For many European and Latin countries, Carnival is one of the biggest occasions of the year. This festival, taking place the week before Lent, is a Christian festival that has evolved into something more — mainly an excuse to party!
Huge parades, public celebrations, entertainment and spectacles… And of course, the costumes. Depending on where you go, you might find people wearing the more traditional masks, or it could be anything goes. In Spain, for example, Carnival has become the local answer to Halloween.
Carnival is sure to be a whole lot of fun wherever you celebrate it. If you’re visiting from outside Europe, make sure you have any necessary visa — more information here about Schengen visas.
Here are the top 5 European destinations to celebrate Carnival.
Regularly named as one of the best Carnival celebrations on Earth, Venice never fails to disappoint. The 10-day festival sees the city’s streets and famous canals filled with masks, costumes, and festivities.
Venice is a uniquely beautiful city at the best of times, but Carnival really does take it to another level.
All around the city, there are street shows, parties, competitions, and luxurious masquerade balls. One of the things that stands out most about Venice’s Carnival is the way it sticks to tradition. Many of the masks and costumes you’ll see are in the classic 18th century masquerade style.
It is little wonder that the event attracts millions of people to Venice every year.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
The Canary Islands are always a great place for a holiday — especially in February, when the warm temperatures make a welcome getaway from the winter weather. The other big bonus is that Tenerife’s capital city plays host to one of the world’s biggest Carnival celebrations.
Santa Cruz goes big on spectacle. The parades and costumes are huge and flamboyant; the streets filled with color and music.
You can expect to see free concerts, including performances by hundred of groups playing traditional music, as well as dancing, fireworks, and, of course, street parties.
This lively Latin party — said to be the most popular in the world outside of Brazil — goes on for around 2 weeks.
It’s a good idea to be aware of Tenerife’s rules for tourists when booking your trip.
Taking place in the 2 weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, Nice’s Carnival celebration is generally regarded as the biggest and best that France has to offer. It is also thought to be the oldest in the world, with records of the event going all the way back to the 13th century.
Thousands of dancers, musicians, and costumed revelers take part in the epic parades around the streets of Nice.
Among the most popular is the Flower Parade, in which tens of thousands of flowers are thrown into the crowds. In some of the parades, you can also expect to see floats satirizing recent politics.
The final day sees the Grande Parade, after which you can enjoy an evening of fireworks and bonfires, as well as wild street parties.
One of the oldest Carnivals in Europe, locals refer to Cologne’s celebrations as “the 5th season of the year”. Unusually, it officially starts on 11 November (at 11:11), but the main Carnival events occur during the 7 days leading up to Ash Wednesday, as in most parts of the world. This week is referred to as “the crazy days”…
And crazy, they certainly are! Pubs and bars have no set closing time, with many open round the clock. On top of that, there are parties in the streets and squares as well as the pubs, meaning that the beer just never stops flowing.
The Carnival comes to a head on the Monday (known as “Rose Monday”), when the main parade takes place. The 3 traditional Carnival figures are chosen: a virgin, a farmer, and a prince. These 3 are marched through the streets in a procession, celebrated by the thousands of attendees.
Costumes are wild and extravagant in Cologne, ranging from face paint to traditional dress to get-ups that look more like what you’d expect at a Comic-Con than a Carnival. But that’s all part of the fun!
The town of Sitges, just outside of Barcelona in the Catalonia region, plays host to one of Europe’s most electric Carnival celebrations.
The streets come alive with a vibrant party atmosphere as music pounds from every speaker and the parade floats show off some truly wild costumes.
Sitges is famous for being one of the most inclusive and tolerant places in Europe and a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, so it’s no surprise that they are front and center in the annual Carnival celebrations. There is even a Pride Parade a few days before the official Carnival parade.
The Sitges Carnival is a unique experience that is widely held to be one of the most fun celebrations in Spain.