Mardi Gras Madness: The Most Dazzling Carnivals in Europe

What once began as a period of merrymaking just before Lent has transformed into a series of colourful events celebrated across the world. Carnivals are now some of the biggest and boldest parties on the planet, with masks, costumes and spectacular parades the norm. While Brazil may be renowned as the spiritual home of carnival, you can catch many of the most extravagant celebrations without even leaving the continent. Slip on your brightest outfit and check out our favourite carnivals in Europe to revel in the delightful madness.

Cologne Carnival, Germany, 4th – 9th February

Cologne Carnival Germany
Photo: J. Rieger, Köln / Cologne Carnival Festival Committee

One of Germany’s most important cultural occasions, the historic Cologne Carnival is almost as old as the city itself. The yearly event was brought to Germany by the Romans, and was used as a way of letting loose before Lent. Officially the festivities begin as early as November 11th at 11.11pm, but the real action starts on Women’s Carnival Day on 4th February with a street party and masked balls. The entertainment continues all the way to the weekend with endless parades and lively music. The largest procession takes place on Rose Monday when the official march kicks off to enormous fanfare and passes the imposing Cologne Cathedral.

Nice Carnival, France, 13th – 28th February

Nice Carnival France
Image: H. LAGARDE

The French Riviera comes alive when one of the world’s largest carnivals kicks off in Nice. Presided over by the fictional ruler of mayhem, King Carnival, this epic experience sees gigantic floats parade down the elegant Promenade des Anglais, as well as street parties and food stalls in place throughout the 14-day event. Kids and green-fingered adults alike will love the Battle of Flowers, one of the most famous parts of the carnival that sees entertainers throw thousands of fresh flowers out into the crowd.

Carnival of Cultures, Germany, 13th – 16th May

Berlin Cultural Carnival Germany
Image: Jurino Reetz, Daniela Incoronato und Frank Löhmer

With over 1.5 million attendees in 2015, this vibrant four-day event transforms the German capital into a big stage. Much like Notting Hill, the carnival helps to celebrate the wonderful diversity of Berlin and its status as a melting pot for different cultures. Professional musicians, dancers and entertainers flood the streets with energetic performances as the famed procession passes through the streets of Berlin’s hipster neighbourhood, Kreuzberg. Expect to be blown away as you witness everything from stilt walkers to acrobats and enjoy phenomenal concerts all through the day.

Notting Hill Carnival, UK, 28th – 29th August

Notting Hill Carnival London

Europe’s biggest street festival, Notting Hill Carnival has been showing the world how to start a real party since 1964. The festival has long been hailed as one of the most important events in British culture, celebrating diversity in London over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Over 1 million people attend each year to see West London transformed into a sea of colour, full of sights, sounds and smells that nod to its Caribbean roots. The air is full of every genre of music, from reggae to salsa as well as the pounding rhythm of steel drums. Make sure to grab some street food like jerk chicken or enjoy the festivities and flamboyant costumes of the parade on Sunday, which is a popular day for families.

If this has motivated you to embark on your own explorations of these awesome cities, why not check out our adventure page for more inspiration?