Winter season in Europe doesn’t have to be boring or all about staying indoors – warm up and have fun as you treat yourself to some of the best winter festivals in Europe.
In this post, I will be listing down some of Europe’s winter festivals ranging from carnivals, light festivals, fire festivals to snow festivities that will bring some light in the wintry gray months of Europe.
Best winter festivals in Europe
1. Venice Carnival, Italy
Having started as a carnival celebrating Venice Republic’s victory over its enemy back in 1162, Venice carnival has become one of the famous annual winter festivals in Europe that has seen thousands of tourists travel to this beautiful European city to experience the enchanting atmosphere of the carnival.
With thousands of people wearing masks and lavish costumes parading on the city’s streets and squares, Venice becomes a warm-hearted place full of smiles, laughter, lots of street foods and enchantments as the locals and tourists enjoy the festivities.
Lasting for a couple of weeks, the carnival organizes a number of events around the city that you can choose to go to. Some of them include;
- The Grand opening of the carnival which takes place on the very first day and a must-attend for everyone as they go all out with the masks and sumptuous costumes backed with music.
- Festa delle Marie Parade which is a beauty contest among 12 women showing the most beautiful costumes and the winner goes away with very expensive jewelry from the Doge.
- The official Venice carnival dinner. This is a perfect event to attend for people who just have a few days in Venice as it showcases a little bit of everything from other events like great food, incredible musical performances, and many others.
- The Best mask contest. Just like the name suggests, this event is all about showcasing the best Venetian mask at St Mark’s Square and winners of each category are entered into the finals to get the ultimate winner with the most impressive and creative mask.
- Other events to look out for during the Venice carnival include the Flight of the Angel, the flight of the Eagle and the Mascheranda Grand ball which is the most important event during the Carnival.
All these events take place at different dates so it’s better to know the exact dates of each to make plans on when to be in Venice. For dates and times of each event, you can check out the official Venice Events website. And if you want to learn everything about this amazing carnival, sign up for this very informative guided tour from getyourguide and follow in the footsteps of Casanova.
Between February and March but the dates keep changing every other year.
2. Amsterdam Light Festival, The Netherlands
Source: Floris Oosterveld under CC license
During the cold and gray winter months, Amsterdam is lit up with the most creative lights display by artists from all over the world along the city’s beautiful canals.
With a number of glistening light sculptures adorning the city, architects, artists, and designers tell stories of the city, art, and human nature by just using light effects.
The unique light artworks can be admired by either taking a boat cruise along Amsterdam’s canals or by or simply walking past the incredible pieces of art.
Pro tip* Walking through the artworks is absolutely free but if you want to opt for the canal cruise, it comes with a fee. There are a number of cruise operators that offer this tour, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting onto one.
From the end of November to mid-January. Check the official website for the exact dates since they keep changing every year.
3. Cologne Carnival, Germany
Source: Hans Dorsch under CC license
The cologne carnival or the ” fifth season ” as locally known, officially begins on November 11th at 11:11 am (11/11 at 11/11) but briefly paused during the Advent and Christmas season. It is one of the oldest and biggest Europe winter festivals.
The carnival puts on a great display of musical entertainment, colorful costumes, crazy parties that surpass the famous Oktoberfest – it is actually the biggest festival in the whole of Germany.
While the carnival officially kicks off in November, the party never actually gets to the max till the ” Crazy days“. Just like the name suggests, those 6 crazy days (which start on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday) are packed with non-stop music, wacky costumes, non-stop flowing beers to carnival attendants singing their hearts out.
Literally the city of cologne turns upside down from the calm city it always is to the craziest city in the country where any kind of “weird” behavior is totally acceptable during those days.
Officially starts from 11th November at 11:11 am but the “crazy days” start on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday for 6 days.
4. Nice carnival, France
Held annually in February, the Nice Carnival along the French Rivera is one of the most famous carnivals in the world receiving over 1 million visitors annually.
With carnival parades, Carnival parade of lights and Flower parades, the French Rivera is embroidered with parades of people, visual entertainment on big screens, musical bands, and models parading beautiful and colorful flowers together with colorful costumes that brighten up the gray days of Nice.
The theme of the carnival changes every year creating a different and exciting festival to attend every other year. The incredible parades often feature well-known characters from pop culture to make the festival even more appealing.
So if you’re looking for the best festivals of the winter season in Europe to brighten up those gray and chilly days, then the Nice carnival in France is the perfect place to be in February.
The carnival takes place in February for 2 weeks. Since the exact dates are never constant, check the official website before you go.
5. Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
Source: Secret Tenerife under CC license
Considered to be the second most popular and internationally known carnival after the one held in Rion de Janeiro, Brazil, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the most colorful, fun and crazy open-air party in Canary Islands of Spain, that you should attend.
