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Top 17 Carnivals in Europe

Carnival of Venice, Italy

The Carnival of Venice, known for its intricate masks and elaborate costumes, is an iconic annual festival. It marks the end of the carnival season on Shrove Tuesday. The carnival, with roots stretching back to the Middle Ages, was revived in 1979 after a long period of absence. Today, it attracts around 3 million visitors each year. The festival is famous for its contest for 'la maschera più bella' (the most beautiful mask), judged by international designers. The tradition of mask-wearing, which dates back to the 13th century, is central to the carnival, symbolizing the freedom to be someone else for a few days.

During the Carnival of Venice, the city transforms into a hub of mystery and romance, with people wearing masks and costumes that range from the traditional bauta to the more modern creations. The masks, traditionally made from materials like leather, porcelain, or using glass technique, play a crucial role in the festivities. The carnival is a living testament to Venice's rich history and culture, offering a glimpse into a world of hidden identities and grand celebrations. It's not just a festival, but a cultural phenomenon that brings the city's past to life, captivating visitors and locals alike with its timeless allure.

Carnival of Cologne, Germany

The Carnival of Cologne, Germany, is a vibrant and historic celebration, known as one of the largest street festivals in Europe. Officially starting on the 11th of November, the festivities resume with full vigor after 6th January, leading up to the "crazy days" from Fat Thursday to Ash Wednesday. The highlight of the carnival is Rose Monday, with massive parades featuring the Dreigestirn - the Maiden, the Prince, and the Peasant. These figures embody the carnival's spirit, with the Prince as the highest representative. This period sees Cologne come alive with masquerades, street parties, and a plethora of cultural events, drawing visitors from all over the world.

The Cologne Carnival is not just about parades; it's a time for the city's residents to engage in traditional customs, such as the women's ritual of cutting men's ties on Fat Thursday and the ceremonial burning of the Nubbel straw doll on Ash Wednesday. The carnival's atmosphere is marked by the traditional cry of 'Kölle Alaaf!', representing the joy and pride of Cologne. This event is a significant part of Cologne's cultural heritage, showcasing a blend of historic customs and modern festivity, making it a must-visit destination for carnival enthusiasts.

Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain

Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain

Las Fallas, celebrated in Valencia, Spain, is a vibrant festival known for its unique blend of tradition, satire, and art. Recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the festival is famous for its large-scale sculptures called "fallas" made of wood and papier-mâché. These magnificent creations, which are displayed throughout Valencia's streets and squares, eventually meet their fiery end in an act known as the "cremà". Las Fallas commences with the Crida and is punctuated daily by the Mascletà, a powerful and rhythmic fireworks display. The main events span from March 15th to 19th, concluding with the cremà of the fallas monuments.

Key highlights of Las Fallas include the Flower Offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados, where thousands participate in traditional Valencian costumes, and the spectacular Nit del Foc. The festival's artistic essence is further captured in the Ninot Exhibition, where individual sculptures are displayed and one is chosen to be spared from the flames. With over 800 fallas, both large and for children, Las Fallas is a true testament to Valencian culture, drawing visitors from around the world to experience its unique blend of humor, art, and pyrotechnics.

Nice Carnival, France

Nice Carnival, France

The Nice Carnival, one of the world's most famous carnivals, is an essential winter event on the French Riviera. Celebrated since 1294, it showcases an array of vibrant "Corsi" parades, both day and night, and elegant "Flower Parades." The carnival brings Nice to life with a series of events featuring thematic floats, musical groups, and street performers from around the globe. Each year, the carnival chooses a different theme for its floats and figurines, made from traditional papier-mâché, adding to the city's festive atmosphere. The flower battles, a signature event, see floats decorated with fresh blooms like mimosa, lilies, and roses, which are playfully tossed to the spectators.

The carnival's history is rich, with origins dating back to a time when it served as entertainment for the bourgeoisie wintering on the French Riviera. Today, it continues to draw over a million visitors annually. Key events include the Flower Battle and illuminated carnival parades, where the old King is burned, and the theme for the next year's carnival is revealed. The Nice Carnival stands out for its combination of tradition, satire, and art, making it a must-see winter spectacle on the Côte d'Azur.

Viareggio Carnival, Italy

Viareggio Carnival, Italy

The Viareggio Carnival, a prominent celebration held annually in Viareggio, Italy, is renowned for its grandiose paper-pulp floats and masks, making it a significant event in Italy and Europe. These allegorical floats, some towering as high as 70 feet and weighing about 40 tons, showcase caricatures of public figures and are a defining feature of the carnival. The event, deeply embedded in Viareggio's culture, attracts over 500,000 spectators yearly. Viareggio's seafront avenue, La Passeggiata, comes alive during the carnival with giant float parades, creating a spectacular sight along its 2-kilometer route.

