With the Christmas and New Year buzz fading it’s time to start thinking about the next big party opportunity. On Tuesday 28th February cities across the world will celebrate Mardi Gras – the last chance to go wild before giving up the fun for lent.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Jump on a flight to Rio and step off in to the world’s wildest carnival. The festivities combine Portuguese traditions with African dance rhythms and Latin party spirit to create the ultimate Fat Tuesday. Watch samba schools compete in the Sambadromo stadium, attend an upmarket Mardi Gras ball or party with the locals on the streets; then spend the day recovering on the beach before doing it all over again. If you are serious about celebrating, Rio is not to be missed.
Known locally as “carnestoltes” Barcelona makes a big deal of Mardi Gras. Neighbourhoods around the city hold parades, street parties and food competitions. Barcelona is a great option for less hardcore party-goers as there are more sedate neighbourhoods to escape to if things get too much. Save some energy for Sunday night; as the main parade comes to an end, the Taronjada begins. Crowds battle it out armed only with confetti and orange balloons in homage to the orange fruit fights held in the past. In case that wasn’t weird enough, stick around until Ash Wednesday for the ceremonial burial of a sardine.
One of the biggest Mardi Gras events in Europe, Nice’s carnival features spectacular floats made entirely by volunteers. It also includes the Battle of The Flowers where performers throw thousands of flowers in to the crowd from elaborate floral floats. At night you can also check out the enchanting Parade of Lights – possibly the closest you’ll come to a fairy tale experience. The parades are repeated over several days with children’s tickets heavily discounted so Nice is a great destination for partying with the kids in tow.
New Orleans, USA
Originating with French settlers in 1699, New Orleans is one of the oldest Mardi Gras events in North America. Build up to the big day starts in January with the main events beginning the Friday before Shrove Tuesday. “Krewes” from all over the city parade through the streets on themed floats; be prepared to see traditional dancers competing against krewes made up of dogs (and their owners!) or Star Wars aficionados. The parading krewes throw sweets, beads and other treats out to the crowds so get ready to catch yourself a unique souvenir of your trip.
Binche’s carnival season has been recognised by UNESCO as a unique cultural event. In the weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday carnival groups practise their songs in the streets culminating in 3 days of fancy dress parades. On the Sunday participants march through town in their costumes, while the Monday is dedicated to the younger inhabitants and features confetti fights and handing out oranges. Mardi Gras itself is marked by the residents of the town dressing as a traditional figure called Gille, music and dancing in the streets and a huge firework display at the end of the night.
Not technically a true Mardi Gras (it takes place on the first Saturday of March rather than Shrove Tuesday) Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival is still one of the ultimate parties. The programme of events in the fortnight before the final parade covers virtually every angle of the LBGTQI community; from serious discussion panels to outrageous drag shows. There’s also music, film screenings and comedy shows to get stuck in to, with something to suit every taste and budget. Make sure to get tickets for the official after-party where thousands of revellers dance until dawn to multiple sound stages.
High-brow thrill seekers will find all sorts of temptations at the Venice Carnevale. The city puts on a series of events and celebrations from February 11, culminating in the raising of a huge flag featuring Venice’s lion mascot over the bell tower on the 28th. Earlier events include youth parades, flotillas, the “flight of the angel” (a beauty queen zipwiring over St Mark’s Square) and a masked costume competition; this is open to the public so anyone can apply to enter. If you like your masks more sophisticated, there are lavish masked balls most nights.
Santa Cruz De Tenerife, Spain
Twinned with Rio De Janeiro, the capital of the Canary Islands has one of the longest running carnival traditions in Europe. If a flight to Brazil is beyond your budget, then a trip to Tenerife will scratch that party itch. A different theme each year challenges the participants to come up with original floats and costumes each year – in 2017 the theme is Caribbean so expect lots of tropical colours and sounds. Like Rio, the main events feature competing dancers, singers and floats with prizes for the best; tickets to some of the finales sell out almost instantly. There are also numerous street parties and TV event broadcasts should you be unable to get a coveted ticket.
Cologne’s festivities are led by three traditional figures – the prince, the farmer and the virgin (usually played by a man). Together they symbolise Cologne’s history as an impregnable centre of power and wealth in the region. Prepare yourself for the many parades and parties with a visit to the city’s carnival museum, charting the history, traditions and meaning behind many carnival rituals across Europe.
If you are looking to get off the beaten track and try something different, check out the carnival held in Rijeka, Croatia. Traditional parades feature a carnival maestro and queen alongside hundreds of floats and performers. However, the really interesting parts are some of the side events. There’s a snowboarding competition, a masked classic car rally to a nearby town, parties in breweries and food festivals. The Mardi Gras ends with the trial of the “pust” – a dummy that usually resembles a well-known figure. The pust is charged with causing everything negative in the last year and inevitably found guilty. As punishment, the pust is set alight and pushed out to sea for a spectacular finale to the city’s festivities.
Want to read more on festivals?
We all love a party and there are plenty of incredible festivals around the world. From serene spiritual experiences to huge concerts by world-famous acts, we’ve compiled our ultimate bucket list of events to get to.