Carnaval 2023: A guide to carnival celebrations in the Netherlands (2023)

One of the most hotly anticipated times of the year for certain people living in the Netherlands has got to becarnival. Read on to find out more about this fun and colourful Dutch tradition.

What is carnival?

In short, carnival is a Catholic celebration that takes place in the weeks leading up to the Easter holidays. Nowadays the holiday might have lost some of the more traditional religious elements, but originally carnival marked the beginning of Lent - the 40-day fasting periodahead of Easter which kicks off on Ash Wednesday.

The European city most strongly associated with carnival is probably Venice, but it’s celebrated here in the Netherlands too,largely in the southern regions, as these provinces are traditionally Catholic.

Carnival in the Netherlands is a melting pot of Dutch traditions with Italian, French and German elements. The three-day festival involves a reversal of social norms where revellers wear costumes, cities temporarily change their names, a Prince of Carnival is chosen, and daily life is put on hold to make way for parties!

(Video) Traditional Carnival Netherlands (Carnaval) | How do Dutch celebrate festivities?

The highlight of thecarnival festivities is the Carnival Parade, in which a tour of large floats organised by local carnival associations pokes fun at established authorities and social conventions.

Image: via 2023: A guide to carnival celebrations in the Netherlands (1)

Carnaval, Vastenavond, or Vastelaovend?

Around the world, the celebration is generally known as and referred to as carnival, but here in the Netherlands it has its own name:carnaval. This is the most widely used term, and it encompasses carnival celebrations across all the Dutch cities and towns that celebrate the occasion.

As carnival takes place in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, it’s unsurprising that Shrove Tuesday plays a significant role in the celebrations. Shrove Tuesday - known as vastenavond in Dutch, which directly translates as “fasting evening” - marks the last day of carnival, and so is another term used to refer to the festivities held in the Netherlands.

Some parts of the country even have their own names; in the province of Limburg, for example, carnival is referred to as vastelaovend, which is the Limburgs word for vastenavond.

(Video) 5 BIG CHANGES coming to Carnival in 2023!

Is carnival a holiday in the Netherlands?

Sadly - but perhaps unsurprisingly for anyone familiar with Dutch public holidays - carnival is not a holiday in the Netherlands. Some companies located in the provinces known for their carnival celebrations (most notably North Brabant and Limburg) might be generous enough to give their workers a day or two off, but carnival is not a national public holiday.

There is some good news, however; schools do tend to close their doors over the Dutch carnaval period, as the school holidays which take place in February (known to some as the carnavalsvakantie) can coincide with the dates for carnival. This normally only happens in the southern regions (i.e. the provinces of Gelderland, Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland).

A brief history of carnival

Back in the day, carnival was actually a pagan holiday, with evidence showing that the celebration is around 5.000 years old. In the 11th century, however, the Christian church assimilated the feast into their calendar to mark the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday that signal the beginning of Lent and the fasting period before the Easter holidays. Carnival was therefore used as an opportunity for familiesand households to eat and drink as much as they could ahead of Ash Wednesday.

Carnival has been celebrated in parts of the Netherlands for hundreds of years, but it was in the 19th century that the carnival celebrations that many people recognise and love today began to form, as costumes and parades took on a more central role in the festivities.

The Dutch carnival: Carnaval festival timeline

While every city in the Netherlands does carnaval a little differently, some aspects can be observed across the various celebrations. For example, several towns and cities will adopt a new name during the three-day celebration and they each have their own set of carnaval colours (more on that later).

Here are some more things you need to know about carnival celebrations in the Netherlands.

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11/11: Carnaval starts

The number 11 is known as the "fool's number" and is widely used throughout carnaval. Thecarnivalseason actually officially begins on November 11. The actual feast might not take place until the lead-up to Ash Wednesday, but several unofficial carnaval events will be held from November 11 onwards.

The number 11 also plays a vital role in carnival festivities; 11.11am on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday generally marks the start of the feast.

