Madeira Carnival

Rio's spirit comes to the Portuguese archipelago

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert

carnivalIt’s a simple fact: the world loves a carnival. From the wonders of Mardis Gras in New Orleans to the explosion of colour that is the Rio Carnival, by way of various cities across the globe that attempt to recreate such occasions every year, few events inspire such laughter – few bring people so close together. Outside of “the big two”, as it were, not many places manage this dramatic effect quite so gratifyingly as Madeira. The Portuguese archipelago stages its very own jamboree every February, encapsulating all that is great about its worthy counterparts.

Running for the best part of a week in the build up to Shrove Tuesday, the Madeira Carnival truly engages the heart and soul of the people of Funchal, Madeira’s lively capital and home to the event. Music, parades and a party atmosphere are the order of the day in one of Europe’s most jaw-dropping environments – and here we get to the heart of it.


Madeira Carnival: all you need to know


Madeira Carnival: History Madeira Carnival: History

It’s fair to say that the Carnival is part of the furniture in Funchal, and throughout the decades the novelty seems never to have worn off. Indeed, the restrictions introduced in the 1960s, to stem the flow of eggs, confetti, streamers and flour being playfully tossed around, were scarcely adhered to; the frivolities are still practised today. Since the 1970s, the occasion has been a somewhat more organised affair, though. Why not plug yourself into the revelry and find out for yourself?

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Madeira Carnival: Festa dos Compadres Madeira Carnival: Festa dos Compadres

All great events must start somewhere – and the Madeira Carnival begins amicably with the Festa dos Compadres. The satirical celebration pays homage to the age-old battle of the sexes, with larger-than-life male and female dolls paraded through the streets to represent the individual and institutional talking points within the community from the year gone by. No stone is left unturned, with religious, political and social commentary all offered up for ridicule; before the effigies are ultimately burned as punishment for their misdemeanours. 

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Madeira Carnival: Parade of Floats Madeira Carnival: Parade of Floats

On the Saturday of the Carnival, the first of the two main parades winds through the tourist-thronged streets of the usually tranquil city centre. Over a thousand people traditionally participate, each and every one sporting eye-catchingly luminous outfits. Despite the feverous atmosphere, there is method to the madness, and the subsequent performance in the Praça do Município is expertly choreographed in accordance with the that year’s theme. 

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Madeira Carnival: Slapstick Parade Madeira Carnival: Slapstick Parade

The main event of the entire Madeira Carnival occurs on Shrove Tuesday itself, and as the name suggests, the Slapstick Parade is an appropriately raucous affair. The Trapalhão, as it is known in its local tongue, is a free for all, anything-goes cavalcade of joviality, colour and music. Nobody really knows quite what is going to happen as the festivities draw to a close, but one thing is for sure: everyone is wholeheartedly encouraged to throw themselves into the thick of the madness as it unfolds. 

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Madeira Carnival: Other Events Madeira Carnival: Other Events

Over the course of five days, there’s never a dull moment at the Madeira Carnival. Any given nightspot in town hosts an array of theme nights, with 'hippy' and 'cross-dressing' amongst the most popular in recent years. For more family-orientated fun, the much cherished Children’s Carnival gives younger revellers the chance to sample the spirit of the occasion with their very own parade in hand-made costumes. The best way to take it all in is simply to stroll around the compact city centre, where you’re certain to find your share of street performers, market stalls and colourful characters.

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Theme by Jamie Neely
Image 1 by Flawka
Image 2 by Capn Gorgeous
Image 3 by goforchris
Image 4 by experience madeira

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