Your Essential Guide to Cologne Carnival!
This is your essential guide to experiencing the best of Cologne Carnival! From where to find the best parties, parades and where to stay!
When is Cologne Carnival?
When is the 2023 Cologne Carnival? The 2023 Cologne Carnival will take place on Thursday February 16 until Wednesday February 22, 2023.
Cologne Carnival Season which is referred to by the locals as “the fifth season of the year” officially begin on the 11th November, at 11:11am and finishes on Ash Wednesday. The main Cologne Carnival events, which are called the “crazy days” which begins on Weiberfastnacht which is the Thursday prior to Shrove Tuesday and ends on Ash Wednesday.
A Celebration Crazier Than Oktoberfest!
Cologne Carnival is Germany’s craziest party, so crazy in fact, that it makes Oktoberfest seem tame! Every year for six crazy days before the onset of Lent, carnival fever takes over the entire city of Cologne, which erupts into festive chaos.
Carnival is the time of year when the city of Cologne lets loose, dresses up, sings their hearts out, dances the night away and drinks insane amounts of beer and schnapps. Anyone who has been to Cologne outside of carnival wouldn’t even recognise the city with the huge metamorphosis that occurs during carnival.
Cologne Carnival Started in The Middle Ages
What is the history of Cologne Carnival? Cologne Carnival is almost the same age as the city of Cologne itself. People have been celebrating carnival in Cologne since the Middle Ages. In its current form Cologne Carnival has only been celebrated for about 190 years.
The origins of Cologne Carnival started with Germanic tribes who used to celebrate the winter solstice to worship their gods and exile evil winter demons. Christians later adopted these customs giving them Christian meanings.
The motto of Cologne Carnival is ‘Kölle Alaaf’, which translates to ‘Cologne above all’, this motto dates back to 1550, when it was said as a toast.
The Crazy Days!
Cologne is Germany’s undisputed Carnival King, and the highlight of the carnival season is the six days before the onset of Lent known as the “Crazy Days”. This is when carnival fever takes over the entire city, and for six days Cologne is filled with parties, parades and balls.
During “The Crazy Days” millions of high-spirited Germans flood the streets of Cologne wearing the wackiest costumes, while the beer flows freely. Parties occur everywhere in Cologne, in the streets, public squares, restaurants and pubs which stay open for the entire duration of Cologne Carnival.
They say the world turns upside down during Cologne Carnival, bad behaviour is not just tolerated but totally acceptable. You can spend the days and nights partying away. You can act like a drunken hooligan or mock the elites without consequence. Men can dress as women and the working class can parade through the streets like royalty.
Costumes Are Essential!
If you want to join the party, then costumes are essential! The good news is that anything and everything goes, and the wackier and more outrageous your carnival costume, the better! Costumes at Cologne Carnival are more about having fun rather than being fancy.
Cologne locals love getting into the carnival spirit, and absolutely everyone dresses up! The Cologne locals go all out when it comes to carnival costumes. Locals will completely transform themselves with crazy costumes, wigs, makeup, masks or body paint. Cologne Carnival Costumes are on par with Comic con cosplay.
You will stick out like a sore thumb if you head to carnival in normal clothes. We recommend putting on a costume literally every time you leave the house during the crazy days. The entire city is dressed up, no matter your age. You either dress up, or you leave town. You will see all sorts of costumes – Star Wars characters, fairies, nuns, politicians, ghosts, animals, pirates, celebrities, anime, movie characters, you will see everything possible at carnival.
Cologne Carnival 2023 Event Schedule
Cologne Carnival takes place over six days, known as the ‘Crazy Days’. Carnival in Cologne is attended by 1.5 million people and it is filled with parties, costumes, singing and drinking. You will always hear the Cologne Carnival motto shouted around the city – “Kölle Alaaf”, which translates as “Long live Cologne!”.
Here are the top events Cologne Carnival Events:
Carnival Friday – Feb 17, 2023
As we approach the weekend of Carnival, Friday evening sees numerous parties, balls, concerts and other private events taking place.
Carnival Saturday – Feb 18, 2023
On Saturday a carnival brunch occurs where the revelers drink Kölsch beer, while watching a performance at the marquee at the Neumarkt. Numerous Cologne Carnival societies, who are connected with a military tradition, put on the show. In the evening, a Ghost parade takes place, and the streets are filled with market stalls and cafes.
Carnival Sunday – February 19, 2023
On Carnival Sunday, local community groups and schools, march in parades that take place in the city center. The parades are filled with costumed school groups, and original masquerades. People in the crowds will usually bring small presents that are handed to young kids.