With the streets painted in colorful costumes, incredible music, and loud waves of laughter from attendees, the carnival is one of the best winter festivals in Europe receiving thousands of people to experience the flamboyance of this fun-filled spectacle.
Spanning a period of over 1 month, the entire island gets into a frenzy with businesses opening at only restricted hours and everything closing for Carnival Tuesday which is actually an official public holiday during the course of the carnival.
One of the carnival’s main events and a must-attend is the election of the carnival queen. The candidates parade their sumptuous and lavish costumes where the queen is chosen from – an event that officially begins the carnival plus the Burial of the Sardine which marks the end of the festival.
Between February and March. Usually starts 2 weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends at the weekend after Ash Wednesday.
6. Up Helly Aa, Lerwick in Scotland
Although there are 12 fire festivals across the entire Island of Shetland, the largest and most famous is the one in Lerwick. It is an extravaganza and Europe’s biggest fire festival in remembrance of the Vikings who ruled the Shetland Islands a thousand years ago.
As a tradition that dates back in 1876, the Up Helly Aa festival begins with a spectacular parade of Viking warriors and guisers marching with flaming torches and ends with a dramatic burning of a replica Viking longship.
Every last Tuesday of January. You can also check the breakdown of events for the day from here.
7. Altitude Comedy Festival, Mayrhofen, Austria
Source: Altitude Comedy Festival under CC license
The Altitude Comedy Festival in Austria dubbed the funniest show on snow is an incredible festival that mixes adrenaline snow activities and the greatest laughter of the winter season.
Having started in 2007, Mayrhofen in Austria has become one of the best European ski resorts to ski all day and laugh all night in the most hearty and warm venues of the resort.
With a number of incredible comedians from all around the world, the Altitude comedy Festival is the number 1 Alpine comedy festival on the planet receiving adrenaline junkies that want to make non stop runs on the slopes during the day while they laugh the night away from the funniest jokes ever told.
4 to 5 days between March and April but for the exact dates of the year, please check the official website.
8. Let it Roll Winter Festival, Czech Republic
Having started as a small music festival in 2003 in Czech’s capital Prague, Let it Roll Festival has become one of the best winter music festivals in Europe and actually one of the world’s largest drum and bass festivals receiving hundreds of thousands of fans from all around the world.
With a 2 days fun and energetic display of entertainment, the festival brings on a massive line up of artists that enchant its relievers transforming the frosty nights of Prague into a warm and fun-filled city.
At the End of February but check the official website for the exact dates.
9. Fête du Citron, Menton, France
Originally started when the region of Menton was the largest producer of lemons in the whole world to bring some bit color and fun to the gray winter days, the Fête du Citron (known as the Lemon Festival) has become an annual festival parading a number of sculptures made out of the citrus fruits grown in this Southern region of France.
Lasting for 20 days to bring some color and cheer in the wintry season, the Lemon Festival is the fruitiest festival in the entire world with over 140 tonnes of fruits used to create sculptures and demonstrations of this very fruity European winter festival.
You might be wondering whether these fresh citrus fruits don’t go bad during those long 20 days!! They actually do but the organizing team hires a group of 12 people whose job is to keep replacing rotten fruits as a way of keeping everything freshly looking and smelling.
From beautifully molded artwork out of fruits of different colors to sculptures centered around different themes (like Disney, Alice in Wonderland, and Broadway musical), the Lemon Festival is one of the most unique, chic and colorful winter festivals in Europe.
Between February and March. Actually, the dates usually collide with the Nice carnival. Details about the Lemon festival can be found here.
10. New Year’s Dive, The Netherlands
Source: Carolina Georgatou under CC license
If you’re looking for one of those Bizarre European winter festivals, then the Netherlands’ New Year’s Dive is your gem. Having started in 1965 when a swim club decided to dive in the sea at the beginning of the new year as a means of ushering in a new year fresh and rejuvenated, the Dutch tradition has grown into a huge deal that sees hundreds of thousands of people plunge into the winter cold waters of the sea.
Though there are a number of dive centers across the country (approximately 200), the largest one is held at the beach of Scheveningen which gets over 10,000 people flocking into the sea wearing only swimsuits and red caps annually.
But if you don’t feel like braving up for the ice-cold waters, watching from the sidelines of the beach is also a great spectacle as others usher into the new year fresh.
1st January of every year
There you have it, folks! If you were looking for the best winter festivals in Europe, I hope this post gave you ideas on how to combat the winter blues and turn them into a fun, warm and charming wintry season.
More Europe posts to inspire your wanderlust
- Best landmarks to visit in Europe
- Mistakes to avoid while traveling in Europe
- Tips for visiting Paris for the first time
- Best places to visit in Paris
- Travel Mistakes to avoid in Paris
- Hidden spots in Paris
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