Celebrating Carnival in the Netherlands: Your ultimate guide

Carnival in the Netherlands in 2023: all you need to know about the drinking, weird language, when and where, costumes, partying and history behind the Dutch carnival

The Dutch seem like a sensible bunch with a good sense of responsibility. And they really are!

They know how to work hard, but they also know how to cut loose. Just look at King’s Day! Dutch folks are masters of partying and letting loose.

Apart from celebrations like King’s Day and Sinterklaas; the southern provinces of the Netherlands (Limburg and Brabant but also some parts of Drenthe) have something else going on: Vastelaovend, also known as Carnival in the Netherlands.

The History behind Carnival in the Netherlands

First things first: How did it all start?

The first Dutch Carnival was celebrated in Den Bosch as early as the 14th century with the mention of games, dressing up, cockfights and gambling.

By the time the 16th century had arrived, the excessive big and glorious days of the Carnival were long gone but were revived in the early 19th century. This was a way for people to hold on to their roots and culture while the Netherlands was under French rule.

Maastricht during its carnival season. 🎡 Image: Depositphotos

Even though Carnival has not been celebrated in the Netherlands for that long (since the end of World War II), it is a tradition loved by many.

Mainly celebrated in the predominantly Catholic southern provinces Carnival was celebrated as a religious festival. Nowadays, the religious meaning of Carnival in the Netherlands has disappeared but the soul of the celebration still remains strong.

Every year, thousands of Dutchies flock to southern cities to don their costumes and get their drink on! But don’t think it’s only for adults. Kids and people of all ages are welcome to join in the craziness!

Customs and Traditions

What a sight! Image: Depositphotos

Carnival in the Netherlands is all about reversing rituals, social roles and everything else you can think of (genders included).

Even the city names change during the celebrations. To give an example, in 2016 Amsterdam joined the fun by calling itself Gròòtgragtegat – rough translation: ‘big place with canals’.

Another thing to know about is the Prince Carnival, where the mayor symbolically gives the keys of the city to the Prince.

Therefore for the upcoming 3 three days, the Carnival Prince has control of the city and their Kingdom of Fools. There is one important rule: you have to cheer with “Alaaf”.

Next comes the music, after World War II, Carnival developed its own type of music. Often accompanied by a marching band, the songs include some comical and almost vulgar lyrics.

Now to the best part for most: the costumes!

No matter where you end up celebrating Carnival, costumes go without saying. Think of masks, city colours, cross-dressing (why not?), mocking authorities with your outfit and anything else you can think of.

In this particular case: the more colour the better. So, get creative and go wild this year!

Carnival in the Netherlands: When and Where?

If you would like to join the fun, here are some of the biggest Carnivals happening in the country:

#1 Maastricht Carnival

If you want to see the biggest Carnival in the Netherlands, then Maastricht is the place to be! Changing its name to Mestreech, the celebrations kick off on the 19 February and last till the 21st.

Like all the others, Carnival is an outside event celebrated all around the city. If you would like to read more about it, you can visit their official website.

#2 Venlo Carnival

With its new name Jocus Riék, there will be a total of 14 parades taking place through Venlo spread across all days of the carnival! It starts on 16 February to 21 February.

If Limburg is your place to experience this event, you can find all the information you need on their official agenda.

#3 Eindhoven Carnival

There’s plenty to do for anyone at the Eindhoven Carnival. Celebrations span from the 16th to the 21st of February with different events taking place in a huge tent located on the Market Square.

Want to see the parade (duh!)? Then don’t miss out on the parade route that starts on the 18th of February. For the detailed route, you can check their official site. Oh and the name of the city? It is Lampegaste!

Carousels all around the city! 🎠 Image: Depositphotos

Popular spots in Lampegaste during Carnival include the Stationsplein, Market Square, Hotel Pullman Cocagne, Wilheminaplein and the famed Stratumseind.

#4 Tilburg Carnival

Ah Tilburg! As we have mentioned before, Tilburg is on the rise. You could visit this city during one of the many events and festivals that it organizes if you like buzzing activities.

The ‘Tilburgse Kermis’ (Tilburg Fair) is the biggest fair in the Netherlands, hiphop festival Woo HaH! and psychedelic rock festival Roadburn attract a crowd from all over the world.

The annual parade of Tilburg’s Carnival celebrations starts on 17 February at 11:11 AM and starts from Jar City.

There are big concerts happening on Thursday, followed by a massive pub crawl on Friday. Liked it so far? You can read more about the Kruikenstad Carnival agenda on their website.

#5 Den Bosch Carnival

Den Bosch (or should we say Oeteldonk?) kicks off its Carnival celebrations on the 17th of February with the city’s grand parade and end on the 21st.

On the day of the Oeteldonk’s Carnival, The Prince and his helpers arrive at Oeteldonk Centraal (or Den Bosch station) at 10 AM. After several ceremonies, they make their way gloriously towards the Market Square. Followed by many other events, the parties go on until the last days and the full agenda for Den Bosch Carnival can be found on their website.

#6 Nijmegen Carnival

The people of Nijmegen know how to party regardless of the time of the year but trust us when we say it’s better to see the city during Carnival.

This square gets filled with parades and fair rides during the carnivals! 🎡 Image: Depositphotos

The Nijmegen (or Knotsenburg) leg of Carnival starts on 19th of February with a march that begins at Grotestraat at 1 PM and continues to the Market Place.

The real fun begins when the people hand over the city’s keys to the Carnival Prince and tap the first beer keg to celebrate later in the day (don’t miss it).

In the upcoming days, there will be other events all over the city which you can see on their website’s agenda.

Get, set and “Alaaf”!

Properly equipped with all the necessary knowledge regarding Carnival in the Netherlands, we saved the best till the last: which is to go out there and have fun!

Would you like to read more about Carnival in the Netherlands? Here you go:

Be sure to follow DutchReview on Facebook in order to not miss out on any other good stuff!

Feature Image:Unsplash
Ceren Spuyman
Ceren Spuyman
Born and raised in Istanbul, Ceren moved when she decided to follow her own Dutchie. Being restless by nature, she is now busy with everything Dutch by majoring in Dutch Studies at Leiden University while living in Delft. Her hobbies are petting as many cats as possible.



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