15 Southern Festivals Worth Planning A Trip Around

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Aerial shot of the crowd and stage at Beale Street Music Festival

 Courtesy of Memphis in May International Festival

We travel for all kinds of reasons. We flee to the coast or mountains when we want an escape from busy seasons of life. We plan bucket list international trips to experience cultures from around the world. Other times, we’re just packing up the minivan for an out-of-town soccer tournament or family wedding. Travel comes in all shapes and sizes, but one of our favorite reasons to travel is to attend a festival. Festival tourism combines two already great things into one fun-filled experience. Not only will you get to attend an incredible event centered around one of your interests, but you’ll also get to visit a new destination and see it at its liveliest. Whether you’re an enthusiastic art collector hunting for your next piece, or a music lover seeking stellar performances, these 15 Southern festivals are worth traveling for.

Shopping Round Top, Texas
Wynn Myers

Art Festivals

1. The Original Round Top Antiques Fair

This tiny town of 93 people opens its (figurative) doors to more than 100,000 shoppers each year for its thrice-yearly antiques show. Spend a long weekend soaking up every bit of magic that this incredible festival has to offer. Peruse the endless fields of tailgate-style tents selling one-of-a-kind furniture, home accessories, and art. But don’t burn out. You’ll need to save plenty of time to wander the 30,000-square-foot Big Red Barn, which is filled to the brim with more incredible antiques.

2. Art Basel

This acclaimed art festival takes place in several locations around the world, including Hong Kong, Paris, and of course Basel, Switzerland. Its American iteration is hosted yearly in Miami. Modern art lovers must see this stunning collection of contemporary works borrowed from leading galleries in five continents.

3. Spoleto Festival USA

Art isn’t just something to hang on a wall. Spoleto, held in Charleston each spring, proves that with a 17-day celebration of the performing arts. During the festival, the city’s historic theaters, churches, and venues host opera, theater, dance, symphonies, and choral performances.

4. Artsplosure

There’s art for everyone at Raleigh’s signature summer event. Artsplosure features 175 juried visual artists from across the U.S. showcasing works in all mediums from ceramics and glass to fiber arts, painting, photography, and jewelry. In addition to the massive Art Market, the weekend also features live music performances, art installations, and arts and crafts for kids.

5. Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival

Texas’s largest and most beloved art festival takes place in downtown Fort Worth each year. In addition to a show of 200 juried artists, the festival also celebrates the culinary arts with dozens of vendors offering everything from empanadas to turkey legs. And because art isn’t just to see and taste, you’ll also get to hear it through Music on Main, where artists take the stage for all kinds of musical performances.

Charleston Wine + Food

Alina Tyulyu courtesy of Charleston Wine + Food

Food Festivals

6. Charleston Wine + Food

Everyone knows Charleston is a wonderful food town, but the Holy City really shows out for its annual food festival. The five-day event brings some of the country’s best talent in cooking, mixology, baking, brewing, and winemaking together for five days of feasting and fellowship. Buy tickets to the Culinary Village sampling experience at Riverfront Park, then choose from an array of special chef lunches, dinners, and beverage workshops to add on.

7. Hot Luck Fest

This Austin, Texas festival founded by James Beard Award-winner Aaron Franklin has a little something for everyone. The three-day festival takes place over Memorial Day Weekend and features a star-studded lineup of chefs from across the country, as well as performances from 22 bands at venues all around the city.

8. South Beach Wine & Food Festival

If you’ve ever spent a lazy Saturday morning bingeing cooking shows on Food Network or Cooking Channel, you’ve likely heard of this legendary food festival hosted by the twin television networks. Held on the third week of February each year, a trip to Miami to sample food from the world’s hottest culinary professionals is just the way to beat the winter blues.

9. World Food Championship

The self-proclaimed largest food-sport competition takes place in Dallas, Texas each year. The massive competition brings in roughly 1,500 chefs from 42 states and 6 countries, who each compete for the title of being the best in their specific dish or cuisine. The public gets to benefit off this concentration of talent by purchasing tickets to try dishes from all the contestants.

10. Harvest Wine & Food Festival

We couldn’t imagine a more idyllic setting for a food festival than the gorgeous gardens of Florida’s WaterColor community. Just steps from the ocean, you’ll find rows and rows of tents serving some of the best food and wine you can find anywhere. The best part? All proceeds from the festival benefit Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for Northwest Florida children’s charities.

Austin City Limits Music Festival

 Rick Kern/Getty Images

Music Festivals

11. Hangout Fest

The waves lapping and palms swaying in the wind play lovely backup for the star-studded acts at this Gulf Coast music festival. The all-out beach bash takes place every May and brings in artists from a range of genres. Past headliners have included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Ray, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, The Weeknd, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

12. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Better known as Jazz Fest, this New Orleans tradition has been going strong since 1970. The festival draws nearly a half million visitors to the city each year, with promises of incredible music in every genre from jazz and R&B to gospel, rock, and folk. Another major plus to attending? You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get your fill of the Crescent City’s signature dishes like gumbo, etouffee, and beignets.    

13. Austin City Limits Music Fest

Austin is known for its sizzling music scene, but things really heat up in October when thousands gather in downtown’s Zilker Park to hear hundreds of bands over two, three-day weekends. This is one Texas-sized jam session you won’t want to miss.

14. CMA Fest

There’s no denying that Nashville is hallowed ground for country music enthusiasts. They fill up local honky-tonks on Broadway and love visiting legendary venues like the Ryman and Grand Ole Opry. But the end-all-be-all for true country music fans is CMA Fest. Celebrating more than 50 years as the longest-running country music festival, the four-day extravaganza now hosts over 250 artists on nine stages across the city.

15. Beale Street Music Festival

Another city with rich music history, Memphis takes the spotlight each May for the annual Beale Street Music Festival. Festival central is at Tom Lee Park, where you’ll have a wonderful view of the downtown skyline and easy access to the World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest, which takes place on the same weekend. If there are two things Memphis is known for, it’s great barbecue and great music. At Beale Street Music Festival, you can have both.

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