A Year of Celebrations: Holidays, Festivals and Special Events to Add to Your Travel Calendar

A Year of Celebrations: Holidays, Festivals and Special Events to Add to Your Travel Calendar

We love a good reason to party. Our 2018 calendar is already filling up with festivals and special events to rejoice over. No matter where or how you want to celebrate your birthday, anniversary or latest grand achievement, MIR has the destination expertise and experience to help you mark the special occasion on a trip to any of our legendary destinations along the Silk Route, the Trans-Siberian Railway, through Siberia, MongoliaIranthe Balkans, the South Caucasus and beyond.

Looking to add a celebration or festival to your own calendar, and add some revelry to your next trip? Here are a few ideas:



In Zagreb, a bouquet of "licitar" heart-shaped Croatian cookies can trump a bouquet of roses Photo credit: Goran Pavic

In Zagreb, Croatia, a bouquet of licitar heart-shaped Croatian cookies can trump a bouquet of roses
Photo credit: Goran Pavic

Valentine’s DayCelebrate Valentine’s Day by traveling on a hand-crafted trip. You could choose a rugged trip to Siberia or a romantic jaunt through Western Russia on a custom, private tour, which could include a stay at Moscow’s romantic and historic Metropol Hotel just across from the Bolshoi Theater, a short walk from Red Square. 

Or, perhaps a trip to Croatia and a visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships is more your style?

Maslenitsa pancakesPhoto credit: Alfiya Izmailova

Maslenitsa pancakes
Photo credit: Alfiya Izmailova

Maslenitsa in YaroslavlMaslenitsa, or Pancake Week, is a favorite Russian holiday, marking both a pagan springtime rite and, similar to Carnival, a last fling before Lent prohibits all pleasurable things.

The biggest celebration is in historic Yaroslavl on Russia’s Golden Ring, the main Maslenitsa city in Russia. At the History Museum of Yaroslavl, you can dive into the celebrations of the holiday. Here they re-create all the old traditions of Maslenitsa, such as horse riding, singing, sledding, jumping through bonfires, playing “King of the Mountain,” riding in horse drawn sleighs, and of course, making and eating huge piles of pancakes.

Buryat Buddhist New Year in SiberiaAround the shores of great Lake Baikal in south central Siberia, the indigenous Buryat people enjoy a New Year’s celebration that lasts an entire month. Called Sagaalgan, “White Month,” the holiday is a hybrid of shamanist and Buddhist traditions, and it begins just before the Lunar New Year (more info).


Music is an integral part of Navruz celebrations. Photo credit: Peter Guttman.

Navruz celebrations at an Uzbek madrassah
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Navruz in Central Asia and IranThe tradition of Navruz started as a Zoroastrian festival to celebrate the spring equinox. Ancient people closely followed the celestial cycle and noticed that when the hours of daylight started to equal the hours of darkness, the seasons changed and new life was born.

The Persians celebrated the start of the new year at this time, and spent the thirteen days following Navruz settling debts and mending relationships in order to set a positive tone for the upcoming year.

In Uzbekistan, the observance starts a few days early, with a khashar or community service project. People come together to clean and decorate their towns in preparation for the holiday. The day of Navruz, Uzbeks eat sumalyak, a dish made of wheat grain sprouts, which symbolizes eternal life, and wheat grain. Traditionally, sumalyak is prepared only once a year and by women. As the dish cooks, women stay up late in the night, stirring the pot of grains, while talking, singing and dancing.

In 2018, you can celebrate Navruz in Uzbekistan on MIR’s small group tour Backstreets & Bazaars of Uzbekistan. Taste your way through the vibrant heart of the Silk Road, during the height of the Uzbek New Year, Navruz. 

No matter what time of year you want to travel, MIR has a variety of small group tours and rail journeys to places that celebrate Navruz, such as Central Asia and Iran. You can also book a custom private journey.


