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The Biggest and Best Carnival Celebrations Around the World

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2/2/2023 Charlie Hobbs, Paul Rubio

When Carnival carnival celebrations come around each year, cities throughout the world explode in a spectacle of color and texture so vivid they feel like a dream. But the celebrations are very real, taking place everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Calabar, Nigeria (‘Detty December,’ anyone?) to downtown Toronto where parades can stop traffic for a day or two. But whether the festivities are large-scale or celebrated in tight-knit communities, situated just before Lent as one final act of decadent indulgence (most common) or in the warmer months (looking at you, Europe), there’s a lot of information to parse and tons of intricacies to understand about every rendition. 

Each respective festival has a rich history of its own, borne from the unique chemistry of its individual region and demographics. As a travelers, it's natural to wonder: How should you dress? What will you see? No two places have the same answer. To help you out, we’ve broken down 19 Carnival celebrations around the world—and everything you need to know to take part, or simply appreciate them from afar. 

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. This article has been updated since its original publish date. 

Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago

Dates: February 15-23, 2020

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Trinidadians prepare all year to impress each other—and hundreds of thousands of onlookers—during the Caribbean’s biggest Carnival, where custom-made bathing suit–style costumes, steel drums, local street food, and dancing in the streets equal an ambush to the senses. An important Carnival term to know is "playing mas", which means dancing through the streets in a costumed Carnival band. To be part of the parade you have to join one of the bands (there are hundreds to choose from), and you can sign up to participate online. Your band will guide you to costumes to purchase—or, you can join the street party for free in your own look. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes and light clothing so you can party under the sun all day long.

Where to stay: You’ll want to find somewhere close to the center of the action—as its name suggests, the Port of Spain is built around the water and this means its best hotels have some astounding views of the Gulf of Paria. There’s the Hyatt Regency Trinidad, a high-rise in the downtown neighborhood with plenty of room to gather groups of friends. To the east, the Courtyard by Marriott Port of Spain stands bright and airy.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Dates: February 17-25, 2023

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Nobody throws a party quite like Brazil, and there’s no Brazilian party quite like Rio Carnaval. It's the world’s largest Carnival celebration, attracting participants in the millions for a week of explosive, flamboyant, samba-shaking fun. There will be numerous events happening during the week, including informal street parties and the official Sambodrome parade (for the latter, make sure to purchase tickets ahead of time). Keep in mind that during February the temperature is hot and humid, though that never seems to stop local attendees from sporting full Halloween-like costumes. 

Where to stay: Local artist João Incerti recommends you post up in this Chez George private villa with views of Santa Teresa and breakfast included (perfect for the morning after one-too-many caipirinhas; it's also closer to the Sambodrome than beach hotels). There’s also the very chic seven-room Mama Ruisa Boutique Hotel in the same neighborhood. To get close to the beachside parties that will run throughout the week, consider Fairmont Rio de Janeiro Copacabana.

New Orleans

Date: February 21, 2023

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Fat Tuesday's Mardi Gras has earned a reputation as America's ultimate street party, but New Orleans krewes (social organizations that plan parties and balls) celebrate with parades year-round, especially in the weeks leading up to the annual event. The parades happen throughout different streets in NOLA and it's important to note which routes are for walking and which are just for the floats to pass by.

Where to stay: Embrace the lurid bacchanalian madness of Bourbon Street without sacrificing a tranquil atmosphere at The Royal Sonesta New Orleans, an Art Deco oasis that enjoys relative calm despite its surroundings. There’s also the old-school elegance of Hotel Monteleone, an even-more upscale endeavor by the French Quarter’s standards—perhaps because the hideaway predates it—that promises restful nights thanks to its distance from the festivities. 

Oruro, Bolivia

Dates: February 16-22, 2023

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Bolivia’s headlining Carnival event celebrates Indigenous culture and pays homage to the Virgin of Candelaria. It lasts for about 10 days and locals go big on the celebrations through the use of masks, textiles, and colorful embroidery. To get a good view of the performances it's best to buy a ticket, which you can purchase at one of the stands near the parade route. It’s a cultural anthropologist and photographer’s dream as Oruro’s streets erupt with processions of interpretive folk dancing in devil costumes, known as the Diablada (expect to see thousands of people wearing horned masks, velvet capes, and shimmering breastplates).

If you plan on joining in on the fun, it’s best to come dressed down, not in costume, because you’ll get soaked throughout the celebrations. Partygoers use water balloons, water pistols, and spray foam as a way to celebrate good things to come. If you don’t like the sound of getting wet, there will be street vendors selling colorful ponchos you can purchase.

