Carnival season is a time to celebrate, sit back, and enjoy the life happening around you. There are so many amazing Carnivals in the world that you will want to be sure to experience as many of them as you possibly can. The following is a list of some of the best carnivals around the globe and information on what you can expect should you choose to celebrate. Carnival is a time where elaborate rituals change the world for a few days and make it just a little bit more interesting. Carnivals are often a celebration of the winter turning into spring or the dark turning into light, which is a great way to celebrate all of the new life that is seen in the spring months.
Carnival of Rio de Janeiro
WHERE: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
WHEN: Friday - Tuesday prior to Lent
The Carnival of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is the most famous and popular carnival in all of the world. Each year around three million people visit the festivities and take part in the many different events. One of the most popular things about this carnival is the Schools of Samba parade that is held at the Sambadrome. This parade is definitely an event that every person in the world needs to see and experience at least once during their lifetime. In addition to the parade, there are street parties happening during the entirety of the celebration. This event lasts from Friday until Tuesday in the five days preceding the Lent holiday. There are over 100 Samba schools and more than 300 bands that participate and play during the carnival.
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America
WHEN: January 6th and lasts 2 weeks
New Orleans is most notably known as the city of jazz and it is here that there is a huge Mardis Gras celebration that takes place each year. In fact, the New Orleans Mardis Gras is the most celebrated carnival in the United States. The event takes place in the streets of the city where visitors get to experience live music and parades. The festival weaves through the city streets and along the Mississippi River. The parades are dedicated to mythological creatures, the most popular of which include Bacchus, King Zulu, Orfeu, and Edimiao. The local people love to have picnics and enjoy the company of their families as well during Mardis Gras. Each year the celebration starts on January 6th. The 12th night is a separate special celebration called Epiphany Feast. The carnival lasts for two weeks just prior to the Mardis Gras. Around two hundred and fifty thousand people embark on the journey and end up in downtown New Orleans. They party with masks and costumes that are inspired by France in the 1700s. One of the most popular tradition is that of the Mardis Gras bead necklaces.
WHERE: Venice, Italy
WHEN: February 15th to March 4th
One of the most extravagant events to take place in Europe is Venice’s carnival. This is a time of celebration that lasts from February 15th until March 4th each year. It is a long and extensive carnival that takes place in the heart of the city. This event is known for its elegance, but do not let that fool you, there is still plenty of adventure left for you to “get your freak on.” While it might look like a crazy event full of wild times, you will want to note that it is really a civil event where everyone goes to have a lot of fun. There are some events that are private for this carnival though. If you want to fully enjoy the adventure, make sure that you figure out how you can get your hands on a ticket for the famous masked ball, the Gran Ballo delle Maschere.
Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
WHERE: Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
WHEN: February (Pre-Lent)
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is held each year on the largest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife. This event is a pre-Lent celebration that more than 200,000 people attend each year. Each year there are a number of exciting things going on with this festival. One of these is the election of the Carnival Queen. Other events include parties with elaborate masks and a parade that ends with a huge float dedicated to the Burial of the Sardine in which widows mourn the 30 foot fish that is made out of paper mache.
Notting Hill Carnival
WHERE: London, United Kingdom
WHEN: Last Sunday and Monday of August
Notting Hill Carnival takes place in London, England and is known as one of the most popular carnivals in all of Europe. The events begin with Brazilian samba schools participating in true Brazilian style. The two most popular and famous schools are The London School of Samba and The Paraiso School of Scamba. They bring the unique style of a Brazilian carnival across the globe to England. The event takes place yearly on the last Sunday and Monday of August. It features a two day parade with more than 50,000 artists and over a million visitors. There are actually more than forty different points that weave through the parade’s route where visitors can check out the delicious Brazilian foods and listen to the music.
WHERE: Cologne, Germany
WHEN: Mid-November to Mid-February
In Cologne they call the carnival season the fifth season. This is one of the longest carnivals. It starts in mid-November and lasts into mid-February. The main event is held on the last Friday of the carnival. This is called the Women’s Carnival Day. On this day each year women dress up in fancy clothes and head to work like a normal day. Once their workday is over, they put on masks and go to elaborate balls and parties that are held throughout the city. These festivities kick off a long and wonderfully fabulous weekend full of splendor. The peak of the weekend happens on Monday which is known as Rose Monday. On Monday there is a huge parade with very creative floats. Parade goers are able to catch small boxes of chocolates and other various trinkets as they are thrown from the float.
