The Nice Carnival will run from 15-29 February in 2020. It’s the most important event on the French Riviera, indeed, in the whole of France. Every February for two weeks, over a million people from all over the region, the country, and the world flock to the festival to enjoy and participate in the events and soak up the buzzing Carnival atmosphere.
The Carnival’s theme for 2020 is “King of Fashion”. Expect flamboyant floats, colorful costumes and stunning parades reflecting a theme that is such a strong part of French culture. There will also be plenty of confetti, silly string and flowers being thrown in all directions among the excitement.
In this post, we want to share with you a bit about the history of the Carnival, the different events you can enjoy, share some tips and other things you can do in and around Nice during your stay.
Flower Parade at Nice Carnival. CRT Côte d'Azur France / Anaïs Brochiero
The History of Nice Carnival
The earliest records of Carnival’s existence in Nice date back to 1294. Historically, Carnival marked the last days before Lent, when Christians would fast, giving up meat, sugar fat and dairy. In fact, the word ‘Carnival’ derives from the Latin word ‘carnelevare’, meaning ‘to take out the meat’. It was also a celebration to say goodbye to winter and welcome the arrival of spring.
It grew to larger proportions in 1873, when Andriot Saetone, a Nice local, founded the "Festivities Committee”. Headed by artist Alexis Mossa, and later by his son Gustave-Adolf Mossa, the committee transformed the Carnival into the huge parade that it is today, with satirical and artistic floats, costumed performers, masquerades, and competitions.
Each year, the Carnival has a special theme. In 2019, it was “King of Cinema” and this year it’s “King of Fashion”. Artists create floats and sculptures for the parades around this theme using papier-maché, with the giant figure of the ‘King’ at the center of the event.
The Carnival King
Since 1882, a giant ‘King’ has stood upon the royal float to signal the beginning of the festivities, an important moment during the Nice Carnival. Throughout the Carnival, the King remains in the Place Masséna, where all of the parades begin, overseeing the events. On the final night of the carnival, a burning effigy of the King is put on a little boat in the Bay of Angels and pushed out to sea as fireworks explode above him.
The parades take place day and night during Carnival. There are some smaller, local events, but these are the main ones you need to know about.
The 'King of Carnival' at the Carnaval de Nice. CRT Côte d'Azur France / Anaïs BROCHIERO
Nice Carnival Events
The great thing about Carnival in Nice is that it lasts for two weeks and has parades and events to enjoy several days a week. This means the events aren’t as overcrowded as Carnivals in other parts of the world, where the festival often only takes place over a few days. The Flower Parades (or ‘Flower Battles’) and the Light Parades (Corso Carnavalesque Illuminé) are the main events, with the main Carnival Parade happening on 23rd February.
The Main CARNIVAL PARADE (Corso Carnavalesque)
14:30 at Place Masséna - Jardin Albert 1er
The Carnival Parade only takes place on one day during Carnival and is the most popular event. It consists of 18 floats inspired by the Carnival theme of 2020, “King of Fashion”. This spectacular parade is led by three main floats the King’s, the Queen’s and Carnivalon’s, their son. It will feature street theater and music groups from around the world, filling the atmosphere with music and color while thousands of spectators look on from the sidelines. It’s fun for all the family! It is difficult to get tickets for the main event, but it is repeated at night during the Saturday and Tuesday night parades, for which more tickets are available.
Performers from around the world at the main Carnival Parade in Nice - CRT Côte d'Azur France
FLOWER PARADES (Batailles des Fleurs)
14:30 at Place Masséna - Jardin Albert 1er
15th, 19th, 22nd, 26th, 29th February, 2020
This event is quite unique and very popular. During this parade there are performers in costumes on each float throwing up to 100,000 flowers to the excited crowds along the route. The tradition of the flower battles began in 1876, when young women would dress up in their finest garments and parade along the promenade in decorated carriages. Along the way, they would exchange bouquets of flowers with each other and their admirers. The event has evolved since then, but it has maintained the same beautiful aesthetics and elegance it has always had.
Ville de Nice, Nice.fr TV
CARNIVAL PARADES OF LIGHTS (Corso Carnavalesque Illuminé)
21:00 at Place Masséna - Jardin Albert 1er
15th, 18th, 22nd, 25th, 29th February 2020
This is a repeat of the Main Parade, just at night-time. On Saturday and Tuesday evenings, all the floats are decorated with bright lights as the night parade illuminates the heart of the city of Nice. There will be lots of music and entertainment, making for a joyful and exciting atmosphere. This is a great alternative if you aren’t able to get tickets for the Main Carnival Parade.
