Top 10 carnivals of the world

In-your-face levels of color, illumination, music, dancing, excess, vivacity and sexuality; carnival is arguably the ultimate expression of humanity.

Here’s our list of the world’s 10 best carnivals:

Carnival – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • When: 40 days before Easter, in February or March.
  • How big: An estimated two million people turn out on Rio’s streets every day of the carnival to watch performances from around 200 samba schools and 300 neighborhood street bands.
  • How long: Four days, Saturday through Tuesday. The two major parades featuring the top samba schools take place on Sunday and Monday. Opening Ceremony takes place on Friday.
  • Unique selling point: The Sambadrome, a colossal purpose-built parade runway flanked by grandstands, where Carnival competitors strut their stuff.

Notting Hill – London, UK

  • When: Last Sunday and Monday in August.
  • How big: Around one million people attend the carnival to see 50,000 performers.
  • How long: Two days of parades (Sunday is Children’s day and Monday is Adult’s day).
  • USP: The 40 or so static music systems in the streets around the parade route and the stalls selling Caribbean food like jerk chicken, patties, curries and fried plantains.

Notting Hill Carnival 2011 from Rich Maskey on Vimeo.

iGO PRO Notting Hill Carnival 2011 from The Film Artist on Vimeo.

Mardi Gras – New Orleans, USA

  • When: The two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.
  • How big: The festivities draw three quarters of a million people to The Big Easy annually.
  • How long: Carnival celebrations start on Jan. 6, the Twelfth Night (feast of Epiphany), and picks up speed until midnight on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday.
  • USP: We hate to say it but it’s got to be the beads and the antics people go through to get a hold of them.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnaval – Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife

  • When: The week preceding Ash Wednesday.
  • How big: The carnival has performances from more than 100 music groups, including murgas, comparsas, rondallas.
  • How long: The main parade (coso) is staged on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday toward the end of the two-week event. Feasting happens the day prior to the parade. The Saturday before is dedicated to dancing on two big stages set up in major plazas.
  • USP: The incredible televised Carnival queen competition in the run up to the main event. For many people, Tenerife’s Carnival is second only to Rio’s.

Carnevale di Venezia – Venice, Italy

  • When: The two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday.
  • How big: Thousands attend public and private events and parties.
  • How long: Around 20 days, though most events occur in the last two weeks.
  • USP: A masquerade affair, it’s all about capturing centuries-old refined social customs whilst wearing a mask and elaborate costume.

Carnival – Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

When: Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday

How big: 300,000 people pack into the confines of Queens Park and the national stadium.

How long: Two days of parades preceded by more than two weeks of festivities and preliminary competitions.

USP: Steelpan band competition.

Quebec Winter Carnival – Quebec City, Canada

  • When: The two weeks leading up to, and a handful of days after, Shrove Tuesday.
  • How big: World’s biggest winter festival, drawing around 500,000 visitors.
  • How long: Around 17 days.
  • USP: The carnival’s all about winter sports like dog-sled racing, sleigh racing, canoe racing, snow sculpture contests, snow bathing, ice skating and sledding. At 50 meters wide, 20 meters high and 20 meters deep, the official Ice Palace is pretty spectacular.

Cologne Festival 

  • When: The week leading up to and including Shrove Tuesday.
  • How big: Draws more than one million visitors to the city every year.
  • How long: Around six days: Thursday is Women’s Day, Sunday has a parade, Monday is the day of the main parade and Tuesday sees many informal fancy dress parades in the city’s suburbs. Carnival season officially kicks off at 11:11 a.m. on the Nov. 11.
  • USP: The giant papier-mâché caricatures of politicians (German and international).

Carnaval de Nice – Nice, France

  • When: mid-February.
  • How big: 11 parades featuring 1,000 musicians and dancers from around the world.
  • How long: Events are spread over 15 days.
  • USP: Flower parades where up to 100,000 flowers are thrown from floats to the crowd.

Goa Intruz – Panaji, India

  • When: The three or four days leading up to and including Shrove Tuesday.
  • How big: Dozens of floats and several hundred participants
  • How long: Three or four days.
  • USP: The collision between hedonistic carnival energy and reserved Indian customs.

Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…

(Image: Leandro’s World Tour)

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