All Articles 14 epic carnival celebrations in the world you can’t miss

14 epic carnival celebrations in the world you can’t miss

A group of people trying to catch items from a float at Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Image: Jupiterimages/Getty
Michelle Neo
By Michelle Neo9 Jan 2024 7 minutes read

Lively float parades, fancy costumes, and street parties that get you grooving for days. Yep, the best carnivals in the world are back, and we’ve rounded up 14 of the biggest celebrations that you can't miss. But these festivals aren't just a time for everyone to let loose and run wild—they have had a long history and fascinating evolution throughout the years. One thing's for sure: These extravagant parades and street parties are worth traveling for.

What is Carnival, and how is it celebrated?

Carnival originated as a pagan festival, celebrated by the ancient Egyptians to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Over time, it most popularly came to mark the festive season that occurs before Lent, typically in February or March, when people would take a final chance to go all out and indulge before a 40-day fasting period.

Carnival celebrations have since evolved and spread all over the world, each with its own roots, history, and traditions that are unique to each city and cultural group. In the U.S., the festival is more commonly known as “Mardi Gras” (French for “Fat Tuesday”), specifically referring to the day before Lent. While in Trinidad and Tobago and among African and Indigenous cultures, the carnival was born out of resistance against enslavement.

Today, carnivals observe this history, while inviting everyone to join in on the celebrations of the culture, music, dance, and food.

1. Venice, Italy

Ladies in elegant masks and gowns posing for photos at St. Mark’s Square during the Carnival of Venice in Italy
Image: Tzvi Gera/Tripadvisor

When: January 27–February 13, 2024

Of all the carnival celebrations in the world, Italy’s Carnevale di Venezia, or the Carnival of Venice, is one of the most iconic. Every year, the city transforms into a magical masquerade where festival-goers don over-the-top 18th-century costumes, complete with vibrant masks and velvet cloaks. Don’t miss out on the fun and take to the streets with your very own handmade Venetian mask.

If dressing up is not your thing, there are also thrilling water shows at the Arsenale and decorated gondolas that sail down Venice’s famous canals. Other highlights include Festa Delle Marie, a traditional Venetian beauty contest, and Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel), an exciting carnival tradition where a person flies on a rope over St. Mark's Square.

2. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A lady in a vibrant red headpiece and costume fronting a Carnival procession at Rio de Janeiro
Wide shot of a colorful Carnival procession parading down the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Image: Global_Pics/Getty (left), City Tour Rio/Tripadvisor (right)

When: February 9–17, 2024

You’ll find incredible celebrations all over Brazil, but the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the largest and liveliest. Blocos (block parties) take over the streets with rhythmic drumming, samba dancing, and boundless energy. Some great ones to catch are the safari-themed Amigos da Onca, and Cordao Da Bola Preta—Rio’s oldest bloco.

Watching the epic parades at the Sambadrome is also a must. Every night, thousands of glamorous dancers strut their stuff alongside enormous floats. Travelers say it’s loud, colorful, and lots of fun; book your tickets so you don’t miss out.

If you need a change in scenery, join the bloco on the sun-kissed Leblon Beach, or dance away at a beach club along Barra da Tijuca Beach.

3. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

A young lady in a purple bikini-styled costume dancing with other performers at the Trinidad Carnival
Image: Peter Adams/Getty

When: February 7—14, 2024

Dubbed the “mother” of Caribbean carnivals, the Trinidad Carnival throws some of the biggest fetes (parties) around. Expect a full line-up of events, from masquerade parades to soca (short for "Soul of Calypso", a modern form of calypso music) competitions. Brush up on dance moves like wining and chipping so you can get down with the locals. But if that’s not your thing, soak up the vibes while savoring street eats like doubles—two flatbreads stuffed with curried chickpeas.

But don’t leave once the party ends. Hop over to quieter Tobago and recharge on one of its pristine beaches, starting with Pigeon Point Beach.

