9 Ways To Celebrate Carnival In Europe
Carnival fever takes hold of the globe around February and March. But if the vibrant colours and glittering sequins of Rio de Janeiro feel a bit too far away, there are lots of alternative ways to celebrate – thanks to a selection of lively carnivals scattered across Europe. Each of these pre-Lent events puts its own unique spin on the festivities, from masked balls to food fights. It’s time to discover your new favourite festival.
Bianca Ohannessian is a travel and fashion writer and social media specialist. When she’s not writing for various websites and for her own travel blog, Rockskippers, she’s out exploring the globe.
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Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnaval, Spain (19 Feb – 5 Mar)
Around half a million people flock to the sandy shores of Tenerife in February, not just to enjoy the winter sunshine, but to attend this colourful extravaganza. Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnaval kicks off with the presentation of the Carnival Queen contestants and the festivities don’t stop until a winner is crowned over a month later.
This includes everything from dancing in the streets, parades featuring elaborate costumes, fizzing fireworks displays and live music. It all leads up to the grand finale, a 24-hour closing party which includes the ceremonial burial of a giant papier-mâché sardine.
Venice Carnival, Italy (11 – 28 Feb)
Venice Carnival is one of the oldest and most elegant of its kind. The celebrations mostly take place at private parties and ticketed events. Lavish feasts and extravagant masked balls are held in the grand historic palazzos that are dotted about the floating city, such as the famous Valentine’s Grand Mascarade Ball.
If your invite got lost in the post, or you’d prefer to be more economical with your Euros, you can still catch a glimpse of the locals dressed in their finery. People in traditional costumes and decorative masks can be found milling about the city or gathering around the grand buildings of Piazza San Marco.
Cologne Carnival, Germany (23 Feb – 1 Mar)
This upbeat German festival officially starts at 11.11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month. However, the main Cologne Carnival celebrations all take place during the six days leading up to Shrove Tuesday. Local and global politicians are captured in caricature on giant papier-mâché floats.
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Playful parades, fancy dress and other activities are spread out through the week, with the main parade on Monday. Some days have a specific theme too, such as Women’s Day on the Thursday. If you’re in the mood for some sight-seeing afterwards, there are lots of attractions to see in Cologne, including palaces and nearby forests.
Carnaval de Nice, France (11 – 26 Feb)
This year’s Carnaval de Nice theme is ‘King of Energy’. You’ll certainly need lots of the stuff to keep up with the celebrations here. One of Europe’s largest carnivals, the two-week programme includes several parades with more than 1,000 performers taking part. A series of decorated floats make their way to the Place Masséna where the main celebrations are rounded off with live music and dancing.
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Don’t miss the flower battles, when flowers are thrown to the crowds from floats adorned with beautiful blooms. The Bataille de Fleurs first took place in 1876, along the beachside promenade. You’ll also be perfectly places to explore Cannes and other beautiful spots along the French Riviera, such as the ski resorts in the Maritime Alps.
Binche Carnival, Belgium (26 – 28 Feb)
Carnival characters in traditional costumes take to the streets of Belgium each year for Binche Carnival. The event draws on a heritage of oral tradition, bringing history to life in the picturesque city. Groups, known as Gilles, dress in red and yellow detailed uniforms with ruffled lace collars and matching moustached masks play an important role in the event.
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On Shrove Tuesday, the Gilles march in a procession from Battignies to the Grand-Place accompanied by the beat of drums and other societies in different costumes. This ceremony turns into a big street party as the night goes on, with fireworks illuminating the sky.
Historical Carnival of Ivrea, Italy (26 Feb)
This Italian festival is laden with traditions and unique local customs. The Historical Carnival of Ivrea takes place in a small town in the northwest of the Piedmont region of Italy. Each part of the day is meticulously mapped out with intriguing rituals. From bean tasting in the morning to the procession in the afternoon, accompanied by flag-throwing and set to a soundtrack of pipes and drums. The main attraction, however, is the lively orange fight between teams.
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Two routes take in the several of the main squares, so you’ll be sure to catch a piece of the orange-throwing action. A 14th century castle and picturesque river that sweeps through the town also make Ivrea a beautiful place to explore after the carnival excitement has quietened down.
Cadiz Carnival, Spain (23 Feb – 15 Mar)
Mainland Spain’s largest carnival brings together lots of different groups of revellers during its three weeks of celebrations. This historic seaside city on the Andalusian coast comes alive with musical and comic performances and culminates with a contest, the Gran Teatro Falla.
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Choirs, quartets and other singers set the musical tone for Cadiz Carnival. People wearing imaginative costumes are out in force. They’re joined by groups of satirical performers called Chirigotas and roaming entertainers known as Romanceros. The charming city of Seville and Gibraltar, with its dramatic rock, are both easy to get to by car if you feel like exploring the area a little more.
Viareggio Carnival, Italy (5 – 28 Feb)
This coastal town in Tuscany attracts around one million visitors to the Viareggio Carnival. Dating back to 1873, when carriages were decorated and driven through the streets, Viareggio now celebrates the occasion with magnificent 20-metre high papier-mâché floats. They come in the form of anything from celebrities to imaginative creatures.
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Although the Shrove Tuesday parade is the climax of the event, there are plenty of other activities planned throughout the whole month, including masked balls. And if that’s not enough to keep you entertained, there’s also a beach that stretches along the the town as well as the stunning Cinque Terre just an hour’s drive up the coast.
Sitges Carnival, Spain (23 Feb – 1 Mar)
Another of the long-established European carnivals is the one that shimmies through the streets of Sitges each year. A week of celebrations encompasses extravagant parades and raucous street parties in this beach resort, with fabulous costumes in every direction.
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Other ceremonies include events hosted by the elected Queen of Sitges Carnival. When the all-night parties finally come to a close, Barcelona is just an hour away. Head northwards to see all the sights and cultural attractions of the Catalonian city. Or discover the Dali Triangle with a drive through the beautiful surrounding countryside.