Colorful parades, obscure costumes and flamboyant parties that blaze a trail through the evening – here are some of the best carnivals in the world. Get your costumes ready!

Bright illumination, parades and hedonistic rituals that turn everyday norms upside down … carnival season is fast approaching.

Regarded as a rite of passage from darkness to light, winter to summer as well as a celebration of fertility, carnivals have etched themselves into folklore for centuries now. And while the origins of carnivals may be a debatable affair, their ability to create delirious, unforgettable experiences for all is not.

Don that quirky carnival outfit, say yes and let yourself loose on the streets for a few days of merrymaking – here are the best carnivals in the world.

Mardi Gras – New Orleans, LA, US

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, has its roots in European traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries within the House of Bourbon (a royal dynasty). Long gone are the days when Mardi Gras used to be a fest for the privileged few – today, it is an accessible jamboree that reels in old and young to the streets in great numbers. More of the same can be expected in 2018, as it celebrates its 300th birthday.

Costume-wise, anything and everything goes – so don’t shy away from sporting your most obscure attire. Bring a bag to hold all the motley such as beads and cups that will be tossed your way by the passing floats (elaborately decorated platforms).

When: January 5 – February 13, 2018

The Carnival of Venice – Venice, Italy

A golden oldie on the scene, the Carnival of Venice is said to have roots in a celebration by the Venice Republic commemorating its victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162. The festivities have evolved a great deal since then, though mask-wearing traditions are still a central component, many of which have become synonymous with carnival symbols the world over.

It is said that the porcelain masks were first worn as a revolt against class hierarchy as far back as the 13th century.

Take your pick from mask variants such as the Bauta, the Colombina and the Medico della Peste and head out to the streets and canals for a unique experience of Venice.

 When: January 27 – February 13, 2018

Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife – Tenerife, Canary Islands

Though Tenerife hosts countless fiestas every year, none of them come close to emulating its carnival. Widely considered the second most popular carnival after Rio’s event, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife has been splashing the capital of the Canary Islands in swathes of color for centuries now.

15 days of vivid extravagance turn the city into one big colorful party, as a gala to elect the carnival queen, satirical hymns and unparalleled bonhomie dominate the proceedings.

While you’re in Tenerife, flip out our guide to Tenerife’s sights, food and culture.

When: February 4-18, 2018

Cologne Carnival – Cologne, Germany

While Cologne’s carnival season (affectionately termed the ‘fifth season’) officially began on November 11 ,2017 at 11:11am, the main event comes along in February each year. Kick off your Cologne Carnival on Friday February 8, 2018 with Women’s Carnival Day, a time in which the women of the city wear fancy-dress on their way to work, followed by masked balls and parties by night.

The carnival features more fanfare and gaiety as the weekend kicks in, reaching its peak as the parade on Rose Monday (also known as Shrove Monday) comes to town. This sprightly march through Südstadt (the southern part of Cologne) features an array of elaborately adorned floats from which items such as chocolate boxes, sweets and other trinkets are thrown into the merry masses.

When: February 8-13, 2018

Rio Carnival – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

The jewel in the crown among the world’s many carnivals, Rio’s mammoth event dates all the way back to 1723 and draws over two million people per day. Samba music is at the center of the revelry, with over 200 samba schools (social clubs that represent a neighborhood) vying for their share of the spotlight in the many colorful parades.

Get a seat at the Sambodromo (the Samba Drome) for a ringside view of the action or suit up and hit one of the numerous street parties in different parts of this reverberating metropolis. Brazil also hosts several other prominent carnivals across the country. While you’re here, check these amazing Brazilian carnival destinations beyond Rio.

When: February 9-14, 2018

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