Where to stay: Oruro’s hotel scene has not quite blown up as of yet—look to Hotel Edén by Bluebay for kitschy beds on which to lay your head.

Venice, Italy

Dates: February 4-23, 2023

carnival in Venice, boat in the Gran canal © Getty carnival in Venice, boat in the Gran canal

Decidedly more exclusive than its Western Hemisphere counterparts, Carnevale in Venice is less street shenanigans and more private galas and balls (tickets can be purchased on the festival’s official website), where you’re expected to arrive in an over-the-top original costume or mask—casual viewers can purchase their costumes, and other accessories, from local street vendors. One of the most iconic costume pieces are the face masks, which originated from the ancient Greek and Roman festivals, including the Bauta, a popular white mask that features a square jaw line and no mouth. They were originally used as a way to disguise people from lower classes, so everyone could join in on the parties and events. 

Where to stay: We've got a full list of the best hotels in Venice, but considering Carnevale if you want a stay that matches the Eyes Wide Shut energy of it all, the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa sits on its own private island, a quick water taxi away from all of the action, while The Gritti Palace’s 15th-Century palazzo location makes it easy to imagine you're at one of the original fetes way back in the day.

Basel, Switzerland

Dates: February 27-March 1, 2023

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You might not peg the Swiss as the raucous type, but Basel's Carnival is one of Europe's more notorious celebrations. Each year, an organized parade of some 20,000 revelers marches through the streets (decked out in costumes per the official theme of the year), but the real party begins when everyone branches off and embarks on their own bar crawls through the city, singing, acting, and boozing for hours. Following traditional customs, visitors are encouraged not to have any face painting, false noses, or jester cap's, either. If you are traveling with kids, they can dress up during the children's carnival, which happens on March 3, 2020.

Where to stay: When in Basel, it is the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois all the way. Situated as it is right on the Rhine, there’s no better place to be located to best enjoy the festivities—it helps that it’s also one of Europe’s finest hotels.

Salvador, Brazil

Dates: February 16-21, 2023

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We love Rio's Carnival, but for an experience with (slightly) fewer Americans and an Afro-Brazilian heartbeat, head to Salvador, Brazil. Bahian Carnival is fueled by the blaring sounds of the region’s famed trios elétricos (think: traveling live-music trucks)—and very potent caipirinhas. You can dance on the streets with the crowd for free and wear whatever you want; if you prefer to watch the main performances from the sidelines, you can do so from a camarote (VIP cabin) located along the parade avenues (tickets required). Lastly, if you’d like to be part of the party and dance in the Carnival itself, isolated from the crowd and in the middle of the parade, you have to buy a pass and a t-shirt from one of the blocos (different groups participating in the parade) that you are linked with (purchase tickets online to join). 

Where to stay: Salvador counts a number of options that are both affordable and sleek, from the resort-y Wish Hotel da Bahia to the beachfront Monte Pascoal Praia Hotel which sits right on the parade route. 

Barranquilla, Colombia

Dates: February 18-21, 2023

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In the melting pot of Caribbean port city Barranquilla, you'll find African, Indigenous, European, and Middle Eastern traditions coming together in Colombia's largest Carnaval celebration. The real reason to visit? This folkloric celebration is one of the largest in the world—but attracts far fewer international tourists than its Latin American counterparts. All visitors are required to purchase tickets for Carnival festivities, so the best thing to do is buy them in advance.You’ll have more fun if you dress up for the parade and fit in with the crowd. There will be numerous street markets all over Barranquilla where you can purchase costumes and accessories—just follow the lead of those around you.

Where to stay: There are tons of great options for a great night's sleep after the parties, like the Hilton Garden Inn Barranquilla and the Barranquilla Marriott Hotel to smaller brands such as the Hotel El Prado

Binche, Belgium

Dates: February 19-21, 2023

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 Even UNESCO, which recently gave Carnival celebrations world heritage status, agrees—the Carnival of Binche, Belgium, is a peculiar standout in a country that loves to celebrate. Performers known as Gilles dress in elaborate feathery hats, and revelers bounce between cultural performances and unexpected rituals (like throwing oranges for good luck) during the street parades. Because Carnival is a precious tradition to the locals, they forbid visitors from buying the Gilles costume, which can only be rented to official participants. As a spectator, come dressed casually, and you’ll have more than enough fun admiring the creative costumes and tasting great food.

