Carnaval de Nice: Complete 2023 Insider Guide
This is a complete guide to the 2023 Carnaval de Nice and Lou Queernaval, written by a local insider. Below is all the information you’ll need, including the schedule, locations, ticketing, history, and insider information.
The Carnaval de Nice is an extravagant carnival with giant floats in a satirical spirit.
Attending the Carnaval de Nice is a great excuse to visit the French Riviera. Every February, the city of Nice and more than 200,000 spectators celebrate with this glitzy world-famous event. It’s the largest winter event on the Riviera and a must-see.
The Carnaval draws its inspiration from traditional themes as well as and political and social events, with a healthy dose of satire — everything is exaggerated. Each year is a different theme.
The streets are full day and night with stalls selling gifts: Provencal items, lavender, brightly colored fabrics, and food.
The Amazing History of the Carnaval de Nice
The earliest record of the Carnaval de Nice goes back to the Middle Ages. The year 1294, to be exact, where the Count of Provence created the “joyous days of carnival,” making the Carnaval de Nice the very-first carnival celebration.
Originally a pagan festival, “Carne levare, levamen” (“remove the flesh”) – the most common definition of Carnival – takes place before the Lent period, during the fat days (Mardi-gras). It is the last party before a period of abstinence and lean cooking, which therefore justifies all the excesses.
A committee was created in 1873, and in 1876 the first flower parade took place on the seaside Promenade des Anglais. Alphonse Karr came up with the concept for the first battle of flowers in 1876. This French writer of German origin, passionate about flowers and living in Nice, wanted a show where people could throw scent bouquets on their faces.
In 1876, Alphonse Karr and Andriot Saëtone created the first battle of flowers on the Promenade des Anglais. The masquerades, satire floats, and competitions followed.
It was during the Belle-Epoque that the Nice Carnival reached its peak: it was then the biggest carnival in the world.
One of the Carnival’s longest traditions is the ‘Berner Lou Paillassou’, which symbolizes the erasing of worries from the past year by tossing a puppet up into the air with a bedsheet (recent years used puppets of Donald Trump, Jacques Chirac and Gérard Depardieu.)
Carnaval de Nice: 2023 Program & Events
The 2023 (150th Anniversary) theme is “King of World Treasures”.
(And yes, we think it’s sexist that they always have a male-focused theme starting with “King of…”. We hope this changes to “Royals of…” in the future.)
There are four main events. All the parades take place in the same small loop (there’s a map at the bottom of this page) around the ‘Jardin Albert 1er’ gardens. Here’s the map: The floats start from Place Masséna . On the square, visual entertainment will be relayed on giant screens.
Below are details about all the parades and events, and their timing. Make sure to reserve tickets for the ticketed events well in advance, as they sell out each year. It’s also a good idea to reserve your hotel and make restaurant reservations months in advance, before the best spots get booked up.
The Big Carnaval Parade: ‘Parada Nissarda’
This is the big daytime parade. Roughly 20 floats, 50 giant puppets (with a new theme each year) and many musical bands from all around the world, parade down Nice’s streets, in a colorful and festive atmosphere. Floats and a (frankly, sexist and inappropriate for children) burlesques parade, are accompanied by elements of animation, street art, and international musical groups.
- The big parade is happening on Saturday, February 11, 2023 at 2:30pm. See the official schedule & get tickets here.
The Carnaval’s Parade of Lights
The Carnaval de Nice’s Parade of Lights event is an unparalleled visual display. In the evening, come and watch the carnival floats light up and cast incredible moving lights the heart of Nice to the rhythm of musical bands and visual entertainment.
- The Carnaval’s Parade of Lights takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8:30pm, and lasts about 90 minutes. See the official schedule & get tickets here.
The Carnival’s Battle-of-Flowers Parades
A carnival queen (elected by the festival committee) and her runners-up open each flower battle on her chariot. French and foreign musical groups join the parade and create the musical atmosphere.
