Carnival season is a time to celebrate, sit back, and enjoy the life happening around you. There are so many amazing carnivals around the world that one would want to attend as many as possible. These vibrant celebrations are more than just merrymaking; they’re an explosion of creativity, a platform for storytelling, and a chance to connect with communities old and new.
If you’re tired of visiting overdone tourist sites and flea markets, travelling abroad for a few days of wild festivities may just be what you need to rediscover the joy of travelling. Carnival is a time when elaborate rituals change the world for a few days and make it just a little bit more interesting. Each festival has its own rich history, which originates from the region’s unique chemistry and demographics. 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 seen in the spring months.
The list below includes some of the best carnivals in the world, as well as information about what to expect if you choose to celebrate.
Table of contents
- 1 1- Carnival of Rio de Janeiro
- 2 2- Mardi Gras
- 3 3- Venice Carnival
- 4 4- Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
- 5 5- Notting Hill Carnival
- 6 6- Sitges Carnival
- 7 7- Cologne Carnival
- 8 8- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
- 9 9- Binche Carnival
- 10 10- Quebec Winter Carnival
- 11 11- Ati-atihan Festival
- 12 12- Up Helly Aa
- 13 13- Montevideo Carnival
- 14 14- Nice Carnival
- 15 15- Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht)
- 16 16- Carnival of Cadiz
- 17 17- The Carnival in Oruro
- 18 18- Copenhagen Carnival
- 19 19- Kandy Esala Perahera
- 20 20- Mevlana Festival
- 21 21- Holi Festival
- 22 22- La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
1- Carnival of Rio de Janeiro
WHERE: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
WHEN: Friday – Tuesday before Lent
No list of the best carnivals in the world is complete without the Rio Carnival. The Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the most famous and popular worldwide. Each year, approximately five million people attend the festivities and take part in the various events. One of the most popular aspects of this funfair is the Schools of Samba parade, which takes place at the Sambadrome. This parade is undoubtedly an event that everyone in the world should see and experience at least once in their lifetime. In addition to the parade, street parties are happening throughout the celebration.
This event lasts from Friday until Tuesday five days preceding the Lent holiday. There are over 100 Samba schools and more than 300 bands that participate and play during the carnival. The exotic nature and sensuality of the samba are enhanced by the flashy costumes of the participants. But these costumes are not chosen because of aesthetics; they form part of the story.
2- Mardi Gras
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America
WHEN: January 6th to Feb 20
New Orleans is most widely recognised as the city of jazz, and every year, a massive Mardis Gras celebration is held here. The New Orleans Mardi Gras is the most celebrated carnival in the United States. The event takes place on the city’s streets, 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 during Mardis Gras. Each year, the celebration starts on January 6th. The 12th night is a separate special celebration called the Epiphany Feast. The carnival lasts for two weeks, just before the Mardis Gras. Around 250,000 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 traditions is wearing Mardi Gras bead necklaces
3- Venice Carnival
WHERE: Venice, Italy
WHEN: January 27th to February 13 (2024)
One of the most extravagant events to take place in Europe is Venice’s carnival. This is a time of celebration for which dates are announced each year, mostly it starts at the end of January till the end of March.
It is a long and extensive carnival that takes place in the heart of the city. This event is known for its elegance, but don’t be fooled; there’s still plenty of adventure for you to ‘get your freak on’. While it might look like a crazy event full of wild times, keep in mind that it is a civil event where everyone goes to have a lot of fun. However, some of the carnival’s events are private. If you want to fully enjoy the adventure, make sure that you figure out how you can get your hands on a ticket to the famous masked ball, the Gran Ballo delle Maschere.
4- Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
WHERE: Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
WHEN: February (Pre-Lent)
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is held annually in Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. This is an annual pre-Lenten celebration attended by over 200,000 people. Traditionally, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is celebrated between February and March, depending on the celebration of Holy Week and Ash Wednesday, the day on which, during Carnival, the Burial of the Sardine is celebrated.
Over 100 designated groups, called comparsas, showcase their elaborate costumes, electrifying choreography, and satirical music. Witness intricate dance routines, marvel at towering feathered headdresses, and be swept away by the infectious energy.
Every year, this festival hosts several exciting events. One of these is the selection of the Carnival Queen. Other events include elaborate mask parties and a parade that ends with a massive float dedicated to the Burial of the Sardine, in which widows mourn the 30-foot fish made out of paper mache
5- Notting Hill Carnival
WHERE: London, United Kingdom
WHEN: Last Sunday and Monday of August
The Notting Hill Carnival takes place in London, England, during the August bank holiday weekend 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 Samba. They bring the unique style of a Brazilian carnival across the globe to England.
The event takes place annually 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 more than 40 different points that weave through the parade’s route, where visitors can check out the delicious Brazilian foods and listen to the music.
