When is Carnival in Malta?
Malta Carnival also known as Il-Karnival ta’ Malta is the most exciting event in the country that is celebrated every year, for five days, right before the start of Lent. It kicks of the Friday before Lent and runs until Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday (official start of lent). These dates change every year, but are always 7 weeks before Easter Sunday.
When is Mata Carnival 2024? The 2024 Malta Carnival dates will begin on Friday 9 February until Shrove Tuesday on 13 February, 2024.
Where is Carnival in Malta?
Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a small archipelago located in the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe but has a long and rich history. Malta consists of three islands, the main island Malta and the two smaller islands of Comino and Gozo. The islands are located about 100 km south of the island of Sicily, Italy and east of Tunisia.
The islands have a population of about 500,000 and are one of the top 10 most densely populated countries in the world. Carnival celebrations take place in towns and villages all over the island, however the main celebrations take place in the capital city of Valetta on the island of Malta. Another key carnival celebration takes place in the village of Nadur on the island of Gozo.
What is Carnival in Malta?
During the month of February, the small archipelago of Malta, will be hosting an event called Il-Karnival Ta’ Malta, which is one of the oldest and greatest celebrations in Europe. What is Il-Karnival Ta’ Malta? Karnival ta’ Malta is what the Maltese call carnival! Il-Karnival ta’ Malta is a truly unique event that is a very important part of Maltese Culture!
Carnival in Malta is both a cultural and religious event that dates back over five centuries! Over the years, new artistic carnival traditions have been born, while many other ancient carnival traditions have been kept alive. The Knights of the Order of St. John were the first pioneers of carnival. They introduced strength competitions and carnival balls, traditions which have survived till modern times.
Carnival in Malta is five days of complete madness! The Malta Carnival is simple merriment, spontaneity, and downright silliness. The carnival spirit in Malta is something to behold! An incredible fantasy world is created on the streets with magical costumes, satirical floats, art and music. All this ensures that the joy and festive spirit is kept alive for the duration of carnival.
It is one of the most anticipated events of the year with celebrations occurring all over the islands. Valletta, the Maltese capital is the heart of all the carnival action! But other main carnival events also occur in Floriana (island of Malta) and Nadur (island of Gozo). You can also enjoy carnival all over Malta, as villages and towns across the islands have their own unique carnival celebrations.
Carnival in Malta is all about bringing the community together- old, young, Maltese and foreign. Every day of carnival, the community gets together and celebrates, creating the most enthralling atmosphere across the country. The goal of carnival is to promote a collaborative and healthy community, where everyone forgets their worries for a few days, socialises and enjoys life.
Carnival in Malta has withstood the test of time and today enjoys massive popularity with locals. The Maltese don’t just love carnival but they treasure it! They have grown up with it and are incredibly passionate about creating the best possible carnival. Today, carnival is becoming increasingly popular with foreigners now receiving visitors from all over the world, who come to experience and savour the Maltese Carnival experience!
How Do They Celebrate Carnival in Malta?
Carnival in Malta is a colourful celebration that sees the whole community and people from all walks of life come together. They say that during carnival, Valletta which is known as “the city built for gentlemen”, transforms into the “City of Fools”! Today, the carnival in Malta fuses together old and modern carnival traditions to create a festive party atmosphere in Malta.
Carnival festivities usually include prolific late-night street parties, masquerade balls, colourful parades with large floats and marching bands, spirited costumed revellers, music and lots of delicious food and drink. For the five days of carnival anyone can dress up, wear a mask and let loose!
Malta Carnival is marked by a competition of amazing, colourful and gigantic floats. Creating the best carnival floats has become a prestigious competition between several groups around the Maltese islands.
Accompanying the floats are dancers, marching bands and grotesque masks and costumed figures. Prizes are given out for the best carnival costumes, masks and dances. The main parades take place in Floriana and Valletta.
There are also numerous parties and carnival balls that take place all over the various localities in both Gozo and Malta. Carnival in Nadur, a small village in Gozo, is one of the main places to be for carnival during the weekend. Its celebrations are quite different to Nadur. The Nadur celebrations are not organised by any committee, instead it is a big spontaneous street party!
