When And Where Are The World’s Biggest Carnivals?

0

These are the biggest public parties on the planet. Days and nights when the streets are transformed into colourful, costumed places, packed with dancing and music.

In a nod to its religious roots, Carnival (from the Italian ‘carne levare’ – away with meat) tends to take place just before Lent in February. For most people, it’s traditionally a last chance for a big blow out before a month of fasting.

carnival/ˈkɑːnɪv(ə)l/
noun: 1. An annual festival, typically during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries, involving processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade – e.g. “the culmination of the week-long carnival”
synonyms: festival, fiesta, fete, gala, jamboree, holiday, celebration, party

The origins may differ, but carnivals have parades, costumes and music to unite them. So if you fancy timing your next holiday with a fiesta, here’s our selection of the biggest carnivals from across the world.

January

Up Helly Aa, Scotland

Up Helly Aa. Image by Vicky Brock via Flickr Creative Commons (2)

Up Helly Aa. Image by Vicky Brock via Flickr Creative Commons

Remote Shetland might not be the most obvious place to have a carnival, but their torchlit procession fits the bill.

For one night, all the lights go out in the town and flaming torches illuminate the darkness. More than a thousand people march through the streets to burn the Viking-style galley ship.

More info: Website 

When is it: January 31, 2017

Getting there and staying there: Fly to Sumburgh Airport. There are several hotels in Lerwick.

Quebec Winter Carnival, Canada

Bonhomme . Image by Robert Lafond via Flickr Creative Commons

Bonhomme . Image by Robert Lafond via Flickr Creative Commons

Quebec has the biggest winter carnival in the world. More than half a million people come along to celebrate in the snow.

Back in 1894, it was intended to be a rowdy party for the settlers of New France before Lent.

Now it’s symbolised by a seven-foot snowman called Bonhomme Carnaval – you’ll see him everywhere.

Don’t miss the night parade of floats in the snow-filled streets in the city centre – although you’ll have to be brave if you want to strip off for the snow bath.

More info: Website 

When is it: 27th January to 12th February 2017

Getting there: Fly into Quebec – flight time around 13 hours from London

Staying there: Latest deals on hotels in Quebec

Carnival, Trinidad and Tobago

They love to party in Port of Spain – and no event here is bigger than carnival.

The advent of Lent has been celebrated in Port of Spain by the whole island since 1833. Originally, it involved masked balls for the French Plantation owners.

At the parade you can still see some of the traditional Mas characters like the Dragon Mas, The Sebucan (looks like an English Maypole complete with Morris Dancers), Dame Lorraine and the Midnight Robber with his cape.

If you’re bendy, you can try limbo or watch the traditional stick fighting. You’ll also see musicians go head to head in a battle of the bands to be crowned the Calypso Monarch (that’s a big deal).

More info: Website 

When: Usually the week before Lent, 27th-28th February, 2017

Getting there: Latest flights to Port of Spain

Staying there: Port of Spain hotels

Carnaval de Dunkerque, France

Carnaval de Dunkerque Image by antony4 via Flickr Creative Commons

Carnaval de Dunkerque Image by antony4 via Flickr Creative Commons

This carnival has some unusual traditions.

The main costume is a disguise called the clet’che – which sees the men dressing up as women. And it’s so important they often use a “cafougnette” – a special stall – to change in.

You can watch and follow the “bandes” on the streets, then head to the City of Dunkirk Hotel and join in the chanting for “the herring we deserve”.

What they might not mention is that a load of fish will then be thrown off the balcony by the mayor. And keep an eye out for the plastic lobster – if you catch one you can exchange it for a real one.

More info: Website 

When: A long weekend at the end of January or in February

Getting there: Take the Eurostar to Calais – it’s only a half hour drive or train ride away

Staying there: Here’s some Dunkirk hotels

February

Rio Carnival, Brazil

Rio Carnival. Image by nateClicks, via Flickr Creative Commons

Rio Carnival. Image by nateClicks, via Flickr Creative Commons

The daddy of all the carnivals; this one sets the standard.

February is when summer is at its peak in Brazil, so expect it to be hot hot hot. A good thing, then, that most of the dancers’ costumes are skimpy bits of bejewelled material.

