Though New Orleans may boast about their non-stop partying on Mardi Gras, and every Carioca’s chest swells at the mention of Rio de Janeiro’s all-night Carnival Parade, the truth is that Europe is also full of amazing Carnival celebrations. Celebrating the period of fun, feasting and merrymaking just before Lent’s 40 days of abstinence, it’s no wonder Carnival is such a raucous affair. If you’re lucky enough to be anywhere near any of the following cities (and many others) around March 8th, you are in for a treat.
Carnevale di Venezia, February 26-March 8
The largest Carnival celebration in Europe, the Carnevale di Venezia has been going strong since it first started back in the 15th century – with a slight break when Mussolini banned the festival’s iconic masks. The ban long over, Venice’s Carnival celebration is a feast for all the senses, with endless concerts, copious amounts of food and costumed ball after costumed ball after costumed ball. The highlight of the festival and of the city’s annual social calendar is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere (Grand Masked Ball) which takes place in different venues each year. The slightest of sampling of events would include “Hot Chocolate in Costume” at the Cafè Lavena, “Diner dansant” at the exclusive Hotel Danieli and “Carnival Dream,” held at the Dandolo Palace Hotel and costing only 450,00 €. Oh, that’s the other thing. Many of the events can be quite expensive. But even if you’re on a budget, there’s plenty to see, do, listen to and eat. Just be sure to book your Venice hotel well ahead of time, as St. Mark’s Square alone is known to burst at the seams with 150,000 people!
Rijeka Carnival, March 5-8
With Rio and Venice the undisputed giants in the Carnival world, there are several cities vying for the number three spot. You may be surprised to learn that the strongest contender is the Rijeka Carnival in the Croatian city of Rijeka. Over 20,000 participants and more than 6, 00,000 visitors make this the ultimate celebration. Starting with the Rijeka Carnival Queen Pageant and culminating with the spectacular masked parade, the Rijeka’s Carnival offers concerts, exhibitions, shows, masquerades and parties. There’s even a Children’s Carnival Parade just for the little ones. Rijeka also offers many less traditional events, like the masked Pariz-Bakar auto rally, a parody to the world famous Paris-Dakar race, and the Croatia Carnival Snowboard Session which utilizes an artificial slope in the middle of the city. As in Venice, you’ll want to make your Rijeka reservations early.
Carnaval de Binche, March 5-8
If snowboarding and an auto race strike you as odd non-traditional Carnival behavior, the Carnaval de Binche in Binche Belgium proves that some traditions can be even odder. For example, when was the last time you were pelted by oranges by a group of men in green costume? That’s exactly what happens in Binche, where young men and boys hurls oranges into the crowd as the older men dance while dressed in a variety of fantastic costumes and green-eyed masks. Though the festivities in this town of 32,000 people are dwarfed in size by the more famous Carnival celebrations, you can’t say they lack originality. The orange tossing and much of the rest of the events take place around the historical town hall, and of course there many opportunities to sample traditional food and watch traditional entertainment. If you’re not able to find a hotel room in town, you might consider staying in the larger cities of La Louvière, 8.5 kilometres to the north or Charleroi, 21 kilometres to the east.
Kölner Karneval, March 3-March 9
Another contender for the number three spot is the Kölner Karneval, or Cologne Carnival, which has been celebrated in this cathedral city since 1341. With over a million and half visitors, the Kölner Karneval rivals Bavaria’s famed Oktoberfest in size and in fun. The Rose Parade alone attracts over a million spectators, and if you want to buck tradition, you can catch the Stunksitzung, a leftist comedy show which pokes fun at the official carnival Sitzungen (stage shows) and politics. As in most Carnival’s Cologne’s features colourful floats in huge parades with the singing of old Karneval songs and costumed figures throwing candy and flowers into the crowd. Be sure to find yourself a costume, or you’ll be the only one I the crowd without one. But be sure not to wear your favorite tie on Weiberfastnacht (Women’s Carnival Day), because that’s the day when women are allowed to cut the tie off any man they can reach. The plus side is that they can also kiss any man they want. Though there are a wide variety of Cologne hotels, you may never see the inside of your room, as the bars have no closing time during Carnival, making it an all-night party.
