The world’s best carnivals and when to visit
Looking for a way to light up gloomy February? Luckily, you’re invited to a massive street party with music, sequins, feathers and over-the-top parades… just what the doctor ordered to beat the post-holiday winter blues! If you haven’t guessed yet, we’re talking about the world’s best carnivals, those famous festivals where revellers let it all out before the fasting period of Lent (or that’s how it all started at least). If you’re looking to party and travel this February, we’ve got you covered!
1. Basel, Switzerland | 19-20 February, 2018
Basel’s biggest bash is also known as Fasnacht, and it just happens to be the most important carnival in Switzerland. Setting this carnival apart from others is the magical early-morning display of glowing painted lanterns. The city shuts all of its lights off at 4 a.m. so that the only light in the city comes from the flickering lanterns. It’s worth getting up early for (or staying up late)!
2. Binche, Belgium | 11-13 February, 2018
There’s a reason why this carnival is UNESCO recognised! Costumed participants, known as Gilles, lead the carnival festivities including parades, music and parties. The Gilles also throw oranges to the parade spectators as gifts, but be warned – throwing it back is a major faux pas!
3. Cadiz, Spain | 8-18 February, 2018
An easy train ride from Seville, southern Spain’s most iconic carnival goes down in the coastal city of Cadiz. If you’re looking for the biggest party night during the festivities, don’t miss Saturday, February 10th. Keep your eye out for creative costumes – Cadiz is famous for its smart social satire.
4. Cologne, Germany | 8-13 February, 2018
Yes, there are other German festivals besides Oktoberfest! This is a country that loves its carnivals, and no city does it better than Cologne. Dress up, hit the carnival parties at Cologne’s nightclubs, and definitely don’t miss Rose Monday, the day when the whole city comes together for a huge carnival parade.
5. New Orleans, USA | 2-4 & 7-13 February, 2018
Should you find yourself travelling in the USA or looking for an excuse to go, you can’t go wrong with Mardi Gras! Literally meaning “Fat Tuesday”, Mardi Gras is all about excess. The parades are an explosion of colour, music and light, and the streets of the French Quarter are packed to the gills with people all clamouring to catch the beads tossed from the floats. If you want to blend in, make sure to wear purple, gold or green, the official colours of the festival.
6. Nice, France | 17 February – 3 March, 2018
Who could be surprised that one of the world’s best carnivals is right on the French Riviera? Nice gets decked out for a mad, multi-coloured celebration that smells a bit nicer than its other European counterparts… those riding the floats actually throw flowers to spectators during the festival’s famous “flower parades”.
7. Notting Hill, London, UK | 25-27 August, 2018
The only carnival on our list that takes place during the summer is the most famous in the UK, specifically in London’s posh Notting Hill neighbourhood. Forget the posh, though, as what you’ll see is a lot of skin, sparkly costumes and people really letting loose. If you’re looking for a way to take the daytime partying into night, don’t miss the after-parties at clubs all over London.
8. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | 9-14 February, 2018
Rio definitely takes the crown among the world’s best carnivals. Its decadent barely-there costumes, samba rhythms and the millions of spectators it attracts have lead to it being called “the greatest show on earth”.
9. Tenerife, Spain | 7-18 February, 2018
What about a carnival on the islands? Catch a flight to Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife to be specific. Here you’ll find an over-the-top parade of carnival queens in drag with some of the most amazing costumes you’ve ever seen. This one should definitely make it onto your travel bucket list!
10. Venice, Italy | 27 January – 13 February
The historic carnival of Venice is undeniably elegant with its Baroque-style costumes, powdered wigs and those masks of Eyes Wide Shut fame – Venetians don’t mess around where carnival is concerned. Unless you’ve got a few hundred euros to throw around, you probably won’t be attending the lavish private fancy dress parties, but there are plenty of public events to check out that are totally free!