If there is one thing the Dutch love to do, that’s getting together, partying with friends and drinking a large amount of beer. Dutch Carnival is just one big excuse to make this all happen for a week straight. Prepare yourself and you too can get in on the fun yourself.
What makes the Dutch Carnival so special?
Whilst on exchange at Tilburg University I stumbled across a tradition that I never understood. I had never heard about this incredible celebration until I moved to The Netherlands and after Two years of taking part I can happily say its one of the craziest weeks I have taken part in.
The Dutch in the south have grown up with being around Carnaval all their life and embrace it without question each year and if you don’t get invited along with a group of Dutchies you can easily be left out.
Not that it’s a hidden secret or anything its just a way of life and the locals seem to miss the fact that Internationals have completely no clue what’s going on, they see it, they kind of get it but never dare to get involved.
I remember when I asked a Dutch friend if I could join him to his local village to celebrate carnival, he was kind of surprised I wanted to join, thought it was an awesome idea, after a few phone calls I was in and we had an incredibly awesome time.
Don’t be afraid to ask your Dutch friends if you can join them and see if they will be up for adopting you for one day, some will find it fun and be up for it indeed.
And a message to all the Dutchies, if you have a really fun international friend be sure to take them on board and introduce them to the Dutch Carnaval way of life.
Dutch Carnaval can be confusing for International students on exchange in the south of the Netherlands. It’s up to you to make this week incredible, by stepping up, committing to the Carnaval spirit and going all out. By wanting to make it the best carnival of your life you will easily find other Dutchies also wanting to do the same.
You can decide to remain clueless and remain in your home city, from the outside, you won’t “get it or “understand it”, but don’t be this person, jump in and embrace it!
Follow these useful tips in this post, buy a costume, get ready for some beers and crazy Dutch music and prepare to travel around the South of The the Netherlands and fully enjoy the crazy world that is the Dutch Carnaval.
What is Dutch Carnaval?
Carnival in Netherlands is called Carnaval and its traditionally celebrated in the Catholic region of the Netherlands in the south around the provinces of North Brabant and Limburg. Carnival starts on Sunday and follows through to Ash Wednesday. Although many students use the Carnaval to party for a whole week and will often start from the Thursday through to the Wednesday.
Dates each year change depending on ash Wednesday, here are the upcoming dates each year:
2015: February 15 to 17
2016: February 7 to 9
2017: February 26 to 28
2018: February 11 to 13
2019: March 3 to 5
2020: February 23 to 25
Prince of Carnaval
During the Dutch carnival each major city in the Netherlands will adopt a Prince of the Carnaval, this means that the current mayor of the city will hand over the key to the city for the duration of the carnival period. He acts as a sort of Joker to the whole celebration and walks around the city pumping up the Carnaval spirit.
He is normally a successful business man or has some sort of importance within the city, many use it as a promotion period to promote themselves, it’s a real honour to be the prince of Carnaval, they often wear tuxedos and wear a hat with expensive rare bird feathers attached to them (Don’t attempt to touch the feathers when your drunk).
The Carnaval is traditionally opened and closed by the Prince, you can watch both ceremonies in your city, once the Prince has officially opened the carnival the cities around the south of the Netherlands will change their names to their Carnaval names. For example Tilburg is changed to kruikenstad during Carnaval.
Dutch Carnaval Floats
Another popular Dutch Carnaval tradition is carnaval floats. Each city will have a group of friends that form a carnaval club to create floats for Carnaval parades, they often wear the same shirt and scarf and have worked on the float throughout the year.
It’s a lot of work and a real honour to host a float in a city parade, as the Dutch say “Work hard, play hard” and they are the definition of that.
The floats themselves are wonderful to watch throughout the carnival period as a lot of effort is put into creating the best float to win the Carnaval parade, they can get very large, creative and competitive, worth checking out.
Dutch Carnaval Brass bands
Brass bands around Brabant often form groups and perform and go around bars in the city during carnival too, you can spot them as they often wear the same costume and perform traditional old Dutch classics, great fun to watch.
The ultimate day to day plan for Dutch Carnaval
Here I will explain how to make the most out of the whole Dutch Carnaval as an International student here in Tilburg and where you should visit around the Netherlands through out the week (general information for any Dutchie or International to follow, for anyone really).