Carnival Saturday

While technically carnival doesn’t start until the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, in recent years an increasing number of events have also been organised for the Saturday - which is now occasionally referred to as carnival Saturday.Carnaval 2023: A guide to carnival celebrations in the Netherlands (2)

Where to celebrate carnival in the Netherlands

In 2023, carnaval takes place between February 19 and February 21. Want to get involved in Dutch carnival celebrations this year? Here’s everything you need to know about what’s happening in the Netherlands.

Eindhoven carnival

Eindhoven is one of the key cities when it comes to annual carnaval celebrations. Throughout the festive period, the city is renamed Lampegat (lamp hole), in reference to the Dutch electronics company Philips, which was founded in the city in 1891. Eindhoven’s carnaval colours are orange and blue.

Carnival in Maastricht

Heading a little further south, carnaval in Maastricht is definitely an all-out affair. Celebrations kick off when the Prince’s Flag is hoisted on Sunday, and 11 canon shots mark the official start of the festivities. The city also hosts parades on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, with Monday marked as the official family day.

While Maastricht isn’t really renamed for carnaval, the city does adopt traditional carnival colours: red, yellow and green.

Vastelaovend in Limburg

Maastricht might be the biggest city in Limburg, but it isn’t the only place in the province hosting its own carnaval celebrations. The carnival colours of red, green and yellow apply throughout the province, and the season generally kicks off on November 11 with a big party in Roermond.

Many towns in the province adopt their traditional Limburgs name for carnaval - Heerlen, for example, becomesHeële, while Roermond becomes Remunj. One city does get a fun carnaval name though: Venlo is renamed Jocus Riék for the duration of the festivities.


Carnival celebrations throughout Limburg are similar to those seen in cities in North Brabant, although they are likely to be more traditional than some of the events held in the bigger cities.

Den Bosch Carnival

Den Bosch is another city famous for its carnivalcelebrations. The city is renamed Oeteldonk for the festivities, and it takes on the official symbol of a frog and the carnivalcolours of red, white and yellow. During carnaval in Den Bosch, the event's "monarch" makes an appearance at Den Bosch Centraal station on Sunday, and the city hosts a massive parade on Monday.

Carnival Amsterdam

Carnival isn’t really a tradition in Amsterdam, but there are a couple of events to be found here and there. Nightclubs in the Dutch capital are particularly good places to look if you’d like to get into the carnaval spirit, and there might also be a couple of small events involving costumes and face painting for younger children.

Image:Ruud Morijn Photographer via 2023: A guide to carnival celebrations in the Netherlands (3)

How to celebrate carnival (carnaval) in the Netherlands in 2023

There are plenty of things you can do for carnival this year - go big or go home, right? If you really want to immerse yourself in Dutchcarnaval celebrations, here are a couple of things you can do.

Carnival games

Carnival in the Netherlands is great simply because of how much fun there is to be had. It’s a time of year when the weather isn’t normally too good, and many people don’t have that much to look forward to, but the bright costumes and silly games are sure to brighten up even the dreariest winter days.

If you want to plan some carnaval celebrations of your own, one great way to get everyone up and having fun is to organise some carnival games. Examples of some classics include a costume competition, carnival-themed bingo or quizzes, or a balloon race, where participants have to hold a balloon between their knees and make it from point A to point B without popping or dropping it.

Carnival costumes in the Netherlands

A bit like during Halloween, carnival in the Netherlands is an occasion where pretty much anything goes - so long as you make a bit of an effort and dress up. Are you low on carnival outfit ideas? Here are some tips that are guaranteed to make your decision-making process a little easier:

  • If you’re attending a carnaval event in a specific city, you’ll want to incorporate the traditional carnival colours of that region.
  • Remember that masks play a key role in carnaval celebrations, so try to go for a costume that involves a mask or at least some face paint.
  • The more colourful the better - don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing or what you look like, just have fun!
  • You can go super traditional and dress up in the classic Venetian carnival costume (mask and all!), but traditional Dutch costumes typically involve some kind of black or red military-style jacket.

