Five carnivals in Europe you should experience at least once in your life
Masks, costumes, dances, parades and lashings of good vibes… while the histories behind the most popular carnivals in Europe are as diverse as the ways they are celebrated, each captivating occasion justifies a trip. From Cadiz to Tenerife, and not forgetting Venice, Nice and Düsseldorf – all these cities can’t wait to turn their streets into party central. Which one would you like to visit first?
Details correct at time of going to press. Please check individual websites for the latest information.
1 Cadiz Carnival: laughter guaranteed
It’s a well-known fact that southern Spain is special: few places in the world know how to enjoy life with the same passion. And the Cadiz Carnival is a good example of this. This June, this age-old city founded by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago holds a party. Garbed in witty costumes, and demonstrating an ability to take on day-to-day life with a big smile, choruses and folk music groups fill the streets to parody the current situation as only they know how: by making people laugh. The festivities have been declared to be of International Tourist Interest and their origins date back to the 16th century, when Cadiz became the official port of trade with the Americas. Now the event has gone even further. To experience it like a local, tuck in to the cuisine of the famous ostioná and erizá, follow the Group Competition held in the famous Falla Theatre, and find yourself the best costume. Then all you have to do is have a great time.
2 Nice Carnival: flowers, costumes and parades
The French city’s inhabitants – and the thousands of tourists who visit it city every year so they don’t miss the Nice Carnival – are clear about that whether it’s cold, rainy or even thundering, when it’s time for the carnival, everyone hits the streets. For 15 days, all eyes are on the capital of the Côte d’Azur, and for good reason. For starters, the spectacular Big Carnival Parade of around 20 beautifully decorated floats (that celebrate the theme of the year) travel around the city accompanied by numerous musicians and artists. The Battle of the Flowers – another of the most anticipated events – is an elegant parade that winds along the Promenade des Anglais by the sea. Thousands of flowers are tossed to the public and the importance of the region’s floral industry is highlighted.
3 Santa Cruz Carnival in Tenerife: island rhythm and colour
It might be down to the extraordinarily festive atmosphere, or the fantasy and creativity reflected in the spectacular outfits, or the music setting the scene in every corner of the city during these weeks, but the fact is that the Santa Cruz Carnival in Tenerife is the second most popular (after Brazil’s) and one of the best attended in the entire world. Although February is when the party atmosphere and colours flood the streets, in Tenerife the party lasts all year long, as the preparations themselves are also a celebration. When the day arrives, fun times include the election of the Carnival Queen, musical theatre groups (murgas and comparsas) performing in the streets and costumed locals everywhere, make Santa Cruz de Tenerife one of the most joyous destinations for the winter. Let the rhythms never stop!
4 Düsseldorf Carnival: fun to the cry of Helau!
In Germany, people take the Düsseldorf Carnival very seriously. So much so, that the year’s most lively celebration begins on 11 November. There’s a reason why it’s known as “the fifth season of the year”. That day marks the well-known Awakening of Hoppeditz, a one-of-a-kind joker who offers a satirical speech in front of City Hall. From then on, the celebrations never stop, but it is during the days before Ash Wednesday that Düsseldorf is transformed and fun and high spirits become the leitmotiv of daily life. For instance, on Fat Thursday, women raid City Hall and kidnap the mayor, who gives them the keys to the city. On Rosenmontag – Carnival Monday – a popular parade of more than 70 floats covered with political messages passes through the city, tossing candy to the public to the cry of the carnival greeting, Helau!
5 The Venice Carnival: a trip to the 17th century
There are no floats, no high spirits, no songs with satirical words, no funny costumes here. At the Venice Carnival, the oldest in the world (it was held for the first time in the 11th century) the big party is a bit different to the rest of Europe: it travels to the 17th century. During the ten days of the carnival, locals go out for a stroll dressed in beautiful period costume and wear Venetian masks in order to hide their identities. This detail originally meant that members of the aristocracy – and even royalty from the most diverse places in the world – could participate in the party without being recognised. Today, many Venetians take part in parades – whether organised or spontaneous – throughout the city of canals, and go to private parties. It’s a different, interesting and unique carnival.