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Readers choose Water Lantern Festival as Best Cultural Festival

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Winning event takes place in cities across the U.S.

Where travel offers an introduction to a new culture, whether in another state or another country, festivals are an intimate and advanced study. Raucous or restrained, artistic or irreverent, our 10 winners for Best Cultural Festival are each travel-worthy in their own right, and each offers the chance to broaden horizons, try new things and connect with others from around the continent and the world. 

  • Water Lantern Festival
    Multiple Locations

    The Water Lantern Festival is all about connections. Magical nights in cities across the U.S. include food, live music and the beauty of thousands of lanterns adorned with letters of love, hope and dreams floating on the water.
    Photo courtesy of Water Lantern Festival

  • Kutztown Folk Festival
    Kutztown, Penn.

    The nine-day Kutztown Folk Festival is the nation’s oldest continuously operated folklife festival, drawing visitors from around the globe. A celebration of Pennsylvania Dutch culture and heritage, the event includes America’s largest quilt sale, 200 craftsmen and folk artists, local food and family friendly entertainment.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Goudie / Flickr

  • Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
    Albuquerque

    For nine days each October colorful "upside down ornaments" dot the big, blue Albuquerque skies during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The world's largest ballooning event welcomes some 500 balloon teams from two dozen countries to the Southwest city, with the headlining event being the weekend mass ascension, when hundreds of balloons take to the sky together. Popular events like the Special Shapes Rodeo and Balloon Glows are complemented by a juried art show, local food trucks and live music.
    Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department

  • New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
    New Orleans

    The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a long-standing annual festival every spring that celebrates the culture and music of Louisiana. Attendees listen to jazz and gospel hymn, watch a parade and see live musicians from around the world. The past lineup has encompassed the biggest names in jazz: B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Al Green – you name it. Other genres are also represented. The festival was inspired by Mahalia Jackson and the Eureka Brass Band in the 1970s.
    Photo courtesy of Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File

  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival
    Ashland, Ore.

    The marathon Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs from February to October and features 11 plays (four of them works of Shakespeare) at various venues. But the festival extends well beyond the stage. Attendees can experience backstage tours, park talks, classes, workshops, lectures and post-show conversations to enhance the theatrical experience. Enthusiastic festival-goers can see as many as nine different plays in a single week during this annual celebration of the stage.
    Photo courtesy of T. Charles Erickson / Oregon Shakespeare Festival

  • Frozen Dead Guy Days
    Nederland, Colo.

    Quirky, irreverent and more than a little macabre, Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colo. centers around the cryogenically frozen corpse of Bredo Morstoel, a Norwegian patiently awaiting reanimation in the town. In honor of this bizarre resident, Nederland residents hosted the first installment of its festival in 2002. Events include coffin races, costume polar plunging, ice turkey bowling, frozen t-shirt contests, a parade of Hearses, a poetry slam, frozen salmon toss and snowy human Foosball.
    Photo courtesy of Frozen Dead Guy Days

  • Aloha Festivals
    Hawaii

    The Aloha Festivals bill themselves as a "cultural showcase of Hawaii" – a celebration of the music, dance, food and cultural traditions of the Hawaiian archipelago. The festivities started out as Aloha Week in Honolulu and has since expanded to include hundreds of events on six different islands. Event highlights include the Aloha Festival Parade, coronation of a royal court, hula performances, block parties, food and plenty of live, local music.
    Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

  • Texas SandFest
    Port Aransas, Texas

    For three days each April, some of the world’s best sand sculptors join tens of thousands of festival goers for the largest native sand sculpture competition in the USA, Texas SandFest. This Port Aransas festival also features live music, food, a craft market and kids activities.
    Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Michael Zamora

  • National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
    Elko, Nev.

    A celebration of the rural West, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nev. is at once honest and romantic. Unlikely cowboy poets from around the country and the world gather to share what life on a ranch is all about, not only through poetry, but also through music and storytelling. Events include ticketed performances, open mics, workshops (in crafts, cooking and poetry writing) and contests.
    Photo courtesy of Paul Zarzyski by Jessica Brandi Lifland

  • How Weird Street Faire
    San Francisco

    For one day each spring, thousands of people in quirky, colorful costumes gather in the heart of San Francisco to celebrate “peace, creativity and weirdness.” Each year has its own theme, as well as multiple stages for live entertainment, unique vendors and fantastic local food.
    Photo courtesy of Stephen Kelly / Flickr

The top 10 winners in the category Best Cultural Festival are as follows:

  1. Water Lantern Festival - Multiple Locations
  2. Kutztown Folk Festival - Kutztown, Penn.
  3. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - Albuquerque
  4. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival - New Orleans
  5. Oregon Shakespeare Festival - Ashland, Ore.
  6. Frozen Dead Guy Days - Nederland, Colo.
  7. Aloha Festivals - Hawaii
  8. Texas SandFest - Port Aransas, Texas
  9. National Cowboy Poetry Gathering - Elko, Nev.
  10. How Weird Street Faire - San Francisco

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote.

Congratulations to all these winning festivals!

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