12 romantic things to do around the world

Bonfires, pigs and mass weddings... If you're looking for an alternative way to celebrate Valentine's Day, explore how other countries do it on the 14th February (or their equivalent)
Valentine's Day in Japan. Photo: Shutterstock
Valentine's Day in Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Brazil

Valentine’s Day often falls during the Brazilian Carnival so to avoid the celebration being forgotten a different date has been chosen for ‘Lovers' Day'. Known as Dia Dos Enamorados, Lovers' Day is celebrated on 12th June every year with festivals and musical performances held throughout cities and towns across the country. Young and old, family, friends and lovers all celebrate this day, gathering and exchanging cards and gifts of flowers and chocolates. Lovers' Day was chosen to be celebrated on the eve of St. Anthony's Day (the patron saint of marriage). It is said that St. Anthony helped reconcile young couples and blessed them with a happy marriage. So on this day single women often perform rituals, called simpatias, in the hope of finding a good husband. To celebrate Dia Dos Enamorados this summer, contact Insight Guides’ local expert to plan a trip to Brazil.

2. Argentina

In a nation famed for its passion, Valentine's Day is celebrated on the 14th February by giving gifts and cards. However, one day for the celebration of love is not enough. In July, Argentina celebrates ‘Sweetness Week'. Friends and lovers exchange candy for kisses throughout this week long celebration of kindness. Although Sweetness Week was first publicised by a confectionary company, Arcor's, in 1989 to promote their new product ‘Bon o Bon' (their slogan was ‘Candy for Kisses') the passionate nation has embraced the week, extending tender gestures to those around them, as well as their loved ones. Experience this event for yourself on Insight Guides' Argentina: Tango and Glaciers holiday.

3. China

The Day of Love, Qixi Festival, is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month in China. Known as the Night of Seven, it usually falls in early August. The festival celebrates the love and annual reunion of Zhinu and Niulang, characters from an age-old Chinese legend. Young Chinese girls go to temples and pray to Zhinu, Goddess of Love and Relationships, for her help in finding a good husband. They offer carved melons and fruit in the hope she will hear their intentions. Couples pray for happiness and prosperity. 

In south-west China, Sisters' Meals Festival is also celebrated. Taking place in April, it is a celebration of love and spring. Women cook rice which they dye four different colours, blue, pink, yellow and white. Each colour represents a different season. Different objects are wrapped in rice and silk to be handed to serenading suitors. The object found inside the parcel determines the fate of their future relationship. 

Tour across China, taking in these romantic traditions as your travel, on Insight Guides’ China and Tibet – An Unforgettable Adventure  .

4. Wales

The Welsh celebrate their patron saint of lovers, St Dwynwen on the 25th January each year. Instead of the usual chocolates, flowers and cards the Welsh gift lovespoons on this day. The lovespoon is an old traditional gift dating back to the 17th Century. Men presented ladies with wooden spoons that had intricate carvings to show their romantic intent. Spoons were carved with objects varying from hearts, anchors, wheels, keys and crosses. Designs were symbolic, with each object signifying something different. Carved spoons reflected the skill of the man, proving to her father he would be able to provide for her. Men keep up the tradition by giving them to women they love, as a token of their affection, on St Dwynwen's Day, their wedding days and their anniversaries.

Hand-carved Daffodil lovespoon.Hand-carved Daffodil lovespoons are a regular romantic gift in Wales. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Japan

Forget men giving women gifts, in Japan it is customary for women to give men chocolates on Valentine's Day. This unique style of celebration was formed to give women a chance to show their affections as they were notoriously reserved. Chocolates are given to everyone on Valentine's Day, not just the woman's true love. Giri-choco (obligation chocolates) are given to male friends and colleagues. These do not signify any romantic involvement. They are cheaper and less attractive and of less quality than Honmei-choco (a true love chocolate). 

Women give Honmei-choco to their boyfriend, lover, husband or someone they have romantic feelings for. It should be handed out with a gesture of ‘I like you' or ‘I love you'. If the recipient feels the same, it is customary for them to buy a gift (three times the cost of what they received) and give it to the woman a month later on White Day. Give the gift of chocolate this Valentine’s Day on Insight Guides’ Completely Japan trip.

6. South Africa

Festivals are celebrated with passion and enthusiasm on any occasion in South Africa but the celebration of love is infused with even more energy. Celebrated on 14th February, women dress in red and white to signify purity and love on Valentine's Day. Some still follow the ancient Roman tradition, Lupercalia, by wearing their hearts on their sleeves. They write their lover's name, or someone who holds their affection, on a piece of paper, often red and in the shape of a heart and pin it to their sleeve for the day. The hope is the person of their desire will see whose heart they hold and will feel the same way. Some men also get into the spirit, wearing their hearts on their sleeves and giving flowers to women they love. Visit South Africa this Valentine’s Day on either of Insight Guides’ suggested trips.