Originating in 1873 as a protest against high taxes, the carnival has evolved into a vibrant display of satire and artistic expression. Its mascot, Burlamacco, created in 1931, symbolizes the spirit of the carnival. The celebration spans over a month, including weekend night festivities in various city quarters and culminating in a grand finale where winners of the float competition are declared. The carnival's significant impact is highlighted by its Citadel, a dedicated center for float construction and a museum preserving its rich history.

Lemon Festival, Menton, France

Lemon Festival, Menton, France

The Lemon Festival in Menton, France, known as Fête du Citron, is a unique celebration that takes place every February, attracting over 250,000 visitors. Celebrated since 1934, this vibrant festival honors the city's rich history as Europe's lemon capital. The highlight of the event is the extraordinary sculptures and parade floats crafted entirely from lemons and oranges. Each year, the festival adopts a new theme, transforming the city into a citrus wonderland with its massive, colorful fruit structures, some reaching up to 10 meters in height and requiring 15 tons of fruit.

Originating from a humble tradition where carpenters burned old furniture to celebrate the arrival of spring, the festival has evolved into a grand showcase of creativity and community spirit. It features parades, marching bands, costumed entertainers, and the breathtaking citrus sculptures in the Biovès Gardens. Post-festival, the fruits are sold at low prices, making this event not only a cultural spectacle but also a sustainable practice. The Lemon Festival, blending artistry with the charm of the French Riviera, is a testament to Menton's unique heritage and inventive spirit.

Sitges Carnival, Spain

Ort der VeranstaltungSitges

Sitges Carnival, held in the picturesque seaside town of Sitges, Spain, is renowned as one of the grandest and most vibrant carnivals in Europe. Taking place annually in February, the carnival begins with the arrival of the King of Carnival and concludes on Ash Wednesday. Sitges, located near Barcelona, transforms into a non-stop fiesta, celebrating with elaborate parades, lively music, and colorful costumes. The event is particularly popular with the gay community, reflecting Sitges' reputation as a gay capital in Europe. The carnival is known for its inclusivity and diversity, welcoming participants and spectators from all walks of life to join in the exuberant celebrations.

The highlight of Sitges Carnival includes the Debauchery Parade and the Extermination Parade, both featuring thousands of participants and elaborate floats. The event is also marked by unique activities like the Bed Race and various cultural events, making it a truly immersive experience. Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is the peak of the celebration, drawing large crowds to witness the spectacle. Sitges Carnival is not only a display of extravagant parades but also a testament to the town's rich cultural heritage and open-minded spirit, offering a unique carnival experience in Europe.

Basel Fasnacht, Switzerland

Basel Fasnacht, Switzerland

The Basel Fasnacht, known as the biggest carnival in Switzerland, is celebrated annually in Basel between February and March. This unique event, part of UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage since 2017, starts on the Monday after Ash Wednesday at 4:00 am with the Morgestraich and concludes 72 hours later. During these three days, participants, known as Fasnächtler, take over the old town of Basel, showcasing their elaborate costumes and masks. A significant aspect of Basel Fasnacht is the clear distinction between participants and spectators, offering a unique experience compared to other Rhine carnivals.

The carnival is famed for its vibrant parades, particularly the Cortège on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, following two defined ring routes. Participants, often in thematic costumes, engage in the tradition of tossing confetti and sweets to spectators. The Fasnächtler also distribute satirical flyers called Zeedel, adding a humorous commentary on current events. Basel's approach to confetti, a significant aspect of the carnival, is unique with its single-color policy and the historical transition from sweets to paper confetti. Additionally, various musical groups, including the Cliques with piccolos and basler drums, and Guggenmusik bands, provide a lively soundtrack to the festivities.

Binche Carnival, Belgium

Ort der VeranstaltungBinche

The Binche Carnival in Belgium, recognized as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, is a vibrant annual festival held in Binche during the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. Dating back to the 14th century, it is one of Wallonia's most famous carnivals, featuring the unique tradition of Gilles. These performers, clad in elaborate costumes of red, black, and yellow, are known for throwing oranges at the crowd, symbolizing good luck and fortune. The Gilles, characterised by their wax masks and wooden footwear, play a central role in the carnival's festivities, especially on Shrove Tuesday.

