THE METALLIC, GUN-POWDERY smell of sparklers and Roman candles bring back childhood memories of 4th of July shenanigans. My cousins and I once inadvertently set fire to a nearby field at my uncle’s house and an evergreen tree a few years later at my grandma’s. And while our playful pyrotechnics were fun, they were no match for the grand fireworks displays in New York City or Washington D.C. that we would watch on the 4th.
While big holidays like Independence Day and New Year’s Eve are famous for their displays, there are plenty of other fantastic fireworks shows (of course there are thousands more than the 10 listed – add any suggestions for your favorite show in the comments).
Malta International Fireworks Festival: Valletta, Malta
Held in April in the Grand Harbour, the fireworks festival is a competition between Maltese fireworks factories and is now also a celebration of Malta’s joining the European Union in 2004. Started in 2001, it combines pyromusical shows and competitive displays over two nights, with around an hour and a half of fireworks each night. See them best from Barriera Wharf.
Thunder Over Louisville: Louisville, Kentucky
Held each year in April to celebrate the opening of the Kentucky Derby Festival, Thunder Over Louisville is North America’s largest fireworks display. It’s 28 minutes of shock and awe that got its name from the sound made during the first big show in 1990.
With a one-mile signature ‘waterfall’ along the 2nd Street bridge, the display has two basic rules it has followed through its history: “Rule One: Make every sequence a finale of sorts. Rule Two: Don’t drag it out.”
See the show for free from Waterfront Park, but keep in mind that there will be around 500,000 people in and around the area. Matador’s Kate Sedgwick, a Louisvillian, says it’s best to bike there if you can. Traffic is at a standstill within 15 miles of downtown for hours afterwards.
L’International des Feux Loto-Québec: Montreal, Canada
This international fireworks competition started in 1985 at La Ronde, Québec’s largest amusement park. Around 3 million people each year see the ‘pyromusical’ half-hour shows.
Starting this year on June 25 and ending July 30, there will be 9 fireworks shows – Saturdays and most Wednesdays in July.
This year’s competitors are China, Czech Republic, England, Italy, Australia, United States, Canada, and France. Each country has its own theme; Australia’s is The Colors of Kakadu, and the United States is going with The Wizard of Oz. The finale on the 30th is a Beatles tribute.
The countries are competing for the Jupiter award. In 2010, Canada won gold (second year in a row), Sweden the silver, and France took bronze.
Harborfest: Oswego, New York
Every July for the past 23 years, Oswego, in north-central New York state, has been hosting Harborfest. The Energy Nuclear fireworks show on Saturday night brings in about 100,000 people (total population of Oswego is around 18,000 people).
It’s a Fireworks by Grucci show — the Grucci family has owned the fireworks company for five generations, and they’ve designed and produced fireworks shows for American presidential inaugurations and the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Athens.
The best spot to watch the fireworks would be from your own boat in the harbor. If you don’t happen to have a boat, watch from the harbor area between Fort Ontario on the east to Breitbeck Park on the west side.
Edinburgh International Festival: Edinburgh, Scotland
The Edinburgh International Festival in August is three weeks of classical cultural events, including music, theatre, opera, dance, and more. Founded in 1947, it was designed to be “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit.” The event is closed by a fireworks show.
The Virgin Money Fireworks Concert at Princes Street Gardens is billed as “the world’s biggest and most spectacular fireworks concert.” The Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays near Edinburgh Castle, and the 100,000+ fireworks are synchronized to the music.
Miyajima-on-the-Sea Fireworks Display: Miyajima, Japan
Japan is big on fireworks; it has 200 shows in August alone. And while there are bigger ones in Japan, with the backdrop of the the Otorii Gate, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and gateway to Itsukushima Shrine, the Miyajima-on-the-Sea fireworks show (on August 14 this year) is pretty amazing. There are seven stages or scenes set up to reflect each year’s theme.
See if you can join a friend aboard a boat or buy a ticket for a ferry to get a unique view, or go for free and watch along the shore. Between 200,000 and 300,000 people attend, so if you want a good spot, go early. As in 8 or 9AM early.
Thames Festival: London, England
London’s largest outdoor arts festival takes place every September along the River Thames (September 10-11 this year). The two-day event includes a temporary beach, live music stages, and a parade of boats down the river. The finale is the fireworks show after the Night Carnival.
Over a ton of fireworks are set off from two barges in the river. It’s one of only three times during the year that fireworks can be set off from the river. The best places to see the 10-minute show are from Victoria Embankment, Blackfriars Bridge, and Waterloo Bridge.
Tsuchiura National Fireworks Competition: Tsuchiura City, Japan
The first Saturday in October along the Sakura River, 50 major Japanese firework makers come together to compete and show off their products in one of the country’s largest fireworks events. It’s a 2-hour spectacle, and the show has been a tradition since 1925.
Buyers from around the country attend the show to see the latest designs and technology and to place orders for the following year’s summer events. The crowds are massive, and if you want a non-rice-paddy or street seat, you’ll have to pay.
Guy Fawkes Night: England
Celebrating the failed Gunpowder Plot on November 5, 1605, that was an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night is celebrated with fireworks throughout England. You can go pretty much anywhere in the country and see a fireworks show on or around November 5.
Castillos de Torre: Tultepec, Mexico
Tultepec is Mexico’s “Capital of Pyrotechnics,” with more firework makers per capita than anywhere else in the country; it produces 80% of Mexico’s fireworks. It’s also home to many legendary pyro-technicians.
The town hosts a week-long fireworks festival every year around March 8 to honor San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of the town and of firework makers and firefighters. The most spectacular event of the week is the Burning of the Bulls. Paper mache bulls are painted and filled with fireworks, which are then set off at nightfall. While the ‘bravest’ stand close to the fireworks, it’s really a spectacle best observed from afar.
Honorable Mention: Pretty much any Independence Day
Many countries celebrate their independence or just general existence with a national holiday capped with a fireworks display. Here are a few that have some stunning shows:
Australia Day on January 26, Declaration of Independence Day in Venezuela on April 19, Canada Day on July 1, Bastille Day in France on July 14, Singapore National Day on August 9, Mexican Independence Day on September 16, and China National Day on October 1.