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.
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.
Alternatively, use this printable circus ticket invitation from supplier 4 to attach to the cookie.
Then send out in these cute box mailers (below right, USA only).
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
I particularly like this Carnival tent style invitation that opens to reveal the birthday party details, also from supplier 4.
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 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.
Serve them in these cute personalized party cups with each guest's name on (see supplier 4).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Give regular water bottles a carnival makeover with these printable labels from supplier 4 (lots of different designs available).
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).
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).
Alternatively, use these labels to give any drink a carnival themed look (see supplier 3).
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)
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.
There are also these popcorn, carnival tent, and 'admit one' cookie cutters available from supplier 4.
Alternatively, you can buy lots of different carnival themed cookies from supplier 4.
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).
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.
Alternatively, just use carnival themed cupcake toppers, such as these from supplier 4, on regular cupcakes.
There are also some personalized cupcake toppers or some vintage style ones, both from supplier 4.
Here are some great recipes for Funnel Cakes (below right, from Martha Stewart), Churros (below center, also by Martha Stewart) and Elephant Ears (below right, from Taste of Home).
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Supplier 1 also sells candy by the color, so you can give your dessert table a red and white carnival theme.
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.
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.
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).
Alternatively, there are some nice non-edible options available which can be personalized, such as the ones below from supplier 4.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alternatively, you can get personalized popcorn boxes and peanut bags, such as these from supplier 4.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Above the dessert table hang a carnival themed banner, such as these below from supplier 3.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alternatively, you could use this downloadable carnival backdrop artwork from supplier 4 and take it to a local print shop yourself.
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).
Alternatively, there are some nice personalized paper plates available, such as the ones below from supplier 7 (more designs available).
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.
Alternatively, you could use these carnival themed letters from supplier 4 to spell out the birthday boy or girl's name.
There are also plenty of personalized carnival centerpieces, such as the one below, available from supplier 4.
Use popcorn boxes as vases and arrange yellow and white flowers in them to look like popcorn.
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.
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.
Tie balloons to the back of each chair or use these big top chair covers from supplier 2.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Use vintage carnival posters, such as the ones below from supplier 7, to decorate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These fish in a bag soaps would make cute party favors, or perhaps these personalized cotton candy cones, both from supplier 4.
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.
Did you find these Carnival Theme Party Ideas useful? If you did, please help me promote this page by sharing it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter by using the 'share' buttons at the bottom of the page.
Alternatively, if you have your own site / blog you can click on the "Enjoy this page?" link underneath to copy the link address for this page of Carnival theme party ideas.
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.