Carnevale di Viareggio, February 20 and 27, March 6, 8 and 13
Set on the Tuscan coast and attended by over a million people, the Carnevale di Viareggio offers a magical atmosphere created by the wonderful floats in its parades. Set on the waterfront, the massive floats, many taller than the surrounding buildings, present larger than life characters, whose arms and legs are animated by a crew of artists hidden inside. Each float is created by a local artist, and each takes a year to complete. Which explains why the parade is repeated not only on Shrove Tuesday, but on the three Sundays before and the Sunday following. The other draw of the Viareggio Carnevale is all the amazing food to be had. Many restaurants actually feature special carnival menus. Look for the Carnevale pastries called frittelle di riso and cenci. The day is started and ended with three blasts from a cannon. But the end is only the beginning, as sunset brings a multitude of the most fantastic costumes and sublime smells from the traditional local seafood kitchens dotting the harbour and the central market. Don’t expect to sleep much if your hotel is in these areas.
Although it would be nice to travel for leisure all of the time, sometimes there is work to be done. Luckily, in Europe, it is easy to enjoy the best of both worlds. Forgo the ordinary lecture halls and boring conference rooms in favor of one of these one-of-a-kind conference centres. Each beautifully fuses the state-of-the-art technology you need with the Old World romance and charm of ancient Europe.
Beurs van Berlage – Amsterdam
Dating back to 1903, this stunning structure was originally home to a stock exchange. Today, the magnificent Italian Renaissance-style compound (created after the concept of the “palazzo pubblico”) houses impressive halls and rooms for special events. It is an important monument in the city centre, and it enjoys a very convenient location. Beurs van Berlage is a 3-minute walk from Central Station and is a stone’s throw from the best hotels in Amsterdam.
Central Hall Westminster – London
London knows no shortage of conference halls. However, the Central Hall Westminster—easily identified by its historic Edwardian façade—may be the most beautiful. The building overlooks world-famous Westminster Abbey and beneath its domed ceiling, you will find ample and versatile space for meetings and celebrations. Most notably, the hall hosted the Inaugural General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946. The building itself dates back to 1912 and it is surrounded by some of the finest London hotels.
London's Central Hall Westminster
Dublin Castle – Dublin
True to its name, Dublin Castle is an impressive and regal event venue. Each of its five distinctly different sections has its own architectural character and style. Together, the units comprise one of the most interesting and beautiful conference centres in Europe. It was originally built to host Ireland’s Presidencies of the European Union, and it still remains a popular choice for meetings and celebrations. Along with elegant atmosphere and modern technology, Dublin Castle boasts a great location near many hotels in Dublin.
Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Saxia – Rome
The Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Saxia manages to seamlessly blend 15th-century architecture with modern facilities. The spacious complex consists of two large halls with incredible frescoes, two cloisters, four meeting rooms and various break-out paces. These options are perfectly positioned in the heart of the Eternal City, surrounded by its most famous piazzas and palaces. Of course, there are many fantastic Rome hotels nearby. Popular choices include the Hotel Villa Pinciana and the Grand Hotel De La Minerve.
Kongress Palais Kassel – Kassel
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and historical conference centres in Europe, the Kongress Palais Kassel hosts events large and small. Its Old World elegance, forward-thinking innovation and efficient, friendly staff make it an excellent choice. What’s more, the centre’s location in the heart of Germany (near the InterCity train station in Bad Wilhelmshöhe) place it conveniently close to many fantastic hotels in Kassel and beyond. Lastly, the Kongress Palais Kassel has a coveted Green Globe Certificate—so you can rest assured that your event will be eco-friendly as well.
the main entryway to the Kongress Palais Kassel
Gürzenich Köln – Cologne
Widely known as the city for media and communications, Cologne is a popular place to hold business events. It is always on the cutting-edge of technology; however, the city retains its historic and romantic charm. An excellent example of this fusion of old and new is the Gürzenich Köln in the vibrant city centre. Its Gothic façade dates back to 1447. Meanwhile, contemporary upgrades may be found throughout. From concerts and cabarets to exhibitions and lectures, this dynamic venue has hosted it all. Nearby hotels in Cologne include the Cologne Marriott Hotel and the Barcelo Cologne City Center.