Where to stay: Binche proper is sparsely populated as far as hotels—look to La Maison De Marie if you need to be in the middle of it all—otherwise, Ferme du Chateau is a quick jaunt out of town.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Dates: February 17-26, 2023

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Looking for a weeklong party? Head to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, whose streets explode in riotous celebrations for nine days straight during Carnival, with elaborately plumed costumes and masked revelers. There's also the important annual selection of Carnival Queen, which is one of the main events, where candidates parade around on a stage in the most glamorous and heavy costumes in hopes of winning the crown. This celebration is second only to the blockbuster events of Rio. Everyone is encouraged to dress up and join in.

Where to stay: Beautiful Tenerife is lush with lodgings, none better than the Bahia del Duque. There’s also the Gran Melia Palacio de Isora. You simply cannot go wrong. 

Dusseldorf, Germany

Dates: February 16-22, 2023

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Dusseldorf's Carnival is one of Germany's biggest, boldest, and wildest parties leading up to Ash Wednesday. Everyone in town can count on street parades, rowdy bars, and even a day of festivities dedicated entirely to family-friendly celebrations. The pinnacle event is always the Rose Monday parade, which features 5,000 costumed performers, and elaborate, witty floats as political satire. All throughout the festival, partygoers will throw sweets and trinkets into the crowd. The first day kicks off with women dressed up in witch costumes pretending to kidnap the mayor and take control over the city. After that, everyone is encouraged to dress up in costumes with themes ranging from cultural and political to humorous.

Where to stay: For an unassumingly chic stay, stay at the Radisson Blu Media Harbour. Located in Medienhafen, a small river port neighborhood that as of late has exploded into an architectural showcase on par with Copenhagen, this is a design hotel for the in-the-know. If you do want to stay in the Old Town for proximity to the beer halls, consider the primely located The Wellem, in the Unbound Collection by Hyatt

Mazatlan, Mexico

Dates: February 16-21, 2023

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Although Día de los Muertos spurs the most well-known annual fiestas across Mexico, the country also deserves recognition for its myriad Carnival celebrations. Its largest, which takes place along Mazatlán’s malecón, celebrates with enough incredible fireworks displays and live music to entertain families and the raucous party crowd alike. If you are not planning to be part of one of the costumed bands in the Mazatlan Carnival, dress casual, wear comfortable shoes, and throw on some non-valuable costume jewelry like shimmery necklaces and bracelets. It’s also good to bring a jacket, as it tends to get chilly at night.

Where to stay: Less than six miles from all of Mazatlan’s attractions—the Cathedral and the aquarium, namely, in addition to the Carnival celebrations—Pueblo Bonito Mazatlán Beach Resort is where to go to still enjoy a little R&R on top of it all.

Luanda, Angola

Dates: February 21, 2023

© AMPE ROGERIO/AFP/Getty

Hugely anticipated across Southern Africa, Angola’s carnival goes down on the Tuesday directly preceding Ash Wednesday in the capital city of Luanda. Here, expect to see lots of black, red, and yellow (the national colors), as well as the added element of political messaging. Costumes at the Luanda Carnival are known to make strong nationalist statements—after being canceled entirely in the 1950's, the parade came back stronger than ever in 1976 in celebration of the army's victory over South African invading forces in 1976. In the 21st-century, the norm has become a selected theme under the banner of religion or politics that participants can make their own.

Where to stay: InterContinental Luana Miramar, an IHG Hotel, is the way to go here—in the middle of the city but also near the water, you'll have easy access to all the festivities. 

Sydney, Australia

Dates: February 17-March 5, 2023

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Sydney gay pride plus Carnival equals the ultra-fabulous Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival, an all-welcoming two-and-a-half-week festival—longer than most Carnivals—that celebrates LGBTQ+ culture with parades, exhibitions, club nights, and many a drag queen-attended party. There's the blowout, all-nighter capstone Mardi Gras Party that starts late on February 25, as well as tamer options including Queer Art After Hours on the newly expanded campus of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Check out the various events ahead of time so you can purchase needed tickets.

Where to stay: Why, the newly-opened and incredibly high-design Ace Hotel Sydney, of course. And not just because it's all shiny and new. The Ace is also located close to the border of the Darlinghurts and Surry Hill, which have officially been deemed the best place to stay by festival organizers. 

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Dates: June 20-July 14, 2023

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Vincy Mas is the largest festival in St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrating the music, color, and cuisine of Vincentian heritage. The kickoff event happens in late June and ends with two large street parties in July: J’Ouvert (which happens on Monday) and Mardi Gras (the following Tuesday). Don't miss traditional events like the Parade of Bands, where all Masquerade Bands compete for the Band of the Year title. At the heart of Vincy Mas is the music, ranging from steel pan to calypso and soca, which is what makes the musical competitions (like the Soca Monarch competition) so fun. The parade takes place throughout the streets of Kingston and ends on stage at Carnival City.

