It’s Mardi Gras week, and while you’re probably too late to get in the action at the world’s best celebrations this year, it’s not too early to start planning for next year. That’s especially true in these cities, which elevate the parades and festivities to an art form.
Mobile has been doing it longer, having started its annual Mardi Gras celebration in 1703, but New Orleans definitely took things up a notch. Krewes plan all year, decorating floats and costumes to unveil at parades and balls during the city’s biggest week. The French Quarter, basically a constant party at any time, kicks into overdrive. If you want a spot on one of its balconies or a behind-the-scenes meeting with a krewe, you’ll need advance planning and a well-connected travel advisor.
After a hiatus of nearly 200 years, the official Carnevale festival returned to “La Serenissima” in 1979. The parties and masks were banned in 1797 under Austrian rule, but the tradition dating as far back as a 12th century military victory was revived as a celebration of Venice’s history and culture. Revelers converge on St. Mark’s Square on the night of Fat Tuesday, with parades and balls taking place throughout the season. A special prize even goes to the person wearing the best mask. The city canceled the last few days this year in an effort to contain coronavirus, so next year will be in high demand.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio’s Carnival has gotten bigger and bigger over nearly three centuries, to the point that it’s the world’s largest Mardi Gras event. The land of samba does not disappoint when it comes to putting on a show. Street parties known as blocos have their own themes, with music and dancing to the wee hours. The grand finale takes place in the Sambadrome, a stadium built especially for Carnival, and where samba troops train year-round.
Yes, it’s usually pretty cold in Quebec in wintertime, and the dates don’t really line up with Mardi Gras, but the city’s Winter Festival is more fun for the whole family. There are night parades, ice canoe races, ice sculptures and a host of children’s activities. Bonhomme Carnaval, the official mascot since 1955, welcomes more than a million visitors annually. They all must be coming for some reason.
Venice’s tradition might have started first, but it wasn’t connected with Fat Tuesday until later. Nice, meanwhile, has held its Carnival annually since 1294. In addition to masquerades and a float parade, the Nice Carnival features “flower battles” showcasing the Provence regions most beautiful blooms.