10 Places to celebrate Carnival in Europe

Cities all over Europe have perfected their own unique way to celebrate carnival. We take a look at some of the biggest, best and most unique carnival celebrations in Europe.

Carnival is an over the top celebration that is usually filled with parades, parties and tradition. Every culture has perfected their own unique way of throwing this unforgettable party. Europe is home to some of the best and most unique carnival celebrations and attending at lease one, once in your life should be a top priority.

To help you decide which carnival you should attend here is a list of ten places in Europe that host carnival celebrations you just can’t miss!

Venice Carnival, Italy

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What is carnival in Venice?

Venice Carnival is one of the most famous carnival celebrations in the entire world. Venice Carnival dates back centuries and is famous for its venetian carnival masks. Millions come from all over the world to marvel at the beautiful period costumes and masks that look majestic against the beautiful backdrop of Venice. 

Venice Carnival is also famous for throwing extravagant, luxurious and glamorous private masquerade balls and parties in grand Venetian Palaces. St Marks Square is the epicentre for all the Venice Carnival action, and sees parades, costume competitions, acrobatic shows, theatre performances, live music and more. Shrove Tuesday is the main day of celebrations.

Wearing masks is an ancient carnival tradition that allows people to hide their social class and anonymously get up to some debauchery. It means that a housewife could indulge in some hanky panky or a noble man could mix with the common people. The Venetian Carnival masks are famous all around the world and are usually white with some intricate design on the edges.

Nice Carnival, France

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What is carnival in Nice?

Many speculate that Nice Carnival may be the oldest carnival celebration in the world. There are documented records of it dating as far back as the 13th century. Nice Carnival runs for two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday and attracts a million people.

Nice Carnival hosts several street parades, but the one that it is most famous for is the Flower Parade. The Flower Parade sees participants riding impressive decorated floral floats and throwing flowers to the audience. It is estimated that around 100,000 flowers are thrown during this parade. Another popular parade is the Night Time Parade.

The celebrations end with the Grande Parade followed by an impressive firework show and bonfire. There are numerous street parties that occur during carnival and it is a time that sees revellers over-indulge in food and drink.

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Binche Carnival, Belgium

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What is carnival in Binche?

Binche Carnival is one of the oldest carnivals in all of Europe. It has been recognised by UNESCO for its Intangible significance. Binche is a small town located south of Brussels and is only a short car ride away.

Binche Carnival is famous for its main carnival character the Gillies. The Gillies are mythical creatures that date back centuries to its pagan roots. The Gillies perform traditional dances and make scary noises to chase away the evil winter spirits and usher in the spring. The Gillies are performed by thousands of local boys and men who wear traditional carnival costumes and masks.

Binche Carnival attracts about 100,000 visitors every year and its main festivities occur in the three days prior to Ash Wednesday; Shrove Sunday, Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday. During these days there are street parades, a confetti battle, firework shows, a champagne and oyster breakfast and lots more.

Ivrea, Italy

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What is carnival in Ivrea?

Ivrea Carnival is another ancient carnival that occurs in the small medieval town of Ivrea in Italy. Ivrea Carnival dates to medieval times. It hosts Italy’s biggest food fight which is known as – The Battle of the Oranges!

The Battle of the Oranges uses 400 tons of oranges in their food fight and re-enacts an ancient battle from when the town of Ivrea was freed from an evil tyrant that ruled the city. It re-enacts when the city fought for its freedom against Napoleon’s troops after the murder of a tyrannical family.  You can opt out of the fight by wearing a red hat but what’s the fun in that!

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival, Spain

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What is carnival in Tenerife?

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival which is held in Spain’s Canary Islands, claims to be the second most popular carnival celebration in the world, after Brazil. While this is a debatable statement it certainly is a popular and wild carnival celebration.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival in the Canary Islands kicks of the carnival with electing a carnival queen in a competition that sees candidates wear elaborate costumes that can weigh around 200 kilos. For the entire week prior to Lent the carnival features 24/7 wild street parties and live music concerts that feature lots of Latin tunes. Celebrations end with burning of a giant sardine.

Notting Hill Carnival, UK

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What is carnival in London?

This carnival is a summer carnival taking place in the month of August. Notting Hill Carnival is Europe’s largest street party with about two million people taking to the streets of London. It occurs on the Sunday and Monday of August Bank Holiday in the UK. Notting Hill Carnival was created to celebrate and embrace London’s Caribbean communities.

Notting Hill Carnival sees lots of drinking, dancing and socialising. Here the rum flows freely and people dance the day away to all the Caribbean music that pumps out from the 40 sound systems set up all over West London’s streets. You can also taste some of the delicious Caribbean cuisine like jerk chicken or goat curry.

Cologne Carnival, Germany

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What is carnival in Cologne?

Carnival in Cologne is considered to be the ‘fifth season’. It officially begins on the 11/11 every year at 11:11am. However, what is known as the ‘crazy days’ don’t occur until the Thursday before Lent. Cologne Carnival is full of street parties, pub parties and parties that occur all throughout the Cologne’s public squares, where from morning until night the beer doesn’t stop flowing.

The biggest day of carnival is Rose Monday which is when the three main carnival protagonists; a virgin, prince and a farmer, are marched through the streets of Cologne in a huge procession that features thousands of participants. Cologne Carnival is also known for the locals wearing extravagant costumes which are on par with what you would expect from Comicon.

Basel Fasnacht, Switzerland

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What is carnival in Basel?

Fasnacht is the name for carnival in many areas of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. There are numerous Fasnacht celebrations that occur all over that area of Europe but the biggest and most popular Fasnacht celebration is Basel Fasnacht.

What is unusual about Basel Fasnacht is that it starts one week after carnival. That’s right it starts the Monday after Ash Wednesday. Basel Fasnacht features lots of parades and street parties. But one thing that is unique about it is the insane amounts of confetti that seen at this carnival. After the parade you may find yourself knee deep in confetti and that is because this town actually invented confetti!

Cádiz Carnival, Spain

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What is carnival in Cadiz?

Heading back to Spain, the Cadiz Carnival is one of the most renowned carnival celebrations in all of Europe. Cadiz Carnival is a ten-day celebration of music and humour and was the only carnival in Spain that Franco couldn’t ban.

Cadiz Carnival features numerous street processions, live music concerts, comedy shows, theatre shows, puppet theatres and fireworks. Cadiz Carnival is known for everyone dressing up in the most amazing costumes that are more satirical then sexy in nature.

One of the main features of this carnival is the “Chirigotas” which are satirical singing groups that sing songs making fun of current events and politicians. The groups spend most the year planning for carnival.

Viareggio Carnival, Italy

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What is carnival in Viareggio?

Heading back to Italy another one of the most renowned carnival celebrations in Europe is the Viareggio Carnival. This carnival takes place in Viareggio, an Italian coastal town in Tuscany. Viareggio Carnival attracts around a million visitors every year. Viareggio Carnival first started back in 1873 when the city’s rich residents protested the high tax rates.

Viareggio Carnival is famous for the most amazing floats, which are the biggest and the best in the world. The floats are giant 20-meter-high papier-mache floats that will usually represent that years’ current carnival theme. The floats can range from mythical creatures to politicians like Donald Trump. There is also a famous Carnival Museum in town where you can see the floats or do a papier-mache workshop.

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