When is Cologne Carnival?
Cologne Carnival Season which is referred to by the locals as “the fifth season of the year” officially begins on the 11th November, at 11:11am. The main Cologne Carnival events, which are called the “crazy days” don’t begin until the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.
Normally Cologne Carnival Crazy Days begins on Weiberfastnacht which is the Thursday prior to Shrove Tuesday and finishes on Ash Wednesday. That means in 2022 the dates will be from Thursday, February 24 until Wednesday, March 2.
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.
It’s the time to let your imagination one wild and get creative and wear something fun, you can check out some cool outfit ideas on Amazon. Remember though to wear comfortable shoes as you will be on your feet all day long!
For those not familiar with the cities 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 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.
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 the 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 costumes 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.
Cologne Carnival Parade Route
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 offical 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 restaurant and pubs across Cologne. At midnight a torchlight procession is held which is a unique and beautiful experience.
Cologne Carnival 2021 Events
- Cologne Carnival Season Official Opening
- Weiberfastnacht & Women’s Carnival Day
- Carnival Friday
- Carnival Saturday, Ghost Parade
- Carnival Sunday
- Rose Monday Carnival Parade
- Carnival Tuesday, Ceremonial Burning of the Nubbel’s
- Ash Wednesday, Start of Lent
How to get to Cologne?
- 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. Have a look at some flight quotes here.
- 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 Germany.
- By Car: Plenty of motorways lead to Cologne including Autobahns A1, A4, A3, A57 and A555. Have a look at some car rental quotes here.
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.
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.
Of course, if you want to be close to carnival action, look at the parade route map above and find your accommodation nearby. You can check out some accommodation deals here.
Book your Hotel and Flight for the Cologne Carnival
What to do and see in Cologne Carnival?
Cologne is 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. An international pilgrimage site it has held the reliquary of the Three Kings since 1164.
If you love to lose yourself in a great Museum then you must visit the Romano-Germanic Museum or the Ludwig Museum, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln, Fragrance Museum, Schnütgen Museumor the Wallraf-Richartz Museum and between them there is enough history and art that you will need a few days to take it all in.
Or visit Cologne’s Old Town which gives you a glimpse of what Cologne would have been like before the war. Its 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.
It’s important to note that Cologne is the city that has the largest amount of pubs per person in Germany. There are loads of cool neighbourhoods as well like visit the Belgian Quarter which is perhaps the trendiest place in Cologne filled with great bars, shops and restaurants. Or visit the new Riverside district. For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.
If you are able to have a longer vacation, then we absolutely recommend taking a longer tour because Germany is unbelievably charming! It has a unique culture which has been shaped by historical influences, delicious cuisine, and architecture. Check out Tour Radar for a huge range of itineraries!
You might also be interested in Germany’s Black Forest Carnival celebrations, which are much darker crnival celebrations, filled with pagan traditions.
Before you go!
Be aware of pickpockets! Especially during carnival when there are big crowds and it is easier to get your stuff stolen. So be aware of your valuables at all times or even leave them back at your hotel and only bring some cash with you. Or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack hidden under your clothing to store your essentials in. We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance and being protected on your travels. It provides you with an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance, never travel without coverage. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.