The celebration leading up to Christian-calendar period of Lent, the season of fasting, is known by many names, but the term Mardi Gras generally describes this time and evokes visions of round-the-clock revelry. Mardi Gras is an ideal time to travel if you enjoy eating the local cuisine, immersing yourself in local culture, and celebrating the festive time with parades, parties and dancing.
Cities across the globe play host to over-the-top Mardi Gras festivals that include wearing decorative costumes with ornate masks while strolling through the streets in Venice, to dancing to pulsating rhythms of local samba bands at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, to attending a white-tie formal ball at North America’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile, Ala. Check out our list of the best places to celebrate Mardi Gras in 2019, and the travel destinations to consider planning major life events, including a destination wedding or honeymoon.
Canary Islands, Spain
In Spain, the Gran Caneria Carnival is considered by many to be second only to Brazil’s in terms of pageantry and popularity. Arrange an extended stay to enjoy the islands because this Mardi Gras celebration only lasts for one weekend. We recommend arriving early to catch the opening parade, usually scheduled the Friday before Carnival. Every year, locals vote to choose the Carnival’s theme, which ranges from Carnival on Ice to Fantasy to The Renaissance to New York (the city that never sleeps). Don’t miss the Grand Carnival Queen Contest, featuring young women in extremely large and colorful costumes and over-the-top headdresses weighing up to 50 pounds. If you’re into partying all night long, they you should consider visiting the Canary Islands during carnival season.
Most people probably wouldn’t quickly associate Mardi Gras fun to Cologne, Germany, but this city offers one of the world’s most extensive celebrations, spanning from mid-November to Fat Tuesday (usually in March). Although there’s a break in the carnival spirit during the Advent and Christmas, it usually picks back up on January 6, when merrymaking resumes in the streets at the downtown square Alter Markt (on the Thursday before the beginning of Lent). And between Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, don’t miss out on “the crazy days,” a week-long street festival that includes revelers dressed in elaborate costumes, parades, dancing, drinking and public displays with floats.
Mobile, Alabama (United States)
If you’re looking for an alternate destination to New Orleans for your Mardi Gras vacation, consider traveling to Mobile, Ala., home to North America’s oldest Mardi Gras, established in 1703. In fact, the Big Easy didn’t start its annual celebration until 1718. Early Mardi Gras celebrations were grounded in religion, as they were held by the region’s French Catholic founders and residents. Today, it’s a city-wide holiday featuring parades, huge formal balls and other celebrations during carnival season – typically from November until Fat Tuesday. For sheer fun, attend the Mystics of Time parade, that include popular floats like the Vernadean, a 150-foot, fire-breathing dragon. And embrace the spectacle as revelers on passing floats throw Moon Pies at eager parade-goers.
New Orleans, Louisiana (United States)
New Orleans, by far, is known worldwide for its electric vibe on Bourbon Street and in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. Consult an expert travel agent to help guide you to more genteel, fun-filled neighborhood parades held around the city during the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Visitors can really enjoy the city and hang with the locals on Frenchmen Street to catch talented jazz bands, musicians and singers. For a more immersive experience, see the intricate artistry of the floats at Mardi Gras World year-round; hop on a trolley/streetcar to visit other popular neighborhoods like the Garden District; and no matter where you are in NOLA, don’t miss out on eating at reputable local restaurants and eateries, including Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s and Café Du Monde.
Residents in Nice proclaim their Mardi Gras to be the world’s oldest Lenten Carnival – a popular festival since 1294. Visitors encounter a bevy of beautiful fresh-cut flowers are tossed into crowds during the world-famous Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers). The themed floral floats – including 50 giant puppets – make their way down the Promenade des Anglais located along the Mediterranean. Relax with a mimosa at a seaside café following a flower-filled daytime parade and check out the street vendors selling brightly colored fabrics, food and flowers. On the last night the paiper mache is King Carnival is burned, followed by a huge firework display over the Baie des Anges. It’s the perfect way to celebrate on the French Riviera.
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
The Caribbean is filled with magnificent Mardi Gras celebrations, but Trinidad and Tobago’s are considered (by many) as the region’s biggest Mardi Gras – an exuberant celebration filled with imaginative costumes, raucous street parades and dancing to dynamic Calypso and Soca music. Find out how low you can go and participate in a limbo competition; sample delicious local specialties like a “shark and bake” sandwich; and browse the street vendors that sell arts, crafts and more. Late-night partiers will love J’ouvert, a dark-to-dawn street party.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The non-stop energy of Brazil’s Carnival is legendary, drawing thousands of locals and visitors every year. For next level fun and entertainment, attend the annual parade in Rio de Janeiro’s famous Sambadrome to watch more than a dozen Samba schools compete, dance to the pulsating percussion rhythms and donned it over-the-top and sometimes racy costumes. A Vacation travel agent can arrange a tour of a Samba school where costumes are fashioned, and they may even help you secure a spot in the lively parade! The 4-day celebration includes ritzy to wild balls as well as private and public parties after dark.
Every year, this Australian metropolis transforms into the home for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival. Since 1978, Sydney has hosted the weeklong celebration usually held in city’s western section, which includes the suburb of Darlinghurst. Thousands of people converge on the city for dozens of events, such as the Sissy Ball, Fair Day, Luna Park Family Fun Day, the Film Festival and several parties, including the Mardi Gras Party, Australia’s biggest LGBTQ event of the year, featuring local and international DJs. Book your tickets to the big extravaganza in advance. The lively festivities end with a colorful parade. Just make sure you find a good spot to see the fabulous floats on Oxford Street or Flinders Street.
The Carnevale di Venezia is one of the world’s oldest Mardi Gras celebrations, dating back to the 12th century. This popular Italian celebration is known for its elaborate masquerade balls and exquisitely decorated masks – once banned by King Frances II in 1797. Masks made a comeback during the 19th century, sparking a new full-time occupation fueled by the tourism industry in Venice. One of Vacation’s expert travel agents can help arrange your Mardi Gras vacation to Italy, including a tour of local workshops to see how local artisans design and make the secure your costume and mask and even arrange a tour the workshops where the masks are designed and made.
Inspired by this article and want to speak with an expert travel agent about how you can plan an unforgettable Mardi Gras vacation? Let one of Vacation’s on-call travel experts match you with an expert travel agent, who can customize the dream itinerary you deserve.