5 Things You Didn’t Know About Carnival in Nice, France

This centuries-old public celebration lights up the French Riviera every year

Theresa Boehl
Theresa Boehl
Posted on: February 14, 2018

In the early Spring months, the revelry and raucousness known as Carnival — traditionally a pre-Lenten celebration — takes hold throughout the world, especially in countries in Europe and the Caribbean. Parades and street parties span days or weeks, with a special emphasis on fanciful costumes and high-energy beats.

But no two Carnivals are alike; each incorporates local history, culture and music. To experience one of the longest-held Carnival traditions in the world, head to Nice in the French Riviera, where lively festivities have taken place for centuries.

1. Nice hosts one of the earliest recorded Carnivals, dating to at least 1294

Photo: Theresa Boehl

Rivaling grand celebrations hosted in Rio and Venice, Nice’s Carnival was first recorded in 1294 when the Count of Provence Charles Anjou mentioned the festivities (and how much he enjoyed them) in a letter.

Nowadays, the event brings a million spectators to town every year, who no doubt take some time to enjoy Nice’s other attractions, such as pebbled Mediterranean beaches along the Promenade des Anglais, adorable sidewalk cafes in Old Town and impressive vistas over the Old Port.

2. Events are spread over a two-week period

Photo: Theresa Boehl

This year, Nice’s Carnival will be held from February 17 to March 3 and will feature six parades (some during the day, others at night) with 17 larger-than-life floats and more than a thousand dancers and musicians. A highlight are the epic “flower battles,” where costumed models sit atop floral-themed floats and toss fresh blossoms into the crowd.

Though Carnival celebrations in Brazil and the Caribbean often conjure up images of barely-there outfits with sequins and feathers, plus a hedonistic, alcohol-fueled vibe, in Nice the procession is something altogether different. Floats tend to be PG-rated (aside from the occasional tongue-in-cheek focus on political events and people), and costumes are whimsical and playful.

3. It benefits from milder temperatures

Photo: Theresa Boehl

There’s nothing worse than standing outside under the blazing hot sun, especially in a crowded space. Nice in February is surprisingly pleasant — cool enough to need a jacket but with blue, sunny skies. Expect highs in the 50s and lows in the 40s.

4. Carnival features a new theme every year

Photo: Theresa Boehl

This year’s theme, “King of Space,” celebrates space news around the world, such as education mission led by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and the private tours to the moon planned to take place before the end of the year.

Floats and costumes will incorporate the galactic theme — in previous years, concepts like “King of Energy” and “King of Media” were woven into the procession.

5. Place Massena serves at the main stage for Carnival events

Place Massena, ready for Carnival to begin. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Designed in the mid-1800s, Place Massena is an impressive historic square with distinctive checkered tiling, bordered by ornate Neoclassical structures. The plaza serves as the starting point for parades, where a set of bleachers are provided for guests who purchased reserved seats.

It’s the most central point in town, connected to the winding Old Town, to commercial Avenue Jean Medecin and to pedestrian Rue Massena, as well as to the park-like setting of Promenade du Paillon.

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