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The Ultimate Guide to Celebrating Carnival

February 2nd, 2017

Celebrating Carnival Around The World

Whether you call it Carnival, Carnivale, Carnaval, Mardi Gras or another form of the basic word, this celebration is one of the most anticipated pre-Lenten festivities across the globe. Typically set in February or March, depending upon the country, city or hemisphere, Carnival is a highly exciting, exotic, eclectic and extraordinary experience. It’s definitely a must-do, at least once.

To prepare you for your next… or first… Carnival, check out our ultimate guide to some of the hottest Carnivals in the world. Over the years, you might just want to hop from one to another so you can decide for yourself which is the best Carnival for your personality, family and lifestyle.

Carnival in America

Carnival in New Orleans – Mardi Gras


We’ll start our exploration of Carnival in North America, specifically the United States. Perhaps the most popular Carnival is in New Orleans, where it’s more commonly referred to as Mardi Gras. Throughout the French Quarter, Uptown, Slidell, Metairie and beyond, the city comes alive, usually in late February. Masks, beads and dances are all part of this ultimate celebration that draws people from around the country, as well as all corners of the earth.

To make the most of a Mardi Gras excursion, you should plan out the essential “can’t miss” experiences. This includes one of New Orleans’ famous parades. The Mardi Gras parades take place daily, and sometimes several are in play at different hours of the day. You literally could expand your party life to have a 24-hour fete, but you’ll probably want to rest at some point at a nearby upscale hotel. Just be aware that if you’re staying in New Orleans, you can’t escape the noise and revelry from the streets. It’s just part of Mardi Gras!

Not to be outdone their southern cousin, Los Angeles and Chicago have their own Carnivals.

Carnival in LA

At the Carnivals in Los Angeles, you can expect the warm weather of New Orleans, mixed with a unique blend of West Coast flair. As you investigate how to attend Carnival in LA, it’s clear to see that the rich diversity of cultures has precipitated an unorthodox array of Carnival celebrations. This leaves you with many opportunities to indulge in a California Carnival that won’t overlap with other Carnivals you expect to visit.

Some of the best Carnivals to attend in Los Angeles include the New Year’s Eve Brazil-themed Carnival and the June Hollywood Carnival. The Brazilian Carnival has more of the spice you’d expect from a Latin-inspired event, and features an abundance of colors, music and dancing. However, because it’s held at one location, it’s more of a niche Carnival, as well as a focused event.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for some wild Los Angeles fun, you need to see the Hollywood Carnival. As a summertime festival, this extreme festival almost goes overboard. Although you’ll see kids around, you’ll probably want to leave yours behind and hire a professional nanny to take care of them while you’re at the LA Hollywood Carnival. It tends to draw a younger, adult crowd looking to flaunt their cultural backgrounds.

Carnival in Chicago

Moving to the Midwest, Chicago’s Carnival kicks off on Fat Tuesday. If you’re visiting the Windy City, get ready to pack your calendar with tons of events. Throughout the region, you’ll find activities including the fantastical Sambrodomo, an intensely exciting parade. Pubs and restaurants also offer deep discounts on adult beverages, brews and spirits, and you might want to participate in a Division Street old-fashioned bar crawl. Obviously, you’ll want to hire a driver or stay within walking distance if you plan to participate in these activities that focus heavily on libations. Don’t forget to try out some of the fantastic flavors on the menus at fine eateries around the town.

Carnival in Europe

Our exploration of Carnivals takes us across the pond to Europe, where some of the continent’s largest cities and countries are becoming festival strongholds. These include Germany, Holland, Italy and London.

Carnival in Germany

Carnival in Germany is referred to as Fasching or, more widely, Karneval. It begins in November, and lasts until Fat/Shroud Tuesday. In other words, it’s a long period of celebrating that includes some of the end-of-year holidays.

