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The five best Mardi Gras carnivals in Europe

Rio may represent in South America and New Orleans has the know-how in North America, but Europe is arguably the home of Mardi Gras carnivals and festivals with continent wide colourful celebrations, fancy festive dress and enough sparkle to outdo a disco ball. While some of us may be happy with a couple of soggy pancakes soaked in sugar and lemon juice on Shrove Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, these five cities know precisely how to shake ‘em down and mark the beginning of lent. And this is after we’ve already featured two of the best – Barcelona and Venice – in recent blog posts.

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Venice Carnival. By cuellar.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife

It’s with good reason that the capital city of Tenerife is twinned with Rio de Janeiro. We’re also convinced it means many shared agreements and discussions about sequins, feathers and brightly coloured satin as the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife considers itself a worthy competitor to its Brazilian twin. Carnival begins with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen in the first week of February and 2013’s celebrations don’t stop until the 17th February with the ceremonial burial of the sardine. The main event – the parade – is a slickly organised affair with elaborate floats, over the top group fancy dress, fireworks and flashing lights filling Plaza de España with merriment, music and much to gawk at. The good news is that in Tenerife unlike the rest of Europe you’re most likely to have warm temperatures to match the warm spirits. Our top tip to you is to stick around after you think the party has ended on Ash Wednesday as the weekend of the piñata follows shortly after, complete with more carnival-like partying in the Plaza del Principe and surrounding streets.

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Santa Cruz de Tenerife. By pano_philou.

Cologne

Similar to the Carnival of Venice, Cologne officially began its celebrations last year, however, it’s the events leading up to and on Weiberfastnacht (the night of Shrove Tuesday) that Cologne has become famous for. With pubs and bars legally allowed to abandon the usual licensing laws, there is no doubt that this is the beer lover’s carnival as the drinking establishments of Cologne pull out all the beer tap stops to quench thirsts and maintain party spirits. The main parade takes place the day before Shrove Tuesday, known as Rosenmontag and the floats, marching bands and the traditionally dressed Corps troops snake along 6 kilometres from the south of the city to the famous Cathedral. Crowds are usually calm, allowing children to get to the front to see the parade and be sure to join in by shouting “Kamelle!” which is a call for those in the parade to throw sweets into the crowd, which will indeed happen. In fact, it’s estimated over 140,000 tonnes of sweets and chocolates will be dished out to parade spectators on Rosenmontag!

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Hooray! By *** Harold R ***.

Nice

Flying the flag for France is the southern city of Nice and we make no judgments about relaxed Mediterranean ways when we say that the Nicoise are a little late for Mardi Gras, with their carnival taking place from 15th February until 6th March. The carnival adopts a different theme each year and 2013 is the year for the “King of Five Continents” so expect an international flavour from the musicians and dancers that entertain the crowds lining the famous Promenade des Anglais. By the time the floats shimmy into Place Masséna, spectators should have noticed that flowers are the parade participants weapon of choice with the “floral battles” seeing float creators try to outdo each other with crazily creative floral arrangements. You will also find that flowers are often thrown into the crowds too. So please don’t confuse this with the advice just given for Cologne. Do not eat the flowers.

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Carnaval de Nice. By  Pirotek.

Basel

Basel Fasnacht is a three day event held the week after Ash Wednesday and is centred around two processions, a number of music concerts and a special exhibition of beautifully illustrated lanterns to be found in front of the Cathedral in Münsterplatz lighting up the Swiss city’s sky. Full-face Venetian style ceramic masks are worn by those wearing traditional historic dress during the parades on Monday and Wednesday afternoons and you can expect drums and high pitched piccolos to be making enjoyable music. Locals love this festival of theirs, and the Guggenmusik is a definite festival highlight. In a nutshell, it involves musicians dressing up in rather unattractive ogre-like costumes to play their chosen instruments in a surprisingly un-Swiss, disorganised manner before parading in groups across the city on Tuesday night. The party continues with ogre masks off in Basel’s pubs and bars…

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Basel Fasnacht. By jrodmanjr.

Rijeka

This Croatian town nestled along the north of the stunning Dalmatian coast is one of Croatia’s best kept secrets, especially in February when it offers locals and in-the-know visitors a lively, family-friendly carnival complete with children’s parade, snowboard competitions and a crazy car rally. Not wanting to waste time, this festival is already in full swing and as would be seen in Cologne and Basel, Rijeka‘s parade performers will be donning “ugly masks”, a custom that dates back many, many years and is believed to help in warding off bad spirits before lent begins. Korzo Street is where most of the action takes place, but don’t forget to look up and around at your surroundings too as Rijeka is also a beautiful city full of Baroque architecture, Roman ruins and winding medieval streets.

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Rijeka Carnival. By Andre Pinho.

Featured image of Tenerife by pano_philou.