Rose Monday Parade – Feb 20, 2023
The Rose Monday Parade known as Rosenmontagszug is the highlight of Cologne Carnival. Around 1.5 million people will line the streets from 10:30 am onwards to watch the parade. It is a colorful spectacle with costumed performers, musical bands, sweets, flowers and kisses are given out. Over one million spectators come in fancy dress.
Weiberfastnacht (Shrove Tuesday) – Feb 21, 2023
A traditional day where there are more parades and people pack into the old town dressed in costumes. All the nightclubs and bars in the old town are packed with partying revelers.
The Burning of the Nubble – Feb 22, 2023 Midnight
This spectacle is the official and symbolic end of carnival and takes place on Tuesday at Midnight. The carnival mascot known as Nubbel, who is a large straw doll, is set on fire at the end of carnival. He is used as a carnival scapegoat and his burning represents all the sins of the previous year.
Carnival Thursday – “The Crazy Days” Begin
The Thursday before Rose Monday, marks the official start of “The Crazy Days”, and carnival-goers rise early and head into Colognes city centre. At 11:11am “The Crazy Days” officially begin, and the whole city of Cologne descends into festive chaos.
German music pumps out of all the bars, pubs, restaurants as people party in and outdoors dancing away and celebrating while drinking schnapps and beer. Cologne’s old town full of brewhouses draw crowds of thousands, while the younger generation parties close to the student districts. The partying lasts all day and late into the next morning for those that can handle it.
Women’s Carnival Day
Also, on Cologne Carnival Thursday is the Women’s Carnival Day. From very early in the morning, all the streets are filled with ladies wearing fancy-dress in their normal day to day lives. You will see women wearing fancy dress to work, the office, or the shops. It is an old carnival tradition.
Cologne Carnival Friday – Recovery Day
On Cologne Carnival Friday of the Cologne Carnival is seen as a recovery day. A day dedicated to nursing your hangover caused by the previous day of heavy drinking. However, some people do make the effort to attend some of the more traditional carnival events like watching comedy, dance or music performances.
At night several thousand will come together in Alter Markt Square where they will light sparklers and sing Carnival songs.
Cologne Carnival Weekend
Saturday and Sunday are pretty quiet carnival days. A Cologne Carnival tradition is to have a “Frühschoppen“, which is an early morning drink that occurs at 10:30am at Neumarkt. On Saturday evening there is the “Geisterzug” or Ghost Parade, some masked balls, and parties galore.
On Carnival Sunday, most of the Cologne neighbourhoods will see some form of parade march through their neighbourhood. Some of the school and neighbourhoods’ parades will be held in the Cologne City Centre, and there will be more parties and masked balls held in the evening.
The Ghost Parade
The Ghost Parade known as the Geisterzug is held on carnival Saturday, and marches through the Cologne city centre. In this parade anyone who shows up in some kind of spooky costume is able to participate.
The Ghost Parade began back in 1991, when the Rose Monday Parade was cancelled because of the Second Gulf War, because anti-war protesters marched down the parade route. The protestors were joined by carnival groups and revellers all expressing their outrage. The protesters were dressed as Grim Reapers, ghosts, vampires, monsters and other spooky costumes, and the tradition continued.
Rose Monday Parade – The Peak of Cologne Carnival
Rose Monday is the day you wake up early and head to Cologne’s city centre in your fancy dress and party the day away. Monday is the peak of Cologne Carnival and the whole city of Cologne shuts down. Over 1.5 million people come out to watch the Rose Monday Carnival Parade, which is also the largest parade in Germany.
At 10:30am, the colourful spectacle that is the Rose Monday Cologne Carnival Parade starts. The parade features some 11000 participants, 100 music groups and loads of giant and elaborately designed floats that throw flowers and candy to the crowd.
When the Rose Monday Carnival Parade finishes the celebrations go long into the evening, continuing in the many halls, restaurants, breweries and pubs around the city.
Tuesday – The Burning of the Nubel
Tuesday is the last day of the Cologne Carnival, and sees the carnival slowly wind down. There will be a few smaller parades occurring in local Cologne neighbourhoods, but the main event is the ceremonial burning of the Nubbels. Nubbels are life-sized straw men.
During Cologne Carnival, all over the city you will see the Nubbel straw dolls hanging in pubs and shops that are taken down at the end of carnival and burnt. The Cologne locals use the Nubbels as scapegoats and blame all their misdeeds and wrongdoings that occurred during carnival on the dolls.