Carnival in Valletta
While carnival celebrations occur all over the island, the main celebrations take place in Malta’s capital city Valletta. During carnival the streets come to life! The young and old lavish costumes, loud music blares through the streets, there are hilarious sketches, dancers and of course the famous papier-mache floats.
The mainstay of Maltese Carnival are the incredible epic, giant and colourful carnival floats! The local carnival groups spend a whole year in secrecy preparing for the four days of events to participate and compete in the Carnival parade. Float building in Malta is an art form that is passed down from generation to generation through the family’s. Float builders take great pride and enthusiasm in their work.
They are massive papier-mache cardboard structures that are painted in an explosion of screaming colours and perform in the several parades that occur during carnival. Themes for the floats may range from people to social and political issues to the latest Disney movie, mythical creatures or animals.
The carnival celebrations kick off early and are aimed at children. But as the days turn into night the celebrations are all about the adults, with wild all-night parties occurring.
The floats are the pride and joy of the Malta Carnival! It takes months of hard work and dedication by groups of passionate locals to create. These groups all compete against each other to create the most eye-catching floats and to try to win the title of ‘King of the Carnival’. The previous year’s winner gets to lead the parade at the following year’s carnival.
The main carnival celebrations that occur in Valletta are:
- Carnival Processions – Several processions occur during carnival with loads of organised entertainment from bands, acrobats, magicians, dance troupes, theatre productions, dancers and more.
- Carnival Floats – The floats represent the satirical vein that runs through carnival. They often depict comical scenes and political satire. Every year the floats are getting bigger and more elaborate, many now include sound and lighting displays!
- Best costume competition – Everyone dresses in costume, just like Halloween. Put on your best costume and try and win the best costume prize!
- Artistic dances – Incredible dancers from all over the island put on the most amazing dance performances.
- Artistic and educational workshops – During carnival many workshops are held that educate visitors about the how and why Malta carnival came about.
- Carnival competitions – You can try win a prize in some of the many carnival competitions that are held during carnival
- All night parties – Party the night away in the bars and clubs around town.
- Carnival Ball – Held on Saturday night in Triton Square, this is a late night street party with DJs, carnival bands and plenty of drinking.
Carnival in Gozo
You may be surprised to discover that a tiny village in Gozo called Nadur is actually one of the main attractions during carnival. On Saturday Night, the youth flock to the village of Nadur for a huge carnival party that takes place on the streets. Clever floats, masks, costumes, delicious food, live bands and loads of costumes make carnival in Nadur an unmissable event!
People call this the spontaneous carnival because there is no organising committee, so the celebrations are unhindered by regulations. There are no rules, it’s just a free-flowing celebration where anything can happen, and often does.
Carnival in Nadur has become so popular in fact that it has been gaining international popularity. Carnival here is not an event for children or the family. Carnival in Gozo is for the young adults or the young at heart. These carnival celebrations are risqué and wild, with lots of drinking and partying taking place.
At this party there are no holds barred, anyone can be whoever they want at this celebration. Everyone wears costumes and you are bound to see the funniest and weirdest costumes ever. There is also plenty of cross dressing going on. Carnival here is a grotesque novelty to behold.
Thousands make the 20-minute ferry trip from Malta to Gozo to party. The party is so popular that the ferry which connects Malta to Gozo struggles to cope with the demand. Nadur Carnival must be experienced to be believed!
Where to Stay For Malta Carnival?
Given how small Malta is and the fact that you can travel from the north to the south of the island in about an hour means that you can pretty much stay wherever you like. There is a wide variety of accommodation options all across Malta to suit all budgets and levels of accommodation.
Of course our suggestions if you wish to be close to all the carnival action is to stay in Valletta, Malta’s capital city. It offers a high concentration of attractions, it’s full of history, has plenty of great restaurants and bars, stunning Baroque architecture and is the best place to base yourself to explore the rest of the island because it is where the main public transportation hub is based.