Nice Carnival Night Parade / Corso Illuminé - CRT Côte d'Azur France/ Anaïs Brochiero
Buying Tickets for Nice Carnival
You need to contact Nice Tourist Office. It is difficult to get tickets for seats - these must be bought many months or up to a year in advance. However, you should be able to buy standing tickets shortly before the Carnival, or arrive in full costume and get into the standing areas for free!
Nice Carnival flower parade. CRT Côte d'Azur France/ Anaïs Brochiero
How to get involved in NICE Carnival
Let the theme of Carnival ‘King of Fashion’ and your imagination inspire you! If you arrive at the standing areas in full costume, based on the Carnival theme, you will be allowed in to the Carnival Parades for free. Be aware that this means a head-to-toe costume: wearing a funny hat, a few accessories or a painted face will not suffice! Please also be aware that costumes of a religious, military or offensive nature will not be allowed.
Performers in costume at the Carnival parade. CRT Côte d'Azur France, Anaïs Brochiero
Security at the carnival
There will be security gates, bag checks and random searches at the entrances to Carnival events. For your comfort and to avoid long lines queues, arrive at least one hour before the show starts and only bring your essential belongings - no large handbags or luggage. If you leave the events you won't be allowed to re-enter again.
Forbidden Items at Nice Carnival
The following items are not allowed within the Carnival perimeter:
- alcoholic drinks and illegal drugs
- glass and metal containers (cans, glass bottles) or plastic containers with a cap
- bike helmets
- folding seats
- metal spray cans (including Carnival silly-string sprays)
- suitcases, shopping bags and other bags and luggage
- rollerblades, scooters, skateboards, bicycles etc.
- blades, blunt and pointed objects
- Weapons (even replica and fake)
- fireworks and firecrackers
Wheelchairs and strollers/pushchairs are allowed.
There are no lockers available at the event and anything that is confiscated will not be returned.
Things to do in and around Nice
There aren’t any Carnival events in Nice on Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays, so this is a good opportunity to see some of the other places of interest and events in the region.
Menton Lemon Festival, Menton
Check out the Menton Lemon Festival, which takes place at around the same time as Nice Carnival (15 February - 3 March 2020). This is also a very interesting and colorful annual festival in the French Riviera’s most ‘Italian’ city.
Menton Lemon Festival French Riviera CRT COTE D'AZUR FRANCE Camille MOIRENC
Fragonard Perfume factory, Èze
Visit the Fragonard Perfumerie in Èze, just a half-hour drive from Nice. Learn how the perfumes are made, and you may even have a chance to make your very own signature perfume.
Fragonard Perfume Factory. Dr Bob Hall CC-BY SA 2.0
Exotic Botanical Gardens, Èze
Explore the beautiful botanical gardens in Èze, which are within a short walking distance of the Fragonard perfume factory. There are very beautiful sea views and panoramic views across the hills of the French Riviera.
Spectacular views from the Exotic Botanical Garden in Èze. CRT Côte d'Azur France
Hilltop village of Mougins
Drive 30 minutes up to the charming hilltop region of Mougins overlooking Cannes, where you’ll find a pretty village and a number of local artists’ studios. A great little trip if you want to escape the tourist crowds for a couple of hours.
Mougins village (Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Hilltop village of Vence
Another lovely village overlooking the French Riviera is Vence. Pay a visit to the Rosary Chapel (La Chapelle du Rosaire) and admire the beautiful stained-glass window designed by Henri Matisse. If you go early, visit the market at the Place du Grand Jardin, open until around noon every day except Monday.
Vence, France. (Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Sainte Marguerite, Lérins islands
Catch a boat offshore from Nice to Ile Sainte Marguerite, one of the Lérins islands off the coast of Cannes. Bring a picnic and stroll around the island in a couple of hours. There are lots of paths and little creeks, perfect for a relaxing day away from the mainland.
Saint Marguerite Island, the larger of the Lerins Islands. (Tangopaso, CC0)
A day at the museum
Enjoy a day of art admiring the masterpieces of Pablo Picasso at the Picasso Museum in Antibes, or Marc Chagall at the Chagall Museum in Nice. In our opinion, these are two of the best big museums in the French Riviera.
Chagall Museum in Nice, France. CRT Côte d'Azur France/ Georges Veran
Have we inspired you to visit the French Riviera? Check out our self-drive tours of the French Riviera!