Venice (16 February – 5 March)
A classic, and definitely one of the most magnificent and elaborate Carnivals in Europe, the festivities commence with the flight of an angel, whereby a circus artist (secured by a steel cable) floats down over Piazza San Marco from the Campanile. During the following ten days, right up until Ash Wednesday, artistic and creative performances, including commedia dell'arte productions, are presented on various stages. And of course, visitors all over the city can admire the revellers in their fancy dress and famous masks. The parade and award ceremony for the most beautiful costume are the highlights of this Carnival.
Cologne (28 February – 6 March)
Kölle Alaaf! Carnival plays such an important role in Cologne, and in the Rhineland in general, that Carnival time is known as the "fifth season". The folk festival starts with the Weiberfastnacht (Women's Carnival), on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. The celebrations will go on, in the pubs and on the streets, until the evening of Shrove Tuesday, with the ultimate climax on Rose Monday, a.k.a. Shrove Monday, when over 10,000 participants and a hundred floats surge through the centre of Cologne, cheered on by up to 1 million spectators. You can't help but get into the spirit of Carnival at the biggest Rose Monday parade in Germany!
Binche, Belgium (3 – 6 March)
Don't wear white, because when the "gilles" throw blood oranges into the crowd on Shrove Tuesday, it could get a bit messy ;-) The gilles, costumed dancers with wax masks and headdresses adorned with ostrich feathers, have been listed in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2003, but they've been driving evil away from the small town of Binche on Carnival days since the 14th century. Experience this spectacle with the whole family.
Getting there by train: Binche is just over an hour from Brussels by train. You can also travel directly on the InterCity trains.
Nice (16 February - 2 March)
Carnival in Nice is all about flowers and blossoms. During the batailles des fleurs (battle of the flowers), extravagantly decorated floats with countless floral arrangements move along the Promenade des Anglais and toss up to 100,000 flowers to the spectators. It's no wonder these unique flower parades attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Basel (11 – 13 March)
Carnival is all about excess – in eating, drinking and wearing elaborate costumes. All the more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that otherwise 'straight-laced' Switzerland offers one of Europe's most impressive carnivals, the Basel Fasnacht. The festivities begin with the Morgenstreich on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, at 4:00 in the morning on the dot. All the lights in the city go out, and hundreds of Carnival groups march through the streets accompanied by drum music and lantern light. A truly unique experience!
Notting Hill Carnival, London (24 – 26 August)
London's biggest street party, the Notting Hill Carnival, takes place every year outside the traditional European Carnival season on the last weekend of August. Party, sing and dance, as London's Caribbean community spreads through the streets of Notting Hill with booming sound systems, colourful costumes and contagiously high spirits.