Top Carnivals to Experience in Europe

Last October, EuropeanLife listed some venues across Europe for that perfect, classy night out everyone deserves. Now, here is a list of the best carnivals on the continent for those who love a good time. But first, here is a bit of background on the significance of these iconic festivities.

One for the Culture

Carnivals are cultural touchstones. That is a big reason why they are a major draw every year. But while carnivals are popular by themselves, the media have become effective purveyors of these celebrations, providing people all over the world a glimpse of what goes on at these festivities. They are shown in commercials, dissected in documentaries, memorialized in postcards or Instagram stories and film, like the Mexican Dia de Los Muertos carnival depicted in the James Bond film Spectre. They are even used as inspiration by the gaming world. The TuxSlots title Samba Carnival uses images that have become synonymous with famous festivals like the Notting Hill Carnival. Given the global accessibility of the game, people everywhere can play it. While doing so, they can also get a sense of the underlying dynamics that make the top European carnivals worth experiencing first-hand: they are fun, fantastic, and above all else full of life.

Carnival of Santa Cruz of Tenerife

The Canary Islands is home to the second most popular carnival in the world: the
Carnival of Santa Cruz of Tenerife. It is held every February at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the largest island. The party begins on a Friday, and a celebration is held nightly until Ash Wednesday. Participants join in the entierro de la sardine (literally “burial of the sardine”), a tradition in which a giant sardine made of paper is carried through the streets of Santa Cruz followed by wailing widows. It is a period of mourning, and a brief interlude to the fun that starts again the following weekend.

Notting Hill Carnival

The Notting Hill Carnival began in 1966 as a way of bringing together the considerable West Indian population in Notting Hill, London. Since then, it has been held every August to celebrate the vibrant Caribbean culture, which continues to be well represented in London. It is a festive celebration, with millions flooding the streets for some dancing, lots of socializing, great Caribbean food, and samba music. Starting this year, the Notting Hill Carnival will be a three-day event, and that means more fun and festivities.

Carnival of Venice

The Carnival of Venice dates back to the 15th century and is one of the world’s most famous carnivals. The party builds up days before the actual carnival, with street performances, parades, and balls being held all over the city of Venice. The center of all the action is St. Mark’s Square, which lights up on carnival day with a throng of participants wearing masks while singing and dancing. The masks are often elaborate because legend has it that they were originally worn by noblemen and women to protect their identity, as they participated in the celebration. The main celebration is held on Shrove Tuesday.

Binche Carnival

Belgium’s Binche Carnival (or the Le Carnaval de Binch) takes place in the town of Binche and is an annual celebration of the country’s heritage and traditions. This carnival, which has been named by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, features a build-up spanning several Sundays. It includes many small parades, including live performances and musical acts. But the main event happens during Shrove Tuesday, where Gilles or clown-styled performers lead a festive celebration.

Carnival of Basel

The Carnival of Basel takes place between February and March and attracts some 500,000 visitors annually. Morgenstreich’s festivities start early followed by a three-day party, including parades with marching bands and costumes.