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Blog Carnival 2020: 6 crazy festivals in Europe
Woman at Venice carnival
Date: 23 January 2020

Carnival 2020: 6 crazy festivals in Europe


Everyone’s heard of Rio’s spectacular carnival celebrations, but did you know there are some pretty amazing alternatives right here in Europe?

Take a look at these six colourful, quirky, and downright wild carnival festivals from around Europe and get ready for the party of a lifetime!

1. Carnaval de Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Spain

Woman dressed up at Tenerife Carnival

The carnival celebrations in Tenerife are a spectacular. Photo: Wikimedia Tamara Kulikova / CC BY-SA 4.0

This unique carnival is renowned as Europe’s answer to the one in Rio de Janeiro, and carnival enthusiasts insist that it’s practically just as good.

Here you’ll get nine days of flamboyant celebrations, floats and live music that culminate in the crowning of the Carnival Queen and the traditional burial of the sardine. Yes, you read that right! Towards the end of the carnival, a large funeral procession accompanies a giant artificial sardine to its grave to signify the end of the festivities.

Women at Carnival in Santa Cruz

Rhythm and flamboyance are the centerpieces of the Santa Cruz carnival parades

Since this carnival is so big, it might be a good idea to hire a guide to take you around. It’s not expensive and it will help you make the most of all of the fantastic celebrations, and to understand the meanings behind them.

Woman taking photo at Teide National Park

There’s plenty more to see in Tenerife before and after the festivities

Once the sardine has been well and truly buried, you might like to pay a visit to Teide National Park and walk off some of that carnival adrenaline in Tenerife’s beautiful countryside.

The island is well-known for its scenic trails that criss-cross the landscape. They were made by herdsmen over 500 years ago as they drove their livestock from summer to winter pasture and back again. And anyway, maybe you’re feeling a bit ‘sheepish’ after all the dancing…

When is it?

21 February – 1 March 2020

How do I get there?

Norwegian operate flights to Tenerife South, then it’s just a short taxi ride into Santa Cruz town centre.

Where can I stay?

Hotel Escuela Santa Cruz
Reasonably priced, cosy and only a stone’s throw or two away from the festivities.

NH Tenerife
Two blocks away from the sea, you’ll find this comfortable hotel, perfect for those who want to go back and sink into a soft, clean bed after the festivities.

2. Cologne Carnival, Germany

Girl dressed up at Carnival in Cologne

The biggest day of Cologne’s carnival is Rose Monday, when there’s a massive parade through the city. Photo: Flickr Radomir CernochCC BY-SA 2.0

With roots dating back to the 1700s, we can safely say that the carnival in Cologne is a well-established event.

The biggest parade of Cologne’s carnival takes place on Rose Monday – the Monday before Ash Wednesday – and the liveliest day of the celebrations. No less than 10,000 people, 350 horses and over 100 musicians gather together for a procession of over six kilometres.

But this is just the icing on the cake, as the whole week is one big party, with dances, parades and a municipal council that temporarily sets aside some of the drinking laws on the occasion of the carnival (although not, of course, those that apply to underage or irresponsible drinking).

Mother and child dressed up at the carnival in Cologne

Everyone is invited to take part in the celebrations. Photo: Flickr Harold R Cologne / CC BY-SA 2.0

Indeed, in spite of the bars being open 24 hours a day, this is also a festival for the kids, and includes children’s parades and other events especially for the youngsters.

Cologne city views

Cologne is a beautiful place to visit, before and after the carnival

The city itself has roots dating back over 2,000 years. It was probably founded in the year 38 BC, but was then known as Oppidum. This means it has enormous amounts of architectural highlights to offer, together with a fascinating history.

Check out Cologne Cathedral and the Old Town, and take a trip to the top of the Cologne Triangle, a skyscraper with a view you’ll find hard to forget.

When is it?

20 – 28 February 2020

How do I get there?

Norwegian operate flights to Amsterdam during February. From there, it’s a 2-3 hour train journey to Cologne.

Where can I stay?

Savoy Hotel
This is a modern hotel with a palette of colours that suits the carnival spirit perfectly. It’s in the heart of the city centre, has a restaurant and bar, and if your muscles are aching after all the dancing, you might like to pay a visit to the spa there.

Humboldt1 Palais-Hotel & Bar
This is a 5-star bed & breakfast with luxurious rooms, bar and lounge. When you’re tired and worn out from the celebrations, you can have one of the hotel’s private chauffeurs come and pick you up.

3. Carnevale in Venice, Italy 

Masked woman at Venice Carnival

Venice is one of the best places in Europe to enjoy the carnival celebrations

Venice. Hardly any other city can call forth so many associations, among so many people, by virtue of its name alone.

Canals, gondolas, architecture and Italian cuisine, the carnival of Venice is just as old as the waterside poles that the city is so famous for. Ever since the year 1162, locals and visitors alike have arranged a huge party which, over the years, has developed into the Venetian masquerade ‘carnevale’.

Masked woman at Venice Carnival masquerade ball

Porcelain masks worn at the city’s many masquerade balls

All week long, balls are arranged where guests put on classic porcelain masks, or in many cases, more rudimentary versions of these. You can buy tickets to the various balls, all of which are held in impressive, historic palaces, some of which are embellished entirely with marble.

You can learn more about the carnival and how these masks are made, on a guided Secrets of Venice Carnival and Life of Casanova Tour.

Venetian mask

Masks can range from simple and elegant to extravagant and intricate

When your ball has come to an end, there’ll still be more than enough to see and do in Venice. But when the city is full of carnival-goers, it might be an idea to take one of the many skip-the-line tours on offer. Then you’ll avoid queuing at the major attractions and will have time to see more fascinating monuments – instead of just the backs of people’s heads.

