Carnival Theme Party ideas

These birthday Carnival theme party ideas are inspired by the traditional travelling funfair with fairground rides, food booths, sideshows, side stalls and games (often just called a Funfair or Fairground outside of the US). I've also included one or two circus inspired ideas such as clowns, elephants and Big Tops as many people associate Circus with Carnival.

admit one carnival ticket


quick links: carnival Party Supplies



carnival PARTY Invitations




carnival ticket invitations

A great way to make a big first impression with a 3D invitation would be to send out these cute 'Admit One' cookies, available from supplier 4. Just tie on a small card with all the party details printed on.

admit one ticket cookies

Alternatively, use this printable circus ticket invitation from supplier 4 to attach to the cookie.

carnival ticket invitation

Then send out in these cute box mailers (below right, USA only).

box mailers



Personalized Carnival theme Party Invitations

There are lots of personalized invitations for a Circus or Carnival birthday party available, such as the ones below, which will work well with these birthday ideas. See supplier 4 for the full range.

You can embellish these further by slipping them into red and white striped popcorn bags and tying them up with string or ribbon to fit in with these Carnival theme party ideas

vintage carnival invitationcarnival invitationcarnival invitation

carnival invitationcarnival invitation








I particularly like this Carnival tent style invitation that opens to reveal the birthday party details, also from supplier 4.

carnival tent invitationcarnival tent invitation









Carnival Theme Party Stamps

A really nice attention to detail is to use these Carnival theme party postage stamps to add extra embellishment to your invitations.

Note: These stamps are only available in the USA

carnival stampscarnival postagecarnival themed stamps





Carnival Theme Party Drinks




Below are some drinks recipes to compliment these Carnival party ideas:

Lemon Shake Ups

When it comes to drinks at the funfair, it's all about Lemon Shake Ups (right, from recipe.com). But if you're worried about sugar levels, you could always try this Reduced-Sugar Lemon Shake Up recipe (from The Kitchen).

Float carnival mustache ice cubes in the drinks using this mold from supplier 3.

lemon shake upsmustache ice cubes










Root Beer Floats

Here a quick and easy recipe for Root Beer Floats (right, from My Recipes)

Serve them in these cute personalized party cups with each guest's name on (see supplier 4).

root beer floatscarnival party cups




Hook-a-Duck Punch

This cute Rubber Ducky Bath Punch (right, by Cheryl at The Tidy Mom) was created for a baby shower, but you could easily re-named it 'Hook-a-Duck Punch'. Balance a fishing rod / hook on the edge of the punch bowl so people make the funfair connection.

rubber duck punchhook a duck game






carnival goldfish punch

Make any blue drink, such as this Blue Bubblegum Soda (below right, by Jana at Cherry Tea Cakes) and serve in mini plastic goldfish bowls (supplier 2) with straws.

Then pick up a mold to make goldfish ice cube's (supplier 3). Add a couple of drops of coloring or orange juice to the ice cubes but test them first to see how much they change the color of the drink as they melt.

mini goldfish bowlsgold fish ice cube traysfish ice cubes




Caramel Apple Milkshakes

Caramel Apples go hand in hand with a Carnival theme party, so for something a bit different try making these Caramel Apple Milkshakes (right, by Lynne Laino via Dairyspot). Serve them in these big top themed party cups from supplier 4.

caramel apple milkshakecarnival tumblers











Popcorn Milkshake

The recipe above got me thinking about what other fairground/ circus foods could be turned into drinks to go with these Carnival theme party ideas so I set about hunting for a Popcorn Milkshake recipe and came across this one (below left, by Manouschka Guerrier for Food Network).

This recipe is for Popcorn Ice Cream, but she posted the picture below on her blog saying that she served them as milkshakes so I would guess you just mix the ice cream with some milk in a blender to create. I'd garnish with some actual popcorn on top to make them look even cuter.