The whole city has parties popping up all over the place – but the Rio Carnival Parade, with its fiercely contested Samba competitions,  is the undisputed highlight.

You should also try and attend one of the balls. Try The Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace, and get yourself to as many street parties as you can. The street band of Ipanema is famous for its flamboyance.

More info: Website 

Where: 24th to 28th February 2017

Getting there: See the latest Rio flight dealsIt takes around 12 hours non-stop from London to Rio.

Staying there: Hotels in Rio De Janeiro

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnaval, Spain

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnaval . Image by Philippe Teuwen.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnaval . Image by Philippe Teuwen.

The sunny capital of the Canary Islands’ comes alive when the rest of Western Europe is trying to cope with the winter. It’s so big, this carnival has broken Guinness World Records.

The highlight is the parade of lavishly decorated floats, accompanied by music, dancing, singing and bands parading through the city.

The Queen of Carnival competition is hotly contested, with the costumes sparkling with jewels, lush fabrics and gravity-defying plumage.

There’s also loads of spin-off events in the parallel streets to get stuck into.

They don’t like letting go either – as they end the event with the famous burning, then Burial of the Sardine.

DID YOU KNOW? Santa Cruz de Tenerife is twinned with Rio due to their shared love of all things carnival.

More info: Website

When: Starts the first weekend in February and lasts for a fortnight

Getting there and staying: Santa Cruz holidays

Mardi Gras, USA

Image courtesy of MardiGrasNewOrleans.com

Image courtesy of MardiGrasNewOrleans.com

At this time of year, New Orleans is awash with purple, green, and gold – that’s if they’ve not donned a spectacular costume.

This French-influenced event keeps many traditions, such as the date and the Flambeaux – the flaming torches which are the official symbol of the celebrations

Bring a big bag to the famous parade, that way you’ll be able to catch all the traditional trinkets, beads and items (including coconuts) thrown from the floats as they wind through the streets.

Food wise – try the traditional Louisiana King Cakes – if you get the slice with the baby (plastic of course) you have to host the next party.

More info: Website 

When: Tuesday 28th February, 2017

Getting there: Latest flights to New Orleans

Staying there: New Orleans hotels

Historical Carnival of Ivrea, Italy

IOrange Battle. Courtesty of the Historic Carnival of Ivrea Foundation

IOrange Battle. Courtesty of the Historic Carnival of Ivrea Foundation

This lovely festival in north west Italy pays tribute to the people who helped liberate the city from a tyrannical baron in medieval times.

It’s also one of the most colourful. Its famous Battle of the Oranges  sees the townsfolk pelt the “army” in hose-drawn carts, wearing old-fashioned armour (see above).

You’ll meet several of the characters – the heroine Mugnaia (the miller’s daughter who led the revolt) and the Generale who helps run things.

The Carnival Parade is a great spectacle. Here’s some good advice to help you get the most from the parade and orange squares. Make sure you take your red Berretto Frigio (Phyrigian Hat) with you at all times.

More info: Website 

When: February 

Getting there: The nearest airport is Turin – find flights here

Staying there: Hotels in Turin

Carnevale di Venezia, Italy

Carnevale di Venezia. Image by_jamie1 via Flickr Creative Commons

Carnevale di Venezia. Image by_jamie1 via Flickr Creative Commons

When it comes to costumes, Venice’s has it down pat. This is one of the most visually and unusually arresting carnivals – and also poshest.

You’ll want to channel your elegance and choose your mask (Bauta, Larva or Moretta) with care, then stroll along the canals like you own it.

This is a more formal event and each day is carefully planned. Try and head there for the atmospheric candlelight water parade on Fat (Shrove) Tuesday and the fireworks on the final Notte de la Taranta.

You should also visit the Piazza S. Marco – the traditional professions, like mask-makers, shoemakers and costumers have shops set up as they would have been in the 18th century.

More info: Website 

When: 11th to 28th February, 2017

Getting there: Find flights to Venice

Staying there: Hotels in Venice

The Carnival of Cádiz, Spain

Cádiz in south west Spain holds a true community event every February. More than a hundred teams of residents spend all year putting together their troupes, groups and choirs.