If you want to stay close to the nightlife so that you can stumble out of the club and straight to bed then stay in St. Julian’s which is located to the West of Sliema. This is the centre of the carnival night-time celebrations. There are loads of great restaurants, bars, and clubs, a huge range of accommodation options and it is a busy and modern part of Malta.
- The Gomerino Hotel
- Palais Le Brun
- Domus Zamittello
- Iniala Harbour House
- U Collection – a Luxury Collection Suites, Valletta
Planning on heading to Gozo for carnival, then why not spend a night or two on the island. There are loads of accommodation options in Gozo. If you want to stay in the heart of the action then we recommend you stay in the capital city, Victoria. It is based in the middle of the island, which makes it a great base to explore the rest of the island. It also has great architecture and history and great restaurants and bars.
If you will be attending the party in Nadur. While it is a small village there are plenty of accommodation options available. This is a great place to stay if you will be heading to the weekend parties, because you can go back and use your own bathroom, or just head straight to bed when you finish partying, as opposed to trying to get a ferry back to the mainland.
- Il-Bàrraġ Farmhouse B&B – Gozo Traditional Hospitality
- Narcisa Farmhouse B&B
- Moonshine Villa
- Gozo Spirit
- Quaint Boutique Hotel Nadur
While carnival in Malta is a local affair, it is becoming quite internationally known for its amazing carnival floats and party in Nadur. That means that you should book your accommodation early as it gets booked out quickly. Also many Maltese expats will return home for carnival.
Malta Carnival at Night!
The Maltese love to party, and once the sun sets after the parades, Malta Carnival continues to gather more tempo. Carnival-goers flock to Paceville in St Julian’s which is the party central of the island. During carnival, St Julian’s Bay is packed out with all the party animals, who fill up the nightclubs, pubs, bars, restaurants, discos and casinos.
Carnival here is all about letting your hair down, drinking, dancing and having the time of your life! There is a huge range of clubs, bars and restaurants to choose from, all hosting their best carnival celebrations. There is something for everyone, you can go to a club playing RnB or a reggaetón or top 40 club, whatever you fancy. This is the place to head a night if you want a guaranteed good time!
What to Wear for Malta Carnival?
Malta Carnival Costumes. You absolutely must dress up for Malta Carnival! In fact, if you don’t dress up then you will be the odd one out. Locals go all out for their costumes. A defining feature of Malta Carnival are the street parades and of course the spontaneous party in Gozo, for those events everyone dresses up!
Carnival here is like Halloween. It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, everyone will wear a costume! You will see everything from storm troopers to Disney characters. The costumes in Nadur are definitely stranger than the ones you will see in Valletta.
At the Nadur Carnival Celebrations, the weirder and wackier the costume, the better! You may see cross-dressing knights, scantily clad clergymen and strange things that highlight the delightful Gozitan sense of humour.
Every year, Malta Carnival hosts an event called the Il-Parata, that ushers in carnival. This is an age-old carnival tradition that is of special significance to the history of this carnival and has been done since the time of the knights. This tradition was taken very seriously by both the public and the knights because under the Knights the rule was “no Parata, no Carnival”.
The Parata was a light-hearted sword dance that involved gathering peasants and young dancers together under the balcony of the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta. Carnival could not start until they received formal permission from, so they would wait there until carnival started. The most recently appointed Knight Grand Cross would be the one that could proclaim the go-ahead for carnival.
A mock battle was performed that would recall the Great siege of 1565, that honoured Malta’s conquest between the forces of the Christian Maltese forces and the Muslim Turks. Then a child bearing a flag would carry it around the streets of Valletta. A stone would then be hung from the Palace, to say that justice was suspended for the duration of carnival. Today it’s mainly children who participate in the Parata dance.
Another ancient carnival tradition that still continues to appear in carnivals today is a game called kukkanja. Introduced in 1721 by the Grand Master Marc’Antonio Zondadari, crowds would gather in the Palace Square to play. After giving a signal they would converge on a collection of sausages, hams and live animals that were hidden beneath leafy branches outside the guards house.