Where to stay: LA Vue Boutique Hotel sits right on the ocean, making jaw-dropping scenery a fitting complement to the festivities. Last year, the staff posted a video extending their well wishes to Vincy Mas attendees on their TikTok—expect the same welcoming energy for Carnival-goers this year.

Barbados

Dates: August 3-8, 2023

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The largest and most popular annual summer festival in Barbados is Crop Ova, thanks to the island’s own Bajan celebrity, Rihanna. A 200-year-old festival that celebrates the end of the sugarcane harvest season, Crop Ova is not celebrated for religious purposes, but is considered part of Carnival because of the Caribbean and African influences. It begins with an opening gala and ends on Grand Kadooment day. There are also a few traditional annual events that lead up to the festival, like music competitions such as the Soca Royale, visual art exhibitions, and endless street parties. Thousands of Bajans gather to parade in masquerade bands and dance all throughout the Spring Garden Highway.

Where to stay: If you care to make a resort vacation out of your Carnival celebrations, Cobblers Cove is lush with palms and banana trees, which cast shade over a dreamy terracotta pool. If proximity to the action is what you seek, go for Courtyard by Marriott Bridgeton, Barbados in prime Bridgetown.

Toronto, Canada

Dates:  August 3-7, 2023

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The Caribana festival is one of the largest cultural festivals in North America and began in the 1960s as one of the first Caribbean festivals held outside of the tropical region. It began as a way to share West Indian and Black Canadian culture and traditions within the Canadian community. After months of preparation, the city welcomes thousands of masqueraders in colorful costumes to parade their way starting from Exhibition place and along Lake Shore Boulevard. The grand finale happens on August 1, 2020, from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. If you are interested in attending Caribana this year, make sure to book early because hotels fill up fast.

Where to stay: Toronto has no shortage of fine hotels, and many of them come recommended by the Caribana. The spot that hits the center of the venn diagram when it comes to location, pricing in partnership with the festival, and an overall great experience (plus already reviewed by us) is The Fairmont Royal York.

Notting Hill, London

Dates: August 27-28, 2023

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What originally began as an offshoot of Trinidadian Carnival in the late 1960s has exploded into London's biggest street party—and a pride point for Caribbean immigrants in the city to show off their native cultures. Spectators can either join in the fun or watch as elaborate floats and colorfully costumed performers wind their way through the streets in the parade, dance to the sound of steel bands and calypso music, and visit the various food stalls along the route.

Where to stay: Where not to stay? London’s selection of hotels and Airbnbs is vast, with something for everybody and then some. For a stay directly in the neighborhood, opt for the stylish and affordable The Laslett London. The Laslett is quintessential Notting Hill—occupying five mansions along one of the neighborhood's famously picturesque streets, and featuring antiques from a dealer down the road. To properly experience the area amid the festivities, this is a must.

Lagos, Nigeria

Dates: December 2023

© Anadolu Agency/Getty

This massive street party has historically run the entire month of December—those in the know know to call it Detty December—with each of the four weeks dedicated to highlighting a different aspect of the wider West African culture. There’s the music, an expansive football tournament dubbed the Carni-Cal Cup covering sports, and a 12-kilometer parade route to traverse. For many, this is also an opportunity for members of the diaspora to return to Nigeria with purpose and intention, connecting not just with their roots but also with the masses in joyful communion.

Where to stay: Considering all of Lagos—and all of Nigeria, for that matter—functionally transforms into one big party for all of December, it would be hard to stay far from the action. The action is everywhere! That means you can spring for a hotel just about anywhere, from the more luxe Legend Hotel Lagos Airport, Curio Collection by Hilton to the Lagos Marriott Hotel Ikeja

Gualeguaychú, Argentina

Dates: January 7-February 24, 2023

© Awakening/Getty

Massive and relentless, this six week-long affair is replete with dance competitions comparable to those seen in the aforementioned Rio festivities. Expect bountiful feathers and glitter on attendees who opt to dress in costume. It all goes down in the Corsódromo—a stadium built along a parade route—which can accommodate up to 40,000 attendees. Err on the safe side and book your tickets in advance to ensure that you're one of them.

Where to stay: This small city of about 100,000 sits some three hours north of Buenos Aires and counts a number of boutique, enterprising hotels in their mix. Hotel Guaryá Gualeguaychú is one dreamy three-star option, situated around a sea green pool. 

Additional reporting by Shauna Beni and Megan Spurrell. 

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