Carnival is one of the most colorful and lively festivals in the world. Rooted in ancient pagan traditions, modern carnival celebrations incorporate Christian rituals mixed with irreverent revelry right before the austerity of Lent. From Brazil’s vibrant street parades to Venice’s elegant masked balls, carnival brings out vibrant music, flamboyant costumes, and infectious joy across cultures.
This winter, give into the festive spirit and carnival celebrations on a budget with WowFare. Offering cheap flights to carnival hotspots around the globe, WowFare makes it easy to join the party and take care of your wallet. Read on as we highlight the diversity of carnival celebrations and share insider tips to experience carnival magic while sticking to your budget.
Top Carnival Celebrations on a Budget
We gathered several big Carnival destinations that may interest you. They take place every year in February, attracting a huge number of locals and foreign tourists. Looking for the perfect time to jet-set? Curious about quirky and unique festivals? Or maybe you just want to keep up to date with what’s happening worldwide? In this post, we will tell you the world’s most vibrant and unforgettable events! Among all this diversity, there’s something exciting for every traveler to discover!
The Iconic Rio Carnival
Place: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date: February 9-17
The Rio de Janeiro Carnival is a spectacle of samba parades and theatrical shows held at the Sambadrome in the city center, drawing massive crowds. Here, 14 of the most famous samba schools compete for the championship title. Each school showcases its skill in an 80-minute performance, marked by the thunderous beats of drums and the singing of its anthems, revealing the story of its presentation through elaborate costumes and dance. Expert judges evaluate each school’s performance.
The Carnival in Brazil is a celebration for all its people. Many local celebrities also actively participate in its organization and execution, unabashedly flaunting their semi-nude bodies. Preparations for this festival begin from a young age. Even in stores, carnival clothing for children is available, starting from as young as one year old.
Note: The carnival has long become a significant revenue source, attracting tourists from around the globe. However, when heading to this spectacular celebration, it’s crucial to remember personal safety measures. Tourists are advised not to leave their hotels with more than $20 in their pockets.
The Colorful Mardi Gras Celebration
Place: New Orleans, USA
Date: February 13
The American Mardi Gras carnival is renowned globally, primarily for its jazz orchestras like The Batiste Brothers, Mahogany Brass Band, The Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, and the “Bacchus Parade,” which takes place annually on the Sunday before Easter. Even if you cover your ears, the jazz rhythms can be heard day and night.
The festivities reach their peak in New Orleans, the very heart from where the Mardi Gras history flows. The main action unfolds in the French Quarter (Vieux Carre) on Bourbon Street.
Here, the ultimate goal for carnival spectators is to catch the most prized Mardi Gras trophy – a coconut tossed from the parade. So, it’s important to draw attention from the throwers. During the carnival on Bourbon Street, it’s customary to unbutton blouses and lift shirts to achieve this. The spectacle culminates with the crowning of the King and Queen. The Queen’s attire, with its luxury and opulence, rivals that of the most refined royal courts.
Fuel up on cheap and delicious local cuisine like muffulettas, po’boys, and beignets from famous eateries like Cafe Du Monde. Then, hit the streets to catch energetic parades with marching jazz bands and street revelers tossing beads and MoonPies. Join in the costumed fun or just soak up the festive atmosphere at this iconic Carnival celebration on February 13th.
Note: While peak hotels can charge premium rates, you can find cozy, affordable accommodations at hostels like India House and The Drifter Hotel for under $50 a night.
Magic and Mystery of Carnival in Venice
Place: Venice, Italy
Date: January 27 – February 13
The Venice Carnival (Carnevale di Venezia) is a festival of joy, temptation, entertainment, and luxury – in a word, freedom! From the narrow alleys to St. Mark’s Square, majestic palaces overlooking the Grand Canal, and workshops selling vintage costumes with masks, you’ll feel the celebration everywhere! Each year, the carnival includes a variety of public events such as the Flight of the Angel, the Feast of the Marie, water parades and shows, the Flight of the Lion, and a rich program of private masquerade balls.
And every year, the carnival has a different theme. In 2024, it will be dedicated to the Venetian merchant and great explorer Marco Polo with the theme “To the East: The Amazing Journey of Marco Polo.”