6- Sitges Carnival
WHERE: Sitges, Spain
WHEN: Mid-February/Early March
Located in the Catalonia region of Spain, the Sitges carnival celebrations are a week-long fiesta consisting of colourful parades and wild parties. Like many other carnivals around the world, this one is also tied to the Easter holiday and takes place during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. In recent years, it has gained enormous popularity with the gay community, making it one of the biggest celebrations of LGBT+ culture not only in Spain but also in all of Europe!
With 50 floats and 300,000 people in attendance during the previous event, this carnival continues to draw tourists and locals alike, who flock to the parade and surrounding parties to indulge their inner party animals one last time before Lent begins.
7- Cologne Carnival
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 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 held throughout the city.
These festivities kick off a long and wonderfully fabulous weekend full of splendour. The peak of the weekend happens on Monday, known as Rose Monday. On Monday, there is a huge parade with very creative floats. Parade-goers can catch small boxes of chocolates and various trinkets as they are thrown from the float.
8- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
WHEN: First weekend in March
The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the largest carnival held in the Caribbean. This festival takes place during the first weekend of March. The 2023 edition of the Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago took place between February 15th and 22nd, resulting in a total visitor expenditure of almost 420 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars (62 million US dollars).
The parade route is more than six miles long. Those in attendance can walk along the route to see several unique activities and stalls set up for visitors 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 the carnival
The biggest must-see event is the J’ouvert party, which starts at 2 a.m. Participants in the Trinidad funfair are required to paint themselves in bright colours. Then they dance all night until the next morning. The costumes seen here are among the most elaborate in the world; scaffolding and wheels are occasionally required to allow the costumes to move with the people
9- Binche Carnival
WHERE: Binche, Belgium
WHEN: February 11 to February 14
Binche Carnival happens in Belgium and is a unique carnival celebration as it pays homage to the country as well as to the events. There are even unique traditions that exist within Belgium’s distinctive traditions. UNESCO (the organisation that designates world heritage sites) has designated the Carnival as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
On many of the Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday, small parades take place throughout Belgium. These parades feature live music and performances celebrating Belgium’s heritage. The main event, which takes place on Shrove Tuesday, features clown performers dressed in wooden shoes and wax masks who perform in a variety of different ways.
10- Quebec Winter Carnival
WHERE: Quebec, Canada
WHEN: Usually in February
Many people do not realise that Quebec is the snow capital of the world. If you are travelling 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 hosts the largest winter carnival in the world. This festival makes you want to be outdoors, even if you hate the cold. A lot is going on during this carnival, which includes sled dog races, various snow sports, traditional Quebec activities, shows, parties, canoe races, and parades. Everything is led 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.
11- Ati-atihan Festival
WHEN: Second Sunday after Epiphany
WEBSITE: Not available
The Ati-atihan Festival is known as the Philippine Mardi Gras. This carnival is held during the 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 Niño.
The people celebrate with elaborate, brightly coloured costumes, flags, and tonnes of events. There are parties and a lot of celebrations. There are also numerous parades, street performances, food, and other festivities, so there are plenty of events to attend and activities to participate in. Everyone would benefit from learning more about Filipino culture, and attending the Ati-atihan Festival allows you to do so while also having a great time.
12- Up Helly Aa
WHERE: Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
WHEN: The last Tuesday in January
Up Helly Aa isn’t your average carnival. This fire festival in the Shetland Islands of Scotland throws a wild, Viking-inspired party to bid farewell to the dark days of winter. Imagine a thousand costumed “guizers” decked out in elaborate helmets, furs, and face paint, snaking through torchlit streets like a mythical serpent breathing fire.
The main event in Lerwick, the capital, happens on the last Tuesday of January, but smaller celebrations ignite across the archipelago throughout February and March. Each community has its own traditions, but the fiery finale remains constant: a replica Viking galley built with loving (and flammable) detail goes up in a glorious blaze, symbolizing the burning away of winter’s grip.
Beyond the mesmerizing flames, Up Helly Aa is a feast for the senses. Raucous music from fiddles and drums fills the air, while the scent of smouldering wood and celebratory libations hangs heavy. Revellers sing ancient Viking sagas, their voices echoing through the narrow streets, and the shared merriment binds the community together in a unique cultural tapestry.
13- Montevideo Carnival
WHERE: Montevideo, Uruguay
WHEN: January to early March
Montevideo Carnival, is the world’s longest celebration of rhythm and joy. Unfurl across 40 sun-drenched days, the carnival explodes with dazzling costumes, thunderous candombe drums, and satirical wit.
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 sights to see is the carnival shows that take place on giant stages called tablados.
14- Nice Carnival
WHERE: Nice, France
WHEN: Two weeks before 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 Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras is a direct French translation of Fat Tuesday. Many Catholic traditions take place. One of these is that you are to eat a lot of fatty, rich foods while enjoying the festivities.