The Nubbels are then symbolically burnt, which rids everyone from their carnival sins. Whilst the Nubbels burn, carnival songs are sung by the crowd. The Burning of Nubbel ceremony officially symbolizes the end of Cologne Carnival.
Ash Wednesday is the official start of Christian Lent. It is tradition for Catholics to go to church for repentance. It is also tradition to eat a fish dinner which is served in all the restaurants and pubs across Cologne. At midnight a torchlight procession is held which is a unique and beautiful experience.
Where to Watch the Cologne Carnival Parades
If you want to get a good spot along the parade route then you have to get there early. The most popular and crowded spots are around the Cologne Cathedral Plaza, Hohe Straße and Severinsstraße. Areas that are less chaotic are the area between Friesenplatz, Appellhofplatz and Löwengasse and Mühlenbach.
Unfortunately, some of the best spots along the parade route are occupied by hotels and companies who set up grandstands. You can purchase tickets to these grandstands that can cost anywhere between €50 and €150. The more expensive tickets will usually include food, drinks and access to a bathroom.
Cologne Carnival Parade Route:
Best Places to Party Cologne Carnival
Where to Party at the Cologne Carnival? Germans know how to party and Cologne Carnival is one of their wildest celebrations. You have hundreds of thousands of people, dressed in costumes, partying for 6 days straight. If you are coming to Cologne Carnival then you are here to party! The party is also mixed with all ages! You will find everyone’s is out partying together no matter if they are 90 or 20.
You will not have a tough time finding where the parties are held during carnival. All you have to do is head into the city centre and you will see that there are parties everywhere. The parties go all night and into the next morning. There is lots of drinking, dancing and singing. Even if you go out alone, you will make friends in no time because everyone is in excellent spirits.
The best place to start is to just head into the Old Town or the nearby brewhouses. This area is party central and you will find a party on just about every corner in Cologne Old Town. Tens of thousands of people flock to the area, particularly around Heumarkt and Alter Markt. The younger generation tend to party around Zülpicher Straße or Chlodwigplatz, which is a student area. Parties take place in all the shops, bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants and flow out onto the streets.
Cologne already has a reputation for having an awesome nightlife with over 80 clubs and party places, all of which are buzzing during carnival. You don’t need to book any tickets to any private balls or parties during carnival as the majority of celebrations take place on streets. You can literally choose from the endless pubs around the city.
One of the most photographed spots in Cologne is Fischmarkt. This is a busy party area during Cologne Carnival. While it is a very crowded and chaotic area to party in, it is filled with street vendors selling food, alcohol and there are also bathrooms you can use for a small fee.
One of the main party strips is Mauthgasse, which is super crowded, especially at night time. But this area has tons of restaurants and bars, where the parties spill out onto the street. Another party area in the Old Town is Salzgasse. This teeny tiny alleyway is crammed with clubs and bars. It is a super chaotic and crazy area during carnival, so head there if you are looking for something lively, head here. If you want something a little less chaotic, then head to some of the neighbourhood bars located further out of the city centre.
For those not familiar with the city’s football team, they may think that the people of Cologne like dressing up as the Where’s Wally character. This is because one of the most popular outfits you will see during carnival is the Koln FC football fans, who proudly wear the team’s red and white striped football shirt.
The Cologne locals are deeply patriotic, and this extends towards their mediocre football team Koln FC. Everywhere you look you will see variations of the teams red and white striped shirts, or the Koln FC scarf, or some other form of red and white accessories that are often sparkly.
You will see red and white Koln FC decorations hung up all around the town. One of the parade highlights is when the beloved football team makes an appearance in the main parade. They throw candy and flowers from onboard a bus to the delight of the crowd.
Sing Your Heart Out
Music is an integral part of Cologne Carnival, and the Carnival bands perform hit after hit. You’re not in Cologne if you can’t hear the happy German carnival tunes pumping out of speakers all over the city. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, the songs are incredibly catchy and uplifting.
Many carnival bands write and produce their own carnival songs each year, all sung in the local Kosch accent, and all love songs about the city of Cologne and its people. Be prepared to link arms with strangers, while they sway to the music and sing at the top of their lungs.
To enrich the Cologne Carnival, sing-a-long sessions that occur in bars and restaurants all over the city, the lyrics and are distributed to the public before carnival begins to induce them to learn the new music. It is one of the features that makes Cologne Carnival so unique.
Cologne Carnival Season Begins at 11:11 on 11/11!
Every year the Cologne Carnival season officially kicks off on the 11th November at 11:11am, when around 70,000 carnival-goers pack into Heumarkt Square, Cologne to celebrate the opening of Cologne Carnival Season together.