Germans continue to maintain their belief that festivals should be big, bold and beautiful. Karneval is no exception to the rule. Coming on the heels of Oktoberfest, Fasching includes plenty of splendid parades, with a final biggie held on Fat Tuesday. Many of the parades and similar celebrations date back hundreds of years. This makes them true traditions, and you’ll see how important they are to the locals when you visit.

Like all Carnivals, Karneval or Fasching features tons of food and spirited drinking. Dressing in crazy, whimsical costumes is encouraged, complete with Mardi Gras masks. In all areas of Germany, including Bavarian, the Rhineland and other regions, you can visit festivals that take over the towns. Do your research on your preferred German city and see when their Karneval is taking place — oh, and make reservations well in advance to solidify your spot.

Carnival in Holland

In Holland, Carnival goes by the moniker Carnaval. In the Netherlands, its Pagan roots were overtaken by religious overtones once upon a time, but this association has all but disappeared. Now, you’re just as likely to see a political satire with puppets during a vibrant parade as you are to have the opportunity to tour a cathedral or other house of worship.

Holland’s Carnaval includes plenty of revelry and dancing, and it generally happens in late February and early March. It’s a custom that’s been embraced by everyone, including children. This makes it a perfect place for you to bring the kids, unless you’re looking for an adults-only getaway. Feasting is a huge part of Carnaval in Holland, so plan to bring your appetite. You can always work off your meals by walking through the streets of the various towns that participate in this countrywide event.

Carnival in Italy

Italy has its own Carnival, too, so if you want to indulge in a warmer-weather late winter festival, it might be a little more your style. Italians use the word Carnevale, and they hold nothing back in celebrating. One of the highlights of the Italy-based Carnevale is the incredible masks they create for performers in their parades. Just like the Italian masters of art and architecture, the masks are second-to-none. You’ll be amazed at all the shine, the colors and the bigger-than-life qualities of the masks and costuming.

Not sure which of Italy’s towns you want to visit for your Carnevale trip? Consider Cento, Acireale or Venice. They provide some of the largest events the country has to offer for visitors.

Carnival in London

Moving westward across the continent, we come to London. Each year, Londoners offer a Notting Hill Carnival with Caribbean themes. You can hear music bursting with calypso beats, and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the rhythms, tastes and aromas that take you to the tropics.

Because of the holiday season in Great Britain, the London Notting Hill Carnival is not held during the traditional 40 days preceding Lent. Instead, it’s offered in late summer, usually August. This opens many possibilities for you to travel with the whole family, as many schools are not yet in session during this timeframe. Not sure you can get away? No problem. You don’t need to take a whole week. In London, it’s a two-day event, making it more convenient for busy professionals who want to minimize their time away from their businesses.

Carnival in Spain

Spain is known for revelry, and its Carnival is no exception! It’s a celebration that embraces the joy of dressing up and having a great time. Street activities, parades, crownings and other exciting offerings are available throughout the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season. If you attend the northwestern cities’ Carnival in Spain, don’t be surprised if you see an effigy of a donkey being held aloft. This “hanging of the donkey” is just part of the overall silly tone that lends itself to practically all Carnival festivals.

Not interested in going to a major Spanish city for a wild Carnival adventure? Almost all towns have some kind of event calendar, including those in the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Carnival in South America

Now we head to South America, which is one area of the world most connected to Carnival.

Carnival in Brazil

Brazil is often seen as the homeland of Carnival, with its Rio de Janeiro Carnival happening the few days before Fat Tuesday and the beginning of Lent. If you watched the Rio Olympics in 2016, you know that Brazilians love nothing more than putting on a world-class celebration. Their Carnival is no exception to the rule.

What will you find when you book your flight and hotel reservations to Brazil’s most recognized annual special occasion? The party includes Samba-themed music, incredibly-costumed performers, citywide street festivals, parades beyond your dreams and continuous supplies of food and drink. It’s impossible to be bored when you’re at Brazil’s Carnival, and it may be a good time to give up on getting your eight hours of sleep. Because the Brazilian party continues for 48 hours straight, at least, give yourself an extra day to rest up in this paradise before heading back to your everyday life.

