The Nine Most Stunning Carnivals Around the Globe
From the famed Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro to the lively Notting Hill Carnival in West London, these exuberant street festivities are certain to disperse any sense of monotony and set you in motion.
- Rio Carnival, Brazil
The Rio Carnival, recognized as the world’s largest and most spectacular event, has come to symbolize Rio and Brazil’s vibrant party culture. Traditionally held five days before Lent, this year’s celebration has been shifted to late April, promising a lively explosion of music and color in Rio. In addition to the Sambadrome’s competition among over 100 Samba Schools, the city also hosts celebrations, parades, and musical performances in various neighborhoods.
- Notting Hill Carnival, United Kingdom
Every August Bank Holiday weekend, the Notting Hill Carnival, acclaimed as Europe’s largest street party, infuses West London with the vibrant spirit, sounds, and vibes of the Caribbean. Similar to Rio, the parade takes center stage, but the celebration extends along the route, resonating long after the drum groups and Samba schools have concluded. Enjoy delectable jerk chicken from makeshift grills while dancing to the beats of calypso, soca, reggae, and dub—truly a celebration for everyone.
- Oruro Carnival, Bolivia
The Oruro Carnival, an annual event occurring on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, is a dynamic blend of indigenous customs and assimilated Christian beliefs culminating in a grand procession symbolizing virtue prevailing over evil. Hosted in the town of Oruro, between La Paz and the Altiplano, the carnival holds the title of a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” according to UNESCO. Witness the Dance of the Devils as Tio Supay, the god of the underworld, confronts Pachamama, Mother Earth, amidst fireworks, smoke, and chaos.
- Binche Carnival, Belgium
One of Belgium’s most renowned festivals, the Carnival of Binche, typically occurring in February, was honored by UNESCO in 2003 as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” due to its unique and extensive history. Given the significance of the carnival, Belgium dedicates an entire year to its preparation, with eerie, unblinking eyes gazing menacingly as sticks are shaken and apples are thrown. Drummers and musicians undergo extensive preparation, and men proudly uphold traditions as Gilles. Women play a crucial role in planning and travel, easily identifiable by their annually changing amusingly adorned hats.
- Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
The Santa Cruz de Tenerife carnival, second only to Rio and designated as a global tourism festival by the country’s Ministry of Tourism, is renowned for its size, boldness, and noise. Linked to Rio de Janeiro as a sister city, the carnival aspires to be recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The Corso, featuring hundreds of dance and music groups parading through the capital’s streets, is a highlight. The gala to select the Carnival Queen, with contenders showcasing glitzy attire weighing over a hundred kilograms on a 1,200-square-meter stage, is another major event.
- Cologne Carnival, Germany
The Cologne Carnival, a colossal fancy dress extravaganza beginning in November and extending through winter until February, culminates in Rose Monday, also known as Shrove Monday. Floats traverse Südstadt, tossing candy and trinkets to the audience, many of whom don clown attire. The carnival involves extensive preparations, with soumonces planned during the six Sundays leading up to Shrove Sunday to ensure drummers and musicians are ready. Men, proud to be Gilles, spend generously to maintain traditions. Women, identifiable by amusingly adorned hats changing annually, play a crucial role in celebration planning.
- New Orleans Mardi Gras, USA
The New Orleans carnival, the most renowned in the United States, unfolds as an endless symphony of jazz bands, late-night bar hopping, and extravagant parades honoring mythological figures like King Zulu and Bacchus. Commencing with the Epiphany Feast on January 6 and continuing until Shrove Tuesday in February, Mardi Gras is distinguished for the beaded necklaces tossed from French balconies overlooking the procession. For many attendees, wearing the most necklaces becomes a source of pride.
- Venice Carnival, Italy
Carnevale di Venezia, a February celebration preceding Lent, commences with a procession through St. Mark’s Square led by religious leaders. Thousands of individuals adorned in intricate masks made of leather, glass, or porcelain create a mesmerizing spectacle, especially against the atmospheric backdrop of Venice—a city renowned for hosting one of the world’s most famous masked festivals.
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, Trinidad and Tobago
Originating as a protest against slavery, Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival has evolved into one of the Caribbean’s largest street celebrations. Its historical significance is acknowledged with a start time of 4 am, recalling the period when slaves could gather covertly. The festivities, now a merry blend of rum, soca, limbo, calypso, and steel bands, stretch into a vibrant blur that captures the spirit of celebration.