(By Jenna Berndt)

Bright and bold, a feast for the eyes and senses and downright fun – that’s carnival time in Europe…

Here are five of the best European carnivals and festivals to bookmark in your travel diary.

Venice Carnival – 8 to 25 February 2020

You may have just missed the 2019 carnival, but there’s always next year. Time your visit to Venice with the 2020 Carnival, from Saturday, 8 February until Tuesday, 25 February 2020.

“Famous around the world for the elaborate masks and costumes that festive revellers wear, the Venice Carnival is an experience that you won’t soon forget,” says Teresa Richardson, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation in South Africa, which includes popular guided holiday brand Trafalgar.

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“Dive into culture learning how the local artisans make those intricate Carnival masks. On Trafalgar’s family itinerary, Gladiators, Gondolas and Gold, the whole family can even paint their own carnival masks and taste the culture on a guided walking tour of the ‘secret Venice’, visiting an ancient Rialto food market,” she says.

Each year the Carnival theme changes. Highlights include the annual grand opening, a water parade with decorative boats sailing along the Grand Canal, and masked balls. The best way to soak up the festive atmosphere is to buy a mask, rent a costume and wander the streets and old city squares. You’ll soon feel part of the festival mingling with locals and other travellers.

 

Notting Hill Carnival – 24 to 26 August 2019

Described as London’s largest street party and the most colourful cultural celebration all year, the Notting Hill Carnival attracted an estimated two million people last year.

It takes place on the last weekend of August each year, so diarise Saturday 24 August to Monday 26. The weekend is a must-do for any travellers. The colours of the Caribbean come alive with a parade through the streets of Kensington on August 25 and 26.

Expect live reggae, dub and salsa music, steel bands, floats, authentic Caribbean food and a riot of colour.

For those travelling with kids (many people bring their kids along to watch the parade), there are generally fewer people on a Sunday (but it’s still busy) compared to the Monday.

 

La Tomatina Festival – 28 August 2019

Spain’s La Tomatina Festival is held annually in the Valencian town of Buñol. Known for its tomato throwing, it promises to be more fun than it might sound. The festival dates back to 1945. The story goes that an argument broke out between a group of young boys and people started to pelt each other with tomatoes from a local fruit and vegetable stall. It’s grown into one of the biggest food festivals in Europe.

The 2019 event takes place on Wednesday, 28 August. It’s now a paid-for event, so be sure to secure your ticket early.

 

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Oktoberfest – 21 September to 6 October 2019

No list would be complete without Germany’s most loved festival. Oktoberfest is a celebration of beer, dirndls and giant pretzels, taking place from Saturday, 21 September until Sunday, 6 October in 2019.

Whether you’re a beer drinker or not, the festival is a chance to soak up Bavarian culture and history (the tradition started in 1810). Feast on German specialities, including roast chicken, würstl (sausages), knödel (potato or flour dumplings) and of course, brezen (pretzels).

Hogmanay in Edinburgh – 31 December 2019 to 1 January 2020

Ring in the New Year at one of the world’s most famous and festive New Year’s celebrations. In Scotland, the three-day event brings hundreds of thousands of people to Edinburgh for Hogmanay, which is the Scottish word for the last day of the year.

There is live music, revellers spill out of the pubs to form one of the world’s biggest street parties and there’s fireworks and dancing. Visitors can take a dip in the freezing River Forth attired in a fancy dress outfit as per tradition.

Make the most of your time away by exploring the country. If you’re a fan of the Netflix series Outlander, there’s even a Trafalgar guided holiday following in the footsteps of Jamie and Claire.

Festivals are an ideal opportunity to have a crazy fun time, but also to immerse yourself in the heritage of the destination and celebrate with locals. Make sure that you bookmark your festival of choice when planning your next trip abroad.