Carnival celebrations are centuries-old annual parties that happen all around the world. The idea is to allow people to get all of their indulgences and indiscretions out of their system before the somber and reflective Christian season of Lent. In many places, Carnival also became a way for underclasses to express criticism of power in a satirical, yet festive way. These five cities host some of the most vibrant and enthusiastic Carnival celebrations to be found.
Carnevale di Venezia – Venice, Italy holds one of the most famous carnival celebrations in the world, dating back to the 15th-century. The tradition of wearing masks began as a way to protect the identity of both nobility and commoners who mixed in the transgressions of revelry. Venice is a photographer’s dream during carnival, as locals and tourists alike don elaborate costumes to stroll St. Mark’s Square or attend private masked balls.
Carnival of Rio – Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has the distinction of being the world’s biggest party with two million people flooding the streets each day. Hundreds of street parties, or blocos, involve pulsating bands, feathered costumes, and hearty reveling. The big event is the battle of the top samba schools at the Sambodromo arena where elaborate floats and thousands of scantily clad dancers parade and perform into the wee hours.
Nice Carnival – With recorded celebrations dating back to 1294, Nice, France lays claim to having the oldest Carnival festival. Notably less decadent than the Rio parties, the Nice Carnival’s main feature is its abundant use of flowers. There is a spectacular flower parade daily where elaborately costumed people throw tens of thousands of flowers to the bystanders from fantastic flower-covered floats. One million people attend the event, which culminates in a bonfire and fireworks finale.
Carnival in Trinidad – Celebrate Carnival the Caribbean way in Trinidad with a riot of color and contagious dancing to the beat of the national instrument of Trinidad, the steelpan. The Panorama Competition is the leading steelpan competition in the world where bands of up to 100 members beat out melodic tunes. Masquerade bands of thousands take to the streets to “jump up” (dance). While the band leader’s elaborate regalia can weigh 50-200 pounds, the rest revel in considerably more revealing attire. You can join a band for the price of a ticket that includes a costume.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans – As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll) and never is that more apropos than during Mardi Gras. Don a costume or a feathery mask in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green and join the party. Traditional organizations called “krewes” each have their own parade and revelers vie for beads and trinkets thrown from parade floats. Infamously, drunken debauchery takes place on Bourbon Street, but away from there, the vast majority of the real Mardi Gras experience is a family-friendly celebration of music, outdoor fun, and food.
Because these five exciting Carnival celebrations draw millions of people, you’ll want to plan far ahead for the best accommodations and prices. Now is the perfect time to let us know that you want to attend one of these carnival celebrations next year.