HOFBURG Vienna – Vienna
An amazingly large and glamorous venue, the HOFBURG Vienna is actually housed within the former imperial palace. It stands in the heart of the historical centre (minutes from many wonderful hotels in Vienna) and covers over 17,000 square metres in functional workspace. Although they have been updated to offer the latest technology, the grand halls and staterooms of the palace have not lost their original charm. The result is a whimsical yet efficient atmosphere sure to enhance any celebration or conference.
Centre Culturel de Rencontre Abbaye de Neumünster – Luxembourg
Neumünster Abbey has led an interesting life. It was originally built to be a place for reflection; however, it was soon after transformed into a prison. Today, the site is home to the historic yet state-of-the- art Centre Cultural de Rencontre Abbaye de Neumünster. As part of the Modal Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is an important feature of Luxembourg’s urban landscape. Book a room at one of the many hotels in Luxembourg (like the Hotel Carlton or Hotel Parc Bellevue) to ensure convenience.
the famous Centre Culturel de Rencontre Abbaye de Neumünster
Le Palais Beaumont – Pau
Belle Epoque architecture meets top-of-the-line technology at Le Palais Beaumont in Pau. The sprawling compound dates back to 1899, and it was restored as a conference venue in 1999. The historical complex comprises high-tech conference facilities, two gourmet restaurants and even a casino. There are a total of 22 meeting halls surrounded by acres of pleasant countryside. An hour away, you will find Biarritz and the Spanish border. Closer to home, many hotels in Pau await to accommodate your stay.
Pieterskerk Leiden – Leiden
Set within the historical city centre of Leiden, the Pieterskerk Leiden perfectly blends into the urban landscape. The beautiful Gothic church dates back to 1121, making it one of the oldest conference venues around. Today the structure plays host to parties, receptions, exhibitions and other events with ease and style. Gatherings of up to 1,200 guests ma be accommodated; however, the large conference centre still manages to retain an intimate atmosphere. A recent renovation (completed in 2009) left the Pieterskerk Leiden even better than ever before. One thing that remained unchanged, however, is its great location near the best attractions and hotels in Leiden. Consider the De Doelen or the Golden Tulip Leiden Centre.
With 33 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Germany ties France for third most in Europe (Spain has 41 and Italy has 44). This means that you could spend weeks touring all of them. Here are five great ones to start with.
One of Cologne's famous twin towers.
Arguably one of the world’s most recognizable buildings, let alone churches, Cologne Cathedral was a long time coming. The first stone was laid in 1248, and the last in 1880, making it a mere 632 year construction job. It was worth it, even if the Cathedral’s reign as tallest building in the world only lasted four years, when it was replaced by the Washington Monument. Still boasting the second and third highest church spires in the world (after Ulm Minster), its awesome 157 metre height still provides wonderful views of Cologne and makes the climb to the top totally worth it. In fact, 30,000 people make the climb every day. Since the Cathedral is in the city centre and close to the railway station, there are many nearby Cologne hotels in which to stay.
Much older than Cologne Cathedral and much smaller, Aachen Cathedral, often referred to as the Imperial Cathedral, has played a much larger role in the history of Germany. The oldest Cathedral in northern Europe, Aachen Cathedral’s Chapel was where 30 German kings and 12 German queens were coronated between 936 and 1531. The most famous “resident” of the Cathedral is Charlemagne himself, who was buried there in 814. Legend has it that when his tomb was opened in 1000, “He did not lie, as the dead otherwise do, but sat as if he were living.” There are many Aachen hotels set in the old city around the Cathedral.