Update: I've since come accross this Cracker Jack Milkshake (below right, by Sugar and Charm) which would also work well. Just don't forget to enquire about peanut allergies in advance.

popcorn milkhakecracker jack milkshake











Cotton Candy Milkshakes

Similarly, make Cotton Candy Milkshakes with this recipe from Happy Harvest on Tablespoon. Don't forget to garnish these with some actual Cotton Candy, either wrapped around a swizzle stick or just floating on top.

cotton candy milkshakes




Give regular water bottles a carnival makeover with these printable labels from supplier 4 (lots of different designs available).

carnival water labelscarnival  printables






Drinks Styling

Style any of the above drinks with carnival themed straws, such as these mustache ones (below left, from supplier 3) or these cute carousel horse ones (below right, from supplier 4).

carnival carousel horse strawsmustache straws







There are also styling options for younger kid's parties too, such as these carnival tent sipper cups (below left, from supplier 1) or these circus themed straws (below right, from supplier 4).

big top cupscircus straws









Alternatively, use these labels to give any drink a carnival themed look (see supplier 3).

carnival drinks labels





Carnival Theme Party Food




Below are some of my favorite recipes to go with these Carnival birthday party ideas:

  • There are certain foods that instantly spring to mind when you think of the Carnival: Caramel Apples, Popcorn, Cotton Candy, Corn Dogs, Churros, Hot Dogs, Funnel Cake, Elephant Ears, Donut Holes, Snow Cones, Salt Water Taffy, Watermelon etc. So, to make things a bit more special I've tried to include a few variations and twists on some of these traditional fairground foods.

  • Instead of serving traditional Caramel Apples, try this variation: an Apple Pie Caramel Apple (below left, from The Girl Who Ate Everything). Or there are these cute Caramel Apple Cupcakes (below right, from Chockylit's Cupcake Blog)

caramel applescaramel apple cupcakes














caramel apple cheesecakecaramel apple s'mores


  • Serve Mini Hot Dogs (below left, by Yum Sugar) using cocktail franks and biscuit dough, or for a surreal twist try these Hot Dog Cookies (below right, from Taste of Home)

mini hot dogshot dog cookies











  • Alternatively, there are these Hot Dog Cakes (below, by Sweet Cherry Pie) make from Choux Pastry Buns and Devil's Food Cake.

hot dog cakes


slidersburger cupcakes








  • There are lots of great Carnival themed cookie cutters available, such as this mustache cookie cutter (below left, from supplier 3) or this carousel horse (below right, supplier 4) which you can use to shape sandwiches (use brown bread for the mustache ones!), pizza, cookies, cheese, and fruit slices.

mustache cookie cutterscarnival cookie cutter


  • There are also these popcorn, carnival tent, and 'admit one' cookie cutters available from supplier 4.

carnival cookie cuttercarnival cookie cuttercarnival cookie cutter


  • Alternatively, you can buy lots of different carnival themed cookies from supplier 4.

carnival cookiescarnival cookies








  • You can also buy some carnival themed cake pops, some of which can be personalized (below left, from supplier 7) or there are these cute clown cake pops (below right, from supplier 4).

carnival cake popsclown cake pops












  • Here are a couple of cupcake recipes that I thought we're just perfect to include in these Carnival birthday party ideas. Circus Clown Cupcakes (below left) and Popcorn Cupcakes (below right) both from Disney Family Fun.

clown cupcakespopcorn cupcakes


  • Alternatively, just use carnival themed cupcake toppers, such as these from supplier 4, on regular cupcakes.

carnival cupcake topperscarnival cupcake topperscarnival cupcake toppers


  • There are also some personalized cupcake toppers or some vintage style ones, both from supplier 4.

carnival cupcake topperscarnival cupcake toppers


funnel cakeschurroselephant ears


  • Here's a great video (from Howcast) which demonstrates how to make Carnival style Corn Dogs at home.


  • If you want to make some of your favorite Carnival foods at home you can pick up various small appliances fairly cheaply—around $30-$40— from supplier 3, such as snow cone machines, hot dog rollers, slushee machines, s'mores makers, donut hole makers, corn dog makers, and popcorn machines - all of which are perfect for these Carnival theme party ideas.

hot dog roller slushee machinesnow cone machine

smores makerpopcorn makercotton candy machine


watermelon popsicleswatermelon jello













ice cream cone cupcakesroot beer float ice cream













  • Here's a great video (by Howdini) which demonstrates how to make Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes similar to the ones above:


  • There's so many different things you can do with Popcorn to make your Carnival theme party ideas a little more unusual. Why not set up a Popcorn bar with lots of different flavors and toppings (like this White Chocolate Drizzle, below left by Picky Palate) that people can help themselves to.