Friday – Carnaval Volleyball tournament with FOSST in Tilburg University Sports centre
Celebrations start early for students wanting to make the most out of the carnival, FOSST a student sports association in Tilburg holds an annual volleyball competition and this kicks off the Carnaval celebrations. Sign up a volleyball team with 6-12 of your mates at €30 per a team (register online). This can be an easy way to sort out your Carnaval costume as your team needs to go as a theme. After you have had some student priced beers in the sports bar (yes, Dutch gyms have bars serving beer!) head on over to the volleyball tournament after party at cafe Boukener in the city centre. Make sure you purchase tickets in advance if you wish to participate as all events during Carnaval sell out fast.
Saturday – Maastricht or Tilburg
Depending where you are Saturday makes a great day in either Tilburg (Brabant) or Maastricht (Limburg) to experience the opening ceremony (when the prince of Carnaval gets the key to the city in the morning at the central train station). The parade floats during the day are worth checking out, then you can attempt to visit as many bars as possible.
In Tilburg you can get a free Tie to tick off each bar you visit to follow a route. Both cities have a different way/style of doing Carnaval, so it’s up to you where you choose to party. In my opinion Tilburg is the best out of the two (slightly biased). You can find a Bar called Carpe Diem that will be hosting a Carnaval party for international students (I*ESN) on Saturday, worth checking out if you’re in town and want some cheap student beers.
Mostly all the bars (Even ones that remain closed throughout the year) will open up, play crazy Dutch music and the party becomes the whole city, Many party tents around the city are set up and beer is being tapped almost on every corner. The city will never look the same to you again and it’s a unique experience to be apart of this event.
Sunday – Eindhoven – Lampegat bar crawl
Every Sunday of Carnaval Eindhoven plays host to the longest bar crawl along Europes longest bar street Stratumseind.
All you have to do is ensure you purchase your pub crawl tie (ticket) in advance online and then for one low price you can visit 15 bars that are named on your tie and each bar you can get a beer or shot and one free snack at the end. Each bar on your tie (ticket) will be struck off and the aim is to start at Lunch time and finish visiting them all by the end of the day. Great fun, a lot of beers and a lot of bars to explore around Eindhoven. Be sure to gather a fun group of friends, grab the train in your dress up and have a cracking time.
Monday – Den Bosch float parade and street party
On Monday Den Bosch (capital of Brabant) plays host to a wonderful float parade throughout the day, head here before Lunch time. If you are brave enough, you can try a raw “haring happen” which is a traditional Dutch delicacy along with uncooked onions (good luck!).
The float parade on the Monday is one of my favourites and you won’t be disappointed, after the parad the maind square, all the streets and bars fill up with locals, its great fun and perfect party spot for your Sunday antics.
Tuesday – Cuijk Kuukse Kroegetocht – The ultimate end party!
Now, by this stage of the week you must have consumed a large amount of beer and you’ve been forcing yourself awake each morning to get onto the next day. By this time you can’t be bothered to take a shower as your costume smells like a Bar floor, but get up, kick out that Dutchie dressed as frog, you picked up from the night before and jump on a train to Cuijk.
Trust me, just do it, you’re almost at the end.
You will have no energy remaining, but force yourself to get onto that train, make sure you plan to go with some Dutch friends who will encourage you to be on time in the morning at the central station so your be able to make it on time. You can sleep the next day or on the train! get up and go!
First of all (just like all the other days) Please buy your ticket in advance online, this event always sells out and without a ticket you can’t get into the village.
Yes, I said that right, the whole village has a population of less than 25,000 and for Dutch Carnaval the whole city is surrounded by a metal gate and everyone that enters is locked into the small town till home time. Without a ticket you simply can not even enter so don’t bother turning up, be sure to arrive in the morning as well as the city has a maximum capacity and they will turn late comers away if the town gets too full, how awesome is that! Being locked in a small town because the party is too big!
The population increases by 10 and the whole city turns into a massive party, it’s like walking around a zombie movie or film set and feels surreal that a whole city is taken over by people dressed up in funny costumes.
The aim of Cuijk is to visit all the bars on your ticket as quickly as possible to win a prize (notice a carnival theme here), once you have finished collecting all the stamps from each bar you have completed Carnaval you will receive a prize, congratulations, be sure to celebrate with all of your friends.
Some brave party animals aim to always be the first to complete the bar crawl and every morning once the gates of the village of Cuijk open, ambitious groups aim to be the first to complete the crawl, wearing roller blades and attached together with rope. They roller blade to each bar, take a beer and shot before quickly racing to the next point. It’s crazy, fun and exciting all at the same time and visiting this random enclosed city of Cuijk is the perfect way to end your Carnaval adventure.
