The Best European Carnivals to Experience in 2023
Carnivals in Europe are a vibrant and colorful celebration of life, culture, and tradition. From the elaborate costumes and masks of Venice to the carnival of Binche, which put the cities on the map between the World Heritage Sites, these events are generally known to be a true feast for the senses and a celebration of community.
These celebrations are also a great way of breaking up the static nature of wintertime, and getting ready for your Spring holiday, which is just around the corner! Historically, carnivals were created to say goodbye to one part of the year and make room for something new. It is the rebirth of the community and although they currently have a religious undertone to them, they are widely regarded to have strong pagan and pre-Christian origins, so we can safely say that they are way older than any of us would have imagined.
Knowing this, taking part in such a prestigious event is something to be tried out at least once in our lifetime so we have gathered some of the most interesting carnival events from Europe for you to be able to pick and choose from!
Carnivals from the South of Europe in 2023
One of the most famous carnivals in Europe is the Venice Carnival in Italy. Held annually in February, this event is a celebration of the city's rich history and culture. It is actually a much older event than we would initially think, dating back to 1094, the first time the world “Carnevale” appeared in an official document from the region, describing some sort of public amusement.
A common misconception is that it is some sort of expensive event, when in reality it is highly inclusive of all social statuses, due to the free shows and costume parades happening at Piazza San Marco and special projections and free museum tours during the two weeks of celebration. Besides, you can’t really put a price on drinking a wonderful ristretto with the locals in the early hours of the morning.
Once there, you will be swept away by all the elaborate costumes and masks, with many participants dressed in traditional attire and lavish costumes. The highlight of the carnival is the grand parade, where participants dressed in ornate clothing and masks parade through the streets of Venice, filling it with laughter, color and just the right amount of magic.
- 2023 dates for the Venice Carnival: 04.02.2023 - 21.02. 2023
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain is another popular event, known for its lively street parties and colorful costumes. The highlight of this carnival is also the grand parade, which features floats and performers dressed in elaborate costumes. You can also expect to see traditional music and dance performances throughout the event, while enjoying great weather in the middle of winter, with highs of 21ºC.
- 2023 dates for the Santa Cruz Carnival: 20.01.2023 - 26.02. 2023
The Carnival of Nice is an annual event that takes place in the city of Nice, France.
The carnival has a long history, and while the carnival we know and love today got its final form in 1872, the carnival has an even longer history, dating back to 1294, and as previously stated, probably even further back than that. It was initially a small local event, but has grown in popularity over the years to become one of the largest carnivals in Europe.
Today, it attracts visitors from all over the globe, who come to experience the vibrant culture, music, and food of the French Riviera. Somehow a celebration such as a carnival mixes incredibly well with the beauty of Cote d’Azur! One of the most popular events is the "Battle of Flowers," in which participants throw flowers at each other, creating a fun and fragrant spectacle. You will also be able to indulge in French cuisine, complete with delicious crepes, ratatouille, and socca, as well as local wines and beers.
- 2023 dates for the Carnival of Nice: 10.02.2023 - 26.02. 2023
Where to stay: Les Citronniers, Nice
The Carnival of Cádiz, also known as "La Carnaval de Cádiz," is an annual event that takes place in the city of Cádiz, Spain. The carnival typically is held in February, leading up to the Christian season of Lent. During this time, the city of Cádiz comes alive with music, dance, and laughter while the streets are filled with costumed performers, known as "chirigotas," who sing and dance their way through the city, accompanied by lively brass bands.
One of the main attractions of the carnival is the parade of political satire floats, known as "comparsas." These floats are often elaborately decorated and feature satirical commentary on current events and political figures. The floats are accompanied by performers, known as "murgas," who dress in elaborate costumes and sing satirical songs.
Another popular event is the "Carnival Queen" competition, in which young women compete for the title of "Queen of the Carnival." The competition includes a parade of floats and a musical performance, and the winner is chosen based on her beauty, talent, and ability to represent the spirit of the carnival. Overall, the Carnival of Cádiz is an event not to be missed for anyone who loves music, dance, satire and life in general!
- 2023 dates for the Carnival of Cadiz: 16.02.2023 - 26.02. 2023
Carnivals from Belgium in 2023
Another famous carnival in Europe is the Carnival of Binche in Belgium. This event, which takes place annually on Shrove Tuesday, is known for its elaborate costumes and the traditional throwing of oranges into the crowd.
