The Cologne Carnival is Germany’s answer to the Mardi Gras. It’s perfect for budget travellers wanting to go local on holiday and has plenty of boutique hostels and low cost hotels available. Rivalling the flamboyant carnivals of Venice and Rio, the Germans love to celebrate Ash Wednesday in their own inimitable style.
Famous for its glorious twin-spired cathedral, the Kölner Dom, and riverside views, the German city is one of the youngest in Europe. With a third of its population aged between 18 and 35, there is nowhere better to order a Kölsch beer from one of their incredible 24 breweries.
Flowing with beer and outrageous costumes, the fancy dress carnival takes place on February 12 before Lent climaxes on Rosenmontag (‘Rose Monday’ – the 42nd day before Easter). Locals will throw candy and sing in their unique Cologne dialect throughout the “crazy days” procession.
You can expect to see wacky costumes on your travels in Cologne. Getting drunk with grown men dressed up as giant butterflies and women as elves is part of the experience! Furthermore, the Cologne Carnival is remarkably cheap too with all major events free of charge.
Women’s Carnival Day (Weiberfastnacht): 12th February
Arrive early in the morning and the streets will be alive with women in fancy dress on their way to work. At 11am the Street Carnival is officially opened at the Alter Markt by the three principal Carnival figures: the Prince, the Peasant and the Virgin.
Later in the day there will be masked balls and beer swilling parties*
Carnival Friday: 13th February
Survivors of the Weiberfastnacht will stumble around the city centre and will probably attend a few cafes in the brightly coloured Altstadt (Old Town).
Carnival Saturday: 14th February
Following a hearty Cologne “Frühschoppen” (breakfast) you should head for the “Funkenbiwak” at Neumarkt.
Carnival Sunday: 15th February
Warm up parades begin through the city centre in fancy dress and outrageous costumes. More beer friendly parties take place in the evening.
Rose Monday (Rosenmontag): 16th February
The climax of the Carnival takes place with official parade. This is the big one folks. Expect people throw stuffed sweets (“Kamelle”), little bouquets of flowers (“Strüßjer”), pecks (“Bützje”). An estimated 1.5 million spectators in fancy dress attend the Carnival each year.
Carnival Tuesday (Veilchendienstag): 17th February
Further parades take place out in the suburbs of Cologne and parties continue all night long for those able to stay up.
Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch): 18th February
If you’re still standing after all those beers, then chill out with a traditional fish dinner in Cologne city centre.
*Closing times for pubs and bars are suspended for the duration of the festival.
Where to stay in Cologne
- A&O Köln Neumarkt is a cheerful modern hostel located in the historic Mauritiusviertel district. Rooms are available from €26.59 per person.
- A&O Köln Dom (HBF) is a quality hotel with modern furnishings only 100 metres from the Central Station and Cologne Cathedral. Rooms are available from €46.08.
- MEININGER Hotel Cologne City Center is only 15 minute walk from the history city centre and offers cheap and affordable rooms to budget travellers. Rooms are available from €18.83.
- Station Hostel For Backpackers is a Wi-Fi friendly hostel in central Cologne offering low cost travellers a perfect place to stay during Carnival. Rooms are available from €19.33.
- Black Sheep Hostel is a cool alternative backpacker hostel only five minutes by foot from ‘Cologne South’ train station (Südbahnhof). Rooms are available from €22.52.