25 Events You Must Attend Before You Die

Skift Take


Not all events are created equal. Some events manage to capture the collective. They become part of our lives. Here is a list of those events that became unique experiences and some good reasons to attend them, as soon as possible.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. Let me clear my conscience though. It takes a while to collect meaningful items. Hence why you’ll share this post like crazy after reading it.

This is going to be one of those articles for event professionals to find inspiration. It is also going to be useful for attendees looking for a unique experience.

It is very complicated to write a collection of must attend events that will universally apply. Events are a very subjective experience. The reasons why we attend events can be very personal.

One thing for sure, the following list collects iconic events attended by thousands through the last decades, in some instances through the last centuries.

As a final note on methodology, there is significant bias in selection. A few I’ve attended, some are about technology (and I quite fancy technology) and some others have been on my bucket list forever.

One way or another there is great value in getting to know and possibly attending as many as you can.

1. Monaco Grand Prix

Formula 1 is not a big thing in the U.S. as it is in Europe. Yet the Monaco Grand Prix, of all F1 races, manages to attract large crowds of sports enthusiasts, VIPs and, well, yachts :-).

The “Race of Monte-Carlo” has been running since 1929. Every year Hollywood celebrities park their Yacht in Monaco’s Marina to watch a breath taking city race.

This is a must attend for sport enthusiasts, fashion victims and gossip seekers alike.

2. TED Global

I’ve been bragging about TED for a while now. TED is a prominent example for conferences. It has sparked a series of localized events, called TEDx, that are revolutionizing the way we learn about ideas at live events.

Attending a TED Global event is quite a challenge. It is invite only and the ticket price is quite unapproachable. World leaders have presented at this unique conference.

The videos from TED have been made available on its website, instantly giving us access to hard to find inspiration.

This contradiction of ultra-selection and unrestrained knowledge sharing is a unique formula that makes TED an experience, not just an event.

3. Burning Man

I first talked about Burning Man in 2009, quite a while before it became a global phenomenon.

The event website itself has hard times explaining what Burning Man is. Think Woodstock meet a religious ceremony. This events creates a memorable experience for thousands of devote attendees who gather from all over the World.

Running since the 80s, it recently reached more than 50,000 participants. That must be meaning something.

4. The Groundhog Day

Thanks to the movie featuring a superb Bill Murray, this local event became a worldwide tradition. There is some ancestral uniqueness and magic about it that turned the Groundhog Day into a global phenomenon.

Every year a large crowd gathers in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to learn whether a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil has seen its shadow. If he has – sorry – there are going to be 6 more weeks of winter, if he hasn’t spring will come sooner than expected.

It is a case of a relatively unknown event rooted in history that now trends on Twitter every year. Attending is a once in a lifetime experience.

5. BarCamp

I organized my first BarCamp back in 2007. I’ve stressed the innovativeness of this concept for a while on the blog. In few years BarCamps brought open conferences to the masses.

A local community gathers to host an event that has no schedule. Everything happens on the spot.

Most pundits fail in understanding the real innovativeness of this model. It is not the unconference, or the law of the two feet. It’s the co-organizing experience that has effectively open sourced conferences.

The emphasis is not about pleasing sponsors or hosted buyers but to share content and to do your bit to make the event successful.

Check out to attend one in your region.

6. Oktoberfest

Picture the beautiful Munich full of happy people singing “Ein Prosit”. The “prosit” (toast) won’t possibly be “ein” (one) but quite a few and yes you’ll need to stand up, sing along and chug your beer.

Oktoberfest is the party of an entire city. It embodies the best of German traditions.

It lasts for 16 days and attracts millions of attendees. As Wikipedia points out it is the world’s biggest fair.

Some lessons there to make your show sparkling.

7. Frieze

If you have ever lived in London, you must have heard about Frieze. It is a big deal for art and contemporary artists.