7. Philippines

What could be a better celebration of the love shared between two people than tying the knot? Valentine's Day has become the most popular day for weddings in the Philippines. People gather, en masse, to get married in unison. Shopping malls and other public areas throughout towns and cities are mobbed with women wearing white, alongside their partners and other couples. They are all ready to engage in a mass ceremony, supported by the government, to commit to their love. Couples that are already wed gather to celebrate their love by renewing their vows. Over 4,000 people have assembled at once on Valentine's Day in the Philippines to become man and wife.  

8. Germany

Since Valentine's Day was first celebrated in Germany in the 1950s, the Germans have added their own twist to the festivities. Pigs, in any form, are exchanged between couples as a sign of luck and lust. Pig shaped chocolates, cards and framed pictures or miniature statues of pigs holding hearts can all be seen in shops around Valentine's Day. 

A slightly sweeter and more traditional exchange is the gift of giant heart shaped cookies, frosted with the words Ich Liebe Dich (I love you) or other romantic phrases. Originally, Valentine's Day was only celebrated by adults in Germany but more recently it has become popular with younger people. Germans have taken on the celebration, wholeheartedly, expressing their love and affection, not only on this day but year-round.

Macaroons make for a tasty treat on Valentine's Day in France. Macaroons make for a tasty treat on Valentine's Day in France. Photo: Shutterstock

9. Italy

La Festa Degli Innamorati, ‘Day of Love' or ‘Lovers' started as a spring festival in Italy. Still celebrated on the 14th February, young people used to gather in ornamental gardens and tree arbours to listen to music and poetry on this day. They would pair off with their valentines at the end of the show and stroll around the gardens. The country, in love with love, no longer celebrates in this way. Music and poetry are still enjoyed but the Italians have accepted the modern way of celebrating by giving chocolates to their lovers. Baci Perugina, small chocolate covered hazelnuts or ‘chocolate kisses', are exchanged between couples. Inside the box of chocolates is a romantic phrase or love quote, written in four languages. Visit one of Italy’s most romantic cities on Insight guides’ Florence: A Trip Back In Time holiday.

10. France

France is a country famous for attracting lovers. It is synonymous with love and alluring passion. It is said that the first Valentine’s card was sent by a French man, the Duke of Orleans. After he was captured at Agincourt and imprisoned in the tower of London where he wrote love letters or ‘valentines’ to his wife back in France. 

France's celebration of Valentine's Day, known as une loterie d'amour or ‘Drawing for Love' was not such a romantic tale. Men and women would gather in separate houses, opposite each other, shout through the windows calling for their lover until they were united. However, if the woman did not live up to expectations then men would reject them and move on to another. All the rejected women gathered around a bonfire throwing in photos and shouting profanities about their ex-lovers. This tradition was eventually banned by the French government as it got too out of control. Now the French celebrate in more traditional ways. 

Spend Valentine’s Day among lovers in the French capital on Insight Guides’ Luxury Paris trip.

11. Denmark

Young people in Denmark started to celebrate Valentine's Day in the early 1990s, making up three quirky traditions unique to the country. Cards and flowers are given to loved ones but if you are celebrating in Denmark don't expect red roses. Instead, it is traditional for the Danish to give snowdrops to their lovers and a transparent love token (card), which bears the image of gifts being received by lovers. The cards are placed in front of a light projecting the image across the room. 

The most individual gift in Denmark is the Gaekkebrev. These are romantic poems and funny rhymes, signed off with dots, one dot for every letter in the giver's names. The lucky receiver must guess their admirer. If they succeed they will be bought an Easter egg by that person the coming Easter. If not, it is reversed, and they must buy their admirer an Easter egg.

12. Spain

Celebrations for the patron saint of love take place on the 9th October in Valencia. It is celebrated with festivals and parades of people dressed up in colourful costumes. They are held in the main plazas of every town and village. Men demonstrate their affection by offering their partners Mocadona, marzipan figures in the shape of fruits and vegetables. The sweets are wrapped in a silk handkerchief before they are given. These gifts signify their love and appreciation for one another. 

In the Catalonia region, the day of lovers is celebrated on St George's Day, 23rd April. It is known as the day of the rose and the day of the book. Men gift women red roses and women reciprocate by giving men books. Performers put on shows in public squares and book shops and cafes around the towns organise book readings for lovers to enjoy. Enjoy either celebration of love on one of Insight Guides’ suggested trips to Spain.

Diada de Sant Jordi or Saint George's Day, a famous Catalan celebration in Barcelona.Diada de Sant Jordi or Saint George's Day, a famous Catalan celebration in Barcelona. Photo: Shutterstock

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