Europe’s most popular carnivals are a great excuse to get away in February. Where do you fancy going? Cadiz, Tenerife, Venice, Basel...
The carnival is that time of the year where anything goes and people let their hair down just before Lent. It’s an important tradition in many Christian countries. This festival seems to have its roots in Sumer and ancient Egypt; it spread to the Roman Empire and then rapidly across Europe. Later on, in the 15th century, the Spanish and Portuguese took this tradition to Latin America, and countries like Brazil and the Dominican Republic embraced it and turned it into their own special celebration.
In Europe there are also some cities where the carnival is celebrated in style. It is well worth planning a getaway to one of these cities when the carnival is on! It will help to take our minds off the fact that the holidays are still a long way away, and it will definitely help to lift our mood! Let’s take a look!
1. Tenerife Carnival
In 2022: 23 February to 6 March
Murgas singing comical songs for adults and children, comparsa groups singing about social or political issues, the Burial of the Sardine, the crowning of the Carnival Queen, and a vast programme of activities for you to enjoy in Tenerife in February. Because, as well as the numerous attractions that the island has to offer, it has one of the most important carnivals in the world. It’s the most popular festival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and one where everyone can take part. It was designated a Festival of International Tourist Interest in 1980, and since 1987 it has been registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest outdoor gathering of people dancing.
Thanks to the island’s great climate, people can wear costumes that are often veritable works of art. Many people spend the whole year making their costumes!
DON’T MISS: The Cabalgata Anunciadora (Opening Parade), which kick starts the festival; and the Gran Coso Apoteosis parade, which takes place at the end and is usually a very exciting event for both locals and visitors.
Things to see in Tenerife
Although the carnival will take up most of your time, you have to save some time to go up Mount Teide by cable car, go for a stroll round La Laguna to see the colourful houses, visit Puerto de la Cruz or go on a whale-watching tour off the south coast of the island.
2. Venice Carnival
In 2022: 12 February to 1 March
Venice pulls out all the stops and offers visitors a real spectacle that you have to experience at least once in a lifetime. It is said that the tradition dates back to the 11th century, but achieved its greatest splendour in the 18th century when noblemen and women, princes and princesses descended on the city from all over the world to enjoy the show.
As you walk round the streets of Venice during the carnival you won’t be able to resist taking photos of all the people dressed up. In 2022, the fun starts on 12 February with the Venetian Water Festival, and there will be lots of other events such as the mask competition and the crowning of the most beautiful Maria. If you have enough time, be sure to go to Burano, where you can enjoy many activities that turn the island into a magical place during the carnival.
Things to see in Venice
You probably won’t have much time left for sightseeing, but there are a few things you shouldn’t miss: sail down the Grand Canal in a gondola, take a photo on Rialto Bridge and visit Piazza San Marco, with its amazing Basilica, the Clock Tower and the Doge’s Palace. If you have enough time, the best plan is to enjoy the view of the city from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi viewpoint.
3. Cadiz Carnival
In 2022: 2-12 June
In 2022 we have to wait until June to enjoy Cadiz Carnival and its traditional chirigota songs, because the city council decided to postpone the festival due to COVID-19. It’s one of the most important carnivals in Spain, twinned with the one in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and its main stage is the Gran Teatro Falla theatre. The traditional Carnival Music Group Competition takes place there.
In Cadiz we may not see the spectacular costumes that we find in Tenerife (some of which can weigh up to 200 kg and have to be carried with wheels), but the traditional chirigotas (satirical songs), comparsas, choirs and quartets are equally attractive and entertaining.
Things to see in Cadiz
Other things you shouldn’t miss in Cadiz are the Tavira Tower, where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city from the top; Castle of Santa Catalina; La Viña neighbourhood; and kick off your shoes and go for a walk on one of the city’s beaches. Don’t miss a sunset from La Caleta beach, situated in the heart of the historic quarter between two fortresses.
4. Nice Carnival
In 2022: 11-27 February
Another of the most popular carnivals in Europe is Nice: a sophisticated and colourful event where people wear stunning costumes that you’re sure to love. The Parade of Lights and the Carnival Parades all take place around Place Masséna, and the popular Flower Parade – a classic during this festival – takes place on Promenade des Anglais. Tickets can be bought in advance so you can make sure you won’t miss a thing.
Things to see in Nice
Matisse Museum is one of the main attractions in Nice, but there is also a stunning Orthodox cathedral, and the bustling city centre is full of bars, shops and restaurants. Nice oozes glamour, with its vast promenade and luxurious houses. Travellers can enjoy the simple pleasure of walking along the Mediterranean coast, or going up the hill where you can find mansions belonging to international celebrities. Haven’t got much time to spare? Save at least a couple of hours to explore Nice.
5. Basel Carnival
In 2022: 7-9 March
Basel Carnival is the most important one in Switzerland and the highlight of the year in this grave-looking city that goes all out to celebrate this colourful event! Basel Carnival has been listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Residents call it “Fasnacht” and it takes place in the old town. It kicks off on the Monday after Ash Wednesday with Morgenstreich, an early morning parade with thousands of people dressed up, carrying lanterns and playing drums. And it all ends with Ändstraich at 4am on the Thursday. What happens in between is hard to explain – it’s something you have to experience at least once in a lifetime!
Things to do in Basel
We advise you to leave plenty of time to visit Basel as there are more than 40 museums. It’s one of the European cities with the largest number of cultural attractions! Some of the museums not to be missed are the Kunstmuseum (Art Museum); the Beyeler Foundation, where we find artworks by Monet, Cézanne, Picasso and Warhol, to name a few; and the Haus der elektronischen Künste Basel (HeK), the House of Electronic Arts, where you can find the most avant-garde art. This city on the Rhine River has a beautiful medieval historic quarter that is also full of attractions. You can find the Basler Münster Cathedral and Spalentor (Gate of Spalen), one of the three gates that are preserved on the walls that surround the medieval city.
6. Cologne Carnival
In 2022: 24 February to 2 March
About 50 minutes from Düsseldorf we find the picturesque city of Cologne, Germany’s oldest city, on the Rhine River. Cologne is a modern and cosmopolitan city and it has a very popular carnival.
The fun starts on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday with the traditional Weiberfastnacht, when the women take charge of the festival after the mayor gives them the keys to the city. The parades take place on Monday (known as Rosenmontag) and you won’t be able to resist dancing to the lively carnival music! It’s well worth visiting Cologne during the carnival as it will prove it’s an open and friendly city: people go all out during the carnival and many schools and neighbourhoods celebrate in style.
Things to see in Cologne
After exploring the cathedral and Hohenzollern Bridge, you shouldn’t miss the Wallraff-Richartz Museum and the amazing Museum Ludwig, where you can see artworks by Picasso, Warhol and Dalí. Go for a stroll through Reihnpark after spending an afternoon shopping at the little shops in Schildergasse – it’s the best way to round off an unforgettable stay in this German city!