Don an elaborate mask and costume to blend into the elegant 18th-century atmosphere of the Carnevale di Venezia. Catch water regattas in Saint Mark’s Basin, enter costume contests on Saint Mark’s Square, and wander narrow alleys soaking up the romantic charm. Or forego masks and simply indulge in chocolate-dipped frittelle donuts and vibrant wine while gliding along ancient canals on a shared gondola ride. No matter how you experience it, Venice Carnival captures the enduring magic of La Serenissima.
Note: While hotels on the main island are very expensive during Carnival season, you can stay affordably in towns like Mestre, Treviso or Padua and take trains into Venice for $5-$10 each way.
Beyond Carnival celebrations: Alternative Winter Festival Gems
Step beyond the traditional carnival scene and discover a world brimming with lesser-known but equally enchanting winter festivals. Embrace the unexpected and let these alternative winter festivals redefine your travel bucket list.
Sanremo Music Festival
Place: Sanremo, Italy
Date: February 6-10
If you happen to be traveling in Europe in early February, make a stop in the Italian Riviera for the legendary Sanremo Music Festival (February 6-10). Dating back to 1951, this glitzy song competition draws over 10 million viewers as Italian pop stars battle it out on stage.
Famous names like Andrea Bocelli, Eros Ramazzotti, and Laura Pausini launched their careers at Sanremo. Stay affordably in towns like Imperia or Ventimiglia, then take the train or bus to Sanremo to soak up the electric atmosphere and free outdoor concerts. Indulge in the region’s scenic seaside charm, colorful nightlife, and mouthwatering pasta and seafood on a budget.
Place: Sapporo, Japan
Date: February 4-11
Trade carnival floats for majestic ice and snow sculptures at Japan’s spellbinding Sapporo Snow Festival (February 4-11). Attracting over 2 million visitors annually, Sapporo’s parks and streets dazzle with towering frozen works of art, giant snow slides and mazes, and wintery illuminations.
You can stay affordably at one of Sapporo’s many design-savvy and spotlessly clean hostels like Embrace or Marks Inn. Then, use the city’s efficient metro and buses to easily reach all the frozen magic across Sapporo. Besides, end chilly days soaking in onsens or warming up with hot ramen noodles and Japanese craft beer on a budget.
Tips for Budget-Savvy Carnival Goers
Attending a vibrant festival is a must-do at least once. To ensure your trip leaves only pleasant memories, here are some simple tips:
- Staying in the city center is convenient, but the suburbs are more affordable. A few days are enough to enjoy a carnival. If possible, stay in the city center to save travel time and enjoy early morning or late evening city walks. However, be prepared for higher prices. If long commutes by train or metro aren’t for you, plan your accommodation options in advance.
- Don’t set strict plans. Sure, you can research carnival websites and pick events that interest you, but be aware of potential delays due to traffic, crowded streets, and subways.
- Book restaurants and cafes in advance. Even for a pizzeria, getting a table can be tough. Cities are crowded during carnivals, and restaurants can’t accommodate everyone.
- Bring a costume. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. The city is filled with various characters during the carnival, so you’ll fit right in. Having a costume might also grant you access to exclusive events, so don’t miss out on this opportunity.
- Be vigilant. In large crowds, keep an eye on your belongings and choose comfortable clothing and footwear.
- Purchase tickets for a carnival ball in advance. Carnival celebrations are divided into free street events and paid ones in palaces and theaters. Buy tickets early to ensure you get into the events you want.
Reveling in Festive Diversity
Carnival festivities are celebrated with diverse and vibrant colors across cultures and continents. From the samba-fueled street parties of Rio to the elegant masked balls of Venice, carnivals showcase unique local traditions while evoking the universal human need for joyful release before periods of restraint.
Apart from the iconic carnival hotspots, a variety of winter festivals offer winter magic, music competitions, and more. This February, take advantage of WowFare’s cheap flights and insider money-saving advice to experience the thrill of a worldwide carnival without going over budget. So, give in to the magnetic pull of the carnival celebrations and have a great time.