Although the biggest cities in the Netherlands are located above the large rivers, the best parties are to be found below the rivers once Carnaval knocks on our doors! Carnaval is a festival of 4 tot 5 days and revolves around dressing up, drinking beer and dancing the polonaise with all your friends and family. This year Carnaval takes place from February 24th to March 1st so make sure to also try this tradition during your semester abroad!
A little tradition lesson before we move on to the forgetfulness after a night of surplus alcohol. Carnaval is a catholic tradition taking place 40 days before Easter. As the date of Easter is variable every year (the first Sunday after the vernal equinox, which is the first full moon in Spring of the northern hemisphere), so does carnaval. Some years you might be partying in the early colds of February and others you might find yourself dressing up in March! Anyways, Carnaval was meant to completely let yourself go before the 40 days of fasting starts; the people had the chance to change identity by dressing up and to go all out, drink and make merriment with friends and the village before a serious time of reflection and fasting started.
On to the actual tradition of the 21st century then. These days, Carnaval is not solely celebrated by the catholics and is open for everyone. For the die-hards the season kicks off on 11th November after which outfit and wagon preparations are in full swing. Each Carnaval elects their own Prince who is the monarch of the village for a few weeks.
What to do and where to go?
During the actual 5 days Carnaval is celebrated, people dress up each day in literally any kind of suit that they wish. Also, each village hosts a parade. So if you are watchful you can catch one or two parades each day! During these parades, friends, sports associations and what not have built wagons with music, decorations and dancing people. After the parade, many people often visit the local café or pub and start drinking after 2 in the afternoon until which the evening can be either short or very long. Some cities even have outside bars stationed everywhere so make sure your outfit is snow-proof! What makes Carnaval beautiful is that during these days everyone is exceptionally friendly towards each other and shares drinks and food.
So, now you might ask; where to go for a nice celebration this year? For a very nice and easy celebration, try visiting cities such as Maastricht (the parade is on Sunday), Roermond, Venlo (which on Saturday hosts many outside bars), Eindhoven, Cuijk (which has a huge pubcrawl on the 29th of February), Breda, Den Bosch and much more. The afore-mentioned are the larger cities which are relatively easy to reach and also easy to return to Utrecht if you don’t want to stay the night. If you want the real village experience, quickly befriend some fellow students that are from the tinier villages in order to see some local life action going on!