Everything you need to know about Nice Carnival – France’s Best Carnival!

Nice Carnival is one of the biggest, best and oldest carnivals in the world. For 12 days millions of people celebrate carnival in the French Riviera. Here is everything you need to know about attending carnival in Nice!

15th of February 2020

29th of February 2020

Days to start

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What is Nice Carnival?

Nice Carnival or Carnaval de Nice is one of the biggest carnivals and best carnivals in the world, rivalling Rio, Venice or New Orleans Mardi Gras. For a two-week period before the onset of Lent, the city of Nice transforms into an annual 12-day party, that attracts well over a million visitors.

The city of Nice located in France is the ultimate destination to celebrate carnival with its moderate winter climate, beautiful Mediterranean beach vibe, sea views and historic architecture.

Day and night Nice erupts with the carnival atmosphere, with parades, featuring dozens of elaborately decorated floats, as well as over 1000 musicians and dancers from all over the world, and of course the famous Flower Parade.

Street parties take over the city of Nice, and everywhere you look there are people singing, dancing, socialising and having fun. Street vendors are everywhere selling, gifts, flowers, coloured fabrics and food.

When is the Nice Carnival?

Nice Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival that runs for 15 days and nights in the weeks prior to Lent. The 2020 dates for Nice Carnival begin on Saturday 15th February and finishes on Saturday 29th February. 

Where is the Nice Carnival?

Nice is located in the French Riviera is the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes, France. It sits on the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges and is located about 30 kilometres from the border of France and Italy.

What is the history of Nice Carnival

Nice Carnival

What is the history of carnival and what is the history of Nice Carnival? Nice Carnival is one of the longest running carnivals in the world, if not the oldest. It has been running for centuries ever since the Middle-Ages.

It is one of the most important events in the French Riviera and dates back to ancient times when the pagans used to celebrate the winter solstice. They would hold debaucherous and wild celebrations to mark the end of winter and the arrival of spring and harvest.

The first documented account of Nice Carnival was by the King of Sicily in 1294 when he mentioned the ‘Joyful days of the Carnival’, in his writings. For many centuries, Nice Carnival Celebrations were private events, with exclusive parties and masquerade balls thrown in luxurious residences that were attended by rich aristocrats.

However, in 1830 when the King of Sardinia and Queen of Naples and Sicily came to Nice during the carnival period, the local authorities organised a public parade to be held in their honour, which was such a success that it continued. The famous Flower Parade was first held in 1876.

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Nice Carnival 2020 Programme

nice carnival

Where to view the Nice Carnival Parades?

The Parades of Lights and Carnival Parades take place around Place Masséna. While the Battle of the Flowers occurs on the Promenade des Anglais. Both of these locations are in the city centre close to Old Town. It’s very easy to find the locations you only have to spot the bleachers. Also, the tourism office provides maps of parade locations.

While the parade weaves its way through Nice, there are gated security measures in place throughout the city. Therefore, you should plan to get to the most convenient gate for you around an hour before the parade starts to ensure you get a great spot.

It is possible to purchase reserved seating which is recommended especially for the popular Battle of the Flowers and the Carnival Parade of Lights.

Nice Carnival Tickets

You can purchase tickets online from the official website here. Or you can purchase tickets in Nice. There are several ticket offices/kiosks around the town that sell tickets. The main tourist office in Nice sells tickets and it’s located on the Promenade des Anglais.

Ticket discounts are offered to children and to those who purchase seated tickets for both the Carnival Parade and the Flower Parade. Also, children under 6 are free but they will have to sit on their parent’s laps.

There are plenty of free events during carnival including the opening ceremony, burning of the Carnival King and firework displays. Check out the carnival programme for all of them. You can watch the parades for free along the side streets, but you will have to arrive early to get a good spot.

Nice Carnival 2020 Theme: King of Fashion!

