Cologne Carnival 2023: Enjoy the crazy days and join the mayhem. Dress up, drink beer and dance. Kölle alaaf! Collaborate with high spirited Germans as together they celebrate their cultural street carnival in Cologne, Germany. Watch and join in as they parade, march, dance their way around the city of Cologne. The “Crazy Days” are […]Cologne Carnival 2023 Heumarkt, Köln, Germany Cologne Germany
Collaborate with high spirited Germans as together they celebrate their cultural street carnival in Cologne, Germany. Watch and join in as they parade, march, dance their way around the city of Cologne. The “Crazy Days” are the highlight of the carnival season in, six days you will get to know as an endless timetable of traditional music and dancing sessions, balls and parades held across the city streets.
People sing carnival songs and dance in the halls ‘Kölle alaaf’, pubs and restaurants and are generally positive and celebratory in nature at this time of year. Strict rules and regulations go by the wayside as Germans go a bit bonkers over their own carnival celebration. Germans are very proud of this carnival, which they describe as both serious because of its traditions, but also humorous as it shows the world that we as humans can be unusual if we want to be.
According to its long-held traditions, Cologne’s carnival leads by the exaggerated dressed up fictional characters of a prince, a peasant and a fair maiden. These are everyday people from various backgrounds dressed up, and it’s an honor to be chosen to lead the celebrations. They have official duties, are treated like celebrities, and have over 400 appearances across the entire carnival. They are not allowed to work during these times, but to advocate solely for the carnival.
Known as ‘the fifth season’ of the year, this fun carnival always begins at 11.11 am. All kinds of official rules go out the window as closing times for pubs and bars are suspended for the duration of the festival.
‘Explore the humorous and human side of Germany in Cologne during it’s six day carnival extravaganza of uninterrupted parades, dances, balls, music sessions and cultural gatherings.’
Sleep can be elusive at Cologne Carnival as you may spot ‘survivors’ every ‘morning after’, as people struggle to keep up with the parties, parties, parties and try to take part in them all.
A ‘Jeck’ is anyone that is celebrating the carnival. Don’t shy away from revelers you don’t know. Just follow their lead. If they link arms with you, just sway along with them to the music.
A “polonaise” is a conga line, german style, and If others grab hold of your shoulders, it’s because they want to form one of these with you. It’s a good thing! Even better is to sing along even if you don’t know the words. After all, you’ve got six more days to learn them.
Party in moderation, while there are many bars and restaurants overflowing with beer, in the eyes of the locals binge drinking has nothing to do with the carnival. There are certain streets that are more family-friendly than others.
During Carnival there are mostly only bar tables, no chairs, in the pubs. The rest of the room is usually being used as a dance floor. The food is cold, but the beer taps run hot.
Visitors from overseas need to know that the beer, Kölsch, comes to you. You don’t have to order beer, ever. It will just keep arriving to you at your table, until you decline it, which you do by placing a beer mat right on top of your glass.
The huge stage show at Alter Markt in Cologne’s old town has some of the best acts of the carnival on its stage.
Women’s Carnival Day held on Thursday is when spectators can experience one of the carnival’s most famous traditions. From the wee hours of the morning, the streets come alive with ladies in fancy costumes on their way to the office, breakfast or the shops, and from 10.00 a.m. they all make a beeline for the Alter Markt.
Colourful carnival parades seem to go on endlessly all day along the streets, so no matter where you are you will have a view of them most of the time. At these parades only schools and carnival clubs take part. You can watch the winning groups getting rewarded by the judges. They will be allowed to parade in the biggest parade on Rose Monday.
If you want to be anywhere near carnival the dead set rule for absolutely everyone is that you have to be in costume. No exceptions, so do not step outside without your costumes on! You can get your costume at a Cologne costume shop, which are big department stores specialising in costumes open all year round because of the carnival.
What to dress as, you might ask? Well, the tradition is to dress as unusual as you like, to be sure that you look more different than your rad everyday self, whether its colourful, or someone from another country, a video game character or celebrity, it really doesn’t matter. Choose what works for you. The weirder the better though… The city’s colors are red and white if you want to blend in.
Your stamina, you will need it for this massive carnival!
Selfie stick and mobile phone
Your credit card – Cologne is a shoppers paradise, it has everything from Adidas to Zara
Costume and face paints
The majority of the carnival is free to attend and there are lots of parties going on besides the official parades.
Weiberfastnacht: At exactly 11 minutes past 11 on Thursday, the street carnival officially opens with a huge stage show on the Alter Markt in Cologne’s old town. The best carnival bands in the city perform right here. It’s so popular that the square is already filled to the brim with crowds from the start time of 9 a.m.
You can only get in with a ticket, so it’s not for spontaneous visitors, so get those tickets early. Some events are ticketed and others are free, so make sure you have tickets for the special shows you want to see. The local tourism vendors have these for sale in booths.
Join everyone celebrating Carnival in Cologne over 6 days of fun, dress-ups, beer, parades and dancing.
On Weiberfastnacht Thursday the streets fill up with people in costumes. The street Carnival is officially opened by the mayor of Cologne every single year at the precise time of 11.11 am.
Moving on to Carnival Friday evening time there are numerous sessions, balls concerts and parties taking place.
After a Carnival brunch on Saturday with Kölsch beer, watch a performance at the marquee at the Neumarkt containing various Carnival societies that are connected with military tradition. A Ghost parade takes crowds into the evening. Street food is plentiful throughout the nights at the local markets and cafes.
On Sunday the school and local community groups march through the city center in parades, which feature both matching costumed school groups and original masquerades. The people in the crowds usually bring small presents, which they hand to the local children in goodwill.