There’s a bit focus on jokes, irony and poking fun from the Chirigota (Spanish folk singing groups). But even if your Spanish is a little rusty, you should understand a fair amount.

The best groups put on a show in the Gran Teatro Falla. You’ll also see them in the streets of Cádiz, especially in the neighbourhood of La Viña.

Don’t miss the Choral Carousel on the first Sunday at the food market. The choirs sing to the crowds before tucking into sea urchins, which are a local delicacy and eaten raw.

Make sure you pack some suitable fancy dress – everyone likes to don an outfit.

More info: Website 

When: Usually the first two weeks of February

Getting there and where to stay: Latest Cadiz holidays

Nice Carnaval, France

Nice Carnival (c) Convention & Visitors Bureau of Nice

Nice Carnival (c) Convention & Visitors Bureau of Nice

The Nice Carnival is famous for its flower battle.

Catch both the carnival parades (day and night) going through the Place Massena and of course the flower parades on the seafront. Each year more than 100,000 flowers are thrown to the crowd by youngsters dressed to the nines.

There’s loads of other events going on, too. The carnastring (a sea water bath for the brave), the carnacourse (a waiters’ race) and the caranasocca (eating a chickpea-based pancake, a traditional dishes from the region).

Website 

When: 11th – 26th February, 2017

Getting there: Flights to Nice

Staying there: Hotels in Nice

Carnevale di Viareggio, Italy

Carnevale Viareggio @copyright Fondazione Carnevale

Carnevale Viareggio @copyright Fondazione Carnevale

More than a million people head to the Tuscan coastal city of Viareggio to watch  the papier-mache floats travel down the Liberty seaside boulevards.

These floats weigh a whopping 40 tons. They use ancient techniques from the “trionfi”, Renaissance victory feasts, and their ship-building skills, which they’re very proud of.

Accompanying the floats are bands and performers wearing traditional masks.

Don’t miss all the street parties in the Rionis (neighbourhoods) that take place over the weekend.

More info: Website 

When: Every Sunday in February in 2017

Getting there: Find flights to Pisa

Staying there: Pisa hotels

Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia

This remote city’s annual carnival happens 3,700 metres above sea level.  It’s been awarded the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status by UNESCO – which essentially means it’s pretty cool.

The site is sacred for the Uro people, who had to keep their traditional festivities hidden under Spanish rule for centuries.

Now it lasts ten days and around 40,000 dancers and musicians take part in the main procession; dancing, marching and walking four kilometres back and forth for a whole day (20 odd hours, so you’ll need some stamina).

More info: Website 

When: 24th – 27th February 2017

Getting there: The nearest airport is La Paz – Find flights

Fiestas del Carnaval of Las Palmas, Spain

This is one of Spain’s longest established festivals. The masquerade parades and parties have been held for the last five centuries (sometimes in secret).

Similarly to the Santa Cruz de Tenerife, being crowned homecoming queen is a major honour in Gran Canaria.

However since 1998, the Drag Queen Gala has been an equally major draw, especially for international visitors.

The three key events are the Grand Parade, the competitions for adults and children and the Burial of the Sardine, which officially ends the parties.

More info: Website 

When: 10th February to 5th March 2017 – can run from as early as January to the middle of March.

Getting there: How to get to Gran Canaria 

Carnaval De Binche, Belgium

Carnaval De Binche. Image by Véronique Mergaux via Flickr Creative Commons

Carnaval De Binche. Image by Véronique Mergaux via Flickr Creative Commons

This is another carnival with protected status. The town starts preparing for the three-day pre-Lent event almost as soon as it’s finished.

It’s one of the oldest in Europe and has a distinctive folklore. Things kick off on Shrove Sunday with a masquerade street party – keep an eye out for the Mam’selles – men dressed as women.

On Mardi Gras you’ll see the Gille characters – masked in their red, yellow and black costumes with tiny spectacles – parade through the street before dancing in the Grand Place as the fireworks go off.

More info: Website 

When: End of February (Shrove Sunday to Tuesday)

Getting there: Fly to Brussels or get the Eurostar – its then about a 40 minute drive or over an hour on train to Binche.

