Performers at the Carnaval de Paris

Observing Lent? Stick to tradition with these carnivals in France

Throughout history, the 40 days leading up to Easter have been a religious time for fasting- a tradition that still stands today through giving up various things for Lent. But before this sobering custom took place, Mardi Gras celebrations have long provided a hedonistic revelry of feasting, dancing and outrageous costumes to get observers through the six-week period. Today, the tradition is as strong as ever in France. Between January and March, the country unleashes its wild side in a series of colourful street parties taking place across the nation – and everyone’s invited. From thrilling circus acts to mad carnival parades, find out where to catch the best carnivals in France for all ages.

Carnaval de Nice 2018 | 17 February – 3 March

For two weeks every year, the luxurious streets of Nice are transformed into a stage for one of the loudest and proudest processions imaginable. Carnaval de Nice is not only one of France’s oldest Mardi Gras celebrations, but one of the biggest in the world.

The wacky parade is always filled with weird and wonderful characters. Oversized cartoon figures take prime place in the procession and this year, and with the 2018 theme of ‘King of Space’, you can be sure the show will be truly out of this world.

The parade marches day and night, with the evening spectacles seeing the addition of light shows and musical entertainment. There’s also the traditional flower parades, where blooms are thrown from intricately decorated floats into the crowd in honour of the region’s heritage.

You can purchase seats from the official website – but with this fabulous line up, you might want to be one of the crowd members dancing alongside the procession.

Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain 2018| 1 – 4 February

If you admire the acrobatic skill and dramatic storytelling of the Cirque du Soleil, then the Cirque de Demain in Paris should be your next port of call. Translating to the Circus of Tomorrow this event brings together the future talents of circus performance with a fiery competition.

All performers are aged 25 or under, and more than 100 of them travel from all over the world to compete in this incredible event. The standard of the performers is exceptionally high – featuring all kinds of acts from acrobats and tightrope walkers to jugglers and trapeze artists.  Tickets and further information is available on the official website.

Dunkirk Carnival 2018 | January – March

Dunkirk Carnival masks

Once you’ve arrived at the Calais port, all you need to do is drive 45 minutes to be surrounded by a world of colourful mayhem. The Dunkirk Carnival features all the flashy fun of other French festivities such as balls and parades – but with one eccentric, fishy twist.

The event came about from a 17th-century tradition, where ship owners held a feast for fishermen and their families before six months’ of cod fishing off the coast of Iceland. One particularly unique activity at this carnival sees the town’s Mayor taking stand on a balcony to throw dried herring to the crowds below – so maybe bring a hooded jacket, just in case.

Celebrations are a lengthy process, taking place regularly throughout January, February and March. Head to the official website to see a calendar of events.

Ready to celebrate Mardi Gras in France? Book your ferry to from Dover to Calais now.

Featured image by Julien Ricard.