Get the party started! The official carnival season swings into action this week. From masked balls in Venice to samba beats in the streets of Rio, we bring you ten of the best carnivals. As S Club 7 once said: viva la fiesta!
1. Venice Carnival, Italy, 1-14 February
The Carnevale Venezia gets the party season in style. Get your freak on, or at least a mask, for one of Europe’s most extravagant events. This isn’t Glastonbury, however. There may be much fancy dress, but being Venice, it’s really all very civilized. Get your hands on a ticket for mega masked ball, the Gran Ballo delle Maschere.
2. Viareggio Carnival, Italy, 3 February – 3 March
Along with Venice, the Carnevale di Viareggio is one of Italy’s two big carnivals. This normally-not-quite-so-crazy Tuscan seaside resort hosts a million spectators who flock to see parades of giant papier-maché floats up to 20 metres high, from fire-breathing dragons to politicians.
3. Santa Cruz Carnival, Tenerife, 6-17 February
The Carnaval de Santa Cruz in Tenerife attracts half a million visitors to this Canary isle for a week-long event that goes down in a blaze of glory with a 24-hour party… and the burning of a massive papier-maché sardine.
4. Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 8 Feb – 3 March
Sydney‘s Mardi Gras started as a civil rights march in the 70s is now 35 years old and has grown into a massive month-long party attended by over half a million people. Celebrations closes with a parade involving over 8000 extravagantly-dressed participants, and quite possibly Kylie Minogue.
5. Oruro Carnival, Bolivia, 8-11 February
The Oruco Carnival is Bolivia’s biggest annual event. Essentially it tells the story of the triumph of good over evil, in the form of a 20-hour theatrically-costumed parade, La Diablada (Dance of the Devils). Then there’s the Day of Water – essentially one huge water fight.
6. Rio Carnival, Brazil, 9-12 February
Rio’s Carnaval is the biggest and most famous public party on the planet. The legendary samba spirit of Brazil is demonstrated best by the bandas – street parades led by drummers and singers – climaxing with the spectacular samba school showdown in the Sambodrome.
7. Carnival de Binche, Belgium, 10-12 February
Clown-like performers known as Gilles, wearing weird wax masks and wielding sticks used to ward off spirits, parade through the town of Binche. Be warned that, as part of the fun, the Gilles chuck oranges at spectators, but you’re not allowed to throw them back, which doesn’t seem fair.
8. Trinidad Carnival, 11-12 February
Steel bands, soca, limbo, calypso, and a whole lot of rum: the spirit of the Caribbean is celebrated with gusto on the tropical island of Trinidad, just off the coast of Venezuela. Apparently stickfighting is part of the fun as well, but visitors should stick (ha, ha) to shimmying along with the colourful costume band parades in Trinidadian capital Port of Spain.
9. New Orleans Mardi Gras, 12 February
Also known as Shrove Tuesday, in French Mardi Gras means ‘Fat Tuesday’. While we go crazy before Lent by making pancakes, the people of New Orleans get drunk and dress up (or strip off) in a celebration of their Creole heritage.
10. Notting Hill Carnival, London, 25-26 August
London’s biggest party of the year isn’t anything to do with Lent. The absolutely massive Notting Hill Carnival is a celebration of the capital’s Caribbean community. Two million people dance in the streets of west London, and eat loads of jerk chicken.