Carnivals are celebrated throughout the whole world. Centuries ago, the followers of the Catholic religion in Italy started these celebrations by holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. As they are not supposed to eat meat during the 40 days of Lent, they called their festival, carnevale, which possibly comes from the Latin words carne and vale – “farewell to meat”.

Carnevale di Venezia, Venice, Italy

The origins of the Venetian Carnival date back to 12th-13th century, when the purpose of the masks were to hide the wearer’s identity and social status. These days the celebrations still retain their former glory, with attendees putting on traditional costumes and masks. In some of the noble palaces of Venice, masked balls and private parties are still held to this day. Carnevale di Venezia attracts thousands of tourists each year, especially on Shrove Tuesday which is considered to be the most important day of the celebrations. Festivities occur nightly throughout the city, which is full of balls, street entertainment and traditional sweets, but Piazza San Marco is the center of activity. If you intend on attending the Venetian Carnival, our advise is to make your plans and reservations months in advance, because of the high popularity of this unique carnival.

Nice, France

The Carnival in Nice is heavily influenced by Carnevale di Venezia, with masks being an important part of the carnival costumes. The celebrations last for two weeks, until Mardi Gras, during which attendees eat rich and fatty foods in accordance with the Catholic traditions. There are several street parades during the carnival, one of the most important being the Battle of Flowers – floats overflowing with bouquets parade through the capital of Cote D’Azur while elaborately costumed people throw more than 100 000 flowers to the spectators. The crowd is encouraged to grab and throw the colourful bouquets, which adds to the excitements of the celebrations. If you want to have the best view of this spectacular parade, we suggest you reserve a place in the standing areas along the Promenade des Anglais, as there is the best view!

Cadiz, Spain

The Carnival in Cadiz, Spain dates back to the 16th century and is strongly influenced by Carnevale di Venezia, because of the close trading relations between the two cities at the time. The big city on Andalucia’s Atlantic coast can proudly claim to have the oldest carnival on mainland Spain, which can compete with the festivities in Rio when it comes to colours, floats, fireworks and other entertainment.

Although there are rich costumes, parades and even a carnival queen (something that Carnevale di Venezia doesn’t have), the main focus of the Cadiz Carnival is on wit and satire, rather than on glamour. This may have to do with the fact that people of Cadiz are assumed to be the wittiest in Spain, with a sharp tongue and e great sense of humour. The centerpiece of the carnival are the fierce singing competitions between the numeruous groups, whose members are all dressed in identical costumes. The Carnival of Cadiz is special for yet another reason – during the Franco regime, it was banned, but the people of Cadiz resisted and continued their long-lasting tradition to this day.

Cologne, Germany

The Carnival in Cologne is one of Germany’s most important cultural events, considered by some to be the “fifth season”. It officially begins on 11th November at 11:11, but the real celebrations don’t begin until the following Thursday, on the Weiberfastnacht. Every year, the festivities attracts a million spectators, making it one of the largest in Europe. A highlight of the Cologne Carnival is the Rosenmontag, when three participants are paraded through the city. These peole are designated as a Prince, a Farmer, and a Virgin, respectively representing the personification of Carnival, the City of Cologne and mother Colonia. Throughout the week-long festivities, the city’s bars and pubs are full of cheerful people, greeting one another with “Kölle Alaaf!” (“Cologne above all!”).

Europe has many other great carnivals, but we found those four to be the most exciting and colourful. If you found them intriguing, we advise you to make an European carnival trip as soon as possible. You won’t regret it!