Frieze is an international art fair with galleries participating from all over the world. 60,000 people usually attend. This fair only features contemporary art.

The Big Smoke becomes a playground for installations and eccentric displays. The merit of such event is to make art a popular item of consumption. And there is something noble about that.

8. Cirque du Soleil

Circus is usually one of the first events we attend when kids. This Canadian based entertainment company has stepped up the game, renewing the tradition and making it a unique experience for masses to enjoy.

It is estimated that more than 90 Million (yes Million) people have attended this show that happens all over the world and employs around 4,000 people.

This is a great example of how to take an established model, turn it around and make it a global sensation. A marketing case study in most MBA courses.

9. New Year’s Eve in Times Square

Since 1907 immense crowds gather in Times Square, New York, to watch the Times Square Ball lowered at midnight.

The show has been on TV for a while now, yet it seems the new year can’t start without this tradition.

The excitement is palpable, summing up what we feel around the world at the beginning of something new. Such feeling is ancestral, but the party is crazy and enjoyable.

10. FIFA World Cup Final

Call it soccer, football or calcio, the FIFA World Cup final is an event that gathers the interset of more than a Billion people worldwide.

Being Italian I had to include this event. In some cultures it is part of private memories as much as wedding or the birth of a child are.

Getting a ticket for the World Cup final is not an easy task. Attendance is obviously restricted to the stadium capacity and hordes of fans crave to get in.

Tension is what makes this event special. Even if your national team hasn’t made it to the final, you’ll end up inevitably take sides and experience some heated 90 minutes.

11. Comic Con

Comic Con is a concept rather than a single event. The San Diego Comic-Con International is the event that sums up this movement.

Comic Conventions made us touch our comic books heroes.

Getting autographs from your top writer or taking a picture with Captain America has become a tradition that both kids and not-so-much-kids-anymore love.

The last San Diego event gathered 130,000 attendees. Enough said.

12. Expo

The Expo or World’s fair is the father of trade shows.

Nations display their achievements and beauties in pavilions that cost incredible investments. The cities that host the Expo undergo a complete facelift before hosting the event.

I am witnessing that in Milan for the 2015 edition. The enormous investments force this event to happen irregularly every 2 or 3 years.

It is definitely a concept from the past that still catalyses the attention of entire nations, thus worth attending.

13. Davos – World Economic Forum

Every year the most powerful and influential leaders gather in the Alps to discuss issues that affect us all.

If you manage to attend the WEF, you got my admiration. Attendees have an incredible influence and are widely recognised as leaders in their field.

Or you can be a journalist, who attend this event in copious amounts.

One thing for sure is that if you attend Davos, you have a story to tell.

14. Coachella

Coachella has appeared on this blog a few times. Usually they are at the forefront of technology and social integration.

Yet this event manages to attract large crowds looking for good music, art installations and a camping experience.

Among others Madonna, Paul McCartney, Eminem and Prince performed at what is becoming the must attend music festival of the year. The attention for details and unmatched desire to make it better every year does pay off.

15. The Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is huge. This has been the case mostly for the U.S., until recently. Social networks contributed to make it a global event.

While the sporting event is a strong attractor for football fans, for the rest of us it is a great concert and also a celebration of advertising that revives the Don Draper in all of us.

Somewhat 90 Million viewers tune in to enjoy all of the above, making the Super Bowl a tradition of American culture.

16. Cannes Film Festival

I am a bit of a movie enthusiast. This event has been on my bucket list for a while now.

Hollywood flock to Southern France every year to make the Croisette vibrate with excitement.

Since the 1930s, Cannes has been synonym of quality in cinematography as well as gossip, scandals and diplomatic crises such as when in 1974 a film about abortion was displayed among police intervention and protests.

17. Vienna New Year’s Concert

Running since 1939, this is the must attend classical music event of the year. Entirely based on Strauss music, this concert has become a tradition for us Europeans.

