Dunkirk Carnival dates back as far as 1676 when families and friends celebrated for three days before the fishermen ventured off to sea on Ash Wednesday. Today the festivities continue, albeit with a slightly different slant.
Hundreds of locals gather in their finest fancy dress, with make-up, disguises, hats and skirts to proceed through the street (led by tall umbrellas), while thousands of spectators watch from the sidelines. It is a tradition for men to dress as women although to be honest, absolutely anything goes!
Feasting is as much part of the festival as the procession and fresh herring is the order of the day. Thousands gather in the square of Dunkirk waiting for buckets of herring to be thrown from the balconies above. Although being peppered with raw fish may sound a bit gross the festivalgoers go mad for it!
‘Dunkirk Festival is a mad and completely unique event leading up to Ash Wednesday. Colours abound, costumes are crazy and seeing flying herring is seen as absolutely notmal!’
Of course, the party doesn’t stop when the procession finishes! Chapelles (or designated ‘friendly houses’) open up to guests, welcoming you in to enjoy a drink or some food and the festivities then continue long into the night with a charming chaos overcoming the city. Live music, flowing drinks and waving umbrellas come together in unison when revellers sing along to the Dunkirk anthem Cantate à Jean Bart.
Officially the Dunkirk Carnival runs between January and March each year with smaller parades and balls happening each weekend. But the main event takes place in the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday.
Dunkirk Carnival runs for three days (Trois Joyeuses) from Sunday to Tuesday before lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Look out for the main Masquelour who will begin the procession through the streets of Dunkirk. Line up with other festivalgoers to walk as part of the parade or stand on the sidelines watching in awe as this cacophony of colour passes by.
The parade will finish in the main square when the hundreds of kilos of fresh fish will be thrown from above – stand well away from the front if you don’t want to be covered in fish!
All of the Dunkirk Carnival celebrations can be enjoyed on foot. Be aware that the streets will be busy but that also means there will always be someone around in full festival attire to point you in the right direction!
If you are staying outside of Dunkirk itself you may want to enter the city by car or public transport but do keep in mind that the majority of roads will be closed for the festival.
There are plenty of hotels in and around Dunkirk with some of the best being located along the harbour. Unless you want to watch out of the window, you’ll probably want to consider staying away from the main square or the procession streets as the party is likely to continue well into the night.
Please see the map below which highlights some of the best hotels and Airbnb’s in Dunkirk.
Dunkirk is obviously better known for its tragic history as part of World War II with evacuations being carried out on the Beach of Malo-les-Bains. There are therefore museums and cemeteries that can be visited as part of your trip (Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo, Mémorial britannique).
Alternatively, Dunkirk is home to a contemporary art gallery, a lovely harbour and some stunning architecture such as the Tour du Leughenaer, the Belfry of Dunkirk and the Dunkirk lighthouse.
The main event of next year’s Dunkirk Carnival will take place from the 3rd-5th March 2019.
Rad Season is providing you with hotels and Airbnbs at the lowest prices available online. Book your stay for Dunkirk Carnival 2019 using the map below!
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