The provisions would become the property of whoever seized them and managed to carry them off. Today the game has evolved to include a greased pole that competitors have to scale to win cash prizes.
This is another ancient carnival tradition that still takes place today. The qarcilla is also known as the wandering farce and was first introduced into carnival back in 1760. Essentially a man dressed as a notary read out a marriage contract in rhyming verse full of witticisms, some that could be described as obscene, to a groom and bride.
The first Qarcilla was written by the poet Felic Demarco. Today the qarcilla is performed by a number of actors. On Sunday evening they wander the streets of Valletta, and perform a re-enactment of a wedding ceremony.
Malta Carnival Food
In addition to the costumes, music and partying, a very important element of Malta Carnival is enjoying delicious food! Traditionally a very important aspect of carnival was indulging in rich foods that weren’t allowed during Lent. It is not carnival if you don’t have a valid excuse to indulge in a lot of decadent feasting!
There are street vendors everywhere selling all the most delicious foods you could imagine, from sweet to savoury and everything in-between. Something that is very important for you to try is called a ‘Prinjolata’. This traditional Maltese dessert is a carnival speciality. Traditionally it was a large sized cake, but you will find many vendors these days selling a mini version of it for you to enjoy.
The Prinjolata is a dome-shaped sponge cake that is made from almonds, biscuits and eggs. It is then topped with cream and decorated with melted chocolate and cherries on top. Your carnival experience is not complete without trying this delicious delicacy, it’s the ultimate accompaniment to the fun and festivities of carnival.
Another traditional carnival treat is the Perlini, which are typical sweets made for carnival. They are multi-coloured, sugar coated almonds in different variations of pastel colours. During old carnival days, the perlini used to be thrown gracefully from carnival floats to the crowds.
What to Do and See in Malta?
In case you want to prolong your stay, there is plenty to do and see in Malta once carnival is over. This tiny island nation is packed with remarkable sights! You can discover gorgeous beaches, prehistoric temples, fossil-studded cliffs, hidden coves, thrilling scuba diving and a deep and rich history!
Malta’s landscape is a contrast of rocky stretches of coast which end in spectacular limestone cliffs. Dotted over the island are sheltered bays with deep blue clear water and red-gold beaches. The island’s marinas jostle with boats that you can take to the water in. Divers and snorkelers have an abundance of treasures to explore with wrecks and a world of underwater caves. On land there are amazing walks that you can take around the island to enjoy the views.
Malta’s prize location in the centre of the Mediterranean makes it an alluring and much-fought over piece of land. The islands are filled with majestic ground defences. Malta’s north coast retains its natural beauty with small farming villages, fertile valleys and the island’s sandy beaches. The locals are warm and welcoming and will happily help you out if you look for directions.
The capital city Valletta was built by the Knights of St John and sits in a harmonious grid. Valletta was named as the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and is also a centre for architecture and design. Or you could visit the fortress-like hilltop town of Victoria and the medieval walled city of Mdina. Why not explore Gozo, where mammoth churches tower over quaint villages.
Visit the picturesque former fishing village of St Julian’s. This is now the island’s entertainment hub. Filled with nightclubs, trendy bars and a plethora of restaurants, all located around the landmark Portomaso yacht marina. Linked by a seaside promenade from St Julian’s you can visit the upmarket residential town of Sliema and its numerous shops.
Malta is strictly Roman Catholic but is also home to a mix of cultures that has stewed together over the generations. Traditional Maltese food mixes with Middle Eastern, North African and Sicilian flavours. It is essential you taste the local cuisine, the food here is delicious! The Maltese are so passionate about their food they endeavour to pass it on to future generations.
Malta and Gozo’s prehistoric sites were constructed by sophisticated temple builders who left mammoth sculptures and miniature figurines that have survived millenia. There are gigantic towers and temples in many different locations, all standing proud and continuing their endless watch over the sea. The most extraordinary site of all lies underground called Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. This is a 5000 year-old necropolis that has been carved from living rock.