Siberia's Great Baikal Trail is a hiking lesson in ecology, the environment – and camaraderie Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Siberia’s Great Baikal Trail is a hiking lesson in ecology and the environment
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Earth DayCelebrate Earth Day with a hike on the Great Baikal Trail, a series of trails encircling Siberia’Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest lake on earth.

MIR can make all the travel arrangements for you to explore the longest section of the trail (and the easiest to get to), running from Listvyanka to Bolshoye Goloustnoye, a small town about 34 miles north along Lake Baikal. The hike usually takes three days, and is characterized by swift transitions between steep coastal bluffs, sandy beach and deep forest. There are guesthouses or homestays available at little villages in the evenings, and you can get back to Irkutsk by boat or bus from trail’s end in Bolshoye Goloustnoye.

You can experience the wildness of Lake Baikal on MIR tours to this UNESCO-listed lake on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and on small group tours through RussiaSiberia and the Russian Far East. You can also book a custom, private journey.


Sunrise view of the Palace Bridge in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the glorious “White Nights”

White Nights Festival, St. Petersburg, late May-early JulySt. Petersburg’s White Nights Festival begins at the end of May. During the nights around the summer solstice, the sky never gets completely dark, but retains the afterglow of sunset until sunrise starts the day all over again – and the northern city celebrates like crazy. It’s a mysteriously beautiful phenomenon, and after a long dark winter, the people of St. Petersburg take full advantage, promenading on the streets all night long, attending special concerts, and congregating at outdoor events. 

The festival kicks off on May 26th with the “,” a series of performances by the Mariinsky opera, ballet, and orchestra companies, accompanied by world-class international artists. Visit St. Petersburg with MIR during the White Nights of summer on many of our small group tours or a handcrafted private tour customized to your dates and interests.

Bulgarian traditions in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. Photo credit: Michel Behar

Bulgarian traditions in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Stara Planina Fest “Balkan Folk 2018,” Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, May 10-20Folk ensembles from the world over meet up in Veliko Tarnovo to dance and sing for 10 days, wearing fabulous handcrafted traditional costumes. Considered to be the number one folklore festival in Europe, draws more than 200 groups, with some 4,000 participants, young and old. Book a pre-tour to “Balkan Folk 2018” before the May departure of Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses. 

Luba Rudenko, Director of MIR’s Ukraine affiliate office, showing off her vyshyvanka. Photo credit: Michel Behar

Luba Rudenko, Director of MIR’s Ukraine affiliate office, showing off her vyshyvanka
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Vyshyvanka Day, May 17On the third Thursday of May, Ukrainians at home and abroad proudly don their traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts, called vyshyvanka. The shirts date back at least a hundred years, when the embroidery on the vyshyvanka’s sleeves, front, neck and cuffs was different in each small region of Ukraine. The shirts have become a high fashion item in the last few years. Learn about vyshyvankas on the private itinerary, Essential Ukraine.


At the Rose Festival, Bulgaria Photo Credit: Michel Behar

At the Rose Festival, Bulgaria
Photo Credit: Michel Behar

Rose Festival in BulgariaWhen’s the best time to stop and smell the roses?

No time is better than during Bulgaria’s Kazanluk Rose Festival in early June. MIR’s small group tour, Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses includes this famous flower fest on the June departure.


Young girls parade in Mongolian costumes at Naadam Festival opening ceremonies in UlaanBaatar. Photo credit: Helge Pedersen.

Young women parade in Mongolian costumes at Naadam Festival opening ceremonies in Ulaanbaatar
Photo credit: Helge Pedersen


Naadam Festival in MongoliaThe annual Naadam Festival is Mongolia’s favorite festival, showcasing Mongolia’s best in wrestling, horse racing and archery, as well as uniquely Mongolian sports such as “ankle-bone shooting.” It originated many centuries ago, but in the 20th century this celebration of courage, strength, dexterity and marksmanship acquired new content and became more national in character. The festival now commemorates July 11th, the anniversary of Mongolia’s independence from China.

