You’ve probably already enjoyed the delights of the Notting Hill Carnival and the sights and sounds of the Ryde Carnival on the Isle of Wight, which are the two biggest in the UK, but which European carnivals offer that unique experience that showcases a city in a way no other event does. A carnival is a celebration of a culture, a place and its people. Carnivals are happy occasions that are inclusive and welcoming. They’re an opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture through street parties and by watching parades. They’re colourful and exciting and imaginative events that bring people together. Thankfully, no two are alike.
The Carnival of Venice is one of the oldest existing carnivals. According to legend, it commemorates the city’s victory over Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162. Things have moved on a long since the 12th century, although wearing masks has always been a tradition and a central component of the celebration. Donning porcelain masks was originally a sign of revolt against the ruling classes. Today, it’s just part of the fun of the carnival.
The carnival in Cologne begins each February with the Women’s Carnival Day. On that day, the women of the city dress up during the day and party in the masked ball in the evening. That covers the Friday of the carnival weekend. There’s a lot more on the Saturday and Sunday but the event really peaks on Monday. The Rose Monday parade, which is also referred to as Shrove Monday, features a collection of elaborate floats to rival anything found in Notting Hill. If you’re watching from the sides, be ready to catch as chocolate boxes and other sweats are often thrown from the floats into the crowd.
This carnival has UNESCO’s seal of approval. In 2003, this United Nations organisation call it, “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” Belgium is host to several carnivals but none are as impressive as this one. You can expect to find performers showcasing a wide variety of unusual skills throughout the event. As with some of the other European carnivals, there’s so much history here but no one can be sure of the event’s origins. Some believe it began in the 14th century with a person descended from the Incans who wore an exotic costume. That sort of vague history may well be true.
In March each year, six parades featuring 17 floats and thousands of dancers and musicians continue the Nice Carnival in the same vibrant party spirit it’s been known for since the 13th century. No one can be sure when the first event took place but records going back to 1294 make mention of the event. Don’t miss the flower battles (Bataille de Fleurs) where you’ll see flower-covered floats in the streets. If you find yourself there, be ready to catch one of the bouquets that are thrown into the crowd.
This is Switzerland’s largest festival so why not add to the numbers but attending in February? Masked men and women march through the streets to the sound of carnival music but in an unusually ordered manner. As with all of the carnivals discussed here, Fasnacht in Basel reflects the society and culture of the place so you get Swiss precision but that doesn’t take any of the fun out of the event for British tourists looking to experience the best European carnivals.
To Consider Before Your Purchase
Most carnivals are spread over three or four days so you won’t have to make this trip your main summer holiday.
- Plan your trip well. Not just the flights and accommodation but the carnival itself and what you’ll want to experience.
- To get the best party atmosphere go with a large group of friends.
What Do They Say on Other Sites
“I'd highly recommend going to this Carnival. There is a real buzz about the city.” (William M reviewing the Cologne Carnival on Tripadvisor)
“One of the most exotic, fancy festivals in the world.” (IsabelTPE reviewing Venice Carnival on Tripadvisor)
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