    Or just pick up this variety pack of gourmet popcorn (below center, USA only) with includes flavors such as caramel, cheddar cheese, kettle corn, and dark and white chocolate striped.

  • Alternatively make this Popcorn Fudge (below right, from Raspberricupcakes)

popcornpopcorn fudgegourmet popcorn


  • There's also lots of Carnival candy that you can buy to fill out the dessert table or use as favors, including this gummi popcorn (below left), red apple candy lollipops (below center), salt water taffy, cotton candy, watermelon wedge lollipops, buttered popcorn jelly beans (below right) and lots more. See supplier 3.

gummi popcornpopcorn jelly beanscandy apples


  • Alternatively, you can buy individual bags of cotton candy, mustache lollipops, or this cute gumball machine to complete your dessert table. Also from supplier 3.

gumball machinemustache lollipopscotton candy


  • These printable carnival themed candy bar wrappers and lollipop stickers are a great way to personalized candy on your dessert table. Available from supplier 4.

printable carnival candy wrapperscarnival lollipops











  • Supplier 1 also sells candy by the color, so you can give your dessert table a red and white carnival theme.

red candywhite candy











  • If you're want to serve French Fries for your party, make home-made paper cones by printing off pictures of old fashioned Carnival posters from the web. Or make batch of the individual french fries in this recipe made from pound cake (below, by Karen Tack at Parenting), serve in a basket as show and see how long it takes people to notice that they're sweet.

french fries cake


  • Finally, I had to include this next recipe in these birthday party tips. You could serve regular corn on the cob as they do at the fair, but these Corn on the Cob Cupcakes (below, by Karen Tack via Martha Stewart) look a whole lot more fun.

corn on the cob cupcakes





Birthday cake

There are only a handful of edible images available for a carnival theme, such as the one below left from supplier 3. If you want a personalized edible image, they tend to be more circus themed, such as the one below right from supplier 4 (other designs available).

carnival edible cake image icingpersonalized carnival edible cake image icing







Alternatively, there are some nice non-edible options available which can be personalized, such as the ones below from supplier 4.

carnival cake toppercarnival cake topper





food presentation

Here are some food styling and presentation tips to go with these Carnival theme party ideas:

  • Use carnival themed food labels, such as the ones below from supplier 4, to identify different treats on a buffet / dessert table.

carnival food labelscarnival printable labelscarnival food tents


  • These cardboard street stall stands are a really cute way to display food on a dessert / buffet table. There's a hot dog stand and this cute ice cream truck, both from supplier 3.

hot dog standice cream treat stand












  • The same 'street stalls' range also do this cute sweet shop display stand for candy (see supplier 3). Alternatively, there's also this carnival treat stand from supplier 4.

candy treat standcarnival treat stand


  • Use these carnival snack servers (below left) or these hot dog / popcorn / peanut bags to give your dessert / buffet table an authentic feel. Both from supplier 3.

carnival snack serverscarnival food bags


  • Alternatively, you can get personalized popcorn boxes and peanut bags, such as these from supplier 4.

personalized popcorn boxespersonalized carnival bags










  • There are also these cute personalized popcorn cart boxes from supplier 4.

popcorn treat boxespopcorn treat boxes









  • This ferris wheel cake stand (see supplier 3) is a cute way to display cupcakes on a dessert table. Alternatively, use these individual circus tent favor boxes (see supplier 4) to display cupcakes or candy apples.

ferris wheel cake standcarnival tent cupcake holders










  • Kid's will love this Candy Grabber machine from supplier 3 just like the claw machine at the Carnival. Fill it with candies and treats and put it on your desset table.

candy grabber


  • This Carnival themed inflatable buffet cooler from supplier 3 is a cheap and easy way to set up a drinks table outside while keeping everything nicely chilled.

carnival buffet cooler





Buffet / Dessert Table decorations




Below are suggestions for Carnival decorations centered around your food / dessert table:


