of cotton and denim, as well as goggles and a scarf to protect your eyes and mouth. Leave pets and small children at home.
Glasgow International Comedy Festival
12-29 March 2020
Get ready to laugh it up at a comedy gathering that organisers call “the largest event of its kind in Europe”.
Household names and emerging acts take to the stand-up stage across Scotland’s second city. This year, fans will be roaring for the likes of Trevor Noah, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Arabella Weir and Jimmy Carr, not to mention a host of homegrown talent from across Scotland. You can also catch side-splitting films, theatre performances and kid-friendly shows, from puppetry to stand-up acts. Be sure to caffeinate properly: you wouldn’t want to fall asleep and miss the iconic Late Show at Blackfriars Basement, a festival institution that starts at 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
20-22 March 2020
Suit up – it’s showtime! Come dressed as your favourite TV/film/video game/fantasy series/comic book character, and rub elbows with like-minded fans as well as a few celebs…
For the 2020 edition, expect a star-studded guest list – including Adam Baldwin (Firefly), Seth Gilliam (Walking Dead) and Kristian Naim (Game of Thrones) – there to sign autographs, host Q&As and pose for photos with fans. While you’re at it, check out comic art sketching duels, peruse the goods made by steampunk artisans, attend how-to workshops on storytelling or sketch art, meet your favourite voice actors, show off your own cosplay creations, attend raging DJ after-parties and more. Bringing the little ones along? Head to the Family Zone for face painting, board games, arts and crafts, a Pokemon Park and loads of Harry Potter-themed fun.
Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Cape Town, South Africa
27-28 March 2020
Jazz is as much at home in Cape Town as it is in New Orleans – and every year, the city pulls out all the stops to celebrate its rich jazz culture and keep the tunes coming.
Often called “Africa’s Grandest Gathering”, the Mother City’s annual jazz festival boasts real star power and a whole lot of soul. This year, international chart-toppers like Jacob Collier, Jonathan Butler and PJ Morton join South Africa’s smoothest voices, from Lady Zamar to Lira and Nduduzo Makhathini, for two days of concerts, parties, master classes and some general groovin’. Highlights include the pre-festival Free Community Concert, the Main Event with a line-up of more than 40 performers, the more laid-back Rosies Stage venue featuring jazz music in a relaxed atmosphere, and a photography exhibition that showcases the global diversity of jazz. You can also catch musical workshops and panel discussions, and blend soul with style at the Fashion & All That Jazz Gala Dinner, which shines a light on local fashion designers.