Top Five Carnivals to Put on Your Bucket List
Carnival is originally a Western Christian holiday, but its celebrations, parades, and other festivities have spread across the globe. We can’t deny that we have always wanted to experience a big carnival — especially the one in Rio de Janeiro — but what exactly makes them all so special? Maybe it is because organizers work all year ‘round to deliver the best party ever or it has to do with the fact that it has been a tradition for hundreds of years. Millions of people travel around the world to experience this phenomenon every year. We have put together a list of carnivals that are definitely worth checking out.
1. Rio de Janeiro
The carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the biggest and most visited carnival in the world. In 2015, the festival had two million visitors per day and 400,000 of those were foreign visitors. The carnival festivals generally take place around mid-February and last until Ash Wednesday. During that time, it’s hard to miss all the excitement and the buzz around this event. Approximately 200 samba schools participate in the samba school parade and their costumes are one of the key elements. Each school presents a theme and plenty of planning and design goes into both the costumes and the floats. Did you know that you can participate in the parade, even as a foreigner? All you have to do is purchase a costume in advance and the organizers of the carnival takes care of the rest!
2. Mardi Gras, New Orleans
This holiday is celebrated in the South of Louisiana and always takes place the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. However, the celebrations start weeks before that. Many tourists will find themselves among the activities on Bourbon Street but there are so many other places in New Orleans to enjoy the festivities. The parades are organized by krewes — social clubs — that have been a tradition since 1856. Float riders toss little things into the crowds like colorful plastic beads, cookies and small inexpensive toys. Another tradition that you shouldn’t miss is eating king cake: a cinnamon-laced and sugar-topped cake in the colors green, gold and purple. If you find a tiny plastic baby in your slice you are named “King” for a day and you will have to host the next party.
3. Carnevale di Venezia
This twelve-day carnival is held in the city of Venice and is famous for its fancy masks. It started to honor the victory of Serennisima Repubblica when people started to dance and gather in San Marco Square. Now, the carnival centers around the history and culture of Venice. Each year there is la maschera piu bella — the most beautiful mask competition. The original masks were rather simple but nowadays, the hand-painted masks are made with gesso and gold leaf. There are plenty of masquerade balls organized each year so if you’re on time when tickets go on sale, you can be one of the lucky attendees.
4. Karneval in Köln
Carnival in Cologne has been celebrated annually for around 190 years. The Germanic tribes celebrated winter solstice to pay their respects to the gods and drive out the demons of winter. In 1860 the city held its first “Ghost Parade” on the evening of Carnival Saturday. Besides this event, a lot of traditions are still visible in today’s celebrations.
If you happen to visit Cologne during the Carnival season, you will undoubtedly stumble on the shows, balls and parades that are organized by the many carnival societies. Another highlight is the Rosenmontag, when three participants are paraded around as Dreigestirn, a symbolic representation of the Carnival. They each represent a virgin, prince and farmer, and often a lot of money has been paid to participate in the event. Don’t be afraid that you have no time to celebrate! Bars and pubs know no closing time during the week-long celebration.
5. Carnaval de Nice
The Nice Carnival attracts more than a million visitors to Nice ever year and just like the other carnivals, it’s a two week celebration where giant parades take place day and night. The “flower battles” are a part of the carnival that you shouldn’t miss if you plan to travel to Nice. Carnival floats are decorated with the most astonishing flowers and the people participating in the parade throw out little flowers into the crowd. You can book your tickets online and unlike some festivals, the tickets are available for every budget. The main event on the French Riviera offers gigantic floats that will make their way to the Place Masséna. If you’re visiting Carnaval de Nice, you’re in for an unforgettable time.