I think it would be a cute idea to dress the buffet / dessert table to resemble a Carnival side stall (see photos below for inspiration).

carnival side stallscarnival stalls








Here's one way you could dress a buffet / dessert table to go with these carnival theme party ideas. Read below for step by step instructions for how to create this look.

carnival dessert table


  • If you have a gazebo or pop up canopy at home then use this to provide a roof over your Carnival dessert table. You can make this look more Carnival-like by draping with red and white striped fabric by the yard (below left, from supplier 3) or cut sections out of this super strong (it stands up without supports) corrugated decorating paper (below right, from supplier 2) to lay on top or enclose the sides of your canopy.

red and white striped fabricred and white striped decorations


  • If you dont already have a canopy, you could use this Big Top canopy tent (from supplier 3) to go with these Carnival theme party ideas.

big top tentbig top party tent











circus play tentcarnival canopy tent











  • If you have a bigger budget, there's also this 7ft x 9ft carnival booth standee prop which you could set up over the dessert table. See supplier 2 or 3.

carnival booth standeecarnival booth standee











  • Cover your table with a red and white striped tablecover (below left) or wrap this striped tableskirt (below right) around a solid color tablecover. Both are available from supplier 2 or 3. Alternatively, for a more structured look use the red and white striped corrugated decorating paper mentioned above, from supplier 2.

red and white striped tablecoverred and white striped tableskirt











  • Dress the table top by scattering around a few objects and props that you'd find at Carnival side stalls, ex a row of three coconuts balanced on soda bottles, hoops, goldfish etc.
  • If you've got a shelving unit or tall dresser, position it behind the dessert table. Otherwise just position the dessert table a few feet in front of an empty wall so that you can hang various props on it to resemble the back wall of a Carnival side stall (see illustration above). Some examples are:

    • Stack pyramids of tin cans along the back wall

    • Similarly, you could create your own coconut shy

    • Line up a row of rubber ducks and targets to represent the duck shooting range

    • Draw some large clown faces and cut out their mouths to represent the 'Toss the beanbag in the Clown's Mouth' side stall

    These are really just for decoration to make your dessert table look like an authentic Carnival side stall, so don't worry too much about making them practical.

    Alternatively, you can buy some cheap Carnival games such as these inflatable ring toss / bean bag toss games (below) to use as part of your dessert table decorations - then, later in your party you can use them as games.

carnival duck shootinflatable ring tossbean bag toss game


  • Next, hang a few bags of cotton candy or plush toys and other Carnival style prizes down from the roof of your canopy or attached the side poles (see illustration above). Then add a few of these ready made Carnival signs (below right, from supplier 2) or a chalkboard advertising hot dogs, funnel cake, cotton candy etc (see illustration above).

cotton candy carnival signs









  • You could also make some simple homemade signs to hang inside the side stall that say general things like 'Score Over 8 to Win', '5 Tries for $3', 'Knock 3 Ducks Off to Win a Prize', 'No Leaning' etc, to make your Carnival decorations even more authentic.

    Alternatively, you can buy these carnival hanging decorations from supplier 3, or these printable vintage style signs from supplier 4.

carnival hanging decorationsprintable carnival signs











  • Above the dessert table hang a carnival themed banner, such as these below from supplier 3.

carnival banner

carnival banner


  • Alternatively, there are lots of different personalized banners available that fit with these Carnival theme party ideas, such as these ones below from suppliers 1 and 2.

carnival banner

carnival banners

fairground banner

carnival banner


  • Mix in a few pennant banners or use this Carnival decorating kit (below right) which includes a selection of banners, bunting, and fringes. See supplier 2.

pennant bannerscarnival party decorations










  • Finish the display with these cute Carnival cut outs. This big top directional sign from suppliers 3, 8, or 6) stands approx 5ft tall so will make a big impression and is great value at only $20. Or use the Carnival barker stand up from supplier 2 which is also over 5ft tall.

carnival stand upscarnival standee











  • You can really bring your carnival dessert table to life with this battery operated carnival sound chip for around $5. It plays authentic carnival sounds on a 20 second loop. See supplier 2.