Still not sure what to do? Here are some classics that are guaranteed winners, no matter where or how you choose to celebrate this year:

(Video) Carnival Sign and Sail Cards

  • Pirate
  • Clown
  • Smurf
  • Frog

Plan your carnival 2023celebrations

So, get your carnival costume ready, choose your city of celebration and get ready to enjoy one of the most fun, friendly and colourful annual celebrations in the Netherlands.

Thumb:Hung Chung Chih via


What do you wear to carnival Netherlands? ›

You MUST wear a costume for Carnival in the Netherlands

That said, if you throw on a Penguin suit or a festive onesie over your clothes, you'll be fine. However, I'd recommend embracing the costumes and/or wearing your least matching outfit.

Why do they celebrate Carnival in the Netherlands? ›

Carnival can thus be regarded as a rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer: a fertility celebration, the first spring festival of the new year. It precedes the Christian penitential season of Lent. The first day of Carnaval is six weeks before Easter Sunday.

Where is carnival celebrated in Netherlands? ›

It's that time of year again! From 19 February up until and including 21 February 2023, the ultimate Carnival city of the Netherlands, Maastricht, will be a city of revelry. During these three days, the Carnival people of Maastricht will be celebrating together once again.

Which one of the following is considered to be the biggest carnival in the world *? ›

Rio de Janeiro Carnival

Every year, over five million people descend on the Brazilian coastal city of Rio de Janeiro for the biggest carnival in the world, to see the colourful costumes, enormous floats and street parties of the Rio Carnival.

What Cannot bring to Netherlands? ›

There are rules about bringing certain items into the Netherlands.
You can never bring the following items into the Netherlands:
  • Narcotics and other illicit drugs, such as hash, cocaine and heroin.
  • Weapons, fake weapons, pepper spray, ammunition and explosives.
  • Endangered plant and animal species.

Can you wear jeans to formal night on Carnival Cruise? ›

Please no tracksuit trowsers, basketball shorts, flip-flops, bathing clothes or cut-off jeans. Gentlemen: elegant dress pants, shirts, sports jackets as well as suits, ties and tuxedos. Ladies: cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts, blouses and evening gowns.

Which city has the most famous carnival? ›

The carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is considered the biggest in the world, with around two million people celebrating on the streets each day. Rio Carnival is famous for its samba music and for the amazing costumes and floats.

How long does carnival last? ›

Most years, Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, an annual celebration held before Lent, begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday and continues for five days.

Which five cities are famous for their carnival festivals? ›

10 best carnivals in the world that you must see
  • Carnival of Ivrea, Italy.
  • Carnival of Viareggio, Italy.
  • Carnival of Venice, Italy.
  • Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
  • Carnival of Binche, Belgium.
  • Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia.
  • Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Mardi Gras in New Orleans, United States.

Is Carnival bigger than Titanic? ›

Perhaps the most famous ship known for its size is the Titanic.
Giants of the Sea: How Modern Cruise Ships Size Up to the Titanic.
Cruise lineCarnival Cruise Line
ShipCarnival Vista
Gross Tonnage133,500
Length (feet)1,062
Width (feet)122
6 more columns
Jul 26, 2016

What country has the best Carnival in the world? ›

1. Rio Carnival, Brazil. The biggest, most spectacular and most famous celebration in the world, the Rio Carnival has become synonymous with the party spirit of both Rio and Brazil itself. The event usually takes place five days before Lent, however this year it has been postponed to late April.

Why do we dress up for Carnival? ›

Carnival typically involves public celebrations, including events such as parades, public street parties and other entertainments, combining some elements of a circus. Elaborate costumes and masks allow people to set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity.

