The best places to celebrate Dutch carnival
Dutch carnival is celebrated with colour, frivolity – and reckless abandon. Join the Dutch as they let loose at the best carnival events in the Netherlands in 2017.
When you start hearing traditional slapstick tunes in bars and seeing pop-up stores selling feestkleding (festival costumes) in the south of the Netherlands, you know Dutch carnival is near – and local residents are itching to erupt into the huge street parties of raucous frivolity that signifies carnival in the Netherlands.
Mainly celebrated in the predominantly Catholic southern provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg, carnival was adopted as a religious festival, set in the three days before Ash Wednesday and the fasting season of Lent. Thus carnival in the Netherlands became dedicated to reversing rituals, particularly of social roles, and abandonment of desired norms.
Nowadays, the religious meaning of carnival in the Netherlands has disappeared but the date and practice of overturning daily behaviour remain. The Dutch – and thousands of visitors who flock to the south – temporarily forget their strong belief in ‘being normal’ and don wacky costumes while singing and prancing around the city with drinks in hand. No matter your age, carnival in the Nethelands is a playground for children, young revellers and the elderly alike.
Dutch carnival preparations begin in advance, traditionally on day 11 of month 11 at 11.11am – 11 being the fool's number in the Netherlands. This year the festivals officially start on Sunday 7 February until Tuesday 9 February but some towns celebrate as early as Thursday 4 February and continue the party until the Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
Read more at DutchNews.nl: It’s party time south of the rivers: get ready for Carnaval http://www.dutchnews.nl/features/2016/02/its-party-time-south-of-the-rivers-get-ready-for-carnaval/
During carnival in the Netherlands, each town changes its name for the occasion; even Amsterdam joined the fun in 2016 by temporarily calling itself Gròòtgragtegat, roughly ‘big place with canals', thanks to a group of Amsterdam-based residents hailing from North-Brabant.
Other ubiquitous Dutch carnaval icons include a Carnival Prince (Prins Carnaval), who is the master of ceremonies, a Raad van Elf, a group of 11 locals (typically men) who monitor the festivities, and a grand optocht (parade) that typically makes fun of politicans, celebrities and the year's past events. Further mocking can be heard by the 'barrel speaker' (onpraoter, sauwelaar, tonpraoter, buuttereedner or ouwoer depending on the city) in local dialect – just look for the local who is standing on or in a beer barrel, surrounded by laughing Dutch carnival-goers.
Only during Dutch carnival will you hear the typical greeting, "Alaaf," often accompanied by a reversed salute with the top of the right hand to the left temple.
If you want to join the raucous fun, here are some of the biggest Dutch carnival events you can find in the Netherlands.
Dutch carnival is overseen by the Prins Carnaval.
Maastricht carnival (Mestreech): 26–28 February 2017
Carnaval Maastrich is known to be the largest celebration of all the southern cities. On Saturday 25 February, the city ‘fetches’ the Prince of Carnival from the central station at 1:11pm and he proceeds to lead a parade of floats, marching bands and costumed carousers to the town hall for a reception. The optocht (parade) officially begins at 2:11pm in front of the Minckelers statue and goes around the city. Maastricht carnival, however, doesn't officially open until Sunday at 12.11pm when the Prince's flag is raised and 11 shots are fired, followed by a grand parade leaving from the station at 1.33pm and passing through the city centre. Carnaval Maastricht continues with family events and a children's parade on Monday (leaving Wyck at 2:11pm), and culminates with the Zate Hermeniekesconcours (brass bands competition) that belts loose at Vrijthof Square at 2.11pm.
Maastricht carnival is mostly celebrated outdoors, like in the rest of Limburg, and festivities centre around Vrijthof Square (see events in English). There are daily events held during the Maastricht carnival period, including a Cramignon dance on the Markt at 8.33pm every evening, where everyone is invited to accompany the brass band and revel in the true spirit of Carnaval Maastricht.
Venlo carnaval (Jocus Riék)
The grand parade of Venlo Carnival takes place on Monday 27 February in the city centre and begins at 12:11pm. There are more than a dozen parades from 25 to 28 February in 2017 in the municipality alone, making it an ideal area to experience carnaval in Limburg. Click here for the parade schedule and here for other events around Jocus Riék during Carnival.
Eindhoven carnaval (Lampegat)
There is plenty to find during Eindhoven carnaval, otherwise known as Lampegat or ‘light hole’. Eindhoven carnival begins with Froaje Vrijdag on 25 February with various performances and a party in a huge tent located on the Market Square. The city’s optocht begins the next day at 11:11am in the centre; you can check the parade route. Popular carnival spots in Eindhoven include: the Stationsplein, Market Square, Hotel Pullman Cocagne, Wilheminaplein and the famed Stratumseind. For a complete list of events Eindhoven carnaval, see the city’s agenda and website.
Tilburg carnaval (Kruikenstad)
The Opstoet, the annual parade of Tilburg's carnaval, starts on Sunday 26 February at 12:30pm. Tilburg carnaval's optocht follows this route. Before the grand parade, there are numberous events held in the name of Tilburg carnaval, where revellers can attend a concert on Wednesday and Thursday and a massive pub crawl on Friday, among other celebrations.
Breda carnaval (Kielegat)
The grand procession of Breda carnaval begins on Monday 27 February at 12:51pm at the Nieuwe Haagdijk and follows a route that ends at Boschstraat. The optocht is preceded by a concert at the Chassé Theatre on Friday and a street carnival on Saturday in the Grote Markt, which features local and international acts. For the full agenda of the events for Breda carnaval, click here.
Den Bosch carnaval (Oeteldonk)
Den Bosch carnaval goes into full swing in on Sunday 26 February in 2017 with the city’s grand parade, which is cheekily named the Arrival of the Prince Amadeiro in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
On the day of Den Bosch carnaval, HRH Prince Amadeiro Ricosto di Carnavallo, Lord and Master of Oeteldonk, and his helpers arrive at Oeteldonk Centraal (or Den Bosch station) at 11:11am. After several ceremonies, they march in a procession towards the Market Square where they symbolically honour a farmer named Knillis, the alleged founder of Oeteldonk, with a doll decked in traditional farmer costume. Following that other parties and events occur all over the historic fortified city; many events are also held in the days before Den Bosch carnaval.
Nijmegen carnaval (Knotsenburg)
Although not in Noord-Brabant and Limburg, the people of Nijmegen – or Knotsenburg, as it's temporarily known – celebrate Dutch carnival with as much passion as their southern peers. Nijmegen carnaval officially kicks off on 25 February with a procession starting at 11.11am that leads to the Market Place, when the people hand over the city’s keys to the Carnival Prince and tap the first beer keg to celebrate at 1pm. In the following days of Nijmegen carnaval, until 28 February, you can attend various events and visit the city’s wide array of cafés.
Dutch carnival in other provinces
Since Dutch carnival is traditionally celebrated in the south, most of the throngs of people from the rest of Holland – and other countries for that matter – descend upon Noord-Brabant and Limburg. However, some Dutch cities also stage smaller parades during that time. Click here for their schedule.
Wherever you are during carnival in the Netherlands, just make sure to wear your carnavalspakje, leave your manners at home and bring high spirits to the party!
Carnival in Europe
Find the colourful and quirky ways how carnival in Europe is celebrated:
- The best ways to celebrate carnival in Belgium
- How to celebrate carnival in Germany
- Fasnacht Switzerland: How to celebrate Swiss carnival
Click to the top of our guide to Dutch carnival.
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