Once you’ve had enough beers in Cuijk try to head home before the rush, Cuijk is connected to the major cities by smaller sub city trains that connect to the largest rail network. Make sure you tap out your OV Chip card and tap into the different system to avoid paying a fine, the only way out of the city is by this train station so you don’t want to get stuck!
When your back in Tilburg you might be able to catch the closing ceremony in the city centre, see if you can make it back in time.
Extra bonus tips and information about Dutch Carnaval
Dutch Carnaval Music..hmmm
Good Luck……. That’s all I can say. Get used to hearing the same Dutch music on repeat in each bar you visit. This is not any old music either this is Dutch Carnaval music. It’s sort of like Christmas music, it’s fun to listen to at the start, but once you’ve heard the same song on repeat your happy to see the back of it.
(No bullshit, its all like this on repeat, good luck!)
If you haven’t been able to learn Dutch yet this is this a fun time to learn some of the lyrics, the locals will happily translate them for you. They might go something like: “Have sex with a bald guy” or “There is a horse in the hallway”. Really random lyrics that are either dubbed over a recent chart song or a rip off of a German classic with a Dutch twist.
You Have to dress up
Don’t even think about not dressing up, you would look like the odd one out!
The whole point of Dutch carnival is to become someone else, let yourself go and have a great time. This is why all Dutch people during carnival will dress up in crazy costumes, the more creative and home made the better.
You simply can’t get away with it and you have to dress up, so don’t hide, be creative and come up with something fun to be for the week. Many Fancy dress shops will pop up around the time of Dutch carnival to supply costumes, no point in renting as it will get damaged. The cheapest place to buy a costume will be Action that sells a variety of costumes for cheap prices.
Just remember you will be wearing it for a whole week, so make sure it can stand the test of time or purchase a couple of costumes to play around with.
Prepare to drink a lot of beer and schrobbeler
If you think you have drunk beer before in large amounts, wait until you survive a carnival. Beer prices in the Netherlands are the same price as Coca Cola, you can pretty much be able to locate beer anywhere you go, Beer taps seem to pop up magically all around the Netherlands during carnival in bizarre places, anyone is willing to make money suddenly has a tap and offering beer for sale, even outside sushi restaurants, weird!
Just know your limits, Dutch people drink a lot of these small 0,2L beer cups, don’t try and keep up with them, you will fail. Be sure to never drink alone, join in with a group pot and offer to collect the beers from time to time, another Dutch sport, balancing 12 beers on a cardboard holder through a crowd of tipsy Dutchies, good luck!
(You will find a picture of this guy on the front of a Schrobbeler bottle, his the Tilburg icon, famous for collecting piss around the city of Tilburg to soften fabric during the textile industry days, I’m not making this up! His a local hero during Dutch Carnaval!)
schrobbeler is a local liquor from Tilburg, it’s very common to drink during Dutch Carnaval and its sort of like a sweeter Jagermiester, worth giving a try, I’m sure you will, they even have a Dutch Carnaval Song for this drink: “Drink schrobbeler lah lah lah lah”
Buy A local Dutch Carnaval scarf
This helps in busy situations, Many bars become packed and its hard to move around, for this reason bars may start to restrict entry. I found one bar in Den Bosch not allowing people in, but because I had a local scarf on they let me in.
You can buy a local scarf at a number of local bars in each city, just ask around with the locals that you notice wearing them where you can buy your own, they will happily point out the closest bar to pick one up.
Each City around the south of the Netherlands has their own colours and design, In Tilburg the scarf is orange and Green, makes a wonderful gift to remember your time at Dutch carnival and will keep you warm too during the cold nights.
You will find it hard to stop and eat most of the time because you will be too busy partying, Dutch snacks are quick, cheap and easy during Dutch Carnaval and will mostly be your staple throughout the week, enjoy your Frikandel XXL special, Kaassoufflé, krokets and if your lucky you might spot a loempia van for some authentic tasty spring rolls, yummy!
Thank you for reading my post all about the Dutch Carnaval in the South of The Netherlands. I really hope and wish that you have an incredible time and find this guide useful, all the best with your Dutch Carnaval adventure! Post below in the comment section if you have anything to add or want to share your personal experience: