We all have heard stories of the colorful parades, exotic costumes, and lively parties that make up the fabled Rio Carnival, but this festival knows no borders. Set just before the Christian repentance period of Lent, this is the blackout period (no pun intended) when all social conventions are overturned and indulgences are embraced in a mass of music, drinks, food, and dance. From the islands of the Caribbean through the streets of New Orleans all the way back to its birthplace in Europe, Carnival is a global party like no other. With so many places to celebrate this event around the world, we thought we’d trim the list down to five of the most well known and, by comparison, unique Carnivals you have to visit.
With over 2 million people packing the streets each day in vibrant costumes and embracing the rhythmic music of Samba from February 24th to 28th, Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is one of the most lively events in the world. Copacabana and Ipanema beach are host to some of the most animated balls and parties. The fantastic Sambodrome is packed throughout Carnival to showcase the amazing talent and costumes of Brazil’s samba schools as well as the enchanting floats they’ve constructed. Beyond the grand parade, street carnivals line every avenue of the city, inviting dancers and musicians of every caliber to join in the festivities. Those looking to visit Rio will find no way to escape the lively energy of the event – and why would you want to?
Carnival of Venice
As ancient as the Renaissance, Venice is host to one of the finest and oldest Carnivals in the world, attracting over 3 million visitors per year. Though just as colorful and lively as Rio’s Carnival, Venetian costumes focus much more heavily on the use of masks rather than frisky feathered costumes. Instead of crowning a Queen of Carnival like in Rio, Venice features a contest for la maschera più bella (the most beautiful mask), judged by a panel of international fashion designers. These colorful and masterfully crafted masks provide a unique flavor of mystery to the festival. Those looking to tour Italy from February 11th to the 28th will find Venice is one of the most colorful and lively cities to visit.
New Orleans Mardi Gras
New year’s revelry pales in comparison to the extravagance and spirited party atmosphere when Mardi Gras season sets in on New Orleans on February 28th, culminating with the Meeting of the Courts on Fat Tuesday. The largest carnival celebration in the United States, New Orleans Mardi Gras witness a doubling of the population of New Orleans in the week prior to the festival. Many of the balls and events are sponsored by local Krewes who also prepare their individual floats for the vibrant Mardi Gras Parade. With the whole city alive with festivities, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter are the heart of the best parties and street festivals. While visitors should expect the city to be packed to the brim, there are still plenty of things to do in New Orleans for those wishing to escape the splendor of the festival for a while.
Quebec Winter Carnival
We promised you something unique and, when compared to the other events, the Quebec Winter Carnival is one of the strangest festivals and, if we may dare to say, one of the coolest of the scene (pun intended). Even with such chilly weather Quebec City doesn’t shy away from joining in with the merriment of Rio or the rest of the globe. Peaking at over a million visitors annually, the Quebec Winter Carnival is one of the largest winter festivals around the world and still one of the largest carnivals, running from January 27th to February 12th. If New Orleans or Venice were packed with snow they’d probably shut down – but not Quebec, where they bust out the ice picks and carve entire castles for visitors to navigate!
While other carnivals crown their queens and celebrate the most intricate and gorgeous mask, Quebec hosts an annual snow carving competition which hosts everything from giant devils to massive hands reaching up from the ground. Beyond the contest, visitors are treated to the night parade, ice palace, dog sledding competitions, and ice canoeing. This is possibly one of the best times to visits Quebec’s ice hotel or see the wonders of Quebec as a whole.