carnival sound effects sound chip


  • If you don't want to invest in a tabletop canopy or big top tent for your dessert table, below is an alternative dessert table which uses some of the same decorations.

carnival theme dessert table


  • To make this option, use the red and white striped corrugated paper to make a backdrop (see above), then use a solid color tablecover such as red (using a red & white striped tablecover as well as the backdrop will look too 'busy'). Apply Carnival bunting along the front of the table, hang a red and white Carnival banner above, and use a 3ft tall popcorn balloon as a centerpiece. See suppliers 2 or 3.

carnival buntingpopcorn ballooncarnival banner

  • If you're budget doesn't allow you to use the barker / directional sign cut outs for your carnival theme party, replace these with tall bunches of balloons either side of the dessert table.

  • If you're using a gazebo / canopy as the frame for your decorations you could also hang a string of light bulbs along the front of it.
  • Another way to create a backdrop for your dessert table is to use this carnival backrop banner from supplier 3, which measures 9ft x 6ft.

carnival backdrop


  • Alternatively, you could use this downloadable carnival backdrop artwork from supplier 4 and take it to a local print shop yourself.

carnival backdrop

carnival backdrop




Table Styling




Below are some ideas for the dining table:

  • When it comes to dressing the dining table, I suggest you stick to a few primary colors for your decorations. Red and White, Red and Yellow, or Blue and White stripes are the most easily recognisable color combinations for a carnival theme party. So you might want to use a a red and white striped table cover (see above), or just use a solid color tablecover and add some Carnival bunting around the edge of the table (as shown below).

red and white striped tablecovercarnival buntingcarnival bunting

carnival party platescarnival party platescarnival party plates


  • Alternatively, there are some nice personalized paper plates available, such as the ones below from supplier 7 (more designs available).

personalized carnival party platespersonalized carnival party platespersonalized carnival party plates


  • For a centerpiece create your own Coconut Shy running down the middle of the table by gluing them to milk bottles. Or apply the same principle to the Hoopla and have a series of small soft toys raised up on small blocks with hoops half placed over them.

coconut shy


  • Alternatively, you could use these carnival themed letters from supplier 4 to spell out the birthday boy or girl's name.

carnival letters


  • There are also plenty of personalized carnival centerpieces, such as the one below, available from supplier 4.

carnival centerpiece

  • Use popcorn boxes as vases and arrange yellow and white flowers in them to look like popcorn.

carnival centerpieces

  • Create home-made placemats by gluing classic Carnival tickets from supplier 3 together onto a large rectangle of cardstock. Alternatively,you can have these personalized Carnival / Circus placements>made (below right, from supplier 1.

carnival ticketscarnival placemats








  • Create caramel apple place settings: Tie caramel apples up in clear cellophane and place one at each setting with the guest's name tied onto the stick like a flag. Alternatively you could do the same with a stick of cotton candy (stand these up in shot glasses).

  • Put one of these paper Carnival / Circus masks from supplier 1 at each place.

carnival party masks

  • Tie balloons to the back of each chair or use these big top chair covers from supplier 2.

big top chair covers

  • If you want to give your party a really professional look, make sure all the chairs have a uniform look. Often, if you're using mis-matched chairs or the color doesn't fit with the theme of your party it can really detract from the overall aesthetic. The reason the table styling always looks better at professional weddings or events is because the chair covers match the tablecloth. If your budget allows, use these stretch fabric chair covers which are approx $7 each in black or white. You can then add a splash of color (say red to match your Carnival decorations) by adding a colored sash (below left) or band (below right). See supplier 2.

chair covers and sashesspandex chair covers














Carnival Decorations

Below are some general decorating tips to go with these Carnival theme party ideas:

  • Always start your party decorations outside so there's a bit of a build up to the entrance. There's nothing worse for your guests than arriving at a bare front door. For a Carnival theme party you could just have bunches of balloons starting along the pavement and leading guests up your drive to the front door, a personalized yard sign (below right,from supplier 4) or this carnival door banner (below left, from supplier 3).

carnival door curtaincarnival yard sign










  • Alternatively you could chalk the pavement, hang a sign saying 'Carnival This Way', or make you own fake Carnival posters and position them along the route to your party.

