In many places around the world, the carnival is the most colourful and crazy time of the year, so join the happy crowd in the best carnivals in Europe in 2019!
What is Carnival about?
Carnival is a rite of passage of pagan origins, linked to ancient Roman Saturnalia, Bacchanalia, and Lupercalia. It marked the end of winter as the period of darkness and the return of the summer as the period of light. In the Middle Ages it was assimilated by the Christianity and it has become the short period of festivity before the 40 days’ fastening in the Lent, preceding the Easter. Its name means, from Latin Carne Levare, “taking away the meat” – as during the Lent is was not permitted to eat it.
It usually lasts three days, however, in some countries it may be much longer – and it finishes on Ash Wednesday.
The carnival is celebrated throughout Europe and the world, but only in some places it becomes a huge, unmissable event. The idea is to reverse the rules of the everyday life, and enjoy the excesses of food and drink and party. It usually involves parades and street celebrations and dancing, and includes elements of a masquerade and even circus-like fun.
Let’s see where you will find the best carnivals in Europe in 2019!
1. Carnival of Venice, Italy – the most classy
The Venice Carnival is a class of its own. No other carnival on Earth can compete with its stylishness, elegance and extreme richness of its masks and costumes. Groups of Renaissance aristocrats, queens, kings, harlequins and sea creatures set against the subtle background of Venice create a dream-like show of mystery and magic.
Dates: It lasts longer then other Carnivals, this year from 16th February to 5th March. Check all the details and special events here.
2. Carnival of Tenerife, Spain – the Caribbean atmosphere
Who doesn’t dream of the Caribbean atmosphere after a long winter? You can have it, here in Europe, in the Canary Islands! Santa Cruz de Tenerife is one of the most popular world’s carnivals after Rio de Janeiro! That’s because it offers similarly crazy atmosphere with Latin music, samba and rumba dancers and extremely elaborate costumes, some of which might weigh even 100 kg. It lasts a week, during which Mogollones – public celebrations takes over the streets of the city. The main events are the election of the Carnival Queen and the delirious parade ending the celebrations on the last day (before Ash Wednesday).
Dates: 23 February 2019 – 9 March 2019
3. Carnival of Binche, Belgium – the eerie crowd of identical faces
The Carnival of Binche has a well established pedigree – it dates back to the 14th century and it’s so unique, it has been awarded the title of a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Its events start already 7 weeks before the main carnival celebrations. Its uniqueness consist in the procession of 1,000 men wearing identical masks and costumes, so-called Gilles, who throw oranges and apples to the crowd. Gilles’ task is to scare off evil spirits with their sticks, and they do it by traditional dances to the rhythm of drums. It’s a great honour to become one of the Gilles, and the inhabitants of Binche treat their “job” seriously.
Dates: 3 March 2019 – 5 March 2019
4. Bohemian Carnival of Prague, Czech Republic – giant puppets & acrobats
Czech Republic has a long history of characteristic carnival celebrations, and the romantic setting of Prague makes them even better! The Czech version of the carnival is Masopust, starting after Epiphany and lasting to Ash Wednesday. In Prague the celebrations are joyful and accompanied by pleasant traditional Czech music, and have all what the carnival should have: masquerades, colourful parades, clowns, street performers, dancers, and the final fireworks! There are food and drinks on the fairs in the beautiful Old Town of Prague. And in the discos around, there are lots of crazy parties – obligatorily in dresses and make-up as sparkly as possible!
Read more about nightlife and best pubs and clubs in Prague here.
Dates: 2 March 2019 – 6 March 2019
5. Carnival of Maastricht, the Netherlands – the magic number 11
In southern Netherlands and western Germany, the Carnival season doesn’t start in February or March like anywhere else in the world. The carnival opening celebration is on… 11th of November at 11:11 am. That’s because in Dutch the number eleven is elf – sounding the same as the magical creature. But no worries, it all comes back in February/March in the main carnival time!
One of the greatest things about Dutch carnivals is that everybody participates in them: from newborns brought in strollers in the crazy procession by their parents dressed-up as dinosaurs, to 100-year old seniors, who decorate their walking sticks and put on an extravagant ostrich-plume hats and sparkling mantle. There are always loud brass bands and a loooooot of beer. See great photos and read more on the Carnival of Maastricht here.
Dates: 3 March 2019 – 5 March 2019
6. Carnival of Cologne, Germany – ocean of beer & total craziness
Carnival traditions of Western Germany have a lot in common with the Dutch ones – in particular, they are connected to number 11… My first encounter with the German carnival took me by surprise: I was with my best friend in Cologne on the anonymous 11th November. We went out for a beer, totally unaware of the local meaning of the date… and it was one of the best parties of my life, definitely. What we loved was that the streets and pubs were full of people at every age – we partied together with people in their 20s, 30s and 60s, it really didn’t matter, and everybody was buying multiple beers and giving them away to strangers – that was really cool! Since then, I’ve been to the German carnival twice and it’s always a lot of unpretentious fun :)
The main day of the German carnival is Rosenmontag (Rose Monday), with the grande parade and funny costumes. 300,000 bunches of flowers are being thrown out to the spectactators, and sweets are given away, too. Germans take their carnival seriously: there are 180 Carnival societies organizing 600 public events, balls and processions in Cologne Carnival.
Dates: 28 February 2019 to 6 March 2019
7. Carnival of Rijeka, Croatia – animal costumes & bells
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Zvončari "the bellmen" is the characteristic folk custom from Rijeka and Kvarner area in Croatia. The custom dates to pagan antiquity and they are meant to scare away evil spirits of winter and call for spring. You can still see the traditional marching and noise making during the Rijeka Carnival in February. The standard Zvončar costume includes white trousers, striped shirt, and a sheepskin throw. These one are the Halubje bellmen wear special stylized masks representing fantastic animal heads. This traditional is protected by UNESCO. . . . . . . . . . #culturegram #instaculture #folklore #folkcostume #instamuseum #traditional #balkan #balkanmusic #balkans #balkantrip #balkanfun #balaknboy #balkanparty #balkanstyle
#croatia #hrvataka #zvončari #bellmen #carnival #rijekacarnival #rijeckikarneval #croatiafuloflife #Grobnik #rijeka #kvarner #cosplay Source: tz-Viškovo
Croatians know how to party! The pretty seaside town of Rijeka celebrates the carnival in its very own style. The main part of the festivities includes the folk custom called Zvončari – men dressed up like animals, ringing loud bells to scare off bad spirits. 10,000 people participate in the colourful final parade, and there are 10 times more spectators, so it’s really a huge party, with vibrant music and plenty of spectacles.
Dates: 17 January 2019 – 6 March 2019
Cover photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images