Nice carnival two girls in disguise

Every year Nice Carnival has a different overlying theme that is reflected throughout the entire carnival, in the floats, costumes and decorations, and 2020’s theme will be “king of fashion”.

Nice Carnival King

Nice carnival girl with a flower

Nice Carnival is always presided over by a gigantic, kingly character. This tradition dates back to 1882 when the locals would construct a giant straw King and position him on the palace balcony.

The Nice Carnival King’s arrival on the royal float will always signal the start of the carnival celebrations, and each year a new king will set the theme for the whole event. For over two weeks the King will oversee parades day and night. The king is surrounded by floats, bands and costumed characters. While the King’s helpers throw confetti and candies into the crowd.

On last night of Nice Carnival, the King’s reign comes to an end and he is sent out to sea in a little boat and burnt, while the carnival-goers celebrate with a spectacular firework display occurs.

Nice Carnival Parades

Nice carnival girl throwing flowers

Nice Carnival processions is a modern and creative high-quality show that consists of two main events: the Carnival Parade and the Flower Parade.

The Carnival Parade goes both day and night and features 20 floats and over a thousand performers. The parade works its way through Nice led by three main floats – the Kings Float, the Queens Float and one for their son Carnivalon.

All the floats are elaborate and incredible pieces of art that are meticulously designed. The floats are designed to represent the current year’s theme and are accompanied by around 50 giant puppets. These giant papier-Mache puppets are large satirical figures that wear flamboyant costumes that use centuries-old techniques created by specialist craftspeople.

Nice Carnival’s second parade is called the Parade of Lights and doesn’t start until the sun goes down. When it’s all dark the floats lights switch on to reveal the most incredibly beautiful lights decorations adorning the floats. The floats parade well into the night with a variety of musicians, entertainers and fireworks.

Nice Carnival – The Battle of Flowers

nice carnival horse

The Battle of the Flowers, also called the Parade of Flowers, is the most famous event at the Nice Carnival and takes place beside the sea on the famous Promenade des Anglais.

The Battle of Flowers showcases a wild array of beautiful flowers that are produced in the Nice regions and it pays tribute to those who grow them. Flower-decked out floats in the parade are ridden by costumed performers who throw out flowers to the audience. 80% of the flowers thrown during the parade are grown in the area.

Around 100000 fresh-cut flowers are thrown during the parade. There are sixteen flower-floats, that are 7m long and each hold about 3,000 stems of flowers. Two people on each float throw about 20kg of flowers to the crowd and in total about 100,000 fresh cut flowers are thrown during the parade.

The Battle of the Flowers started in 1876 and takes place around Place Massena during the day. The floats throw flowers to the people in the audience and are decked out with thousands of flowers.

The Parade of Flowers started when the Andriot Saetone who founded the modern version of Nice Carnival gave flowers to the audience as a token of thanks and the tradition stuck and grew bigger and bigger.

Nice Carnival is an intoxicating festival designed to make you believe that winter is over, and spring is beginning!

Highly Recommended! – Viareggio Carnival!

We highly recommend if you are already planning on attending carnival, that you extend your trip and visit two of the world’s best carnivals! Unfortunately, most carnivals take place at the same time, in the days prior to Lent. But Viareggio Carnival in Italy occurs not once, but five times in the lead up to Lent! So, it’s one of the only other pre-Lenten carnivals in Europe that you can also visit!

And what is more fun than celebrating carnival once, is celebrating it twice! Viareggio Carnival is one of world’s most renowned carnival celebrations, and rightly so because this Italian town puts on a carnival that is like nothing else in the world! What separates this carnival from the rest, is their awe-inspiring floats! Viareggio Carnival holds the title of having the ‘world’s best carnival floats!’ No other carnival even comes close!

And at Viareggio, carnival is just icing on the cake! Because this carnival takes place in gorgeous Tuscany, one of Italy’s best regions! A region that is famous for its art, architecture, history, culture, picturesque landscapes, great food, great wine and the best of Italian hospitality, that you can enjoy while experiencing the magic of this carnival!