It is estimated that more than 50 Million people from 73 countries tune in to watch the audience clapping by the Radetsky March. Kind of an heresy for a classical concert.

Renowned directors lead the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra every year. Names such as Claudio Abbado, Zubin Metha, Riccardo Muti and Herbert von Karajan made us enjoy the soft notes of the Blue Danube. For some of us the new year can’t start without watching this concert.

18. Olympics 100m Dash

The Olympics should be on everyone’s bucket list. While some value the inaugural ceremony, others concur that the 100m Final is the signature event for this international sport celebration.

Through the years, this 10 second sport injection has attracted millions of viewers and thousands of flashlights.

The run brings to glory the fastest man or woman on earth. Winning this event is the dream of every professional runner, watching it live is every sport enthusiast’s aspiration.

19. Royal Ascot

For those who don’t know, the Royal Ascot is an horse race. Quite a special one. Not necessarily because the British Royal Family attends, not even because it has been happening for more than 200 years.

Mostly it is about hats. In fact this event is more a traditional event where members of the British jet-set display their eccentric mise.

Rain, fashion, gossip and bubbles are key ingredients of this incredible race. Truly British.

: I wrongly named this event Epsom Derby in the original version of the post. Thanks Oli for pointing out I meant Ascot.

20. Academy Awards

I don’t need you to explain the value of the Oscars. We all concur this is THE event for the film industry. Being part of such an event is a privilege of the few.

Participating means being in proximity of the Hollywood’s gotha. It also mean stepping on the Red Carpet.

Those who manage to attend are established actors, movie producers, directors and influential leaders in the film industry. Not your usual VIP list.

21. Geneva International Motor Show

Whether you are a fan or not of motors, the Geneva Motor Show is the signature event for one of the biggest industries worldwide.

Running since 1905, this salon has annually hosted all the car models that made history. Car companies showcase their latest products and their latest concept cars.

Press is all over the place and their reviews can make or break the financial year of exhibiting companies.

22. International CES

CES is the trade show for technology. Every year large crowds gather to Las Vegas to understand how technology will change our future.

In years products like the VCR, the Compact Disc, the Plasma TV and HDTV have been introduced at this show.

I would have loved to attend the 1982 edition when the Commodore 64, a piece of history for my generation.

23. Isle Of Wight Festival

Monopolizing an entire island for a music festival is something that catches my attention. Since 1968 this festival has attracted large crowds to a very small British island.

The 1970 event was so crowded that the English Parliament had to issue an act against it.

Artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Joni Mitchell, The Who and more recently Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen performed at a concert that nowadays draws approximately 55,000 attendees.

Dare I say, whether the English Parliament likes it or not, Rock’n’roll!

24. SXSW

For the startup and social junkie that I am, SXSW is the must attend event of the year.

Yes it is not what is used to be. Yes it grew over proportion. But who cares, SXSW is the place to be if you are in tech and believe in the Internet.

Services like Twitter or Foursquare exploded at SXSW. Every year young geeks from around the world fly to Austin to display their latest idea, in the hope to become the next Biz Stone and Ev Williams.

The event is also a true example of knowledge democratisation. Its panel picker allows attendees to vote for sessions, making the program user-generated. That is quite cool.

25. King’s Birthday Thailand

His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej is the king of Thailand. He is almost a living divinity for Thai people. Lese majesty offenders are punished with jail.

On the 5th of December, millions of Thai people gather to celebrate the King’s birthday. It is a spectacular event with parades, boat processions along the river and fireworks.

Last year the event was silenced by the terrible floods that brought Thailand to its knees. This year it seems like the event will go back to its incredible magnificence, attracting once again the interest of locals and tourists.

In Conclusion

As an event professional and a demanding attendee, I’ve presented you a list of events that will inspire you.

There is a lot to learn from how long living traditions have turned into iconic events.

If you have attended one of these events, share your experience. If you have more to suggest, use the comments section.

If you enjoyed it, share it.