1. “Carnival of Venice”
Venice, Italy (January 31 – February 17)
This is one of the craziest parties of the year in Europe! This near month long event is held in the scenic Piazza San Marco, the “Carnevale in Venice” is for lovers, families, friends, and wildly costumed superfreaks of all kinds. Start your day with a strong Italian espresso (or brandy), then head down to the Piazza and check out the wild and wacky costumes and performances. Grab a slice of pizza pie (and perhaps another brandy or vino) then get ready for an even crazier celebration where things get even more wild at night, until the wee hours of the morning.
2. “Storico Carnevale di Ivrea”
Ivrea, Italy (February 1 – 8 & February 12 -18)
This festival has been held in Ivrea since medieval times, when a ruthless baron who starved the city was driven out by a brave young woman who managed to evoke courage from the hungry beaten down town folk, and caused a revolt that liberated the city (sorry for the run-on sentence, my bad!) Held during the first and middle half of the month for a week at a time, this festival is a little more tame and cultured than the Carnival of Venice, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. There’s reenactments of the liberation battle that save the city, parades, dancing, singing, and as you can imagine: tons of Italian food and swag to be had!
3. “Le Carnaval de Nice”
Nice, France (February 13 – March 31)
This festival began as a way for French Catholics to eat, drink and be merry before beginning Lent; a 40 day fast required by followers every year. Now it’s just a whole lot of fun for the entire family! Held on the French Riveria, this is actually one of the biggest carnivals in the world! Parades, massive floats, strange and wacky 20 ft tall skeletons and dinosaurs at the Place Masséna, and musicians from all over the world. It’s estimated that approximately 1000 musicians and dancers attend and perform at this festival every year. Learn more here.
4. “Copenhagen Winter Jazz Festival”
Copenhagen, Denmark (February 6 – 22)
Copenhagen is known as northern Europe’s biggest festival city and this winter version of the even more popular Copenhagen Summer Jazz Festival won’t disappoint if Jazz music is your thing. Listen to tons of musicians from all over Europe come together to entertain, eat traditional Danish fare, drink some awesome world-renowned brew, visit the museums, take in the spectacular architecture.
5. “Carnaval de Binche”
Binche, Hainaut, Belgium (February 15 -17)
The city of Binche in Hainaut takes their folklore seriously. The “Gilles” shown in the picture, protect against evil spirits by dancing around and waving their “wielding sticks”. This festival has lots of parades, singing, improv and many other eclectic performances. If you’ve never been to Belgium, this festival event will be a great way to learn what sets Belgians apart from neighboring countries! This festival has been proclaimed one of the best Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
6. “Sitges Carnival”
Sitges, Spain (February 12 – 18 & February 15 -17)
This is another pre-Lent celebration — with a twist! This French Mardi Gras party is also a big draw for people in the gay community with Sitges being the “gay capital of Europe” (see the Sitges page for more info), though this celebration is meant for everyone. There’s parades, parties, singing, dancing, barbecues on the beach, wine, and an atmosphere built around love and acceptance for all. Prepare to be wowed with the costumes on display, and prepare to adorn yourself in something colorful and wacky to fit in.
7. “Kolner Karneval”
Cologne, Germany (February 12 – 18)
If you’re an American reading this, you’re likely starting to realize that February is the month of colorful dress in Europe! The Germans are no different and it’s a sure bet that you’ll be able to find a “Weizen Glass” or “Stein” of strong German brew being offered up almost anywhere. This is another pre-Lent celebration meant to prepare for the 40-day Catholic fast. Parades, parades, and oh — parades! The Monday Rose parade being the biggest and most colorful. There’s also plenty of shows indoors and out, and fun games for kids to play all over the city. You can also sample some of the finest Schnitzel Germany has to offer here too. If you’re shy, beware of the “Bützje” from the locals!
8. “Düsseldorf Karneval”
Düsseldorf, Germany (February 12 – 18)
It is indeed possible that the sweet granny in the picture might be at the “Düsseldorf Karneval” and could in fact swoop in to give you a friendly Bützje! This is Düsseldorf’s version of the party in Cologne, to lead up to the start of Lent. They also have a Monday Rose parade in the middle of the celebration that draws tourists from all over the world to come see. Parties, games, performances, beer and Schnitzel are widely available too!
Did I miss any?
Share them in the comments please.
Main Image: “Carnival in Prague” by Marketa