MIR has a number of small group tours and Trans-Siberian rail journeys that include a Naadam Festival stop.

Khinkali in Tusheti, Georgia. Photo: Shota Lagazidze

Khinkali, made in Tusheti for festivals
Photo: Shota Lagazidze

Atengenoba Festival, Tusheti, GeorgiaSome 100 days after Easter, villagers in the remote Georgian region of Tusheti celebrate an ongoing summer festival that includes lots of feasting, beer drinking, singing, dancing, and games. The men gather in a beer hut to brew the special beer, and generally enjoy themselves. To be fair, they are also tasked with some of the festival food preparation. The village women gather to make khinkali, the savory meat dumplings that the Tush make best (or so they say – you must judge for yourself). And the feast is on.

You may be able to participate in this mountain festival during MIR’s new-for-2018 small group tour, Village Traditions of the South Caucasus.

Dancers in Riga, Latvia Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Dancers in Riga, Latvia
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Latvian Song and Dance Festival, RigaThe huge Latvian Song and Dance Festival is held every five years, and this year it’s even more special. 2018 marks Latvia’s 100th birthday as an independent state. The XXVI Latvian Song and XVI Dance Celebration is held this year in Riga from Saturday, June 30 to Saturday, July 8, an entire week during which more than 1,110 choirs, dance troupes and music groups will perform, many of them in national costume. The festival venues have been newly renovated, so that there are 30,000 seats at the Mezaparks Open-air Stage, and 10,000 at Daugava Stadium. 11,000 singers can appear onstage together to lift their voices to the sky. 

The Song Festivals of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were inscribed onto the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

You can  book a custom, private journey to Latvia during the Song Festival. Learn more about Latvia and its Baltic neighbors on MIR’s small group tour, Kaliningrad & The Baltics.


Learning how to cook pierogis. Photo credit: Poland National Tourist Board

Delicious pierogis
Photo credit: Poland National Tourist Board


16th Annual Pierogi Festival, August 11-15, Krakow, PolandHow about a low-key but luscious festival that celebrates Poland’s national dish, pierogi, Polish stuffed dumplings?

During the August in Krakow, Maly Rynok square is lined with stalls and booths serving the finest, most creative pierogi ever dreamed of. Chefs and home cooks mix and roll the thin unleavened dough, stuff it with any number of savory or sweet ingredients, and steam it till it bursts with flavor. One winner had a stuffing of smoked prunes, walnuts and honey; and the other was stuffed with free-range duck, fresh figs and lemon basil. The two winners represent the judges’ choice and the peoples’ choice. The judges award their winner a statue of St. Jack holding a bowl of pierogi: legend says that he ministered to starving Poles by feeding them pierogi

Wander the medieval cobbles of Maly Rynok, enjoying folk performances and loading your plate with as many of the dozens of varieties of pierogi as you can handle. Schedule MIR’s custom tour, Essential Poland, around the August dates of the Pierogi Festival for a real taste of Poland.


Witnessing the Soyuz launch in Baikonaur Photo credit: Christopher Prentiss Michel

Witnessing the Soyuz launch in Baikonur
Photo credit: Christopher Prentiss Michel

Soyuz launch in Kazakhstan: Target date, September 14, 2018NASA calls it Expedition 57-58; for MIR, it will be Expedition 6 – the 6th time our president and co-founder Doug Grimes will have escorted groups of MIR travelers to the Russian space launch facility at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to witness the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station.

On MIR’s Inside the Russian Space Program small group tour, travelers can rub shoulders with international space officials, space veterans and family of the next space crew at Baikonur, as well as participate in the press conference with the crew members.

World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan: September, 2018First held in 2014, the World Nomad Games is a biennial event that celebrates the ancient sports and unique heritage of nomadic cultures across the Eurasian steppe. Dubbed the “Olympics of the Nomads,” the games feature more than 16 sports spread out over an intense six-day period, with competitions ranging from traditional horse games and wrestling, to archery and strategic games such as toguz korgool, a Kyrgyz board game played similarly to chess.