The carnival begins weeks in advance with street performances and public displays, culminating in a grand parade led by the Gilles on Mardi Gras. They wear large hats adorned with ostrich feathers and march through the town, engaging in a lively orange-throwing event. The town of Binche transforms into a hub of celebration, with the carnival's activities involving the entire community in the production of costumes, musical rehearsals, and themed balls. The Binche Carnival is not just a festival but a cultural heritage, cherished for its spontaneity, traditional costumes, accessories, dances, and music, reflecting the town's pride and commitment to preserving this historic event.

Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, is renowned as Europe's most important carnival and the world's second most significant, second only to Rio de Janeiro. This vibrant celebration transforms the streets of Santa Cruz into a spectacular display of rhythm, color, and flamboyance. One of the festival's main highlights is the Gala to elect the Carnival Queen, where candidates parade in extravagant costumes, some weighing over a hundred kilos. The Carnival reaches its climax on Carnival Tuesday with the "el Coso" parade, a breathtaking display of joy and creativity. The festivities conclude with the Burial of the Sardine, symbolizing the end of the carnival spirit, followed by the 'Piñata Chica' weekend celebration.

Known for its “Brazilian” style, the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival is famous for its popular flavor and unrestricted merrymaking. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, with record-breaking numbers participating in the festivities. The carnival is a blend of official events and open street celebrations, where the streets are awash with more than 5,000 performers in a kaleidoscope of light, sound, and color. The event is a cultural spectacle, showcasing the creativity and passion of the local community, and a testament to Tenerife's rich carnival tradition.

Carnifest, Malta

Carnifest in Malta is a vibrant and colorful celebration, marking one of the most eagerly awaited events of the year. Taking place annually in mid-February to early March, the festival is primarily celebrated in Valletta, the Maltese capital, and Nadur on Gozo Island. This event is renowned for its spectacular parades featuring brightly-colored floats and participants dressed in a myriad of imaginative costumes, creating a lively and festive atmosphere. The streets and squares of Valletta become the epicenter of this exuberant celebration, overflowing with parades, music, and party-goers, while Paceville, known as Malta’s nightlife hub, pulsates with late-night revelers in outlandish outfits.

In contrast to the jubilant celebrations in Valletta, the Carnifest in Nadur offers a more macabre version, known for its unique and somewhat dark take on the carnival spirit. This aspect of the festival showcases Malta's diverse cultural heritage and the ability to celebrate in various tones and themes. The Carnifest is not only a significant cultural event but also a manifestation of Malta's rich history and communal spirit, bringing together locals and tourists alike in a grand celebration of life, color, and creativity.

Carnival Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain

The Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, celebrated annually in February, is one of Spain's most famous and vibrant festivals, recognized as a Fiesta of International Tourist Interest. Dating back to the 15th century, this carnival is deeply rooted in the history of the Canary Islands. It features unique events like the Gala of the Queen and the Gala of the Drag Queen. The main Parade or Cavalcade, viewed by over 200,000 people, traverses a six-kilometer route through the city, showcasing an extravagant display of costumes and cultural exuberance.

The Gala of the Drag Queen, a highlight of the carnival, includes a contest and performances by drag queens, alongside other musical and dance acts. This event, first introduced in 1998, has become one of the most popular aspects of the festivities, emphasizing artistic talent and musical interpretation. Additionally, the carnival's atmosphere is charged with joy, music, and color, with streets filled with costume parades, troupes, and floats, making it a significant cultural event that attracts visitors from around the world.

Cádiz Carnival, Spain

The Cádiz Carnival, famous for its humor and satire, is one of Spain's most renowned carnivals. It is characterized by sharp wit, playful wordplay, and cutting sarcasm, often focusing on current social and political issues. Spanning over two weeks, the entire city of Cádiz immerses itself in this vibrant celebration. Unique to Cádiz, the costumes are noted for their cleverness and imagination, with face-painting often substituting for masks. The highlight of the carnival is the chirigotas, groups known for their satirical performances that blend music and lyrics to the center stage of the festivities. This carnival is not just a festive event but also a sociological phenomenon, reflecting the city's history and the influence of Italian culture since the 16th century.

Throughout the carnival, various events like the Falla Theatre competition and open-air gastronomic events showcase humorous songs and local delicacies. The Grand Finale and the colorful parades are major attractions, drawing thousands of participants and spectators. The carnival's history traces back to the 16th century, with Italian influences such as masks, serpentines, and confetti enriching its celebration. The Cádiz Carnival stands out for its unique blend of entertainment, social commentary, and historical significance, making it a must-experience event for those seeking the essence of Spanish carnival culture.

