Bright colors everywhere. Feathers and costumes any direction you turn. Beads galore and the air of celebration and fun. Yes, you guessed it. I’m talking Mardi Gras!
This jubilation, also known as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday (ending the day before Ash Wednesday), is a carnival extravaganza celebrated in the days leading up to the traditional Catholic Lenten fasting season, and usually begins during the feasts of Epiphany.
While this joyous affair may have originated in New Orleans, it certainly didn’t stop there. Now cities across the world organize and celebrate their own Mardi Gras’, some even taking up causes along with it! Next time you decide to travel with festivities in mind, check out the Mardi Gras celebrations in these cities.
For the eternal globe-trotter, you may enjoy these Mardi Gras celebrations from around the World!
1. Nice, France
Here, the Mardi Gras is known as “Carnaval”, and it began as a massive feast before the beginning of the fasting period of Lent (I’m talking old school, 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' France), for everyone to gorge on all the food they can.
The celebration remains even today, though the group of people observing it religiously is much smaller. For most people looking to enjoy the Carnival, it’s about bright colors, fun foods, parades, processions, jugglers, stilt-walkers and all the other fun stuff that festivals should be all about.
Instead of feasting on meat and bread though, waffles and crepes are the commonly seen delicacies of this occasion.
2. Venice, Italy
The history of this celebration dates as far back as the 12th Century Renaissance period, and it was practiced every year for the next 5 centuries. In the 1700’s, the Emperor of Austria stopped all celebration of the Carnival of Venice, and forbade the wearing of masks.
In 1979, the local government of Venice brought the tradition (masks and all) back. Now, the Carnevale di Venezia has over 3 million participants and visitors coming in every year to enjoy the festivities. The event itself occurs over a few days, but the main attraction is on Fat Tuesday.
All participants of the masquerade get to compete and win the award for Best Mask in front of a panel of judges. The whole occasion is a blast of color, weirdness, music and food.
3. Sydney, Australia
This celebration began as a protest that would come to change the landscape of LGBT rights in Australia.
In 1978, a small group of protestors enjoying the International Gay Celebrations in Darlinghurst were arrested by the local police and, as the night progressed, the violence of the police towards the protestors drastically escalated. It would serve as the spark that lit up many more arrests and a consequent protest.
Due to the violent reactions of the Police, the local government finally repealed the law that allowed such arrests to be made in April 1979. Following that, the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras took place, marking a major victory in the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement. Most recently, the celebration saw over 500,000 spectators, and nearly 13,000 marchers.
4. Quebec, Canada
Keeping in mind the uncharacteristically chilly weather of Canada, the Mardi Gras in Quebec City is an infamous Winter Carnival. It is celebrated, as is customary, just before the fasting period of Lent.
The Carnival was brought about as a way to warm up the population of the city during the freezing winter weeks. In keeping with the theme of Winter Wonderland, the Quebec City Mardi Gras comes with its own unique traditions, much like the beads and masks of the New Orleans Carnival.
There is a canoe race along the partially frozen St. Lawrence River. They also build giant sculptures from snow and enjoy some classic Canadian trumpeting. Canadians even have a traditional drink that their Mardi Gras is known for. It consists of brandy, port wine and sherry vodka, and goes by the name Caribou, maybe because it can give you one hell of a kick.
If you’re looking to stay stateside, however, there are many cities in the US that celebrate this occasion in style as well. Such as:
5. Galveston, Texas
In the state where they say everything is bigger, one city, Galveston holds the largest Mardi Gras Celebrations in the entire state of Texas.
The tradition began 150 years ago with a masquerade ball and a stunning theatre performance. Currently, over 200,000 people from all across the state and country make their way to this festival, which now has 24 parades, 5 separate masquerade balls, and even features performances from national stars.
It is also a little more controlled than the wild bashes held in New Orleans, but this keeps the ticket prices slightly higher. The Galveston Mardi Gras is one of the most famous events in the country, and is a whirlwind of food, music and life.
Similar smaller versions of Mardi Gras are also held in cities all across Texas, like Dallas, and even Port Arthur, which is a great destination to enjoy family friendly celebrations of Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday.
6. Mobile, Alabama
Despite the popular assumption, the first Mardi Gras in the United States was held not in New Orleans, but in Mobile, Alabama. This lovely coastal town has been celebrating this joyous occasion for over 3 centuries, with the first one dating back as far as 1703.
The festival lets you dive headfirst into the masked balls, parades, floats and partying of the old school Mardi Gras while also maintaining a family-friendly environment. So, of course, the city of Mobile isn’t ready to let go of all the fun in just a week like every other city in the country and world.
Home to the second largest Mardi Gras Carnivals in the country, Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras for a full month, full of beads, candies, balloons and Moonpies.
7. Pensacola, Florida
The highlight of this city’s Mardi Gras festival has to be their Fat Tuesday parade, where they bring in all the works.
This four hour procession is made up of 6000 marchers, numerous floats, and nearly 100,000 visitors crowded on the streets to enjoy the parade. In many ways, this massive parade makes up for the relatively smaller number of other parades they hold through the Carnival.
This city also hosts the calmer and more family-friendly Mardi Gras. While the obligatory beads and decorations remain, this event consists of food drives and even a breast cancer awareness run. It’s where social causes meet traditions meet fun!
If you move over to Orlando, Florida, during this season, you will get swept away in another Mardi Gras celebration. This one is conducted every year by Universal Studios, so, as you can imagine, it is quite famous for its parades and performers and lasts for 50 nights.
8. St. Louis, Missouri
(The Budweiser Clydesdales)
Welcome to the Gateway City, home to one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the country. What began in the 1980’s as a week-long wine-tasting peppered with parades, is now one of the biggest gatherings in the world.
These festivities still include the obligatory whisky-tastings and party tents, but are made complete with family friendly events like pet parades, the annual Weiner Dog Derby, a cajun cook-off and even a softball tournament.
The whole proceeding finally culminates in one final Grand Parade, consisting of over 100 parade floats and featuring the famous Anheuser Busch Clydesdales Horses, also known as the Budweiser Clydesdales.
The St. Louis Mardi Gras has fun options for everyone, making it a great destination for family vacations, and giving you the best sides of both worlds!