Many different parades take place as well. The most popular of these parades is the Battle of Flowers. This is a full parade where floats are adorned with flowers and bouquets that help the people 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 throw them to add to the vibrancy of the occasion. The second-most popular parade celebrates modern life. Each year there is a theme, and parade-goers watch the nighttime parade.
15- Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht)
WHERE: Basel, Switzerland
WHEN: Between February and March
The Fasnacht is a carnival celebration that takes place in Basel, Switzerland. This is the largest Swiss festival held each year, and it is very popular among the people who live there as well as those who visit. This festival begins a week after most carnivals 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 of this festival is confetti. Not only is the confetti thrown from the floats, but it is also tossed by the patrons.
16- 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 around the world.
Prohibition made carnivals a challenge in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, but that did not stop participants from having fun and enjoying the festivities despite not having alcohol to consume. Don’t worry, there is no prohibition in place right now, and even when there was one, the festival-goers managed to evade the authorities.
The popular events include eating all of the delicious foods and the parades. However, one of the unique events that are considered to be the most popular attraction is Chirigotas, which are unique street performances of satirical songs that poke fun at current events and politicians in the country.
17- The Carnival in Oruro
WHERE: Oruro, Bolivia
WHEN: 55 days before Easter
The Oruro Carnival is off the charts in its uniquely weird experience. This is the weirdest festival on the list and one that you will want to attend 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 who live here, and it is well worth celebrating. The attendees enjoy a lot of alcohol, and at the end of the parade, there is a giant fire that everyone helps to put out by having a giant water fight.
18- Copenhagen Carnival
WHERE: Copenhagen, Denmark
WHEN: Usually at the beginning of June
The Copenhagen Carnival is the newest in the world. While many of these other carnivals have taken place for hundreds of years, the festivities in Copenhagen only started in 1982. Copenhagen Carnival boasts a unique flavour rooted in Nordic sensibilities.
Today, the event sees around 100,000 visitors annually.
The events are focused on samba performances and feature unique events from around the globe. It lasts three days and features large parades with unique floats.
This event takes place each spring when the days are longer and the weather is nicer. The activities are all free and offer a unique and enriching look into the amazing city of Copenhagen.
19- Kandy Esala Perahera
WHERE: Sri Lanka
WHEN: First week in August
The Kandy Esala Perahera takes place in Sri Lanka for ten days, beginning in the first week of August and ending shortly 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 is the whip dancers. Other attractions include musicians, fire breathers, and costumed elephants. Over 100 elephants are marched through the streets, some carrying what is believed to be the Buddha’s tooth.
While the majority of the festival is steeped in Buddhist traditions and beliefs, there are also aspects of Hinduism and Ceylon (an ancient religion).
20- Mevlana Festival
WHERE: Konya, Turkey
The Mevlana Festival in Turkey takes place in December. It is also known as the Whirling Dervish Festival. This festival celebrates a Sufi saint named Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. It is a commemoration of his union with Allah. Rumi had many teachings, one of which was a celebration in the form of ecstatic dancing for Allah.
There are 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. Sufi music and poetry resonate through the streets of Konya, filling the air with an aura of spirituality and devotion.
21- Holi Festival
WHERE: Nepal and India
WHEN: The end of March
The Holi Festival takes place in Nepal and India. This amazing celebration is known as the Festival of Colours. The festival is 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. It often coincides with the Easter weekend, which Christians celebrate.
This festival was originally a Hindu celebration of good triumphing over evil. However, today, the festival is celebrated by practitioners of several different faiths throughout South Asia. One of the most unique traditions that shows how this celebration fosters community senses 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 coloured powder and throw them at one another.
22- La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
WHERE: Buñol, Spain
WHEN: last Wednesday of August
La Tomatina is a food fight festival held in Buñol, a town near Valencia, Spain. It takes place on the last Wednesday of August each year, attracting over 20,000 participants from all over the world.
Over 100 tonnes of ripe tomatoes are squashed and thrown in the streets during the hour-long fight. The tradition is believed to have originated in 1945 from a brawl between young people during a local parade.
Participants wear white clothes and protective goggles to shield themselves from the tomato onslaught. The festival culminates with the crowd hosing off in the town square using fire hoses.
La Tomatina is a messy but fun-filled event that is sure to leave you with lasting memories. If you’re planning on attending, be sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined and bring protective goggles and shoes that you can easily clean.
Hello! I am Axel, tripplo.com’s travel savings, deals and discounts expert and founder. I have been in the travel deals and discounts industry for almost a decade now. It’s me who publish and update most of the content and discounts on tripplo.com! I also have a podcast in which I share valuable information about how to get the best travel deals and discounts.