Diwali around the world

Diwali celebrations see cities around the world come alive with fireworks, parades and colourful decorations. Fancy joining in the festivities? London-based travel journalist Meera Dattani knows all the best places to go…

The most important festival in the Hindu calendar, the five-day Festival of Lights, or Diwali, celebrates the return from exile of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, and victory over the demon Ravana. According to Hindu mythology, Rama was welcomed back to his birthplace by rows of clay lamps, symbolising the victory of good over evil.

Diwali is a moveable feast, its dates determined by the lunar calendar, with the most significant day of the festivities falling on the first new moon night of the Hindu month Kartika. Whichever date it falls on each year, millions of Jains, Sikhs and Hindus around the world will mark the event with light ceremonies, celebratory food and fireworks. So wherever you are in the world, find the heart of Diwali nearby.

London, UK

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple London UK Diwali

The northwest London neighbourhood of Neasden is home to the largest traditional Hindu temple outside India, so it’s not surprising that it hosts the UK’s biggest Diwali celebrations. Worshippers flock to Neasden Temple or BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir to pray, give food offerings, or prasad, and celebrate. Garlands of jasmine and yellow flowers decorate the complex, along with rangoli patterns made from rice, paint and flower petals, and clay oil lamps, or diyas, welcome Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. Try savoury samosas and sugary jalebi from the food stalls before the dazzling evening fireworks display.

Stay nearby at the Hilton London Wembley, with its pool, gym and bars, or jump on a tube and choose from the many hotels in central London.

Toronto, Canada

Toronto Canada Diwali

Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods – and the one to head for during Diwali is Little India. Strung out along a stretch of Gerrard Street East, this is where Gerrard India Bazaar, North America’s largest South Asian ethnic market, plays host to magic shows and dance performances. Henna tattoo artists, food vendors and music are all part of the festivities, and if Diwali and Eid a-Fitr fall around the same time, a joint Diwali-Eid festival takes place – a true testament to Toronto’s diverse communities. Fireworks are limited in central Toronto so if it’s pyrotechnics you’re after, head to nearby BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

Check out other city neighbourhoods while you’re in Toronto, and stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Toronto Downtown, near lively Chinatown.

Durban, South Africa

Durban South Africa Diwali

Reputedly the largest ‘Indian’ city outside India, Durban celebrates Diwali with panache during a free, three-day festival of floats, fireworks and food at the old Drive-in site on Sylvester Ntuli Road. Celebrations include a street parade, with decorated floats transporting dancers, musicians and statues of Indian deities along Doctor Goonam Street towards the site. Alongside a programme of bhajans (religious songs) and an aarti light-offering ceremony, there’s a glittering fireworks display and music and dance performances, often featuring international stars. Reasons to stay late include live music, craft stalls and lots of food vendors – try Durban specialty, bunny chow, a curry-filled bread loaf.

Relax post-party at nearby Belaire Suites, a four-star beachfront property with 124 apartments and great sea views.

New York, USA

New York Diwali fireworks

It’s fitting that New York’s brightest square should host the Festival of Lights celebration. The eight-hour extravaganza in Times Square is the largest Asian-Indian cultural event in the USA, with Bollywood stars and international singers in attendance. The early celebrations include fashion shows and dance competitions, and a tea light or diya-lighting ceremony shown on a big screen. Alongside food vendors, you’ll find stalls selling clothing, crafts and accessories, and the day culminates with state-of-the-art digital fireworks and a ‘Light Up Times Square’ concert.

Stay at Row NYC, with bright, minimal rooms and imaginative facilities including a food hall, digital art gallery, express beauty bar and 24-hour lobby shop.

Amritsar, India

Golden Temple Amritsar India Diwali

The Golden Temple at Amritsar is already quite a sight, with its gilded dome and ornate decorations – but during Diwali, when it attracts thousands of worshippers and visitors, this revered Sikh place of worship is even more unforgettable. While Sikhs celebrate Diwali for different reasons, it’s with similar gusto. The temple complex and lake is a dazzling vision of oil lamps and floating candles, the evening air crackles with the sound of fireworks and firecrackers, and street-food vendors sell tasty Indian snacks and mithai, or sweets.

Just 1.5 kilometres from the Golden Temple, you can stay at the Country Inn & Suites By Radisson, Amritsar, with its rooftop pool and restaurant.

Little India, Singapore

Little India Singapore Diwali

The always-buzzing Little India neighbourhood along Serangoon Road is at the heart of Singapore’s Diwali celebrations. Colourful decorated arches loop over the street, and floral garlands and bright lights decorate the shop fronts. Festivities include an open-air concert, Silver Chariot Procession from Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown, and the Deepavali Festival Village, a vast bazaar along Campbell Lane and Hastings Road lined with food vendors, henna artists, and chaiwallahs serving sweet tea. Stop by the ornate Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one of Little India’s most important temples, for its Diwali decorations.

At the western end of Serangoon Road is Village Hotel Albert Court, a boutique hotel with an open-air lobby bar and Shish Mahal restaurant serving Northern Indian cuisine.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Diwali

With state laws prohibiting fireworks and firecrackers, Diwali in Hong Kong is a relatively low-key, local affair – but that’s not to say visitors can’t enjoy the celebrations. Many restaurants are colourfully decorated and serve special menus, while some club venues host Bollywood nights. On the more spiritual side, there are prayers and food offerings at Hong Kong’s most important Hindu Temple in Happy Valley and at Kowloon Hindu temple in Tsim Sha Tsui, both decorated with garlands and tea lights. Also in Tsim Sha Tsui, bazaar-style Chungking Mansions is packed with punters during Diwali, buying Indian sweets, films, food and clothes.

International designers and architects including Terence Conran helped create Hotel ICON in Kowloon, which comes complete with a vertical garden and hi-tech guest rooms.

Looking for more? Find seasonal inspiration with things to do, see and more reasons to celebrate here.

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