  • It's great to have someone great people at the door, so see if you can, get a sibling or other family member to dress up in a Carnival costume(ex, Circus Clown, Strong Man, Fortune Teller etc). See supplier 1 for best range of costumes.

clown costumesstrong man costumecarnival costumes


  • Alternatively, you could print a life-size cut out (below left, supplier 2) of your child dressed in a Carnival costume to position at the end of then drive or at your front door. These are add a motion-activated voice recorder (also supplier 2) for around $10. You just have your child pre-record a short welcome message which then starts to play as people walk past the cut out.

life size cut outscircus costumesbig top costumes









  • Another option is to tie a Circus clown shaped Airwalker balloon see supplier 1 or 3 holding a bunch of balloons to the front door to greet people. The Airwalker balloon itself is 4ft tall, so once you tie some other balloons in it's hand it will make quite an impressive display.

clown airwalker balloon

  • These ticket booth, candy shoppe, and lemonade cardboard stands from supplier 3 or 6 are a good way to create little display areas. Or enlist a brother or sister to man the ticket booth and greet guests at the main entrance.

carnival ticket booth standcardboard lemonade standcandy shop stand up


popcorn balloonstrong man carnival balloonmustache balloon

  • Use vintage carnival posters, such as the ones below from supplier 7, to decorate.

vintage carnival postersvintage carnival postersvintage carnival posters

  • If your budget permits there are some really great Carnival cutouts from supplier 2 such as ticket booths, fortune tellers, ferris wheels, and even concession stands.

carnival propscarnival cut outsfortune teller booth


  • Pick up a roll of Carnival tickets and turn these into homemade curtains to hang over door frames. Just stick them onto long strips of string or ribbon, each one an inch or so apart, then hang a series of strips together to create a curtain of tickets. These can also be used to create cheap abstract backdrops to decorate large areas / empty walls.

carnival tickets

  • If you're holding the party in your backyard, use a curtain of tickets to create an entrance. Screen off the main party area by creating a long curtain of tickets with a gap in the middle to create a doorway for guest to enter through. Then hang a 'Tickets' sign over the gap to complete the look.

  • Music is an integral party of creating a Carnival atmosphere, so check out the CD/MP3 'Mechanical Marches: The Marenghi Fairground Organ' which contains lots of classic Carnival music. Leave it on repeat to give these Carnival theme party ideas an authentic soundtrack.

carnival music





Carnival Party Games

See my separate page of Circus / Carnival Party Games for a list of games and activities to go with these birthday party ideas.

carnival party games sidestallsbean bag tosscarnival spinner






There are lots of cute costumes available to go with these Circus / Carnival theme party ideas so let the birthday boy / girl stand out at their own party by getting dressed up. See supplier 1 for biggest range.

girls clown costumescircus costumesbig top costumeskids clown costumes









I always think its a good ideas for one or two adults to dress up in costume too as this provides some 'human theming' and really brings these Carnival theme party ideas to life. So try to persaude at least one parent to dress up. Having a Strongman, Clown, or Circus ringleader greet guests as they arrive will make a big first impression.

clown costumesstrong man costumecarnival costumes





These fish in a bag soaps would make cute party favors, or perhaps these personalized cotton candy cones, both from supplier 4.

carnival fish in bag party favorpersonalized popcorn cone party favor








Alternatively, fill these popcorn and cotton candy favor boxes (see supplier 4) with candy or carnival themed novelties from supplier 5.

popcorn favor boxcotton candy favor box












These cardboard big top photo cards from supplier 3 would be really cute to use as thank you notes to follow up after your party. Try to capture a photo of each guest at the party so you can send these out as personalized keepsakes. If that doesn't work out, just fill them with a picture of the birthday boy / girl or a group shot of everyboday taken at the party.



Alternatively, supplier 4 has some nice carnival themed thank you cards.

carnival thank you notescarnival thank you cards












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matt james
is a professional event planner and owner of event agency Left Field Productions, which has produced events for Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Spacey, Stella McCartney, David LaChapelle, John Waters, and Elvis Costello & Diana Krall. Since 2004, Left Field Productions has won 30 industry awards for excellence including Production Company of the Year.

matt james


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