The Nice Carnival or Carnaval de Nice is one of the largest carnivals in the world. Each year, approximately 1 million visitors flock to this winter event along the Côte d’Azur. During the 17 day’s of Carnival, Nice is brimming with people from all over the world enjoying the parades, beach and great food.
Carnaval de Nice can be traced back to 1294. Before fasting for lent, the people of Nice would celebrate by attending masquerades and indulging in rich cuisine. The celebrations also included mocking of everything and everyone while hiding behind disguises of masks and costumes.
In 1873, the 1st parade was introduced along with “Ymagiers” (image producers), a structured production and paying stands. Just three years later, the 1st Flower Parade or Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) emerged. Although the Nice Carnival has changed over the years, it still retains some of it’s original grandeur, big head construction and peculiarity.
Each year, the modern carnival boosts a new theme. The 2015 theme was King of Music and the 2016 theme will be King of Media. I’m anxious to see updates as the Carnavaliers create new floats for the upcoming Carnival. The attention to detail on the floats is phenomenal!
The Carnival Parades and Parades of Lights take place around Place Masséna. The Flower Parades take place on the Promenade des Anglais. These locations are in the city center, near Old Town. As a tourist, it’s easy to find the locations – just look for the bleachers! You can find a map of the parade locations through the Tourism office or online. This is a handy map to pick up, and will help you stake out your parade spot in advance.
Parking can be a bit of an issue, so take the tram to stops Massena and Opéra-Vieille Ville if you’re not walking from a nearby hotel or apartment. The parade routes also close a couple of hours prior to events. Save yourself the trouble and avoid driving when possible.
Carnaval Nice takes place mid-February of each year in France. Looking ahead to next year, the Nice Carnival 2016 will be held from February 13th- 28th. Events usually take place Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You’ll find the weekdays slightly less crowded than the weekends.
Floats & More:
While the 18 carnival parade floats and 16 flower parade floats are truly works of art, there are countless other sights to see during the parades and throughout Carnaval. The flower parade costumes are exquisite with an array of fabrics billowing from the models. Extravagant characters walk the parade line. Dancers, acrobats and circus performers keep the energy up during the festivities. While the musicians intermixed into the processions add a rhythm to the parades to keep spectators moving.
Visitors can take part in the Carnival Run, Carnival Dip, Zumba, Socca tastings and many other events throughout Carnival.
To follow the 2015 theme, music notes were depicted on the Carnival King and Queen as well as many other floats. I personally loved the “Aging Rock Star” float depicting Gene Simmons that blared KISS music, and the float that resembled Mick Jagger. As a foreigner, it was fun to actually “get” one of the jokes.
Although, it hard to miss the meaning behind the float with the hypnotized workers lined up carrying their baguettes with one worker being steamrolled by the word “taxes.”
– Dress in full costume or “fancy dress” to gain FREE standing room access to the enclosed Place Masséna. This is a $10 savings.
We noticed girls dressed in Princess dresses and many kids wearing what looked like their Halloween costumes. Adults were dressed in a variety of costumes as well. As long as you are fully dressed in costume (not just a mask), you can gain free admittance.
– Watch the signs for which line you should be in to enter the enclosures. At the Promenade des Anglais, you’ll notice one line for the standing area and one line on the opposite side (near the water) for seated ticket holders. You don’t want to waste time waiting in the wrong line!
– A discount is offered if you purchase seated tickets for the Carnival Parade AND the Flower Parade. We saved 15€ per adult ticket.
– Children under 6 are free, even in the seated area. However, the child will need to be seated on the parents lap. Children 6 – 12 are offered reduced price seated and standing tickets.
– Reserve seats early. If you want good seats, reserve online in advance to claim your spot. If you want to catch flowers during the flower parade, you need to be seated in the first 5 rows. HOWEVER, people will actively try to grab the flowers and do not care much for your personal space. It’s kind of like at a baseball game when someone hits a foul ball and everyone jumps to catch it. If you have little ones, you might want to sit further back.
Another reason I advise purchasing tickets online is that the ticket booths tend to get crowded before the parades. If possible, save yourself time and reserve seats online.
– Make sure to print your tickets or pick them up from one of the ticket booths prior to the parade. Your tickets will be scanned upon entering the enclosures. Additionally, you will be required to show your tickets once on the bleachers. Someone will verify you are in the right location and show you to your seats.
Your bags will also be checked by security upon entering the enclosures, so get your backpacks unzipped in advance to move through the line faster.
– Arrive early to get pictures of the floats and with some of the performers. I was able to get some close-ups of the floats and pictures of the kids standing next to the performers before the parade began.
– Watch the parade for FREE along the side streets. We stood along Avenue du Verdun just down the street from McDonald’s to watch the Carnival Parade. As long as the area isn’t blocked off, you are allowed to stand and watch the procession. It is advisable to arrive early to get a spot, but remember it will be crowded. Once the parade starts, people move into the streets allowing just enough room for the floats to pass by.
– Take advantage of the FREE events. Look in the Carnival program for the free events. These events include the opening ceremonies as well as the burning of the King and firework display on the last day of the Carnival.
– Don’t rush out after the parade ends – or when you think it ends. The procession of floats will make their way around a 2nd time as they leave. If you missed some of the floats or didn’t get flowers, you can move up as people clear out. This is how my kids caught an entire vase full of flowers! The flowers are starting to run out by this time, but the floats were pulled apart and the flowers thrown into the crowds.
– Stock-up on silly string and confetti. There will be vendors selling it all in the streets before and during the parade. My kids had a blast taking part in the action. The price for a bottle of silly string was 3€ each or 2 for 5€. Take a walk down Avenue Jean Medecin from Place Masséna and look for the 2€ Store. We found silly string here for, you guessed it, 2€ each.
Buying 1 larger bag of confetti is more cost effective than purchasing 2 smaller bags. If your kids can’t share (someone always uses more) then bring an extra bag to split it up.
While the silly string and confetti did seem to annoy some spectators it’s better than the alternative. Historically, confetti made of plaster, eggs, and rotten vegetables were thrown during Carnaval. I’ll take the silly string please!
– Pack snacks for the kids. There are a few food vendors around the Parade areas selling candy and a few treats, so avoid the temptation to purchase these items by having snacks on hand. There are countless restaurants all around the city center, but they were usually packed during peak meal times. Since my kids tend to want to eat constantly and get grumpy when food and water is not instantly available, save yourself a melt down and come prepared.
– Book airfare and accommodations in advance. Look for deals through sites such as Booking.com and Expedia. It is also worth comparing the special accommodation packages available through the Nice Carnival website. Doing your research can add up to big savings!
I highly recommend apartment rentals to save the most money. Look at sites such as Holiday Lettings, VRBO, Airbnb and Home Away to find rentals. You can usually get a great location with a kitchen at a lower cost than a hotel room – this is especially true for families.
Use THIS LINK and get a $40 credit on your Airbnb rental!
– Stay up-to-date on Carnival news on the Carnaval de Nice Officiel Facebook page. This is especially important during inclement weather and to learn about events and contests.
The Nice Carnival Parades are artistic, imaginative and brilliant. It’s a wonderful experience for locals, tourist, adults and children alike.
We took too many pictures to post them all, so we’ve created a little slideshow to share our experience at the Carnaval de Nice 2015!
Have you been to a Nice Carnival? What was your favorite part?