Planning a trip? Investigate international holidays

If you’re planning to travel outside your home country, it is a good idea to get a sense of what holidays are celebrated in the country or countries you’ll be visiting during the time you’ll be traveling.

Holidays can mean many things. They can mean more people off work or school, resulting in larger crowds on transport and at public venues, they can mean street celebrations, and they can mean that shops, stores and sights might be closed in observance of the occasion.

During our first major trip to Europe in 2009, we had not realized how significant a holiday May 1, or May Day, was in Europe. Worse, that year’s May Day was on a Friday, meaning it also marked the beginning of a three-day weekend, which is an almost-universal cause for rest and relaxation, if not celebration. We didn’t notice a significant number of businesses that were closed, but we definitely felt the crush of the crowd as our train from Milan to Lake Como was jam-packed with people heading home or away for the weekend.

Bellagio's Lake Como waterfront with the Alps in the background

This year, we wrapped up a Baltic cruise in Copenhagen on May 17. The fourth Friday after Easter, it was General Prayer Day, a national holiday. In fact, Denmark has several national holidays tied to Easter including Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), Good Friday and Easter Monday, making Easter a five-day break. Danes also observe Ascension Day (40 days after Easter) and Whit Monday (the seventh Monday after Easter). Christmas Eve Day, Christmas and Dec. 26, which is the Second Day of Christmas, are also national holidays. Though New Year’s Eve is not a public holiday, banks are closed. New Year’s Day is a national holiday.

The flag of Denmark

The list of national holidays observed in Sweden, just across the Øresund strait, is similar but not identical.

Swedes observe New Year’s Day but also Epiphany Sunday. They do not observe Maundy Thursday but do observe Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. While May 1 is “Labour Day,” in Denmark and only a holiday for certain sectors of the workforce, it is called May Day in Sweden and a national holiday. That is followed by Ascension Day at the end of May in 2019. Then there’s National Day on June 6, Whit Sunday on June 9 this year, and Midsummer Day on June 22. The next break comes in November on All Saints Day (Nov. 11 this year), then Christmas Day and the Second Day of Christmas.

Malmö, Sweden's Glasvasen building

In some countries, there are more holidays that are celebrated regionally than nationally. India is an excellent example. While there are only two public holidays – Aug. 15 (Independence Day) and Oct. 2 (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) – and three government holidays, there are literally dozens of regional holidays. Some are observed by a single state while others affect multiple jurisdictions.

Sometimes, different regions will be celebrating different things on the same day. For example, Dec. 1, 2019 is Martyrdom Day of Sri Guru Teg Bahadur Ji in Punjab, State Inauguration Day in Nagaland, and Indigenous faith day in Arunachal Pradesh. Christmas Day is observed in all states but is nonetheless considered a regional holiday.


In some cases, the celebrations may be modest while in others they may have a widespread impact on the things you plan to see and do during your trip, so advance investigation is in order.

First, start with some basic Internet research. Put “National holidays in [destination] in [year you plan to travel]” into your favorite search engine. Look at the dates you plan to travel, and to which locations.

If there is a holiday listed during your planned travel time, ask someone who is truly in the know.

Reach out to the area’s tourism board or the concierge at a major hotel. Tell them you’re planning to be there on the holiday you’ve identified and ask how widely things will be affected.

While May 17 was General Prayer Day in Copenhagen, many of the major shops, stores, restaurants and even the famous Tivoli Gardens were open despite some websites’ advice that, “All businesses are closed” on that day. Clearly, their information was incorrect and (once again) shows you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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