Carnival in Argentina

Brazil isn’t the only South American country that celebrates Carnival. Argentina is also a fan of this annual fest. Held concurrently with the Rio Carnival, Argentina’s Carnival is influenced by Spanish and African settlers. There is also a nod to the traditions of the harvest that ripens around the time before Lent. This gives the Argentinian version of Carnival a bit of a different flavor than other Carnivals. If you’ve already been to the Rio Carnival and love the beauty of South America, consider traveling to Argentina to check out this Rio Carnival alternative.

As with all Carnivals, the Argentina Carnival offers parades, libations, cuisine and fun. Check out your favorite Argentinian city, such as Gualeguaychú, for exceptional hotel deals and vacation packages.

Carnival in the Caribbean

Want more Carnival possibilities? We’ll wrap up our ultimate Carnival guide in the warm waters of the Caribbean, which includes so many travelers’ favorite places to relax, rest, recharge and rediscover.

Carnival in Antigua

Carnival in Antigua is not your standard Carnival at all. Instead of being held around Fat Tuesday, it takes place in the summer months, depending upon the city. It’s a celebration of the end of slavery in Antigua, rather than having religious roots. Over a ten-day period, you can visit parades, watch pageants, listen to Caribbean music and indulge in culinary treats.

Carnival in Aruba

In Aruba, Carnival is held at a more traditional time of the year, namely right before everyone determines what they’ll “give up” for Lent. If you’re going to be in Aruba for Carnival, be prepared to have a wealth of opportunities. The entertainment doesn’t stop from morning until night, with parades, festivals, contests, coronations and more. Bring your walking shoes, because you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny during this experience. Prepare for a sightseeing adventure filled with happiness, rhythms and exotic foods!

Carnival in Barbados

Barbados’ Carnival is referred to as their Crop Over festival. As you might imagine, it’s not a Mardi Gras, but a more local type of experience. The Crop Over happens during the summer months and has attracted visitors from near and far. Barbados is dotted with tons of fine resorts, so if you’re coming for Crop Over, you might want to contact your resort of choice. Many of the resorts offer travel packages that include accommodations and Crop Over festivities.

Carnival in the Dominican Republic

Itching for a warm place to travel in February? Head to the Dominican Republic for Carnival. Traditionally held throughout the entire month, the Dominican Republic’s version of Carnival includes something a little unique: a nod to the military. In addition to all the other Carnival excitement you’ve come to expect from Carnivals, you will see military demonstrations on display.

Carnival in Jamaica

We end our international tour of Carnivals in Jamaica, where you can find the Bacchanal. Starting in February and ending two months later in April, the island has decided to make Bacchanal one of its prime events. Not surprisingly, it’s becoming larger and larger, and the atmosphere across the island is one of true feasting, dancing, singing and celebrating.

Parades, costumes and other events are planned each week, so don’t feel bad if you’re unable to stay for the entire Bacchanal. Stick with Jamaica’s biggest cities if you want to get the most Bacchanal revelry. Feel free to contribute by participating in one of the parades or just dressing up to cheer on the sidelines.

Some Final Thoughts on Carnival

No matter which Carnival you choose to attend, there are some final thoughts and tips to keep in mind. The first is to set your reservations as soon as you know you can be there. This helps ensure you get to stay in the spot you want. Secondly, be cautious. Pickpockets tend to make Carnival attendees targets, especially if the attendees have their guards down and their purses or wallets in full view. Be aware at all times, and stay vigilant. If need be, you may want to hire a bodyguard if you feel it’s needed to keep you and your family secure.

Finally, do your research when bringing children to Carnivals. Many are very family-friendly, but others are on the cusp depending upon your parenting style. By being aware of the Carnival events and atmospheres, you can make better decisions for your children.

If you’re in need of a professional nanny, a personal assistant or another skilled individual to help your Carnival experience be the best, trust us at Quintessentially People. Our world-class talent pool ensures candidates are the top in their fields.

It’s time to have some fun like you’ve never experienced before. Head to Carnival!