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Party in Another Language at These International Festival

Rio Carnival

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The world’s eyes were on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympics, which drew an estimated 500,000 visitors to the “Cidade Maravilhosa.” But every year during Rio Carnival, roughly 2 million people party on the city’s streets.

Carnival is a countrywide celebration with festivals held in the days before Lent. Although other cities vie for the title, Rio’s Carnival is the biggest and most visited in the world, showcasing crazy costumes and flashing flesh during both the official samba parades and the informal street parties.

During the five-day fete, February 24-28, 2017, the city will become one big party. The nightly samba parades will feature different samba schools, each with about 4,000 participants wearing elaborate costumes and singing their school’s “samba songs” as they march through the Sambadrome, a linear stadium with grandstands lining the parading avenue.

Visitors who want the full Carnival experience can join a samba school in the parade — schools are more like associations or clubs — but travelers can “carnival” in many other ways. Leading up to and during Carnival, neighborhoods hold street parties with street bands leading parades.

Travelers can also attend Carnival balls. Two of the most popular venues include Rio Scala Balls at the Scala Nightclub in downtown and, arguably the most famous, the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace. Although costumes aren’t mandatory, many people choose to wear them.

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin, China

During the day, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is all blinding white and sparkling ice. At night, colored lights come on and transform the snow sculptures and icy buildings into a Technicolor dreamscape.

Centuries ago, fishermen on the Songhua River carved out chunks of ice and placed candles inside to light their way. Today, Harbin is known as the City of Ice, and the festival celebrates that heritage every January and February with icy architecture, snowy cities and thousands of sculptures, all built by 15,000 people using 4 million cubic feet of ice.

The festival features a few major exhibition areas. At the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, groups can explore monolithic snow sculptures, go tubing and take a dogsled ride, or visit the neighboring Siberian Tiger Park.

Ice and Snow World is an ice city with full-size, ice-block buildings, and at night, colored floodlights make the winter wonderland glow. Visitors will also find an ice maze, an ice bar and an ice hotel, and can try ice climbing, ice golf and ice archery. Zhaolin Park is the site of the annual Harbin Ice Lantern Garden Party, which showcases about 1,500 traditional ice lanterns and ice sculptures.

Those who want to enjoy extra special events can take in a giant fireworks display on opening night and smash sculptures with ice picks when the festival is shutting down.

Montreal International Jazz Festival


New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. Kansas City added some swing, and Chicago brought its own style to the genre. But Montreal is home to the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the largest jazz festival in the world. The 38th annual festival will be June 28 to July 8, 2017.

More than 12,000 people showed up to the first festival in 1980 to hear the likes of Ray Charles, Chick Corea and Gary Burton. Since then, the festival’s numbers have landed it in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest jazz festival: Three thousand musicians from 30 countries will perform 800 concerts for 2 million festivalgoers.

Along with many free outdoor concerts, the festival also features miniparades and other entertainment. Guided walking tours through downtown tell the story of jazz and highlight its connection to the city dating back to the 1920s. A guide uses historic photos and old music recordings while discussing important sites, such as former jazz clubs, before ending at the festival’s year-round center, La Maison du Festival, which features a museum, a music venue, a lounge, a bistro and a gift shop.

Visitors can also board the Bateau-Mouche for a three-hour jazz dinner cruise on the St. Lawrence River that features a live jazz performance by Paul Ramos. Small groups can arrange to take basic French classes that also include an aperitif — a small pre-meal cocktail — and dinner.