4. New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

A colorful, elephant-shaped float parading through the city of New Orleans during Mardi Gras
Partygoers celebrating Mardi Gras on balconies at the French Quarter in New Orleans
Image: HenryChin/Tripadvisor (left), Olivier_CTA/Tripadvisor (right)

When: February 13, 2024

Mardi Gras is the ultimate street party in New Orleans, but the carnival festivities happen long before the day itself. From early January, the city is swarmed with community celebrations, glitzy decor, and tons of shops selling king cakes. Krewes (social organizations that plan parades) also roll out massive floats on weekends, throwing gifts like beads, cups, and even decorated shoes to the eager crowd. Our advice: Stand out with your costume to snag more freebies.

Start booking soon as hotels fill up fast. Parking can be tricky, so it’s best to stay in central, walkable areas such as the French Quarter or the Central Business District. You can also try the Garden District, which is just a streetcar ride away from all the action.

5. Sydney, Australia

A large crowd waving rainbow flags as people drive by on motorcycles at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade
Image: Sander Dalhuisen/Unsplash

When: February 16–March 3, 2024

Glitter? Check. Ultra-fabulous? You bet. Over 17 glorious days in summer, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras celebrates LGBQTIA+ culture with colorful balls and community events. The main parade happens along Sydney’s Oxford Street, featuring colorful marching contingents and stunning floats. That’s not all—as part of the Mardi Gras festivities, the iconic Bondi Beach Party returns with international DJs and special performances.

If you want to stay close to the action, consider Darlinghurst or Surry Hills. They’re both well-known queer hubs with lots of LGBTQIA+ bars and clubs. The Central Business District is also a good base if you’d like to combine sightseeing and partying.

6. Viareggio, Italy

Crowds of people checking out a colossal float depicting a man, surrounded by sunflowers, playing the violin at the Viareggio Carnival in Italy
Image: Palu M/Tripadvisor

When: February 3–24, 2024

Viareggio may be a small town, but the Viareggio Carnival is one of Italy’s biggest and most famous. The main draw here is the huge papier-mache floats that satirize local and international politics. Every weekend, they parade along the picturesque La Passeggiata promenade, with carnival-goers dressing up in colorful costumes to add to the fantastic atmosphere.

Need a break from the action? Kick back at a nearby beach club like Bagno Irene and dig into delicious Tuscan dishes. Alternatively, visit Cittadella del Carnevale, which houses a museum detailing the history of the Viareggio Carnival, along with floats from previous years.

7. Recife and Olinda, Brazil

Carnival-goers dancing through the streets of Olinda, with giant puppets in the background
Colorful paper streamers suspended above a large crowd of partygoers at the Olinda Carnival in Brazil
Image: Edward D/Tripadvisor

When: February 8–14, 2024

Located on Brazil’s northeastern coast, Recife and Olinda offer carnival-goers a more local flavor. The celebrations revolve around frevo, a frenetic and fast-paced style of music and dance.

Start your day at the Olinda Carnival, famed for its vibrant blocos and puppet parades. Measuring up to 10 feet, the puppets are modeled after Brazilian celebrities, beloved movie characters, and even world-famous soccer players. (Fun fact: You can see more of them at Casa dos Bonecos Gigantes.)

Continue your carnival celebrations into the night at Recife—a 20-minute drive away. Don’t miss the Night of the Silent Drums, a touching tribute dedicated to those who passed in the slave trade. It starts at dusk on Carnival Monday, at Patio Do Terco.

8. Mobile, Alabama, United States

Vibrant floats parading down Dauphin Street during the Mobile Carnival
Image: Maria M/Tripadvisor

When: February 13, 2024

New Orleans isn’t the only place in the U.S. that goes big during carnival season. Mobile, a major port city in Alabama, claims to be the birthplace of Mardi Gras, with celebrations dating back to 1703.

The festivities kick off later than New Orleans—on January 26, to be exact—but they’re just as exciting. Marching bands and masked performers wind through the streets, and mystic societies (Mobile’s version of krewes) toss trinkets off the floats. The best part? There are fewer crowds, so there’s more breathing room for you and your family.

9. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

A lady wearing a massive, elaborate headpiece waving to the crowd during the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Performers in multicolored costumes dancing at the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain
Image: Tamara Kulikova/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 (left), Jose Mesa/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 (right)

When: January 12–February 18, 2024

The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife goes all out with its celebrations, which is no surprise considering it’s Rio de Janeiro’s sister city. Although the festival is a month-long affair, the main events take place over a week, starting with the Carnival Queen Election Gala. Candidates vying for the crown wear meticulously adorned costumes that can weigh over 170 pounds and reach over 16 feet in height.

