Our Top Carnival Destinations

Wishing you were joining in on the festivities at Notting Hill Carnival this weekend? Don’t worry, London isn’t the only one that has a celebration this big. Carnival is in fact a global sensation that is celebrated in many Roman Catholic countries across the world, however these celebrations take place earlier in the year, often just before Lent.

Although it’s a little longer to wait, it means you’ve got all the more time to get working on those costumes! So, get your sequins at the ready as here’s our top destinations with carnivals almost as big as the world famous Rio de Janeiro…

Carnival of Venice, Italy

Date: 8th February – 25th February 2020

The long-legged boot of Italy may be home to a number of well-known carnivals but it’s the Carnevale of Venice in you guessed it, Venice that takes the lead — so much so it’s bagged a title as one of the most famous Mardi Gras around the world. It first reached its widest fame way back in the 18th century and to this day is still going strong. Thousands of party-goer’s flock here year on year to indulge in two weeks of music, dances and some crazily creative costumes! The outfits are accompanied with the most astounding masks which are arguably the most important part of the entire event.

The actual Carnevale day changes yearly depending on which date Easter falls, however celebrations often kick off around two weeks before the big day arrives. Highlights include the Flight of the Angel which sees a costumed Venetian lady ‘fly’ over the crowds among a triumph of confetti and balloons to mark the start of the celebrations. Other must-sees include the Water Parade – a display of brightly decorated boats sailing the Rio di Cannaregio, along with numerous grand masquerade balls.

Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands

Date: 19th February – 1st March 2020

Towards the start of each year, the streets of Tenerife’s capital city become alive with rhythm, colour and a whole lot of flamboyant fun for what’s said to be one of the best carnivals in the world. Every year, a voting takes place by the residents of the island to decide on the theme. Suggestions like cowboys and American Indians or Route 66 were amongst those proposed this time round however the winning theme for 2020 is “The coquette ‘50s”. So, grab your most dazzling costumes and head over to the Santa Cruz de Carnival to join in with 15 days of parades, shows and of course, endless parties!

The all-important Carnival Queen Election starts things off on the Wednesday of the first week of festivities. Now this really is your perfect opportunity to see the weird yet wonderful carnival outfits at their best as the candidates parade the stage in insanely large costumes. Just to put it into perspective, some are that big that they’ve been known to weigh more than one hundred kilos! Once the carnival queen has been crowned, the celebrations carry on for days until the climax of the big parade – the date for this is still to be confirmed.

To mark the end, there’s the unique Burial of the Sardine event, which is exactly what its name suggests. A sardine-like sculpture is carried on a funeral bier through the crowds before being set on fire to represent the sacrifice being made for the coming Lent period — certainly something that you don’t see every day!

Carnival of Rijeka, Croatia

Date: 17th January – 26th February 2020

When it comes to festivities in Croatia, the Rijeka carnival is the most monumental. This Mardi Gras is often linked to the well-known, age-old fear that the locals of Croatia had against their Turk enemies. A time in which they dressed up in animal-like costumes throwing fireworks and burning effigies, all with the intention of scaring away any invaders. It is said that this period was what influenced the three masked groups that mischievously walked the main street of Korzo to revive the carnival idea, and to their success, the idea caught on.

Today, the event sees over 50 thousand attendees each year with 2020 set to be the biggest year yet since it ties in with the 2020 European Capital of Culture opening and closing ceremonies. Although the carnival takes place during the Adriatic winter season it doesn’t stop any one from putting on their most colourful costumes and heading to the city to join in on the action. From the moment the mayor or Rijeka makes his symbolic gesture with a Key to the City the streets transform into nothing but fun. Expect everything from a traditional Queen’s Pageant to Bell Ringers and even a dedicated Childrens Carnival Parade for the pre-schoolers before the main parade takes place.

Sitges Carnival, Spain

Date: 18th February – 26th February 2020

In the UK, we celebrate the last days before Lent by gobbling up as many pancakes as possible before clearing out the cupboards of all things tasty. Spain on the other hand, have a whole other way of celebrating and it all starts on ‘Fat Thursday’. This is the equivalent to our Shrove Tuesday however it’s on a different day of the week and in this instance has a focus on the famous Spanish omelette dish. This day marks the beginning of a week’s worth of festivities where the Spaniards well and truly let their hair down, otherwise known as Sitges Carnival.

Slightly south of Barcelona, you’ll find the coastal town of Sitges where all the celebrations take place. With being the so-called gay capital of Europe, as you can expect this place certainly knows how to throw a party – we’re talking sequins, feathers and all the colours of the rainbow! King Carnestoltes (the King of the Carnival) arrives in the city to mark the start of the celebrations, before the most vivid and ‘wildest party of the year’ takes place for an entire week. Like the Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the festivities come to an end with the Burial of the Sardine – this time the sardine sculpture is buried at the beach to symbolise all of the delicious fish and sweets that will be given up for the entire duration of Lent.

Mazatlan Carnival, Mexico

Date: 20th February – 25th February 2020

From parades down the Malecon to shows at the baseball stadium, all with Pacifico beer on tap, it’s safe to say Mazatlan in Mexico certainly know how to party! Since the first Carnival was introduced in 1898, it’s been almost an annual occurrence ever since. Acting as a little teaser of what’s to come, the city and sea wall see a number of giant multi-coloured carnival figurines popping up a few weeks before the official celebrations begin.

Kicking things off is the Bad Mood Riddance event otherwise known as Quema del Mal Humor. This is where a dummy version of an unpopular famous person is loaded with fireworks and set alight in a bid to get rid of any bad feelings. After this the focus is shifted onto nothing but joyous festivities, starting with the crowning of a Carnival Queen and King to lead the event. From there, expect two extravagant parades both with artistic attire, live entertainment and fascinating fireworks. Speaking of which, the Naval Combat Fireworks are not to be missed! It appears to be a tradition to round up the celebrations with the burning of an effigy and Mazatlan is no exception. This takes place on what is called ‘Fat Tuesday’, the day before Ash Wednesday and Lent begins.

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