Why do Dutch people congratulate everyone? ›

All this congratulating happens because it is custom for the Dutch to congratulate everyone at the birthday party. It is not (as I later discovered) because they are unsure who the birthday boy or girl is (don't try to be helpful by pointing).

Why are people in the Netherlands so happy? ›

The Netherlands scores well on social structures, generosity and on GDP per capita and discerns low levels of perceptions of corruption. These scores result in a high level of trust and benevolence, both important contributors to feelings of well-being.

Why are kids in the Netherlands so happy? ›

Moreover, both mother and father have an equal role to play in raising the kid. They also have a legally allowed (unpaid) day off work for dads to look after their children. This makes Dutch parents the happiest in the world and happy parents raise happy kids.

What is the 30 rule in the Netherlands? ›

The 30% facility is available to employees who are recruited from outside the Netherlands to work here temporarily. If they satisfy conditions for the 30% facility, they are exempt from paying tax on up to 30% of their salary.

What shoes to wear in Netherlands? ›

For shoes, try sneakers, comfortable ankle boots, or long boots with flat heels. Make sure they're water-resistant! These are the best waterproof leather boots recommended by our readers!

How much cash can I bring to Netherlands? ›

There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.

How many outfits do you need for a 5 day cruise? ›

You can pack one outfit for every day, or you can plan to do laundry on your cruise ship. I like to look for ways to reuse pieces to save space. For example, I'll dress up a top with a skirt or dress pants for dinner, then wear the same shirt with jeans in port the following day.

What should you not wear on a cruise? ›

T-shirts, swimsuits, robes, bare feet, tank tops, baseball caps, and pool wear are not allowed in the main restaurant or specialty restaurants at any time. In addition, shorts and flip-flops are not permitted during the evening hours.

What are you not allowed to bring on Carnival cruise ship? ›

In order to maintain a safe and secure environment, Carnival prohibits certain items on board, such as weapons, candles, irons, alcohol, or other dangerous goods.

Which Carnival is the oldest? ›

The Dionysia

The pagan ritual emerged during the 6th century BC when Athens honored Dionysus – the god of wine, theater, fertility, celebration and ecstasy. The carnival is also known by its other names such as “The Great Dionysia”, “The Dionysia Mysteries” or “City Dionysia”.

Where is the 2nd largest Carnival held? ›

Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife – Spain

Behind the Brazilian festivities that happen in Rio de Janeiro, this party is the second biggest Carnival in the world.

Where is the 2nd largest Carnaval held? ›

Carnaval de Barranquilla (Carnival of Barranquilla) in Colombia is the second largest carnival in the world will happen but large events are cancelled in 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Are drinks free on Carnival? ›

24-hour room service (charges apply; Continental breakfast is complimentary) Alcoholic and non-alcoholic bar beverages (excluding beverages served in the Main Dining Room and Lido Restaurant such as non-bottled water, lemonade, iced tea, select juices, hot chocolate and non-specialty coffee and tea) Gift Shop purchases.

Does Carnival limit your drinks? ›

Sodas and other applicable non-alcoholic beverages remain unlimited and will not be counted toward the 15 alcoholic beverages limit, and all other policies and procedures remain the same. Guests are expected to enjoy alcohol responsibly and staff members are trained not to serve guests who appear to be intoxicated.

Does Carnival allow 18 year olds to drink? ›

Drinking Alcoholic Beverages / Tobacco Products

Guests must be 21 years of age or older to be served alcohol on board. Proper I.D with birth date is required.

Which carnival is the best? ›

20 of the World's Best Carnivals!
  • The Carnival of Venice, Italy.
  • Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Brazil.
  • The Carnival of Viareggio, Italy.
  • New Orleans Mardi Gras, USA.
  • Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.
  • Notting Hill Carnival, UK.
  • Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.
  • Quebec Winter Carnival, Canada.