Cologne Carnival is opened by the three main carnival figures who are collectively known as the Dreigestirn. They consist of a Prince, a Peasant, and a Virgin, and the characters embody the spirit of Cologne Carnival. They are joined by traditional Cologne Carnival bands and the city square erupts into a carnival pandemonium.
Costumed revellers dance and sing the day away with the program not ending until early evening. The party doesn’t end there but continues on in many pubs and restaurants around the city. Cologne also hosts some carnival theatre performances, and masked balls.
Where to Stay During Cologne Carnival?
If you are wondering where to stay during Cologne Carnival? There is no shortage of accommodation. Cologne has over 250 hotels which cater to all budgets. If you want to enjoy local hospitality, there are loads of quaint family run hotels in Cologne.
Old Town – Best Place to Stay to be Close to Carnival
If you want to be close to carnival action, then there is no better place to stay in Cologne than the Old Town, called Altstadt-Nord in German. Not only are you close to all the main tourist attractions, but you can easily walk to all the street parties, pubs and parades. See accommodation in the Old Town Cologne.
Budget & Backpacking Hostels in Old Town
Mid-range Accommodation in Old Town
Luxury Hotels in old Town
New Town – Close to the Carnival Celebrations but a little quieter than Old Town
If you actually want to get some sleep, but you want to still be close to the action, then we recommend staying in New Town, or Neustadt. Around 1880, Cologne was ‘expanded’ outwards in a semicircle around the oldtown creating New Town. This is a great place to stay because you are still so close to all the carnival action, without being right in the middle of it. Also, the area has more modern accommodation options. See accommodation in the New Town Cologne.
Budget & Backpacking Hostels in New Town
Mid-range Accommodation in New Town
Luxury Hotels in New Town
Belgian Quarter – Trendy Area with Amazing Nightlight
The Belgian Quarter is one of the trendiest and coolest areas in Cologne. This area is where all the Gen Z’ers and millennials hang out. There is a huge concentration of trendy bars and chic restaurants. It is also one of the best places to stay for foodies and has great shopping and boutique stores. It is also within walking distance to all the central Cologne Carnival party zones. See accommodation options in Belgian Quarter.
Deutz – Most Family Friendly Neighbourhood
Deutz is located across the Rhine River from Cologne’s city centre. You are still a quick train ride away from all Cologne’s main attractions and carnival celebrations, but because you are away from the nightclubs it is a more family friendly place to stay. It offers amazing views overlooking the river of the Old Town and Cologne Cathedral. See accommodation options in Deutz.
Friesenplatz – Best place to Stay if you are on a Budget
This is another trendy area with an amazing nightlife that is situated between the city centre and the Belgian Quarter. Loads of popular student bars and restaurants are found in this area making it a more budget friendly destination. See accommodation options in Frisenplatz
We recommend booking your accommodation well in advance because the city is so busy. Hotels book out quickly and it can be tough to find a good place to stay.
Check out some of the best offers on accommodation for your visit to Cologne, or anywhere in the world, here on Booking.com.
Book your Hotel and Flight for the Cologne Carnival
What to do and see in Cologne Carnival?
Cologne is a cultural and historical city with more than 2000 years of history. Cologne is full of amazing medieval Romanesque churches. Its main attraction is the UNESCO Cologne Cathedral which is actually the most visited attraction in Germany. The Cathedral is an international pilgrimage site and has held the reliquary of the Three Kings since 1164. We suggest taking a tour of Cologne Cathedral and Old Town Tour.
If you love to lose yourself in a great Museum then you will love Cologne. One of the most popular Museums to visit is the Chocolate Museum. Other amazing museums to visit is the Romano-Germanic Museum, Ludwig Museum, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln, Fragrance Museum, Schnütgen Museum or the Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Between all of them, you have enough history, culture and art to keep you busy for days. You can purchase an Experience Cologne: KölnCard, which provides you discounts to a lot of Cologne’s attractions and public transportation.
Or visit Cologne’s Old Town which gives you a glimpse of what Cologne would have been like before the war. It’s worth remembering that three quarters of Cologne was destroyed in the war. Visit the tower of Groß St. Martin, a key part of the Cologne skyline since the 12th century. We recommend taking a Cologne Old Town Highlights Walking Tour.
It’s important to note that Cologne is the city that has the largest number of pubs per person in Germany. There are loads of cool neighbourhoods as well. We recommend visiting the Belgian Quarter which is perhaps the trendiest place in Cologne. It is filled with great bars, shops and restaurants. Or visit the new Riverside district.