Read more about Viareggio Carnival here.

Nice Carnival Tips

  • Spectators in full costume get free access to the enclosed standing area in Place Massena and around Jardin Albert 1er for the carnival parades (excluding the Battle of the Flowers). But it must be full fancy dress, a mask or a simple accessory won’t cut it.
  • Reserve seats early if you want to claim a good spot! People will book their tickets early and you should as well  if you want the best seats.
  • For the Flower Parade, if you want to be able to catch flowers then you need to be seated in the first five rows. But be warned that everyone tries to catch the flowers so your personal space can be invaded.
  • By pre-purchasing your tickets, you can avoid the long lines at the ticket booth on the day. But the advantage of purchasing when you’re in Nice is that you can check the weather forecast and ensure that the parade will go ahead.
  • Take note of signs for which line you need to be in before entering the enclosures. At Promenade des Anglais, you will see that one line is for the standing area and the other is for the seated ticket holders. Don’t waste your time in the wrong line.
  • You will have to go through security checkpoints upon entering the enclosures so prepare to have your bags and backpacks unzipped and inspected.
  • Don’t rush out when you think the parade is over as the procession of floats will make their way around a second time as they leave, so you might catch something you missed the first time.

How to get to Nice?

By Plane: The easiest way to get to Nice is to arrive at the Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE). Sitting just 7km outside the city it has many international and domestic flights landing every day. From the airport you can either take a taxi or a 20-minute bus to the centre of town. 

By Train: Trains run all the way up and down the coast from Italy to Marseille and are reasonably priced and reliable, so it is a good option if you are nearby. There are several train stations in Nice, but the main station and the busiest is the Central Train Station (Gare de Nice Ville), which also happens to be located close to the city centre. For European rail tickets please go here. 

By Road: There are numerous bus companies that connect between Nice and other French cities, as well as several other international destinations. If you were thinking of driving here, then just be aware that the city is jammed packed during carnival and many main streets are closed, so you may have a difficult time getting around.

By Boat: Port de Nice is one of the most developed and busiest ports on the French Riviera, being used both for commercial and tourist purposes. SNCM is one ferry company that links Nice to other destinations on the Mediterranean Sea.

How to get around Nice?

Once you reach Nice, the local bus and tram networks make it super easy to get around the city. The tram system is very efficient and costs around €1.50 per ride. There are two routes through the centre of town.

The best way and most enjoyable way to get around during Nice Carnival is on foot! You can wander around the city along the waterfront promenades through all the squares and parks taking in everything the city has to offer.

Where to stay for Nice Carnival?

Because Nice has such a great bus and tram system you can pretty much stay anywhere in and around the city because you can easily reach the carnival action. Of course, if you want to be walking distance to everything then stay around the waterfront and close to the promenade.

We suggest booking in advance because of how many tourists Nice Carnival attracts. To get the best deals and availability research and book early, you can always cancel later if your plans change.

Check out some accommodations deals here.

Top things to do and see in Nice

Nice is famous for being a picturesque stylish city on the French Riviera. You must explore Promenade des Anglais which is the best way to experience the gorgeous blue of the Mediterranean. Visit Castle de Nice, or marvel at the Gothic architecture of Notre Dame de Nice.

Visit the Matisse museum which has hundreds of works by the famous artist Henri Matisse.

View the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Nice which was donated by Tsar Nicolas II. To the east of Promenade de Anglais you can visit Parc Phoenix, an enormous park containing an incredible range of exotic plants and flowers. There are also plenty of Roman ruins for you to explore.

Simply wander through the colourful cobblestone streets of old town and while you are there visit Cours Saleya, the main pedestrian area famous for an enormous flower market and filled with quaint shops and cafes.  You must try some delicious French cuisine or sip some cocktails in one of the many glamorous waterfront bars.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.

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Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance! Never travel without coverage! Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads!

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