What does carnival symbolize? ›

The word "carnival" itself is thought to mean "farewell to meat" or "farewell to flesh," the former referencing the Catholic practice of abstaining from red meat from Ash Wednesday until Easter.

How should I dress for Carnaval? ›

Colorful clothes are a must, as Carnival in Rio is always happy and cheerful, plus bright clothes make for great Carnival Photos! Accessories like funny hats, wigs, big necklaces, tiaras are very typical. You can also dress as a themed character and your options for outfits are endless!

What should I dress up for Carnival? ›

Fancy dress is one of the most common outfit choices during the street parties. The most popular are policeman, sailor, pirate, Indian and mermaid. The 'less is more' rule still applies – a policeman or policewoman could be black shorts, black bikini top, police hat and handcuffs.

How do people dress for Carnaval? ›

Wear shorts, a shirt, a top, or just a summer dress. The people aren't as dressed up as in the streets. The parades are going for hours in the Sambódromo, so be sure to bring some snacks and plenty of water. It's still hot in the evening, so wear something light and airy and leave the layers and jackets at home.

What do you wear during Carnival? ›

For men this dress code can call for longer dress shorts or pants (jeans are OK too) and a collared polo shirt. For women, the dress code may ask for sundresses, skirts and blouses, dress shorts and capri pants are acceptable. Don't wear sleeveless shirts (for men), cut-off jeans, T-shirts or gym shorts.

What should you not wear to a festival? ›

DON'T: attempt to wear suede, fur or leather. They will not work well with heat, rain or spilt drinks. A festival is just not the time or place for heavy layers so maybe keep these fabrics for your accessories like bags. DON'T: even try and wear anything with a heel.

Can you wear shorts to dinner on Carnival? ›

Not permitted in the dining room during the Cruise Casual dinner for ladies and gentlemen: shorts, gym shorts, basketball shorts, beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men and baseball hats.

Do you have to dress up every night on a cruise? ›

Absolutely not. Your cruise is your own. If you don't want to dress up for the evening, then you certainly don't have to do so. Many people choose to keep it casual.

What size bag can I bring on Carnival Cruise? ›

Each checked bag and carry-on bag should not weigh more than 50 pounds and, when lying flat, bags must not exceed 16 inches high, by 24 inches wide (the length of the bag is not a factor). For security screening purposes, all luggage should be unlocked.

Can you wear jeans to dinner on a cruise? ›

On formal nights, proper attire includes tuxedos, suits or slacks (jackets required) for men and evening gowns, cocktail dresses or dressy pantsuits for women. Jeans are welcome in all dining venues during the day, but they're not appropriate in any public venues for dinner or cocktail hour.

What are 3 dishes that are prepared for Carnaval? ›

Most Popular Foods Eaten for Rio Carnival
  • Brazilian cheese bread, called pao de queijo, is made with cassava flour and various cheeses like mozzarella and parmesan.
  • Coxinha croquettes in the traditional tear drop shape.
  • Brazilian churros filled with dulce de leche.
Feb 8, 2022

What do they eat in Carnaval? ›

Top foods include traditional Brazilian recipes such as feijoada (slow-cooked pork and beans with rice), moqueca baiana (a fragrant fish stew) or carurú (a dish similar to gumbo made with shrimp and toasted nuts).

Can you wear open toed shoes to a Carnival? ›

Comfortable rubber-soled flat shoes, sneakers, water shoes or non-slip boat shoes with traction. Select activities/shore excursions may require closed-toe shoes. The use of any footwear with wheels is prohibited on board our ships.

Why do people wear masks during Carnival? ›

The tradition of the mask started in the 13th century when Venetians would hold celebrations and parties from December 26th until the start of Lent and wear elaborate masks to conceal their identity. These parties were the only time when the lower and upper classes mingled together.

What is normally at a Carnival? ›

Carnival typically involves public celebrations, including events such as parades, public street parties and other entertainments, combining some elements of a circus. Elaborate costumes and masks allow people to set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity.


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