Ivrea Historic Carnival – Battle of the Oranges, Italy

Ort der VeranstaltungIvrea

The Ivrea Historic Carnival, celebrated in the Northern Italian city of Ivrea, is famous for its unique and vibrant "Battle of the Oranges". This largest food fight in Italy symbolizes the rebellion against tyranny and dates back to the Middle Ages. The festival's centerpiece, the Battle of the Oranges, involves thousands of participants divided into teams, engaging in a vigorous orange-throwing fight. This tradition commemorates the city's defiance against a tyrant, represented by organized groups on carts, while the orange-throwers on foot symbolize the revolutionaries. The event, which has roots in the 12th and 13th centuries, is a blend of history, tradition, and spirited community participation.

The carnival includes various rituals, such as the selection of a young girl to play Violetta, a symbol of defiance, and the representation of the miller's daughter who opposed the tyrant. Over the years, the carnival has undergone modifications, including the addition of French army representations and different interpretations of the orange symbolism. Marked by historical significance and community spirit, the Ivrea Carnival is a unique and culturally rich celebration, attracting visitors worldwide to partake in its lively and historic festivities.

Notting Hill Carnival, London, UK

The Notting Hill Carnival, celebrated annually in London over the August Bank Holiday weekend, is a vibrant expression of Caribbean culture and one of the world's largest street festivals. Initiated in 1959 by Trinidadian journalist and activist Claudia Jones, the carnival was a response to racial tensions and has grown into a spectacular event attracting around two million attendees each year. Characterized by colorful parades, steel band music, and elaborate costumes, the carnival represents a significant aspect of British African Caribbean and British Indo-Caribbean culture, having been voted as an icon of England in 2006. The event's highlights include the Panorama steel band competition, J'ouvert morning celebrations, and the grand finale parade on Monday.

The Notting Hill Carnival has evolved over the years to include a variety of cultural expressions, from traditional Caribbean music and dance to performances by modern sound systems. Despite challenges and controversies, including riots in the 1970s and debates over its route and management, the carnival remains a beloved and iconic event in London's cultural calendar. The festival's impact extends beyond entertainment, contributing significantly to the local economy and cultural diversity of the UK.

Kurentovanje of Ptuj, Slovenia

Kurentovanje, Slovenia’s most renowned carnival event, is celebrated with gusto in Ptuj, the nation’s oldest city. This vibrant 11-day spring and fertility festival, dating back to 1960, has been recognized by Lonely Planet as the 7th largest carnival in the world. The festival's central figure, Kurent or Korent, is adorned in traditional sheepskin attire, wielding wooden clubs with hedgehog skins, known as ježevke. This iconic figure symbolizes the expulsion of winter and the welcoming of spring. Initially, being a Kurent was a privilege limited to unmarried men, but now the role has expanded to include married men, children, and women.

Organized by Drago Hasl and his team, Kurentovanje's inception aimed at preserving the rapidly vanishing carnival traditions of the region. The event has since evolved into a significant ethnographic festival, featuring traditional costumes and contemporary elements. UNESCO recognized the Door-to-door rounds of Kurents in 2017 as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, highlighting the event's cultural significance. Kurentovanje’s kaleidoscope of parades, performances, and festivities attract over 100,000 participants annually, making it a pivotal moment in Slovenia's cultural calendar.

Rumšiškės Carnival, Lithuania

Ort der VeranstaltungRumšiškės

The Rumšiškės Carnival in Lithuania is a unique celebration that marks the end of winter with traditional festivities. Held in the town of Rumšiškės, this carnival is known for its vibrant display of folk traditions, including the symbolic burning of the winter witch. This act signifies the banishment of winter and the welcoming of spring. Participants, dressed in colorful and often frightening masks carved from wood, parade through the streets, creating a lively and noisy atmosphere aimed at scaring away the cold winter. The event also features a feast where pancakes, symbolizing the coming spring, are the main dish, honoring Morė, the deity of fruitfulness and fertility.

Over the years, Rumšiškės Carnival has become a prominent cultural event, showcasing Lithuania's rich folk heritage. It's a time of joy and community spirit, where locals and visitors alike engage in traditional dances, songs, and a variety of folk performances. The carnival is not only a feast for the senses but also a significant cultural expression of the Lithuanian people's connection to their land and seasons. The event is a testament to the preservation of traditional customs and offers a glimpse into the historical celebrations of the region.