Celebrate Carnival at one of the world’s most interesting celebrations, like Carnevale in Venice. (Photo: Alamy)
First, a short history lesson: Carnival isn’t just about drinking and partying (ahem). It’s a Christian tradition that culminates in Mardi Gras celebrations across the globe — not just in New Orleans. Now that we’ve set the record straight, put on the mask and get your flask ready. Here are the craziest ways to Carnival worldwide.
Carnevale, Venice, Italy
Who hasn’t dreamed of going to Venice for Carnevale (We sure have!)? The cobblestoned alleyways… twisting canals… historic palazzos… Keep an eye out for elaborately masked and cloaked figures gliding down the waterways on gondolas. Gown rentals start at $325 per day, but we suggest buying an elaborate maschera (mask) at Ca’ Macanà and a handmade tabarro (cloak) at Monica Daniele. While most locals attend private parties, visitors can hit the streets or if they’re lucky, get a ticket to the Doge’s Ball, held annually in the Palazzo Pisani Moretta on the Grand Canal. Buyers beware: Tickets have a hefty price tag ($860 to $3,600).
Venise Sous Paris, Paris, France
Get ready to attend the masquerade ball of your dreams. Hint: It involves guests dressed in elegant Venetian gowns, a mysterious candlelit party and an abandoned private mansion. Your host, We Are The Oracle, is a French group that organizes secretive soirées and though the location of this one won’t be revealed until a few hours prior, here’s a clue: Paris’s golden triangle. Oh, and did we mention? Whoever has the best costume wins a trip to Venice, Italy.
Samba Parade, Rio, Brazil
Last year, the world’s largest Carnival drew nearly a million hard-partying tourists — 977,000 to be exact. Revelers pre-game at the 500 blocos (street festivals), then finish strong on the final four nights by dancing ’til dawn at the competitive samba parades held in Rio’s Sambódromo (a massive stadium built specifically for the occasion). Want to join in on the fun? March in costume with a samba school; just be prepared to shell out upwards of $500.
Rose Monday Parade, Cologne, Germany
Oktoberfest isn’t the only time Germans are down to drink! Enter Rosenmontag (Rose Monday), the high point of the carnival season in Cologne, when the charming town is shut down for a four-mile parade of nearly 75 decorated floats that throw strüßjer (bouquets of flowers) and kamelle (sweets) to cheering crowds. Brace yourself for lip-smacking bützjer (kisses) from random locals — it’s all part of the fun.
Festival of Devils and Masks, Luzon, Spain
Just two hours northeast of Madrid, the small town of Luzon may be home to one of the least-known carnival events, but that doesn’t mean these Spaniards don’t know how to have a good time. During La Fiesta de los Diablos y Mascaritas (Festival of Devils and Masks), locals parade through the village covered in oil or soot, wearing bull horns on their heads and cowbells on their belts. The coolest part? This event is a Celtic tradition that dates back to the 14th century.
Battaglia delle Arance, Ivrea, Italy
Valencia’s La Tomatina is so old news. Instead, head to Ivrea, Italy for the Battaglia delle Arance where a crowd of 3,500 reenact a middle-age battle. Their chosen weapon? 880,000 pounds of oranges. Expect to be splattered with the fruit from head to toe, and whatever you do, don’t forget your goggles!
Soulard, St. Louis, Missouri
If we gave you one guess as to where the second biggest Mardi Gras party is, we bet you’d never have answered St. Louis, Missouri. It all kicks off in the hip Soulard neighborhood with the Family Winter Carnival in January, then continues through the spring with Cajun cook-offs, whiskey tastings and street parties, all culminating in the grand event: the parade. Expect extravagant floats of green, purple and gold throwing beads (and in some cases Budweiser beers!) to onlookers.
Mud Block Festival, Paraty, Brazil
This coastal town 150 miles southwest of Rio knows how to get down and dirty. If you combine mud wrestling and careening through the streets, you’d get Bloco da Lama (Mud Block). Partiers cover themselves in mud from Jabaquara Beach then march through town chanting, before circling back to the lagoon where they splash themselves clean.
Want to attend the Caribbean’s biggest carnival celebration? It’s not in Jamaica or Puerto Rico — but in Trinidad. Here, soca and calypso tropical music blasts around the island, leading up to Panorama, a competition of steelbands (groups who use steel pans and drums). JS tip: Trinidadian costumes are notoriously skimpy, so make sure you’re bikini-ready before you go.
Mardi Gras, New Orleans
We couldn’t have a list of top Carnival parties without mentioning the mother of all Mardi Gras: New Orleans. Its, ahem, raunchy tradition of breast-baring, bead-begging behavior on Bourbon Street may be renowned but personally, we’d rather join the locals in some less risqué partying. Head to the outskirts of the French Quarter and hit the neighborhood parades, where you can roll with the krewes (local social clubs). Splurge on a ticket to join the the Krewe of Orpheus, to dress up in costume, ride in the parade and end the night partying at a private ball.
King Momo Parade, Goa, India
Yes, despite its Hindu roots, India DOES actually celebrate Carnival. The tradition made its way over when the Portuguese ruled this corner of the country from the 16th century to 1961, meshing their Catholic customs with Indian culture. Today, this four-day jubilee has fireworks, vibrant costumes and the procession of King Momo (King of Chaos), where people spray crowds in Goan villages with colored water.