Models, lavishly made up and dressed in gleaming costumes of feathers, sequins and rhinestones, throw bouquets of flowers (around 100,000 flowers, to be exact) to the public. The float decorations are made by hand, using petals of thousands of flowers, glued one by one, in the night and the morning before each “battle”. Beautiful, but like the burlesque show, it’s slightly sexist (all the models are female) and cut flowers come with a high environmental cost.
The battles (Bataille de Fleurs) began in 1856, specifically aimed to entertain the foreign visitors who were beginning to flock to the south of France. The parade gives tribute to the local flower producers. It highlights the diversity of flowers in the French Riviera as over 80% of the flowers are locally produced, but they’re grown in glass houses out-of-season, using pesticides, so it’s not exactly eco-friendly.
- The Battle-of-Flowers parade takes place on the first Sunday at 3pm, then every following Saturday and Wednesday at 2:30pm, and lasts about 90 minutes. See the official schedule & get tickets here.
The Gay Parade: Lou Queernaval
The first gay carnival in France, Lou Queernaval is a popular event that’s free and open to all. It’s committed to promoting the values of sharing, inclusion and living together.
Usually, events start at 9pm on the main stage with the elaborate opening show, followed by the parade with drag queens, shirtless hot guys, and, most importantly, colorful masquerade. Expect lots of feathers, makeup, sequins, extravagant costumes, colorful troupes and strange creatures that set the carnival alight.
Note: “Lou” translates into “the” in Nissart, Nice’s regional dialect.
- The Queernaval parade is happening on the Friday February 17, 2023 at 8:30pm. See the official schedule & get tickets here.
Finale: Incineration of the King & Fireworks
Since 1882, a giant ‘King’ has stood upon the royal float to signal the beginning of the festivities, an important moment during the Carnaval de Nice. 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.
Tens of thousands of revelers gather in Place Massena to escort the Carnival King to the sea. Loud music plays and there is dancing in the streets. Silly String and confetti fly everywhere.
The giant King Carnaval puppet is then set on fire, followed by an impressive fireworks display set to music over the Baie des Anges . Legend has it that by burning the King, he will then rise again next year from the ashes to reign once again during the carnival.
- The closing ceremony and fireworks will happen on Sunday, February 26 at 9pm and includes the ‘Incineration of the King’ / grand finale, with visual animations broadcast on large screens. See the official schedule & get tickets here.
A note about this event: As much as we want everyone to have fun at the Carnaval de Nice, we do not think that the noise from fireworks are a good thing, because fireworks are harmful to human health and very destructive to birds and wildlife. In Italy, they have made their fireworks silent and have set them to classical music. We hope that everywhere else will soon follow suit.
As people who care about the environment, we think this part of the event is outdated and should no longer be a part of the itinerary. The fire contributes to climate change and is very polluting, the confetti and silly string poisons and chokes sea life and birds, and the fireworks are extremely damaging to wildlife and the environment. We urge you to also speak out about these issues.
Carnaval de Nice: The Rules
The following items are not allowed within the event’s perimeters:
- 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.
Map of the Location of the Carnaval de Nice
Carnaval de Nice 2023 Event Details
Event Type: Carnival / Festival
Date: February 10 to 26, 2023
Time: Shows at 2:30pm and 9pm; see schedule above.
Cost: Many of the events are free (including Lou Queernaval), but you’ll still need to get a (free) ticket, and there are charges for the parades. Parades cost between €5 and €40 (children under 5 are free).
Tickets: When available (usually in the winter), you can book tickets here. Tickets can also be purchased in-person at the ticket office on the Promenade du Paillon, near the mirrored water feature (see map below), everyday from 10am to 6pm. A separate ticket office on the Quai des Etats (see map below) will be open several hours before each parade too.
For the best view of this perfume-filled, colorful extravaganza, buy a ticket for a seat in the stands or for the designated standing area along the road.
Website: Official Carnaval de Nice Website
Social Media: Facebook – Twitter – Instagram – YouTube – #nicecarnaval
Location: All parades do a loop around the ‘Jardin Albert 1er’ gardens
Transportation: Check out our guide to Nice’s transportation options.
Similar Events: Check out our complete Monaco & the French Riviera events calendar.