Maastricht: Carnival Capital of The Netherlands

Maastricht might have been more well-known since Maastricht Treaty, which is responsible for Euro and European Union establishment. However, let’s focus on the cultural side of the town rather than politics and European economic crisis. Maastricht is the  capital city of Limburg province, the southern part of the Netherlands. Together with Noord-Brabant and Zeeland, also in southern Netherlands, Limburg is a Catholic cultured region.

In terms of carnivals, probably The Netherlands is not something that cross your mind at the first place. But actually, The Netherlands has various kinds of carnivals and festivals held in its major cities. Including the Catholic culture-based carnival celebrated mainly in southern Netherlands, resembling that in Italy and Brazil, where Maastricht is the carnival capital of the region. The parade takes place in main streets where famous landmarks are located, namely Bonnefanten Museum, Museum aan het Vrijhof, St. Janskerk, Stadhuis (Town Hall), St. Servaasbasiliek, Helpoort, Natuurhistorisch Museum and Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek.

Each year in February (or March, depending on the date of Easter), there’s a big event called Maastricht Carnival or Vastelonavend in Meestrecht in Dutch to celebrate the last day of eating and drinking fancily before the 40 days of fasting until Easter. It officially starts from Sunday (unofficially Saturday) to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. All participants usually have singing, dancing and music performances, and also create elaborated costumes, giant puppets, facial and body make-up. The three-day-carnivals are public holidays. Shops, schools, banks and offices are closed.

When I attended the carnival in 2007, I was in the final year of my study period in Amsterdam. I didn’t regret at all traveling 2.5 hours from Amsterdam by NS train just watch the parade. Did I say that some other cities in The Netherlands have carnivals too? That’s correct. Nevertheless, Maastricht is the main carnival town in The Netherlands where Catholic religion is the foundation of the festive event.

Meanwhile, what happened in Amsterdam and other cities in northern Netherlands on the same days? Nothing, really. The northern part is more protestant-oriented and normally they don’t celebrate religious events as lavishly as the CatholicsAmsterdammers did their daily routines on those Monday and Tuesday while the fun parade was still on in Maastricht. Amsterdam has a lot of festivals held several times a year, but there’s no such carnival with costumes, giant puppets and marching bands.

Still having Venice and Rio in my bucket list for the next carnival destinations, Maastricht Carnival was something worth to visit. My friend and I only came on Sunday, the first day of the carnival. Yet it felt like a breeze of warmth in the middle of chilly winter. Using only the first generation of Canon digital camera and old Samsung mobile camera (they were new at that time), images speak louder than words for such event. Nothing pretentious about them, nothing but fun, fun and fun!


It was approximately10.30 am. Maastricht Central Station and it surroundings was quiet, not as many people as expected. I was a bit worried that we were at the wrong place and time. Several minutes later, I started to see some people with their costumes walking towards the central station exit door, passing in front of the station, standing in the middle of the street chitchatting and rehearsing. It was a relieving sight, signifying we were in the right track. Participants or non-participants, both party dressed up as striking and colourful as possible. We didn’t expect the carnival goers wore outrageous costumes too, not only the performers. It was our first time ever to attend a carnival like this.

Bunch of weirdos on street. Get used to it!

Dragging a puppet to the main street. However, I didn’t see them anymore during the parade.

Yes, we’re ready!


“Star” is a symbol of Maastricht flag. A carnival theme that will never be outdated.

Carnevale di Venezia was the main inspiration of many participants.

Happiest toddlers of the day!

Vlaamse friets met knoflooksaus (fries with garlic sauce). Nice costume. But texting during the carnival parade, seriously??

This was my favourite giant puppet in the carnival. Look at the details on the left side. There were two dolls hanging on its waist. Weren’t they cute? And the early bird Santa Clauses dragging the puppet? Probably North Pole was still too cold for them.

These fellas were the most professional performers of the day.

No matter who you are, what you are or what you believe, carnival gathered everyone in a cheerful and peaceful way. Squeezing among the crowds was something inevitable, could be tiring and troublesome. Still, I’d rather be one of the crowds than just watching the crowds. I loved the atmosphere and the excitement of Maastricht people with this event.


Family Portrait – everyone celebrated the carnival, from toddlers to senior citizens. After a long walk being the centre of attention, it was time to capture a living memory with a camera.

The party was nearly over. Nobody wanted it over, indeed.

They needed a break, too.

Glasses and bottles of beers were scattered especially right outside the restaurants and bars. A friend of mine got an idea of taking  empty glasses of Gulpener beer on street as a free souvenir. We haven’t heard brand before in Amsterdam, so it was fun to do and nobody noticed what we did. I should take the bottle too, but my backpack was too heavy. I was glad that there were no stinky streets as it has less portable toilets, trashes were much less than those in Amsterdam on Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day (check my older post for this subject), it was a saver place for an outdoor event and more friendly people in the neighbourhood.

I haven’t really seen the town itself, but it is actually a beautiful place to visit. For once in a lifetime, spare some of your time to join the crowds. Get some costumes if you can. As the old saying, the more the merrier!