Fun Tours To Do in Cologne
- Cologne: Guided Highlights Tour with a Local (purchase here)
- Cologne: Brewery Tour with Three “Kölsch” Tastings (purchase here)
- Cologne Melaten Cemetery, Life, Love and Death Tour (purchase here)
- Cologne: 3-Hour Harbor Tour Cruise (purchase here)
- Cologne: The Night Watchman Old Town Walking Tour in
- Cologne: 1.5-Hour Comedy Bus Tour (purchase here)
Cologne Carnival Top Tips & Essential Things to Know
- Family fun:A lot of hardcore partying goes on during Cologne Carnival. So, if you attend Carnival with the kids and are searching for family fun only, steer clear of the Cathedral and Zülpicher Strasse, which is near the university. There is a lot of partying and excessive beer drinking in these areas.
- Kissing: Just so you are aware, Kissing is a German custom during carnival celebrations, particularly on Thursday, when the women take over the carnival. This kiss is known as a “Bützchen”, and is just a quick peck on the cheek. However, there are plenty of high energy kisses taking place, which just symbolize fun and good spirits at carnival.
- Bring a bag: Besides the kisses, there are also lots of roses and sweets handed out during the parades. Be like the locals and bring a bag so you can take all the sweets home with you.
- Carnival is a marathon not a sprint: Remember Cologne Carnival is six days of non-stop partying, so don’t push yourself too early. Try to get some sleep and pace your drinking.
- Music: During the crazy days, only carnival music is played. This is not the type of carnival music you associate with Brazil or Trinidad. Cologne has its own type of distinctly German carnival music and bands.
- Good vibes: This is a happy time of year for the locals and everyone is in a friendly, joyful and positive spirit. Even if you are alone in Cologne, you will have made new friends within a few minutes.
- Get in costume:Trust us, you will feel more out of place wearing plain clothes then if you wear a costume. This event is like Halloween in America and everyone is dressed up. At the bare minimum, wear a funny hat or some sort of accessory.
- Wear Good Shoes: You will be on your feet all day, so wear comfy shoes and leave the high heels at home, even if they go with your costume.
- Kölsch: During carnival the main traditional carnival drink that is consumed is Kölsch, which is a beer that originates from Cologne. It follows a strict brewing process. The Rules of Kolsch is that if they see you with an empty glass, it will be refilled immediately.
- The Dreigestirn (triumvirate): This is the name for the three people that become carnival royalty each year and lead the parades.
How to get to Cologne Carnival?
- By plane: You can fly to Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) which has many international and domestic flights and is only a 15-minute train trip to the centre of the city. Alternatively, you could also fly to Dusseldorf International Airport (DUS) which is only about 40 minutes away or to Frankfurt Rhein Main International Airport which is the largest airport in Germany and has a direct high speed train link from the airport which runs to Cologne in less than an hour.
- By train:Cologne has two major train stations – Köln-Deutz and Köln Hauptbahnhof. Cologne has trains running all over Germany and is also linked with Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Luxembourg.
- By Bus: Cologne has an international bus station located at Breslauer Platz which provides direct daily buses to Denmark or Serbia. There are also buses that connect to almost every big city in
- By Car:Plenty of motorways lead to Cologne including Autobahns A1, A4, A3, A57 and A555.
How to get around Cologne?
Cologne has a very good subway, tram-system and bus network that can easy transport you around the city. Of course, you can always grab a taxi or an uber.
Cologne Carnival Dictionary
- ölle Alaaf! –You will hear this shouted a lot during carnival as it is the official carnival motto. It translates to “Cologne above all”! Some people will shorten it and shout “alaaf”, and you can respond by saying “alaaf”, back.
- Crazy Days – The name that is given to the six days of carnival.
- Bützchen – The name for all the kisses that are given out during carnival. A lot of kissing takes place and all in good fun.
- Kamelle –This means sweets, and if you shout it during the parade, you may find the riders throw some candy your way.
- Strüsjer – This means flowers and if you shout this out loud during the parade, then you will get free flowers.
- Jeck – This means that you are a fool. Everyone celebrating carnival is considered a Jeck, so embrace it.
- Glasverbot – You will see these signs everywhere and they refer to the ban on glass containers in the city.
- Nubbel – This is a straw-filled puppet which serves as the scapegoat for all of the wicked ways of the carnival revellers.
- Polonaise – This is the word for a German style conga line that will break out a few times during the celebrations. It’s fun and everyone will be partying and singing.
You might also be interested in Germany’s Black Forest Carnivals