When is it?

8 February – 25 February 2020

How do I get there?

Norwegian operate flights to Milan during February. The train to Venice takes around 2.5 hours.

Where can I stay?

Hotel Bisanzio
This is a cosy 4-star hotel near the Bridge of Sighs. You’ll find classic interior furnishings, a free breakfast and childminders who can look after the kids in your room here.

Bellevue & Canaletto Suites
If you really want to bask in luxury, this is the perfect hotel for you. It was built and furnished using heavy, exclusive materials, and emanates an aura of bygone times. It has views on all sides, and is only 100 metres from all the sights and attractions.

Wherever you decide to stay, you’ll need to book early – Venice is not big, but its carnival is!

4. Nice Carnival, France

Nice carnival float

Nice doesn’t do things by halves! There will be plenty to see at the carnival. Photo: Flickr Lambert Rellosa / CC BY-ND 2.0

Six parades, 17 floats and thousands of dancers and musicians from all over the world constitute this, the finest and most fun carnival in France.

Ever since the 1800s the local inhabitants of France’s fifth biggest city have struck up the band and kicked off their carnival celebrations in February.

Flower parade Nice

The flower parade at the Nice carnival is not to be missed! Photo: Wikimedia Zil,  CC BY-SA 3.0

The most distinctive thing about the Nice Carnival is the so-called flower parade. Costume-clad carnival-goers hand out flowers from large floats. You can smell them from the pavement, and if you’re lucky you might just pick up a pretty bouquet.

Nice harbour

Check out the harbour in Nice when visiting this picturesque city

The French Riviera is fabled for its fashionable parties. Jetsetters from all over the world have Nice as their favourite holiday destination, but that doesn’t mean the city is inaccessible or overpriced.

Nice has charming pavement cafés, a small historic centre with a number of excellent restaurants, and is a paradise for those who love shopping. However, you’ll need to bring your carnival costume with you, unless Jean Paul Gaultier has created something we haven’t yet noticed.

When is it?

15 – 29 February 2020

How do I get there?

Norwegian operate flights to Nice, then it’s a 20-minute train ride from the airport.

Where can I stay?

H33 hôtel
Reasonably-priced hotel that posts mattress types on their web page. That should guarantee a good night’s sleep a mere kilometre from Nice city centre.

Mercure Nice Marche aux Fleurs
An elegant hotel on the seafront. Some of the rooms are older and rather more difficult to access via a spiral staircase, so if you need easy access to your room, bear this in mind when making your reservation.

5. Copenhagen Carnival, Denmark

Dancing at the Copenhagen Carnival

Copenhagen’s carnival is a major event in the Danish capital. Photo: Flickr Stig Nygaard / CC BY 2.0

While some of the carnivals on this list date back to the 1100s, the Danish didn’t start the fun and games until 1982. In spite of this, Copenhagen Carnival has already become a major event with over 100,000 people making their way to the Danish capital to take part in three days of parades and other events and spectacles.

Costumes at the Copenhagen Carnival

The carnival takes place in the warmer month of May. Photo: Flickr Stig Nygaard / CC BY 2.0

Instead of dancing their way through February and March though, the Danes have chosen May for their event this year, with warmer weather and lighter nights. This means hustle and bustle and merriment in the streets, open-air cafés and plenty of Danish red sausage. It’s never a bad idea to visit Copenhagen, but it’s even more fun when the carnival is on.

When is it?

29 – 31 May 2020

How do I get there?

Norwegian operate flights to Copenhagen. Frequent trains run from the airport to the city centre.

Where can I stay?

Comfort Hotel Vesterbro
Centrally-located near the Tivoli amusement park and the central railway station. Fine standard, reasonably priced.

The Square
Elegant hotel in the heart of the town centre. Rudimentary design, without being too impersonal and soulless. High level of comfort and walking distance to most places of interest.

6. Notting Hill Carnival, London, England

Bright costumes at Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival is flamboyant, crazy and very colourful. Photo: Wikimedia David Sedlecky / CC BY-SA 4.0

Notting Hill is more than just the setting of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant’s epic romantic comedy, it’s also the venue for a fantastic, weekend-long street party in August. Here, a piece of the Caribbean comes to London.

The carnival first came about in 1959 as an attempt to alleviate racial conflict between ethnic Britons and people of Caribbean origin.

Today, it attracts about a million visitors per year, and there’s Caribbean street fare all over the place that you can binge on while listening to reggae, merengue, calypso and rumba.

Dancing at Notting Hill Carnival

Caribbean beats make the streets jump throughout the carnival weekend. Photo: Wikimedia David Sedlecky / CC BY-SA 4.0

If, contrary to expectations, you should find that you have the strength left to do something else after indulging in an intense rumba session, you might like to partake in some of the London classics like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Madame Tussaud’s. If you’re saving all your pennies for the festivities, then take a look at our tips on how to do London on a budget.

You could also try something nice and simple: Pay a visit to The Chipping Forecast in Notting Hill, one of London’s best fish and chip restaurants, then go to one of the many local parks, lie down in the grass, relax and enjoy your meal.

When is it?

30 – 31 August 2020

How do I get there?

Norwegian operate flights to London. You can take the train from the airport to the city centre.

Where can I stay?

The Princes Square Hotel
Reasonably-priced 4-star hotel only a few blocks away from the festivities. Adequate rooms where a nice cup of tea is guaranteed.

The Portobello Hotel
A very charming hotel with a mixture of British kitsch and luxury boutique style. Located in a residential area, so it should be possible to get a good night’s sleep here even when the festivities are still going on.

Like the sound of this second option? Take a look at our favourite boutique hotels in London.


NOT Route 66: 3 alternative USA road trips