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
WHEN: 1st weekend in March
The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the largest carnival that is held in the Caribbean. This festival takes place the first weekend in March. During the carnival weekend, there will be over eight hundred thousand people in attendance. The parade route is actually more than six miles long. Those who are in attendance are able to walk along the route to see a number of unique activities and booths set up for visitors to get to experience more of what the islands have to offer. There are Carnival King and Carnival Queen competitions as well as steel drum contests happening throughout the city. This means that you can find something that is going to interest you, no matter what your interests might be thanks to the diversity that is seen in Trinidad during carnival. The biggest must see event is the party that starts at 2 am called J’ouvert. This party requires participants to paint themselves in bright colored paint. Then they dance and enjoy the entire night until the next morning. The costumes that are seen here are some of the most elaborate in the world as well, sometimes scaffolding and wheels are needed to allow for the costumes to move with the people.
WHERE: Binche, Belgium
WHEN: Shrove Tuesday
Binche Carnival happens in Belgium and is a unique carnival celebration as it pays homage to the country as well as the events. There are even unique traditions that take place that are in relation to the unique traditions of Belgium. In fact UNESCO (the organization that denotes world heritage sites) has named the carnival as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” On many of the Sundays leading up to Ash Wednesday there are small parades that happen throughout Belgium. These parades have live music and performances that celebrate the heritage of Belgium. The main event, which takes place on Shrove Tuesday, is celebrate with clown performers who wear wooden shoes and wax masks and perform in a variety of different ways.
Quebec Winter Carnival
WHERE: Quebec, Canada
WHEN: Usually in February
Many people do not realize that Quebec is the snow capital of the world. In fact, if you are traveling to the Quebec Winter Carnival, you are sure to be greeted with a fresh blanket of snow. This carnival takes place in what can only be described as a winter wonderland. Quebec actually hosts the largest winter carnival in the world. This festival actually makes you want to be outdoors even if you hate the cold. There is a lot going on during this carnival which includes dog sled races, various snow sports, traditional Quebec activities, shows, parties, canoe races, and parades. Everything is headed up by the popular mascot, Bonhomme Carnaval. Artists from around the world even travel to Quebec for the event and to participate in the ice and snow art exhibitions.
WHEN: 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
The Ati-atihan Festival is known as the Philippines Mardis Gras. This carnival is held during a third week of January. This is the second Sunday after the epiphany. The festival takes place on the island of Panay. It is a full on celebration of the Santo Nino. The people celebrate with elaborate brightly colored costumes, flags, and tons of events. There are parties and a lot of celebrations happening. Plus, there are a lot parades, street performances, food, and other festivities so there is no shortage of events to attend or things to do. Everyone would benefit from learning about Filipino culture and by going to Ati-atihan Festival, you can learn about the culture and have a ton of fun as well.
Up Helly Aa
WHERE: Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
WHEN: The last Tuesday in January
Scotland’s annual carnival is called Up Helly Aa. This celebration goes back in history to the time of the Vikings and celebrates what it would have been like to enjoy the Viking culture during its height. These festivals are centered around fire. There are fire dancers, fires, and many different types of activities that all include flames. The festival is held during the middle of the winter. It is a way of marking the ending of the yule season. There is even a procession of spectators that usually includes thousands of participants. The festival takes place in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands of Scotland.
WHERE: Montevideo, Uruguay
WHEN: January to early March
The Carnival in Uruguay is one of the largest in the world. It lasts forty days! This celebration is one of the biggest and is the longest running carnival anywhere in the world. The carnival begins with the selection of the prized Carnival Queen. This is followed by lavish parades and multiple festivities from around the globe. One of the most impressive sites to see are the carnival shows that take place on giant stages called tablados.
WHERE: Nice, France
WHEN: Two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday
The carnival that takes place in Nice, France each year was originally influenced by the carnival that takes place in Venice, Italy. Masks are one of the most important parts of the festival activities as the illusion of mystery is strong with this one. The festival is two weeks long and ends on Mardis Gras or Fat Tuesday. Mardis Gras is actually a direct French translation to Fat Tuesday. There are many Catholic traditions that take place. One of these is that you are to eat a lot of fatty rich foods while enjoying the festivities. There are many different parades that take place as well. The most popular of these parades is the Battle of Flowers. This parade is a full parade where floats are adorned with flowers and bouquets that help the people to celebrate the joys of spring. When you are a spectator at this event, it is encouraged to pick up the discarded or fallen blooms and to throw them to add to the vibrancy of the occasion. The second most popular parade is one that celebrates modern life. Each year there is a theme and parade goers watch the nighttime parade.
Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht)
WHERE: Basel, Switzerland
WHEN: Between February and March
The Fasnacht is the carnival celebration that takes place in Basel, Switzerland. This is the largest Swiss festival each year and is one that is very popular among the people who live there as well as those who visit. This festival does start a week later than carnival does in many places around the world. While most of the celebrations are in line with Catholic traditions, Basel’s celebration is Protestant and the fact that it starts a week later was devised during the Renaissance when people did not want it to be mistaken as part of the Catholic celebrations. One of the traditions for this festival is confetti. Not only is confetti thrown from the floats but it is also tossed by the patrons.
Carnival of Cadiz
WHERE: Cadiz, Spain
WHEN: February to March
One of the things that makes the carnival in Cadiz, Spain so unique is the level of energy that both the patrons and the performers have. This festival boasts an international spotlight as it has become one of the most popular carnival celebrations anywhere in the world. Prohibition has made the carnival a celebration in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries a challenge, but that did not stop the participants from having fun and enjoying the festivities despite there not being alcohol to consume. Don’t worry, there is no prohibition currently and the festival goers did manage to elude authorities a bit when there was. The popular events include eating all of the delicious foods and the parades. However, one of the unique events that is considered to be a most popular attraction are Chirigotas, which are unique street performances of satirical songs that poke fun at current events and politicians within the country.
The Carnival in Oruro
WHERE: Oruro, Bolivia
WHEN: 40 days before Easter
The Oruro Carnival is off the charts in its uniquely weird experience. In fact, this is the weirdest festival on the list and one that you will want to attend to if you are interested in the weird. The event is celebrated in Bolivia and it seems that literally everyone (men, women, and children) comes out to help celebrate or perform in the festival. One of the biggest events is a HUGE parade that lasts for more than 20 hours! This parade tells a story about how good is always going to triumph over evil. This is a celebration of more for the people living here and something worth celebrating. The attendees enjoy a lot of alcohol and at the end of the parade there is a giant fire which everyone helps to put out by having a giant water fight.
WHERE: Copenhagen, Denmark
WHEN: Usually in the beginning of June
The Copenhagen Carnival is the newest carnival in the world. In fact, while many of these other carnivals have taken place for hundreds of years, but the festivities in Copenhagen just started in 1982. Today the event sees around one hundred thousand visitors annually. The events are focussed on the samba performances and feature unique events from around the globe. It takes place over three days where large parades are celebrated with unique floats. This event takes place each spring when the days are longer and the weather is nicer. The activities are all free to anyone who would like to attend and offer a unique and enriching look into the amazing city of Copenhagen.
Kandy Esala Perahera
WHERE: Sri Lanka
WHEN: 1st week in August
The Kandy Esala Perahera takes place in Sri Lanka for ten days starting during the first week in August and ending just after the second week. The translation is Festival of the Sacred Tooth. This is a unique event that features a lot of mystery and fun. One of the most popular attractions are the whip dancers. Other attractions include musicians, fire breathers, and elephants who are wearing costumes. In fact over one hundred elephants are marched through the streets, some of whom carry what is believed to be the tooth of the Buddha. While the majority of the festival is steeped in Buddhist traditions and beliefs, there are also aspects of Hinduism and Ceylon (an ancient religion).
WHERE: Konya, Turkey
The Mevlana Festival in Turkey takes places in December. It is also known as the Whirling Dervish Festival. This festival actually celebrates a Sufi Saint named Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. It is a commemoration of his union with the Allah. Rumi had many teachings, one of which was a celebration in the form of ecstatic dancing to Allah. There are literally thousands in attendance, including both locals and visitors, who come to watch as this very dance is performed in an elaborate ceremony called Sema. The dancers can be seen twirling and dancing feverishly in long skirts.
WHERE: Nepal and India
WHEN: The end of March
The Holi Festival takes place in Nepal and India.This amazing celebration is actually known as the Festival of Colors. In fact, the festival is actually celebrated around the globe, but the biggest part of the festival takes place in Nepal and India. It happens each year for two days towards the end of March. In fact, it often coincides with the Easter weekend that Christians celebrate. This festival was originally a Hindu celebration of good triumphing over evil. However, today the festival is celebrated by practitioners of a number of different faiths throughout South Asia. One of the most unique traditions that shows how this celebration is a sense of community, is that the celebration begins with a huge bonfire where people gather to eat together. However, the most popular and main event of the festival is called Rangwali Holi. This is where people take handfuls of colored powder and throw at one another.