Attend the bold World Nomad Games – and drive the dramatic Pamir Highway – on MIR’s new-for-2018 small group tour, In Search of Nomads & Mountains: Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan.


Kazakh eagle hunter in Mongolia

Kazakh eagle hunter in Mongolia
Photo credit: Yulia Protosova

Golden Eagle Festival in MongoliaThe 21st century saw the inauguration of an annual Golden Eagle Festival during the first week of October in remote western Mongolia, where ethnic Kazakhs still hunt with magnificent golden eagles. At the festival, the eagle hunters – called berkutchi – display their birds’ speed, skill and training, as well as the deep bond that forms between bird and human.

Travel to the rocky ridges overlooking Mongolia’s westernmost province, Bayan-Ulgii, to attend  the Golden Eagle Festival on MIR’s new-for-2018 small group tour, Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival.  

MIR also offers a variety of small group tours and rail journeys by private train to and through Mongolia.


A performance at the Georgian Table Photo credit: Peter Guttman

A performance at the Georgian Table
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

ThanksgivingIn our opinion, there’s no better Thanksgiving feast than a Georgian Table Feast.

MIR is an expert at planning custom and private travel to the South Caucasus and can put together an unforgettable Thanksgiving celebration in Georgia, complete with a feast befitting the holiday for you and your family or group of friends.

If you’re interested in traveling with a small group and can’t wait until November, MIR has several small group tour departures to the region to choose from:


Russian Winter Wonder Land

A sleigh ride through a Russian winter wonder land
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

Christmas in PolandCelebrate the heartfelt holiday traditions of Poland on MIR’s small group tour, Christmas Traditions of Poland. Wander Krakow’s brilliant Christmas Market and join a Polish family in their Warsaw home for the intimate Christmas Eve feast called Wigilia, where you can sample 12 different traditional dishes. This wintry journey brings you close to the warm heart of Poland’s long-standing customs.

New Year’s Eve in St. PetersburgThe holidays in St. Petersburg, Russia are glorious.  New Year’s trees glisten all over town, and Palace Square in front of the Hermitage is a vast expanse of white.

On MIR’s Russian Winter Wonder Land: New Year’s in St. Petersburg small group tour, sip champagne at an elegant reception and bask in the warm honey-colored glow of the Amber Room, or spend New Year’s at an intimate late-night dinner in a Russian home.


A bridge of ice at the Snow and Ice Festival in Harbin, China<br>Photo credit: China National Tourist Office

A bridge of ice at the Snow and Ice Festival in Harbin, China
Photo credit: China National Tourist Office


Harbin Ice Festival in ChinaHarbin, China’s incredible Snow and Ice Festival usually begins around January 5 and lasts for a month, but it has been known to begin earlier and last as long as the cold weather holds out. Harbin, farther north than Vladivostok and much colder, has been hosting these annual events since 1983, but ice festivals have been held since Manchu times, when the ice-block sculptures were lit by candles.

During the light of day – from four to six hours at this latitude – you can wander around Snow Island among the gigantic creative snow sculptures carved from huge piles of snow by teams from all over the world. As night falls, the action begins across the bridge on the Ice Festival grounds. Ice blocks cut from the Songhua Jiang River are stacked on top of each other with lights embedded in them, to create Russian churches, Thai palaces and Chinese pagodas. An enormous model of the Great Wall might double as an ice slide, and the whole place glows like Las Vegas.

MIR has more than 30 years of custom and private travel expertise and can help plan a stop at this festival for winter travelers as they make their way through China and Siberia.

For those looking to frolic in the snow and ice in Siberia, a custom, private winter journey highlights dog-sleds, hovercraft, ice-fishing and a host of other spectacular winter activities.  


(Top photo: Celebration on the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia. Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin)

PUBLISHED: February 12, 2015

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