February brings along the carnival week, which takes on a traditional pattern; marching parades of colorful floats and party-goers in bright costumes, music bands, and costumed children run along the historic streets. A vivid fixture on the Maltese cultural calendar for the past five centuries, Malta Carnival marks the week leading up to Ash Wednesday with a vivid proliferation of parades and parties. During these five full-throttle days, locals and visitors alike pull on spectacular costumes and extravagant masks, and take to the streets for a round of partying that lasts well into the early hours. It’s a fantastic time to visit Malta: the island’s warm hospitality and predilection for a good night out are given centre stage. Here’s what to look forward to at Malta Carnival.
The Carnival in Malta is an old tradition dating back more than 6 centuries. The Knights of the Order of St. John were the pioneers of the celebration and introduced strength competitions and carnival balls to Maltese traditions, which have survived till modern times. The Carnival in Malta withstood the test of time and today enjoys massive popularity with locals and an increasing reputation with foreigners. Anyone can wear costume, cover his face with a mask or make up, and fool around the streets during the Carnival. The Malta Carnival is simple merriment and spontaneity.
The Carnival is celebrated right before the start of Lent, at the end of February and lasts for 5 days. The festival takes place across the islands, with the main celebrations in the capital, Valletta, where thousands gather to watch the colourful floats parades.
Here, you will meet a wave of masked balls, fancy dress parties, competitions, marching bands, elaborate carnival costumes, and a parade of symbolic floats in the streets, which are presided over by the King Carnival float, which is intended to be the best and most beautiful of them all.
Besides the Maltese capital, the Carnival’s main parades are held in some other towns such as Floriana (island of Malta) and Nadur (island of Gozo). The best areas to check out is Nadur, located on the East of Gozo. Here it’s a ‘Spontaneous Carnival’, a free-flowing, no rules, affair where anything can – and often does! – happen, and at sunset, the streets of Nadur are transformed, to be filled with grotesque and funny hooded and masked costumes.
Tuck into Prinjolata
Like most celebrations on the Maltese archipelago, food and drink play an important role at Malta Carnival. One of the stars of the show is the traditional carnival treat of prinjolata. This rich cream, chocolate and cherry-topped sponge cake, aptly described as a sweet mound of mess, is a uniquely local culinary immersion in the spirit of Malta Carnival.
Cheer the Parata
A popular tradition at Malta Carnival is the parata dance. Most often performed by children, the parata recollects the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 and the struggle between the Knights of St. John and the Muslim Turks, re-enacted in the form of a light-hearted buoyant jig. The show has been a routine feature of the Malta Carnival for centuries, with prizes awarded for the most artistic interpretations.
Dress up for the carnival parades
A defining feature of Malta Carnival is its street parades, which flood Valletta with a cacophony of colourful costumes, spectacular parades and sprays of confetti. Malta’s capital is at the heart of the action, however villages and towns across the archipelago enter wholeheartedly into the spirit of things too. Venture further afield to see unique takes on Malta Carnival across the island. Nadur in Gozo offers a unique version of the festivities. Here, the costumes take on an altogether stranger mood, with sinister ghosts, scantily-clad clergymen and cross-dressing knights highlighting a delightful edge to the Gozitan humour.
Party all night
The Maltese love a party, and once the sun has set over the parades, Malta Carnival gathers even more tempo. Revellers flock to the nightclubs, bars and pubs of Paceville in St Julian’s, whose DJs pump out high-octane beats all night long. The music and dancing continue well into the morning, when it’s time to do it all over again and enjoy yet another colourful day at Malta Carnival.