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Rio Leads Global Mardi Gras Celebrations

Carnival in Dusseldorf Germany
No clowning around, Dusseldorf has a huge party. Photo: Dusseldorf Tourism

In the realm of this world's grandest parties there is, of course, New Year's Eve, Oktoberfest in Munich, St. Patrick's Day and, in the USA, the 4th of July.

Yet the biggest of them all may well be Carnival. Unlike most of the other events, Carnival is a multi-day, multi-week and, in some cases, a mult-month celebration. Fat Tuesday 2014 is March 4.

And it's not just found in the obvious places, Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. There are Carnival celebrations throughout the world and they are in places as surprising as a getting free drink at a newly visited bar. But soak it up, because it's all fun.

The party pros at PubClub.com have compiled a list of the Top Places to Party for Carnival in the World. It starts at #1 with the Carnival Capitol, Rio de Janeiro, and includes the dynamic destinations of New Orleans, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and more.

To be correct, the overall celebration is called Carnival. Mardi Gras is the same as Fat Tuesday, which is the culmination of the Carnival festival. That's when things get really wild. 

– #1, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 

Carnival in Rio
Colorful costumes make Rio the top spot for Carnival. Photo: ToursGoneWild.com

The signature event of Brazil is Carnival. And Carnival in Rio is a legendary party. 

There are half a million people just from other countries who celebrate Carnival in Rio. Then of course, there are the hundreds of thousands of locals that fill the streets, as well.

It's a multi-day celebration and the city is full of street parties, the biggest of which takes place Thursday at Cineladla Square (5 p.m.-3 a.m.), Feb. 9-16.

Carnival 2014 in Rio all starts on Friday the 8th with a street band at 9:30 in the morning downtown. The official costume contest takes place in the HotelFloria at 7 p.m. Each night there are parades starting at 9 p.m.

Carnival Rio Street
The street parades are fun – and free. Photo: ToursGoneWild.com

It is these street parades that made the legend of Rio for Carnival in the first place. They are free and open to the public and feature processions of bands. They generally start around 6 or 7 p.m. The biggest runs along Av. Rio Branco downtown each night.

Almost all the music here is samba. There are balls and all the samba schools turn basically into nightclubs with dance parties. (Nsote: these schools are in the poor area of town and while generally safe during Carnival, take a cab and leave the valuables in the room.) These start at midnight and go well into the morning. A lot of tourists go to Mangueria ($40); Salgueiro is another well-known and well-attended school.

Carnival Rio
Lavish floats are a big part of Carnival in Rio. Photo: ToursGoneWild.com

Rio's big event is the Samba Parade. Once held in the streets, it is now so big it takes place in the purpose-built Sambodromo. It's colorful and an intense competition between samba schools for two nights. It peaks between 10-midnight. This is a ticketed event and it's not cheap; the least expensive seats are in Section 3 and go for $101.

ToursGoneWild.com has party packages for Carnival 2014, so complete that all one has to do is show up and enjoy the celebration. It also does packages to Carnival in Salvador in Northern Brazil, which is where many Brazilians go for Carnival; tourists prefer Rio.

Links: Tours Gone Wild packages. More: Carnival Official Site. 

– #2, New Orleans – 

New Orleans Mardi Gras parade
No place does Mardi Gras in the USA like New Orleans.

The biggest, wildest and undisputed king of the events in the king of party cities in the USA is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. 

It's an absolute madhouse, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the parades on St. Charles Street, grabbing for beads thrown off the floats, pouring into the Quarter after the parades, then trying to cram onto Bourbon Street for all-out partying (and hitting the Krystal Burger or Lucky Dogs when their intoxication level reaches the point that those things start to become appealing).

This year will be even more nuts leading up to Fat Tuesday because New Orleans is hosting the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. That means all the parades are moved up a week, pause for Super Bowl week, the resume the following week. 

And if thee's one city that can put on a Super Bowl and Mardi Gras at the same time, it's New Orleans.

Some treat Mardi Gras like Halloween with costumes. 

It's crazy and colorful, and not just the floats, but the people. 

Mardi Gras here last two weeks – though as anyone who has ever visited New Orleans can attest the mood of Mardi Gras exists the entire year – with the peak being the weekend building up to Fat Tuesday. The first week, locals say, are mostly for Mardi Gras newcomers who often display "yeah, I remember when I had my first drink" behavior. The second week is for veterans. 