Hanseatic City of Lübeck
One of the closest things to time travel is a trip to Lübeck, which for several centuries was the capital of the Hanseatic League. Many of the medieval buildings still remain in the city centre of what is still the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein. You can enter the Old City through the last two remaining city gates, the 1478 Holstentor and the 1444 Burgtor. Now you’re ready to wander the ancient streets of the town centre which is dominated by seven church steeples, including the Lübecker Dom and the Marienkirche, both of which date from the 13th and 14th centuries. Be sure to also check out the Lübecker Rathaus (Town Hall), Church of St. Lawrence and the houses of Thomas Mann and Günter Grass. Many Lübeck hotels are located either in or around the Old City as well.
Museum Island (Museumsinsel), Berlin
A reflection of the Cathedral on Museum Island.
Set in the former East Berlin, the famous Museum Island alone can take days to explore. Surrounded by the River Spree, this is where you’ll find a complex of five important museums, as well as the Berlin Cathedral. The Altes Museum (Old Museum) dates back to 1830, while the Neues Museum (New Museum) was completed in 1859, destroyed in World War II and was rebuilt in 2009. The 1876 Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) hosts a collection of 19th century art, and the 1904 Bode Museum has a sculpture collection and late Antique and Byzantine art. The 1930 Pergamon Museum, displays reconstructed international historical buildings like the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. As the island is in the central Mitte section of the city, there are many Berlin hotels within easy walking distance.
Majestically perched on a 410 metre precipice above the town of Eisenach, this Thuringian gem of a castle was first laid out back in 1067. Between 1952 and 1966 the East German government restored the castle to its 16th century appearance, returning it to its former glory. So now you can explore the Luther Room with its original floor and paneled walls, as well as the Great Hall, the Hall of the Minstrels and the half-timbered Knights’ House on the side of the drawbridge. The castle gate at the end of the draw bridge remains the only way to get in and out of the castle. Most Eisenach hotels give you a pretty good view of the castle.
Beer halls, bratwurst, lederhosen—these may be the first things you think of when you plan a trip to Germany. However, while the country prides itself on its celebratory air, it also offers visitors a wealth of serious landmarks. In particular, fantastic art museums may be found in each major city. Here is a brief introduction to some of the very best:
No trip to Berlin would be complete without a visit to this institution. It is actually a collection of seventeen museums, divided into five clusters in the city centre. Some of the most popular include the Pergamon Museum and the Museum of Prints and Drawings. The first is known for its religious artifacts, while the second honors everyone from Sandro Botticelli to Andy Warhol.
This Berlin-centric art gallery is housed within a Modernist structure that was once a glass warehouse. It focuses on German masters like Max Libermann and members of the Berlin Secessionist and Expressionist movement. Enjoy traditional art forms and multimedia installations. What’s more, the gallery’s central location places it near many popular hotels in Berlin (like the Holiday Inn Express Berlin City Centre and the Park Inn Berlin-Alexanderplatz.)
Fans of surrealism should not miss the opportunity to visit this museum. Not only does it house Wolfgang Lettl’s most famous works, but it also welcomes pieces by other masters—like Gertraud Dinzinger’s evocative statue, “Der Kandidat.” Before you go, browse nearby hotels in Augsburg.
The primary arts collection of North Rhine-Westphalia includes sculptures, installations, drawings and photographs. The K20 collection shows off classical modern art and is an especially popular attraction. Don’t miss the amazing pieces by Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock on display.
This is where you will find one of the most comprehensive collections of 20th century and contemporary art. Famous pieces on display include Brillo Boxes by Andy Warhol, Maybe by Roy Lichtenstein, and literally hundreds of iconic paintings by Pablo Picasso. Among the many nearby hotels in Cologne are the Star am Dom and the Hotel Santo.
One of the country’s largest collectors of 19th- and 20th-century art, this museum is home to a number of important pieces. They include Porträt des Armand Roulin by Vincent van Gogh, Lise mit Schirm by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Faure als Hamlet by Edouard Manet. The museum also enjoys a partnership with the Deutsche Plakat Museum. And, of course, you know where to go to find fabulous hotels in Essen!