Carnaval de Nice

The Nice Carnaval alone justifies a stay in Nice. Every February, the city of Nice celebrates with this glitzy event. Nice’s carnival is world-famous and attracts nearly one million visitors of all nationalities every year. It’s the largest winter event on the Riviera and a must-see.

The Carnival draws its inspiration from traditional themes as well as and political and social events, with a healthy dose of satire — everything is exaggerated. For 2021, the theme is “The King of Animals”.

The streets are full day and night with stalls selling gifts: Provencal items, lavender, brightly colored fabrics, and food.

Nice Carnaval’s History

The earliest record of the Nice Carnaval goes back to the Middle Ages. The year 1294, to be exact, where the Count of Provence created the “joyous days of carnival,” making the Nice Carnival the very-first carnival celebration.

Originally a pagan festival, “Carne levare, levamen” (“remove the flesh”) – the most common definition of Carnival – takes place before the Lent period, during the fat days (Mardi-gras). It is the last party before a period of abstinence and lean cooking, which therefore justifies all the excesses. 

A committee was created in 1873, and in 1876 the first flower parade took place on Promenade des Anglais. Alphonse Karr came up with the concept for the first battle of flowers in 1876. This French writer of German origin, passionate about flowers and living in Nice, wanted a show where people could throw scent bouquets on their faces. 

In 1876, Alphonse Karr and Andriot Saëtone created the first battle of flowers on the Promenade des Anglais. The masquerades, satire floats, and competitions followed.

It was during the Belle-Epoque that the Nice Carnival reached its peak: it was then the biggest carnival in the world.

Nice Carnaval 2021 Program

There are four main events. All the parades take place in the same small loop (there’s a map at the bottom of this page) around the ‘Jardin Albert 1er’ gardens. Here’s the map: The floats start from Place Masséna . On the square, visual entertainment will be relayed on giant screens.

The Big Carnival Parade: ‘Parada Nissarda’

This is the big daytime parade. Roughly 20 floats, 50 giant puppets (with a new theme each year) and many musical bands from all around the world, parade down Nice’s streets, in a colorful and festive atmosphere. Floats and (frankly, inappropriate) burlesques parade, are accompanied by elements of animation, street art, and international musical groups.

  • 2021 Schedule:
    • Sunday, February 21 at 2:30pm

The Carnival’s Battle-Of-Flowers Parades

A carnival queen (elected by the festival committee) and her runners-up open each flower battle on her chariot. French and foreign musical groups join the parade and create the musical atmosphere.

Models, lavishly made up and dressed in gleaming costumes of feathers, sequins and rhinestones, throw bouquets of flowers (around 100,000 flowers, to be exact) to the public. The float decorations are made by hand, using petals of thousands of flowers, glued one by one, in the night and the morning before each “battle”. Beautiful, but like the burlesque show, it’s slightly sexist (all the models are female).

The battles (Bataille de Fleurs) began in 1856, specifically aimed to entertain the foreign visitors who were beginning to flock to the south of France. The parade gives tribute to the local flower producers. It highlights the diversity of flowers in the French Riviera as over 80% of the flowers are locally produced.

  • 2021 Schedules:
    • Saturday, February 13 at 2:30pm
    • Wednesday, February 17 at 2:30pm
    • Saturday, February 20 at 2:30pm
    • Wednesday, February 24 at 2:30pm
    • Saturday, February 27 at 2:30pm

The Carnival’s Lights Parade

The Nice Carnival Parade of Lights event is an unparalleled visual display. All floats light-up in the evening and cast incredible moving lights in the heart of the City of Nice.

  • 2021 Schedules:
    • Saturday, February 13 at 9pm
    • Tuesday, February 16 at 9pm
    • Saturday, February 20 at 9pm
    • Tuesday, February 23 at 9pm
    • Saturday, February 27 at 9pm (‘Incineration of the King’ / grand finale, with visual animations broadcast on large screens)

Burning King Carnival & Fireworks

Since 1882, a giant ‘King’ has stood upon the royal float to signal the beginning of the festivities, an important moment during the Nice Carnival. Throughout the Carnival, the King remains in the Place Masséna, where all of the parades begin, overseeing the events. On the final night of the carnival, a burning effigy of the King is put on a little boat in the Bay of Angels and pushed out to sea as fireworks explode above him.

Tens of thousands of revelers gather in Place Massena to escort the Carnival King to the sea. Loud music plays and there is dancing in the streets. Silly String and confetti fly everywhere (hopefully this part will change in the future as it’s terrible for sea life).

The giant King Carnival puppet is then set on fire, followed by an impressive fireworks display set to music over the Baie des Anges . Legend has it that by burning the King, he will then rise again next year from the ashes to reign once again during the Carnival.

  • 2021 Schedule:
    • Saturday, February 27 at 9pm (‘Incineration of the King’ / grand finale, with visual animations broadcast on large screens)

About Fireworks: As much as we want everyone to have fun at the Nice Carnival, we do not think that the noise from fireworks are a good thing, because fireworks are harmful to human health and very destructive to birds and wildlife. In Italy, they have made their fireworks silent and have set them to classical music. We hope that everywhere else will soon follow suit.

Carnaval de Nice Rules

The following items are not allowed within the Carnival perimeter: 

  • alcoholic drinks and illegal drugs
  • glass and metal containers (cans, glass bottles) or plastic containers with a cap
  • bike helmets
  • tripods
  • folding seats
  • metal spray cans (including Carnival silly-string sprays)
  • suitcases, shopping bags and other bags and luggage
  • rollerblades, scooters, skateboards, bicycles etc.
  • blades, blunt and pointed objects
  • weapons (even replica and fake)
  • fireworks and firecrackers

Wheelchairs and strollers/pushchairs are allowed.

There are no lockers available at the event and anything that is confiscated will not be returned. 

Map of the Location of the Carnaval de Nice

2021 Carnaval de Nice Event Details

Event Type: Carnival / Festival

Frequency: Annual

Date: February 13 to 27, 2021

Time: Shows at 2:30pm and 9pm; see schedule above.

Cost: Parades cost between €5 and €40 (children under 5 are free). See rates here and book tickets here. Many of the events are free, but there are charges for the parades. For the best view of this perfume-filled, colorful extravaganza, buy a ticket for a seat in the stands or for the designated standing area along the road.

Website: Official Carnaval de Nice Website

Social Media: #nicecarnaval FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube

Location: All parades do a loop around the ‘Jardin Albert 1er’ gardens

Transportation: Check out our guide to Nice’s transportation options.

Similar Events: Check out our complete Monaco & the French Riviera events calendar.

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