Parades begin with the Krewe du Vieux in the French Quarter on Saturday, Jan. 19 (6:30 p.m.; this is followed by the Krewe Delusion at 7:15) and continue the next two weeks with the all-day, never-ending (it seems) parade of parades on Fat Tuesday. (first parade starts at 8 a.m., and runs until about 4. At which time, everyone runs to Bourbon Street). 

There are parades all over the city – most are uptown, along St. Charles Street and not in the Quarter – and really kick in on Friday, Feb. 8. The Divine Pleasures of Endangered Pleasures or DIVA runs through the French Quarter at 1:30, with The Knights of Herms at Le Krewe d'Etate Uptown at 6 p.m., followed by the Krewe of Morpheus at 7:30. 

Saturday's Uptown parades are the Krewe of Iris (11 a.m.) and Krewe of Tucks at noon. Sunday there are four Uptown parades running from 11-7 and two on Monday starting at 5:15 and 6 p.m. 

On Fat Tuesday, Bourbon Street is elbow-to-elbow by 11 a.m. Getting into a bar is practically impossible and corporations rent out most of the balconys. Still, this is New Orleans and getting a drink and having it with "new best friends" does not require much effort.

– #3 Cologne, Germany – 

Carnival Cologne Germany
In a beer drinking country, Carnival is huge here. Photo: Cologne Tourism

What? There's a Carnival celebration in Germany? In Cologne, Germany!?

Yes, and it's one of the biggest in the world. Old Town goes absolutely crazy with people dancing in the streets in wild costumes. Sure it's cold, but people simply layer warm clothes beneath their costumes.

Carnival in Cologne (or Koln, take your pick) kicks off at 11:11 a.m., on the Thursday before Carnival called Women's Carnival Day, which in 2013 is Feb. 7) at the Ater Markt. At about 10, ladies in fancy dress start making their way through town to the market, for this is (officially, we suppose) when the women rule the city. This includes kissing any man they please and, come to think of it, they need a special day to kiss any man they please?

The real celebration starts the next day and continues through the weekend. The primary gathering spot, starting late afternoon. is the "Funkenbiwak" at Newmarkt. At night thre are "Geisterzug" parties. And packed bars, which have their usual closing time suspended for this weekend. There is a parade on Sunday but Carnival's climax is Monday's parade; it's a 6-K route through the center of the city. It starts at 11 before 11 in the morning and by the afternoon some 1.5 million people are singing, dancing and partying in the streets and pubs.

The next day (Shrove Tuesday), parades are mainly in the suburbs. Many tourists prefer to spend this day in Old Town. Relaxing. And recovering.

In Cologne, they refer to Carnival as The Crazy Days, yet the celebration actually started months earlier. Known as Germany's "fifth season," the entire country celebrates on Nov. 11, beginning at 11:11 a.m. This is a real celebration and Cologne is the center of it all; there's a stage with a ceremony and tens of thousands fill the street in costume to drink beer (of course) and party.

Links: Cologne Tourism Carnival. More: Air Berlin. 

– #4 Dusseldorf, Germany – 

Carnival Dusseldorf Germany
A million people turn out for Dusseldorf's parade. Photo: Dusseldorf Tourism

Just to the north of Cologne, another big celebration takes places in Dusseldorf. This one is smaller than Cologne, for "only" about a million people attend its Rose Monday Parade (Feb. 11). Here they shout "Haleau," their Carnival greeting and catch sweets (Kamelle) thrown from the floats. The parade has 70 floats and an incredible 45 bands.

Another highlight is the previous Thursday. At 11:11 a.m., women storm town hall, take charge for the day, cut the ties off men wearing them, then lead a street parade through Old Town. This is known as Altweiberfastnacht.

No clowning around, Dusseldorf has a huge party. .Photo:Dusseldorf Tourism

On Sunday, there's a carnival down the city's main shopping street with people dressed in all manner of outlandish outfits.

Carnival in Dusseldorf actually started Nov. 11, 2011 (like Cologne, at 11:11 a.m.), with the "Joker's Scolding." It takes place in the Marketplatz. After that would be a fine time to visit some of the 260 bars and pubs within a one-mile area of Dusseldorf.

The tradition here dates back to 1825 and also involves the November launch with several Carnival-related events happening up to the parade. There are 60 Carnival clubs in Dusseldorf which put on the parade. Yes, 60 Carnival clubs in a German city. See, this IS a big deal.

