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Nice Carnival: French Riviera’s vivid tradition

Carnaval de Nice 2020
Carnaval de Nice 2020

The Nice Carnival is arguably the brightest event of the year on the French Riviera.


Every February a colourful carnival takes place in Nice. This year Nice is the capital of the carnival from 15 to 29 February.


According to some sources, the tradition of carnival dates back to the 13th century, when the Count of Provence, Charles II of Anjou, held a royal picnic in this area – with balls, actors, fireworks and bustling festivals. For the 13th century, the feast was too lavish and even displeased the church, but nevertheless the carnival not only survived but thrived to this day.


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Carnival traditions 

It is hard to imagine the carnival in Nice without confetti. This tradition dates back to the 19th century. In 1821-22 the Duke of Savoy Victor-Emmanuel I was on a holiday in Nice. A carnival procession took place in his honour when for the first time the servants threw small candies made of caramel sugar at the crowd. In spoken Italian, the candies were called “confetti”. The paper confetti, which we were used to now, only appeared in 1892.

Another tradition of the Nice Carnival is the “Flower Battles” (La Bataille de Fleurs). The first “Flower Battle” was held in 1876 on the Promenade des Anglais and, compared to the modern one, looked rather modest – the owners of floats, which were decorated with different flowers, simply exchanged bouquets. Now the “Flower Battle” is one of the most remarkable moments of the carnival. About 20 floats decorated with flowers take part in the parade. The procession also brings dancers, musicians and acrobats. A special place on the “Flower Battle” is given to the traditional Proven├žal flower – mimosa. At the end of the procession, flower floats are literally “dismantled” and flowers are thrown into the crowd.

No carnival in Nice happens without the extravagant parades of┬áfloats. Every year, between 12 and 20 floats take part in the parade. They are decorated according to the theme of the carnival. The name of the theme of the carnival is based on the same principle from year to year: “King of…”. Then follows the theme of the carnival – King of Circus, Sports, Cinema, Gastronomy… Each float presents its own vision of the character. The floats usually move 15 km along the Promenade des Anglais and a couple of adjacent streets.

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Finally, during the carnival days there are a lot of fun events. Among them, for example, is a race dedicated to rock music, or even Zumba competitions. Fireworks are another essential attribute of the carnival. During the two carnival weeks, the sky of Nice is illuminated daily with the lights of lush fireworks as darkness falls.


Official carnival in Nice 

The first official carnival in Nice was held on 23 February 1873. In the same year, Andriot Saetone from Nice initiated the creation of the “Folk Festival Committee”. Under the patronage of the municipality, the committee was responsible for organising and conducting parades, writing the script and selling tickets for the carnival. Since 1873 the carnival was cancelled several times – during the First and Second World Wars and also in 1991 due to the war in the Persian Gulf.


2020 Carnival:┬á “King of Fashion”

The theme of this year’s carnival is “King of Fashion”. For two weeks the carnival events will feature a burlesque performance depicting fashion in all its forms. Spectators will see the King and Queen of Fashion and their subjects.

The themed carnival floats will be joined by giant puppet heads, which in the carnival environment are called “grosses t├¬tes”. Performers and dancers from all over the world will focus on the theme of the garment industry and its hidden aspects in a humorous way.

This year’s “Battle of Flowers” parade will see 80% of floats decorated with local flowers. Since 2005, floral parades have had the same theme as the entire carnival. So this year “Battle of Flowers” is also dedicated to “King of Fashion”. The parade is quite unique for several reasons. Most importantly, participants create costumes especially for this occasion, and during the event guests are given thousands of flowers! The carnival procession of the flower floats will take place in Massena Square on February 15, 19, 22, 26 and 29.

Traditionally, during the carnival there are night processions – “Parade of Lights”. The carnival floats will light up the centre of Nice. There will be both music and visual projections.

You can find the full program of the carnival here.