- The Original Valletta Walking Tour
- A Monumental Maltese Experience
- Mdina, Rabat, Dingli cliffs, San Anton gardens, Ta’ Qali & Mosta guided tour
- Valletta Food Tour
- The Malta Experience Private Tour – Discover Malta
- Blue Lagoon, Beaches and Bays Catamaran Sailing Tour
Book your Hotel and Flight for the Malta Carnival
What is the History of Carnival in Malta?
Carnival in Malta is a tradition that has been going on for hundreds of years! The first official carnival took place in 1535 after the arrival of the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1530-1798), during the reign of Piero de Pointe. Carnival started as a much more modest affair in the then capital city of Birgu.
Carnival celebrations consisted mainly of the Knights of St John proving their skills in pageants and tournaments. When they proved their skills, they were in turn awarded for that with banquets. The GrandMaster Piero De Ponte had to start pre-approving all plans before they were carried out to ensure they wouldn’t become too extravagant or elaborate.
Several years later the celebrations had indeed become quite wild and elaborate and interestingly, the man who was responsible for creating Malta’s now capital city Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette was unimpressed by them. In the year 1560 he felt that his knights were going overboard with their celebrations.
He banned mask wearing in public and only allowed it during carnival. The knights would decorate the ships of the Order’s fleet in the harbour and there would be music, dancing and rivalry that was never seen before in Malta. He reprimanded his knights for taking the celebrations too far aboard their ships.
In 1639 again controversy over the wild carnival celebrations occurred and the Grand Master Juan de Lascaris-Castellar banned women from wearing masks or taking part in balls that were organised by the nights, with the consequences of doing so being a public whipping.
The local public did not take kindly to the prohibitions and would blame the Jesuits. They would mock them and try to demand that they repel the Jesuits from Malta and close their church. In fact to this date there is still a well-known Maltese saying ” Qjsek wick laskri “, which translates to “your face looks like Lascaris’ face”. Essentially this saying is used to describe someone who is sad, grumpy and doesn’t want others to have fun.
How to get to Malta?
- By plane: It is easy to get to Malta by plane by flying to Malta’s International Airport. Malta’s national carrier, Air Malta, has many regular connections to the rest of Europe as well as North Africa and Middle Eastern centres.
- By boat: There are numerous ferries that depart from the Sicilian port of Pozzallo in Italy. It is about a 90 minute ride. The ferry also takes vehicles. However, discount airlines like Ryanair can be more convenient as often their prices are cheaper than crossing by boat.
How to get around Malta?
Given the size of Malta, you can easily travel from the north to southern tip in an hour or so, slightly longer by bus. That also means that one of the best ways to get around in Malta is on foot. There are numerous ways that you can make your way around the island these include:
- By Bus: Malta has an extensive island wide bus network. To plan your route you can look on Malta Public Transport website which has a Trip Planner which provides information and route maps. Buses run regularly and fares are quite low at €2-3 for a two-hour ride.
- By taxi: Malta’s white taxis are the ones that are legally allowed to pick you up off the street. They have meters that are for the most part ignored, figure around €15 for a short trip and around €35 for a trip across the island.
- By bike: Renting a bike to get around Malta is not too common but it doesn’t cost much to do so and it offers you plenty of flexibility to explore. There are plenty of bike rental shops all over the island but you can always book one online beforehand so that you don’t get disappointed.
- By car: Renting a car in Malta is one of the best ways to see the country, it’s fairly cheap to rent and driving conditions have greatly improved. It also allows you to make a lot more trips and discover many of the island’s hidden charms at your own pace. It is best to pre-book your car rental online as it usually turns out to be cheaper than booking on arrival. Unlike most of Europe, Malta drives on the left hand side of the road. All the road signs are in English, but the street names are in Maltese.
- By ferry: There are ferries that run between Valletta to the Three Cities, between Valletta and Sliema and between Cirkewwa on Malta Island and Mgarr on Gozo Island. The ferry to Gozo takes around 45 minutes and costs around €4.65. There are also several irregular ferry services to Comino.
- By charter boat: The charter boat industry is booming in Malta. Its central location in the middle of the Mediterranean sea has meant that many large, famous charter yachts are available for charter.