Link: Dusseldorf Tourism Carnival

– #5 Portugal – 

Carnival Portugal
The Portuguese people show their Carnival spirit. Photo: Portugal Tourism 

Costume contests, street parades, dance competitions, theatrical displays, special foods and music, floats and parties are part of the Carnival festivities throughout Portugal. The one in Loulé is the best known, as people dance to the samba rhythms and watch the parades in a pleasant climate. 

Carnival Portugal
While it looks like Rio, it's really Funchal. Photo: Portugal Tourism

In Funchal, The Carnival festival in Madeira is one of the region’s liveliest events. It starts on Friday morning with the sound of brass bands and carnival paradesdowntown and continues at night with concerts and shows in the Praça do Município for five consecutive days. 

On Saturday night, a huge procession of floats take over the streets. After following their traditional route through the city, the floats gather in the Praça do Município, where there is singing, dancing and music. On the day of the Carnival itself (Shrove Tuesday), Funchal explodes with a huge parade. Throughout this period, the streets of Funchal are decorated with lights and inundated with Carnival music. 

Links: Carnival in the Algarve Region. More: Furchal Carnival

– #6 Bern, Switzerland – 

Carnival Bern Switzerland
The Swiss capitol is festive place to celbrate Carnival. Photo: Bern Tourism

Carnival in Bern is an annual celebration that starts on Thursday when the bear imprisoned in the Prison Tower is woken from his winter sleep by the "Ychüblete" (drumming) and released. Masked revelers swarm through the streets and restaurants of the Old Town and "Guggenmusik-Cliques" (carnival bands) march down the promenade. 

Carnival Bern Switzerland
The parade goes by the Clock Tower in Old Town. Photo: Bern Tourism. 

On Saturday, a parade consisting of 60-70 floats rolls through town; 50,000 spectators line the route. It starts at 2:30 p.m., and is followed by a concert and all-night party. The 2013 Carnival dates in Bern are Feb. 14-16.

Links: Bern Tourism Carnival Site. More: Switzerland Tourism. More: Swiss Air

– #7 Rujeka, Croatia – 

Carneval Croatia
More than 100,000 see this Carnival parade in Croatia. Photo: Croatia Tourism 

Carneval Croatia
The big party is the parade the last Saturday before Fat Tuesday. Photo: Croatia Tourism 

With great weather, beaches and locals and visitors who just enjoy the lifestyle here, Croatia is a fun destnation for any event or any time of the year. And Carnival makes it just that much more fun.

Rujeka holds the biggest and most famous Carnival in Croatia. There are other Carnivals to be sure, but for the young and party minded, Rijeka is the place. It starts with the raising of a Carnival flag on a Tuesday in mid-January but the big event is the parade that brings in 100,000 from Italy, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia (March 7). The last day of Carnival is observed with the "Pust" put on trial and burned. The "Pust" is a symbol for what all went wrong the previous year.

The main parade – the event's highlight – is the last Sunday before Fat Tuesday. Other activities include children parade (the Sunday before the main Parade), the Miss Carnival election, and the Diplomatic Ball. There are also many concerts and performances throughout the city.

The Miss Carnival selection kicks of the Rijeka Carnival, where "masks" choose the most charming female representative. The title goes to a girl 18 or over who shows charm and wit as well as dancing and musical skills (beauty, they say, it not an advadvantage). 

Link: Rujeka Tourism Carnival Site

– Other Top Carnival Party Destinations – 

Fat Tuesday parade San Diego Gaslamp
San Diego's Gaslamp has a rocking party and parade for Fat Tuesday. Photo: Jack Fleming Photography

It stands to reason that there are many other places around the world to celebrate Carnival. 

Not too far from New Orleans, the city of Mobile, Alabama (original hometown of Jimmy Buffett) has a parade that makes this normally-conservative town go as crazy as it does when Alabama's football team is playing for a championship. It's actually older than the one in New Orleans. The Sunday before Mardi Gras is called Joe Cain Day that allows any and everyone to party and parade. Mobile now has an entertainment district with lots of bars, restaurants, and artsy things downtown.  "If Mobile had not torn it down in the name of progress, we would have a larger 'French Quarter' than NOLA," one local proclaims. 

The Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego is another awesome spot on Fat Tuesday. There is a parade that runs through the Gaslamp and, as one might expect, the area is filled with fun-filled people roaming the streets and going from bar to bar in festive attire. PubClub.com knows from first-hand experience that this is an awesome party!

In the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago celebrate with wildly colorful costumes, a parade, lots of music and lots of run.

And there's your local bar, which makes Fat Tuesday an outstanding excuse to go out and party during the week.






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