Kolner Karneval, Germany

Courtesy of Cologne Carnival

Courtesy of Cologne Carnival

As with most festivals, the Cologne Carnival (Fastelovend to the locals)  takes place just before Lent, with their Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) always the Monday before Ash Wednesday.

It’s evolved over the years and has balls, parties, a street carnival and its own Grand Parade. The “Stippeföttchen-Tanz” is well-known, as the dance parodies the strict regime of soldiers.

Try the local beer, “Kölsch” and get your costume on – everyone loves dressing up – although they often have different outfits for indoors and outdoors.

You could also visit the museum dedicated to the carnival’s history, which has been going since 1823.

More: Website 

When: Usually February

Getting there: Latest flights to Cologne

Staying there: Cologne hotels

Goa Carnival, India

King Momo. Image by Joel's Goa Pics

King Momo. Image by Joel’s Goa Pics

The Portuguese and Spanish influence is strongly felt at this carnival which is unique in India.

The three-day pre-Lent festival has everything you need for a street party – parades, floats, costumes, dancers, singers and musicians.

Like in other Latin festivals, King Momo opens the carnival in Panaji (the capital) on Fat Saturday.

They also party outside the capital in the surrounding villages.

More info: Website 

When: 25th – 28th February 2017

Getting there: Find the latest flights to Goa

Staying there: Goa hotels

Carnivals in July

Toronto Caribbean Carnival, Canada

(c) Toronto Caribbean Festival

(c) Toronto Caribbean Festival

This is the largest Caribbean cultural outdoor festival in North America, and it goes on for three weeks.

Here, the sounds of the Islands take over with Calypso, Soca, Reggae, Chutney, steel pan and brass bands providing the musical backdrop.

The all-day Grand Parade with the Mas bands is the undoubted highlight.

More info: Website 

When: 10th July to 12th August 2017

Getting there: Flights to Toronto

Staying there: Toronto hotels

August carnivals

Notting Hill Carnival, UK

Notting Hill Carnival

(c) Notting Hill Carnival

The Vibe:

This is now London’s biggest free street party. Millions of people head to the Notting Hill neighbourhood over the August bank holiday weekend.

The Caribbean carnival has been going since 1964 and now more than 60 bands take part. There’s drinking, eating and lots of dancing in the normally quiet residential streets.

On the Sunday family day, the Children’s Parade is like a colouring book brought to life with the little ones rocking their costumes.

The Grande Finale parade on the Bank Holiday Monday sees thousands of dancers and musicians entertain the crowded streets.

More info: Website

When: End of August across the Bank Holiday.

Where: Notting Hill, London, W11

Getting there: Flights to London

Staying there: Find the latest London hotel deals

November carnivals

Dia de los Muertos, Mexico

Day of the Dead - Mexico City. Image by jazbeck via Flickr Creative Commons

Day of the Dead – Mexico City. Image by jazbeck via Flickr Creative Commons

If you’ve seen the film SPECTRE, you might remember James Bond arriving in time for Mexico City’s bold and brash Dia de Muertos parade.

Skeletons playing drums, elaborately-dressed dancers, smoke and fire, giant floats – the parade for the two-day festival comes as the whole country celebrates a public holiday.

The black and white costumes contrast with the burnt-orange marigolds (cempúchit) decorating the streets and women’s hair.

1st November is traditionally when children who have lost their lives are celebrated – Día de los Inocentes – with 2nd November being reserved for the adults.

More info: Website 

When: 1st and 2nd November

Getting there: Flights to Mexico City

Staying there: Mexico City hotels

Have you experienced any of these carnivals?

We’d love to hear where you’ve been partying round the world.

Let us know what your favourite carnival, fiesta and masquerade is by leaving a comment below.

Share.

About Author

Kirsten is the chief blogger here at lastminute.com. A former newspaper journalist (don’t hold that against her), having taken extensive trips to China, America and Australasia, she is now pouring her passion for travel into writing blogs and features for the lastminute.com website. Arriving in London via exotic Scunthorpe, Kirsten has made it her mission to try out as many pubs and restaurants as she possibly can in the capital.

Leave A Reply