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6 of the World’s Best Carnival Celebrations

Let loose and join the party at the most epic pre-Lenten festivals on the planet.

Elaborate costumes, loud music, over-the-top parades, and nonstop parties — Carnival is all about excess, as revelers indulge before a period of fasting and restraint during Lent. With roots in ancient pagan traditions that heralded the end of winter, Carnival is today tied to the Christian calendar and marks the days leading up to Shrove Tuesday. Here are six of the wildest, loudest, and most unforgettable Carnival celebrations around the globe.

Rio de Janeiro

Brazil

A Brazilian samba dancer performs in the Sambadrome, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Celso Pupo / Shutterstock

Nowadays, Carnival is near-synonymous with Rio de Janeiro’s outlandish celebration. A lifetime bucket-list event for many of the 5 million people who attend each year, this is the party to end all parties. Colorful, noisy, and joyous, samba parades are the highlight of the multi-day event, during which crowds pack into the specially built Sambadrome to watch a procession of giant floats and elaborately costumed dancers strut their stuff in celebration of Brazilian music and culture. Beyond the samba line, hundreds of Carnival balls and street parties (known as blocos) take place throughout Rio de Janeiro, each with their own unique flavor and dress code.

Insider tip: Advance tickets to the nightly parades are strongly encouraged, and transfer packages can help you navigate the dense crowds.

Explore Rio de Janeiro

Venice

Italy

Masquerade balls and dinners abound during Venice’s Carnival season. Photo: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Famous for its elaborate masquerade balls, the “Carnivale di Venezia” puts a sumptuous spin on the Carnival tradition. Costumed revelers recreate the decadent atmosphere of 18th-century Venice, filling St. Mark’s Square with swishing gowns, adorned wigs, gentlemen’s cloaks, and handcrafted Venetian masks that are sold throughout the city. Nightly balls featuring dinner and dancing have regal dress codes and price tags to match, but anyone can join in the festivities at public parades or costumed pub crawls at Venice’s bacari, or wine bars.

Insider tip: Enjoy the elegance of Carnival year-round with a Venetian mask-making workshop or an Italian opera concert at a historic palazzo.

Explore Venice

Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Spain

Santa Cruz’s Carnival celebrations are extravagant to say the least. Photo: Luciano de la Rosa / Shutterstock

Celebrated on the largest of the Canary Islands, this massive carnival combines sunny island vibes with Spanish traditions and music for a wild, multicultural ride. The party officially starts with a high-glam gala to elect the year’s carnival queens and continues with an opening parade featuring festooned dancers and musical groups known as murgas and rondallas. Colorful street parties keep the celebration going all through a long weekend until Ash Wednesday. Then, Santa Cruz’s Carnival officially ends with the unusual Spanish tradition of a mock funeral procession and burning of a giant papier-mâché sardine — a symbol of society’s rebirth after excess.

Insider tip: If you venture to Tenerife for the big event, take some time to explore the island’s natural beauty with a whale-watching cruise or stargazing experience near Mt. Teide.

Explore Tenerife

New Orleans

Louisiana, USA

Parades and parties take over New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Photo: Regis Binard / Viator

The most famous Carnival in North America goes by the French name for “Fat Tuesday” — Mardi Gras. New Orleans’ epic party season also lasts longer than most, with an intense 2-week period of parades and parties before the start of Lent. Visitors from around the globe flock into town to pack the bars of the historic French Quarter and watch rollicking parades put on by Krewes, nonprofit social clubs that build elaborate floats and host costumed balls.

Insider tip: In any season, learn about New Orleans’ fascinating multicultural history on a city sightseeing bus or get into the Mardi Gras spirit on a cocktail tour of the French Quarter.

Explore New Orleans

Port of Spain

Trinidad and Tobago

Performers enjoy the party atmosphere in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Photo: John de la Bastide / Shutterstock

The biggest and brightest carnival in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago’s celebration features two days of wild, rum-soaked revelry. The party kicks off with a sunrise street party known as “J’ouvert” and doesn’t stop until Shrove Tuesday. The island nation’s Carnival parades are replicated around the world and feature color-coordinated “Mas bands” in feathered and bejeweled costumes dancing to the beat of calypso music. When the sun goes down (and comes back up again), the fun goes on at Carnival fetes that range from casual beach parties and breakfast bashes to elaborate invite-only affairs.

Insider tip: Get a local’s introduction to Port of Spain on a guided driving tour or sample the best of Trinidadian cuisine at mouthwatering night markets.

Explore Trinidad and Tobago

Notting Hill

London, England

Notting Hill’s August Carnival celebrations are Europe’s largest. Photo: Chris Mole / Shutterstock

Staking a claim as Europe’s largest street festival, this Carnival brings Caribbean culture to the streets of West London. Unlike pre-Lenten Carnivals that take place in the winter, this one has nothing to do with the Christian calendar and is instead held at the end of August. Inspired by Trinidad’s Carnival, plus the traditions of London’s West Indian community, partygoers take to the streets for dancing and parading to the sounds of bass-heavy sound systems, DJ sets, and steel drums. Each year, around 2 million people attend this marvelous, multicultural celebration of Britain’s Black diaspora.

Insider tip: While you’re in the neighborhood, get to know Notting Hill’s musical and film legends on a walking tour.

Explore Notting Hill

Author: Madigan Talmage-Bowers

Madigan Talmage-Bowers is a writer based in Denver, Colorado. She has also lived in Italy, San Francisco, and New York City, where she studied media theory at the New School. She loves introducing her kids to ancient history, local art, hiking trails, and new foods on adventures around the globe.

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Viator, a Tripadvisor company, makes it easy to find and book something you’ll love to do. With access to the world’s largest selection of high-quality experiences, there’s always something new to discover, both near and far from home.

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