More than a thousand inhabitants of Binche dress up as one of the four characters involved in the festival: The Peasants, the Harlequins, the Pierrots and the Gilles.
The highlight of the carnival is the Gilles, men dressed in elaborate costumes who march through the streets throwing oranges into the crowd. The carnival has been recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. Even though Carnival of Binche's exact origins is uncertain, the first written record of the celebration dates back to the 14th century. It is a colorful and culturally rich event, which takes you back to the bases of the community out of which it has sprouted and flowered into what it is today.
- 2023 dates for the Binche Carnival: 19.02.2023 - 21.02. 2023
Where to stay: Vallée les Etoiles
Another famous carnival in Belgium is the Aalst Carnival. This carnival each year is the culmination of an entire year of preparation by the inhabitants of the small city in Northern Belgium. The celebration has a carnival Prince, who symbolically becomes the mayor of the city and receives the key to the city in a satirical event.
The carnival itself is the result of a 600-year-old ritual, which draws in 100.0000 spectators, and it is and always has been a collective effort of all social classes and a true symbol of the town’s identity and region.
- 2023 dates for the Aalst Carnival: 19.02.2023 - 21.02. 2023
Where to stay: Vallée les Etoiles
The Cwarmê is a carnival which takes place in the city of Malmedy, Belgium. It lasts for four days and is listed as intangible heritage of the French Community of Belgium. The carnival begins at midnight on the Friday before Lent and lasts until midnight on Shrove Tuesday. You can expect to see a variety of traditional costumes, including the famous "Charlemagne" dressed in ornate costumes and masks while the highlight of the carnival is the grand parade, where participants parade through the streets of Malmedy.
- 2023 dates for the Malmedy Carnival: 18.02.2023 - 21.02. 2023
Where to stay: Vallée les Etoiles
Carnivals form The Netherlands and Germany in 2023
Carnivals in the Netherlands, also known as "Vastenavond" or "Carnaval", are a vibrant and also take place in the weeks leading up to Lent.
The most famous carnival in the Netherlands is the Carnival of Maastricht. Held annually in February, during the carnival you will be able to experience the famous "Carnaval Prince" and "Carnaval Princess" dressed in ornate costumes and masks. Besides the street festivities and elaborate costumes, you will also get the chance to taste some truly great carnival street food!
Nonnevotte are delicious, scrumptious treats, a traditional sweet pastry that is eaten during Carnival season but truly should be made a mandatory everyday treat. Just like the zwerende vinger (pastry filled with custard cream) and the Berliner doughnut, these traditional Carnival foods can be found int bakeries throughout Maastricht during the carnival season.
- 2023 dates for the Carnaval of Maastricht: 19.02.2023 - 21.02. 2023
Where to stay: Parc Maasresidence Thorn
Another famous carnival in the Netherlands is the Carnival of Breda. The carnival in Breda or Kielegat is a massive celebration that the city of Breda holds every year. The carnival itself lasts for 5 days and during this time the celebration takes place in the streets, bars, banquet halls and cafes of the city so everyone gets involved. The streets of Breda are decorated with the traditional colors of the carnival, so everything will suddenly become a vibrant red and orange. It is a truly cozy and immersive experience, where you can let loose with the locals and say goodbye to winter fashionably.
- 2023 dates for the Carnaval of Breda: 19.02.2023 - 21.02. 2023
Where to stay: Parc Maasresidence Thorn
The Cologne Carnival in Germany is also a popular event. Known as the "fifth season of the year," this carnival is as old as the city itself. During the festival, people shout “Kölle Alaaf”, which is the official cheer of the carnival-goers. It is derived from a medieval toast: “All ab” (All-av) which means Cologne alone” or “Cologne over everything.” It’s the shortest imaginable way for anyone to declare his or her love for Cologne.
The “Nubbel” is a straw-filled doll that serves as the scapegoat for all the transgressions that the revelers have committed during the days of carnival, and you should not miss the Nubbel burnings which take place next to St. Agnes Church, in Nippes, in Südstadt, in Kwartier Latäng and in the Old Town (Altstadt).
As you can see, Europe has many different carnivals that offer a rich cultural experience, each one with its own unique customs, costumes, and traditions. Whether you're in Venice, Binche, Cologne or Santa Cruz de Tenerife, these events are sure to be memorable and will revive your soul after a long winter.
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