The parades are equally extravagant. Hundreds of costumed performers and dancers flood the streets with joy, music, and color. You can’t help but party with them all night long.

10. Goa, India

A colorful Carnival mask and streamers along a road leading to the city of Panaji in Goa, India
Image: RBB/Getty

When: February 10–13, 2024

Introduced to Goa by the Portuguese in 1510, the annual Goa Carnaval is one of the few carnivals in Asia.

Taking place in cities like Margao and Vasco da Gama, the parades here have a distinct local essence with traditional Hindu music and folk dances incorporated into the festivities. The event is also opened by King Momo—a jolly, mythical monarch who’s typically present in Latin American carnivals. Beyond that, there are plenty of impressive, themed floats to admire, sports competitions to join, and mouth-watering dishes to feast on. Start your day early as long traffic jams are expected.

11. Nice, France

A lady on a float with an eagle decorated with roses at Nice Carnival’s famous Battle of the Flowers
Image: Dominique M/Tripadvisor

When: February 17–March 3, 2024

A lot goes on during the Carnival of Nice. We’re talking colorful parades, a family-friendly Carnival Village at Promenade du Paillon, and the Lou Queernaval—France’s first LBGTQIA+ carnival.

Many of the events are free, but the paid ones are worth your dollar too. The Battles of the Flowers (Bataille de Fleurs) sees contingents of flower-decorated floats meandering through the streets of Nice, filling the air with a lovely fragrance. Performers also toss all sorts of flowers to the crowds, from roses to carnations and lilies. Catch enough, and you’ll have a gorgeous bouquet as a souvenir.

Most parades take place at Place Massena, so book a hotel in the area if you want to be right beside the action.

12. Cologne, Germany

A group of costumed partygoers drinking beer at the Cologne Carnival in Germany
Image: Ezio61/Tripadvisor

When: February 8–14, 2024

The Cologne Carnival is affectionately known as the “fifth season” or “crazy days” for a reason. The entire city breaks out with lively music, wacky costumes, and lots of beer. Plus, playful traditions. During the Women’s Carnival, ladies would cut off men’s ties. You’ve been warned!

The can’t-miss event is the Rose Monday Parade. Elaborate floats and costumed performers weave through Cologne’s city center, showering spectators with candy and tulips. Pick a hotel near the Old Town to stay near the festivities. The Belgian Quarter is also a great option with plenty of bars and restaurants.

13. London, United Kingdom

A crowd of partygoers following a music truck at the Notting Hill Carnival in London
Ladies in colorful costumes with feathers parading down a street during the Notting Hill Carnival
Image: Ashley Davies/Tripadvisor (left), zJenney/Tripadvisor (right)

When: August 24–26, 2024

The Notting Hill Carnival in London may not be a pre-Lenten festival, but it’s still an awesome way to experience the explosive buzz of carnival celebrations. The event started in the 1960s and celebrates the joys of Caribbean culture. Every year, millions of people take to the streets of Notting Hill, making it the U.K.’s biggest street party.

From steel pan music competitions to artistic floats, there’s lots to see…and even more to eat. Over a hundred food stalls line the sidewalks, dishing out Caribbean treats like Trini roti, Jamaican jerk chicken, and salt fish fritters.

14. Barbados, Caribbean

Barbadians in intricate costumes strolling down a road during Grand Kadooment Day at the Crop Over Festival
Image: HROxon/Tripadvisor

When: July 6–August 5, 2024

The Crop Over Festival in Barbados shares many similarities with a typical carnival, but it’s much more than that. For one, it’s the most popular summer festival in the Caribbean. It started as a celebration to mark the end of the sugarcane harvest and has evolved into an extravaganza packed with beach parties, electrifying soca concerts, and endless vibes.

The event closes with a massive finale: Grand Kadooment. This parade features masquerade bands dancing along a six-mile route that ends on the Mighty Grynner Highway. Dress up to get into the spirit, but light clothing and comfortable shoes are recommended.

Michelle Neo
Michelle (or Mich, as she prefers) aspires to eat every type of bread in the world, cuddle friendly dogs, and find rocks to climb—in no specific order.