Top 10 carnivals of the world

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In-your-face levels of colour, illumination, music, dancing, excess, vivacity and sexuality; carnival is arguably the ultimate expression of humanity

In-your-face levels of colour, illumination, music, dancing, excess, vivacity and sexuality; carnival is arguably the ultimate expression of humanity.

Here’s our list of the world’s 10 best carnivals.

Carnival – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: 40 days before Easter, in February or March. February 8-13 2013
How big: An estimated two million people turn out on Rio’s streets every day of the carnival to watch performances from around 200 samba schools and 300 neighbourhood street bands.
How long: Four days, Saturday through Tuesday. The two major parades featuring the top samba schools take place on the Sunday and Monday. Opening Ceremony takes place on the Friday.
USP: The Sambadrome, a colossal purpose built parade runway flanked by grandstands, where Carnival competitors strut their stuff.

Cheap Flights To Rio de Janeiro

Notting Hill – London, UK

When: Last Sunday and Monday in August. August 25–26 2013
How big: Around one million people attend the carnival to see 50,000 performers.
How long: Two days of parades (Sunday is Children’s day and Monday is Adult’s day).
USP: The 40 or so static music systems in the streets around the parade route and the stalls selling Caribbean food like jerk chicken, patties, curries and fried plantain.

Notting Hill Carnival 2011 from Rich Maskey on Vimeo.

iGO PRO Notting Hill Carnival 2011 from The Film Artist on Vimeo.

Mardi Gras – New Orleans, USA

When: The two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Parades started on January 19 2013. Parade activity ceases between January 28 and February 5 due to Super Bowl XLVII (takes place February 3) but there will be parades during this time throughout Metairie, Slidell, Mandeville, Covington and Chalmette. New Orleans parade activity will resume as normal from February 6–12.
How big: The festivities draw three quarters of a million people to The Big Easy annually.
How long: Carnival celebrations start on January 6, the Twelfth Night (feast of Epiphany), and picks up speed until midnight on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday.
USP: We hate to say it but it’s got to be the beads and the antics people go to get a hold of them.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnaval – Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife

When: The week preceding Ash Wednesday. February 12-16 2013
How big: The carnival has performances from more than a hundred music groups, including murgas, comparsas, rondallas.
How long: The main parade (coso) is staged on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday towards the end of the two-week event. The day before sees feasting. The Saturday before is dedicated to dancing on two big stages set up in major plazas.
USP: The incredible televised Carnival queen competition in the run up to the main event. For many people, Tenerife’s Carnival is second only to Rio’s.

Carnevale di Venezia – Venice, Italy

When: The two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. January 26-February 12 2013
How big: Thousands attend public and private events and parties.
How long: Around 20 days, though most events occur in the last two weeks.
USP: A masquerade affair, it’s all about capturing centuries-old refined social customs whilst wearing a mask and elaborate costume.

Venice Carnival 2013
Venice Carnival 2013. Photo courtesy of
Venice Carnival 2013
Photo courtesy of
Venice Carnival 2013
Photo courtesy of

Carnival – Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

When: Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  February 11 and 12
How big: 300,000 people pack into the confines of Queens Park and the national stadium.
How long: Two days of parades preceded by over two weeks of festivities and preliminary competitions.
USP: Steelpan band competition.

Quebec Winter Carnival – Quebec City, Canada

When: The two weeks leading up to, and a handful of days after, Shrove Tuesday. February 1-17 2013
How big: World’s biggest winter festival, drawing around 500,000 visitors.
How long: Around 17 days.
USP: The carnival’s all about winter sports like dog-sled racing, sleigh racing, canoe racing, snow sculpture contests, snow bathing, ice skating and sledding. At 50 meters wide, 20 meters high and 20 meters deep, the official Ice Palace is pretty spectacular.

Cologne Festival – Cologne, Germany

When: The week leading up to and including Shrove Tuesday. February 7-13 2013
How big: Draws over a million visitors to the city every year.
How long: Around six days: Thursday is Women’s Day, Sunday has a parade, Monday is the day of the main parade and Tuesday sees many informal fancy dress parades in the city’s suburbs. Carnival season officially kicks off at 11.11 am on the 11th of November.
USP: The giant papier-mâché caricatures of politicians (German and international).

Carnaval de Nice – Nice, France

When: mid-February. February 15-March 6 2013
How big: 11 parades featuring 1,000 musicians and dancers from around the world.
How long: Events are spread over 15 days.
USP: Flower parades where up to 100,000 flowers are thrown from floats to the crowd.

Goa Intruz – Panaji, India

When: The three or four days leading up to and including Shrove Tuesday. February 9-12 2013
How big: Dozens of floats and several hundred participants
How long: Three or four days.
USP: The collision between hedonistic carnival energy and reserved Indian customs.

Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…

(Featured image: Leandro’s World Tour)

Top 10 carnivals of the world was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Brett Ackroyd
Author: Brett Ackroyd (631 posts)

Brett hopes to one day reach the shores of far-flung Tristan da Cunha, the most remote of all the inhabited archipelagos on Earth…as to what he’ll do when he gets there, he hasn’t a clue. Over the last 10 years, London, New York, Cape Town and Pondicherry have all proudly been referred to as home. Now it’s Copenhagen’s turn, where he lends his travel expertise to