1. Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Brazil
Probably the first to come to mind when we think of the world’s greatest carnival, and with good reason, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival is the world’s biggest carnival. Held just before Lent, the festival sees over two million people in attendance each year and has been running annually since 1723. Each year during the carnival the streets of the city fill with colour, music and dance, and the Brazilians certainly know how to party. It is impossible not to feel in the party mood as samba reverberates around the city and people dance, oblivious to the rest of the world and enjoying every minute. Particularly impressive is the parade in the Sambadrome, featuring beautiful colourful costumes accompanied by fantastic dancing, and the samba schools of the city competing.
2. Carnival of Venice, Italy
The Carnival of Venice in Italy is all about elegance. Every year just before Lent participants compete to win la maschera più bella, or ‘the most beautiful mask’, filling the streets, canals and gondolas of Venice with incredible masks and ornate costumes and wigs. Nobody is sure of the exact origins of this celebration of the art of disguise, but it is said to date all the way back to 1162, becoming extremely famous during the 18th century for its excess. It was even outlawed in 1797 by the conservative King of Austria who outlawed masks entirely, however it returned in full in 1979 and has been celebrated since.
3. Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is considered the second most popular carnival in the world, after Rio de Janeiro’s. It is held every February in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the largest of the Spanish Canary Islands. The celebrations start on a Friday and continue through until Ash Wednesday, when participants attend a tradition called entierro de la sardina or ‘burial of the sardine’. The party then begins again the following weekend, continuing with the music, dance, food and fun.
4. Notting Hill Carnival, UK
The Notting Hill Carnival is held in the fancy Notting Hill neighbourhood of London in England every August and sees around two million people dance through the streets of West London. The event is separate to the religious ‘Carnival’ season surrounding Lent, and has its roots in celebrating the traditions of the British West Indian community who originally lived in the neighbourhood. In incredible celebration of the Caribbean community, culture, food and music of the city, the carnival focuses on music with floats moving through the city and several street parties popping up all over with large-scale sound systems as well as live performances. An amazing experience for both locals and visitors, Notting Hill Carnival is one of a kind.
5. Binche Carnival, Belgium
Binche Carnival or ‘Le Carnaval de Binche’ is a huge carnival event in Belgium that celebrates country’s heritage and traditions, and has even been named a UNESCO ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. The celebrations include smaller parades with fantastical performances and live music for several Sundays in the lead up to Ash Wednesday, with the main event taking place around Shrove Tuesday. This features ‘Gilles,’ or performers styled like clowns who wear everything from wax masks to wooden shoes, a great and unique insight into the country’s origins.
6. Cadiz Carnival, Spain
In the south of Spain there is a small city, on a piece of land which just out into the sea, which despite its size offers a party like no other. Cadiz Carnival runs for around ten days in February each year, and is based around humour, with sarcasm, mockery and irony being the main characteristic along with plenty of music and partying, it is Spain after all. The year leading up to the event is filled with rehearsals, planning and preparation for the musical performances, the most popular of which are the chirigotas, who use worldwide news events as inspiration for their song lyrics. The narrow streets of Cadiz are filled with stages and people, in a friendly and happy atmosphere.
7. Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria
Another Canary Island celebration during Carnical season, the Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria takes place in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria island, and stands out for it’s Queen and Drag Queen of Carnival competitions. The murgas and the comparsas fill the streets to the sounds of batucada, a style of samba, and it is the ultimate relaxed, fun in the sun party.
8. Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean
During the Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, the streets fill with music like soca, limbo and calypso, and of course plenty of rum is consumed In Trinidad, Herre, the spirit of the Caribbean, is celebrated in style, with costume parades filled with colour, music and flavour. This carnival is brilliant demonstration of the best of Caribbean carnival celebrations.
9. Carnival of Ivrea, Italy
The Carnival of Ivrea in Italy features the ‘Battle of the Oranges,’ the biggest food fight in all of Italy. Over several days in February each year there are parades of the Molinera, the General, the Napoleonic Staff with its officers on horseback and many more, all culminating in the battle, which represents the civil war between the citizens and the army. The people dedicate themselves to throwing oranges at the government representatives, who go by car, whilst the Molinera distributes candies, sweets and gifts to the attendees. It is still a mystery as to how this tradition came about, but it is loved by many. The carnival ends on Shrove Tuesday with a silent march and the code phrase ‘arvedse a giobia a ‘n bot,‘ or ‘see you next Thursday at one. This in fact refers to the following year’s carnival, meaning the events are over until the next year.
10. Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia
Another UNESCO ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’, the Carnival of Ouro in Bolivia is over 200 years old and has a rich history. It is indigenous in origin but was expanded over time to include Christian rituals as well, and focuses heavily on traditional dances and ceremonies. The traditional dance of the festival is known as the ‘llama llama’ or diablada which tells the story of the triumph of good over evil and lasts 20 hours, and there are over 48 dance groups that perform over 15 different folk dances throughout the festivities. It is the largest annual event in the country and ends with people putting out the fire with a great water fight on Water Day.