The big finale for the end of the festival is the parade on Rose Monday. As floats parade through the city with grandeur, local characters on top of the floats blow kisses down onto the costumed crowds.
Carnival Tuesday sees more parades with groups of costumed people celebrating out in the suburbs. The celebrations do go on right up until midnight when they burn the straw figure called the “Nubbel”.
At the very end of all of this, the festival concludes on Ash Wednesday with large community dinners all over the city.
Family fun: If you are there with the family steer clear of the Cathedral and Zülpicher Strasse near the university, for the beer-drinking antics may be too much for some people. Join the crowd shouting for “Kamelle” (sweets) and “Strüßjer” (roses and kisses). Be like a German and bring a bag to take all the sweets home.
Kiss away: Kissing is a german custom throughout the festivities, especially on Thursday, when the women take over and run the show. What is known as a “Bützchen” can be a fleeting peck on the cheek or an energy-filled kiss, which is an expression of carnival high spirits and fun.
Bring a hat: If you are underdressed for the festivities and find yourself outside, wear a hat for goodness sake, always bring a hat!
Carnival in Cologne is certainly historic and its customs go back further than most festivals could. The party you enjoy today is the way the Germans have been celebrating for the past 190 years or so.
Way back the Greeks and the Romans celebrated spirited spring festivals reminiscent of Carnival in honor of the gods Dionysus and Saturn with lots of wine, women and music.
After this, the Germans often celebrated the winter solstice, in much the same way paying homage to the gods and driving out the black demons of winter. In later times, the Christians adopted these heathen customs. The carnival ushered in Lent, the religious period of fasting before Easter (funnily enough, carnevale meant ‘farewell to meat’).
The Italians extended the fantastical carnival in the 18th century to include the “redoutes”. Only the wealthy and aristocrats went to these elegantly masked fancy dress balls in the Venetian style.
In the north of the city, next to the zoo is Cologne’s loveliest park, the Botanical Gardens, containing 11.5 hectares widespread lawn, pockets of green gardens and greenhouses, all set around a unique glass palace. There’s a Main Greenhouse for the tropical rainforest, the Small Tropical House which contains tropical plants like sugarcane, vanilla, cocoa and cinnamon, as well as a lush Subtropical House and a prickly Cactus House.
Eau de Cologne was invented in the 18th century right here in Cologne, where there are tours of the Fragrance Museum daily. Visitors can literally step inside the oldest intact perfume factory in the whole world. This factory which gives the city its prominent reputation in the perfumery industry. Enjoy a 45 minute guided tour of the still and the laboratory equipment. Discover faithful replicas of what was used historically to make these perfumes.
Cologne is a cost-effective foodie city. Many hotels and hostels include free breakfast and a paid breakfast is up to 8 euro. Most takeaways will cost anywhere from €3-€5 and a pint of beer will set you back about €3 – €4.50. Cologne contains many hip cafes come cocktail bars, beer halls and eateries.
If you just happen to be near the cathedral at lunchtime, Funkhaus has a hipster cafeteria vibe, beautiful wine and authentic German cuisine, including its signature dish of salmon with hash browns for €13.
Haxenhaus is a recommended beer hall for dinnertime antics, it has a meter-long or half a meter bratwurst and pork knuckles ranging from around €16.
Cologne is a city located on both sides of the Rhine, close to Germany’s borders with Belgium and the Netherlands. Cologne is a major cultural centre for the Rhineland. It has over 30 museums to visit and hundreds of galleries wander through.
The airport of Cologne is right between Cologne and Bonn. It has good connections to the road network as well as to the bus and railway network. The recently modernised Intercity-Express (ICE) railway station begins in the centre of the Airport allowing travel directly into the city, which is very handy.
Cologne has many hotels, guesthouses, B&B’s and hostels to cater for its Carnival visitors.
Hostel Koln is right next to Neumarkt, right in the center of the celebrations but also in a quiet street. The rooms have comfy beds with a duvet, an ensuite bathroom, plenty of plugs and a good wi-fi connection. The hostel is quite big and offers a huge buffet, full of healthy food like bircher muesli, salads and juice, as well as eggs, bacon, sausages, all served until 12pm.
The Lindner Hotel City Plaza is located in Cologne’s hipster Friesenplatz district, it offers a sauna and an upmarket fitness studio with cardio and gym equipment. The elegant rooms each have a satellite TV, a seating area, and an en-suite bathroom with complimentary toiletries. WiFi is free, and there is a restaurant, lively bar and rooftop terrace.
For the best hotels and Airbnb’s in Cologne during Carnival head to the map here.
It is so easy to get around Cologne when using its efficient public transport system. Cologne has a well-connected train, bus and tram network that visitors can hop on and off with grace and ease.
One of the things recommended by the tourism board to get when you visit is a Köln Card which can make your trip to Cologne more cost-effective and hassle-free.
The card allows you to access to public transport for free in the city for 24 or 48 hours, depending on which card you purchase. You receive lower discounted prices at restaurants, museums, attractions and cafes, which is a nice bonus.
Cologne Carnival is one of Europe’s most famous events. Are you looking for carnivals that are lesser-known? Read more about Nice Carnival, Venice’s rival and Trinidad’s Carnival that’s in a much warmer climate.
Plan ahead: Book your perfect trip with our Germany travel guide and destination information. Does Germany require a visa? Check the visa requirements before you get caught up during your travel.
Spend money wisely: Take public transport and dine in from time to time are common saving tips during traveling. How to spend money wisely in Germany? Make use of technology. There’s an app for everything.
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