On 3rd and 10th March 2019, tens of thousands of carnival-goers meet up, "recognizing" each other... A merry parade (la "Bande") in which everyone is welcome, no matter your age, occupation, or status. At the carnival, you can make friends with people you'll never see in daily life, be total clowns or just watch the parade go by. The carnival is one big family, an event you can't afford to miss.

Winds of madness and exhilaration blow over town, and the Dunkirk Carnival bursts into party mode, bringing crowds of "masquelours" and "umbrella forests" out into the city streets. On Saturday evenings, the carnival goers gather at the Conference Centre for huge Carnival Balls, where the party goes on until 5am!




Every year, between January and March, the carnival-goers meet up... And so began the history of the Dunkirk Carnival. At the dawn of the 18th-century, to mark the departure of the Iceland-bound fishermen, shipowners would throw a "foye", a party for the fishermen. In those times, all the festivities took place at an inn. Little by little, things changed, and by the turn of the century, the fishermen and their families were dressing up and spilling out into the city streets.

Although the Carnival has not always coincided with the fishermen's departure, the two traditions got mixed up with each other as time went on, giving rise to the "Vissherbende", a band of fishermen. Ever since the beginning of the 19th-century, the port of Dunkirk has been staging one of the most original carnivals in France!




Enthusiasm has remained as strong as it always was, and, for the people of Dunkirk, participating in the Carnival is a matter of pride. Crowds turn out in their thousands to join the party and give in to the carnival fever that takes hold of the whole city. 



The procession of the bands, which generally takes place on the Sunday afternoon, is a huge parade in which the carnival-goers march forwards in lines, with their arms linked together, singing traditional songs. Now and again, when the most catchy tunes come on, the revellers get rowdy and start heckling. The goal is to keep warm by squashing together as much as possible. That's when you'll witness crowd movements on an impressive scale, which, thanks to the "masquelours" skill, surprisingly leave everybody unharmed.



Put your best outfit on and join the band.

The processions just keep on going... at the balls held on Saturday nights, in a vast hall, where some 8,000 party goers gather in their best outfits and all sorts of other finery. Caught in a whirlwind of colour, they follow the beat of the music till the early hours. It's a good idea to buy your entrance tickets for the carnival ball ahead of time. Bus services are provided by DK Bus Marine to take tired carnival-goers home. The Carnival reaches a climax during the week of Mardi-Gras.

Many locals take time off during this period. You have to be made of steel to keep up with the pace, the Saturday night balls and all those Parades on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on and so on! The Carnival has been passed down through the families for generations.

From a young age, the local kids go to the children's ball on Wednesday afternoon. Loads of journalists come to the town of Jean Bart every year to cover the Dunkirk Carnival.



The first lines hold back a flood of masquelours.

From vantage points on the balconies, it looks like a wave of colour is crashing over the city. The first lines of the parade are the most sought-after; they're occupied by rowdy "tough guys" with finely honed heckling skills. The Drum Major, dressed as an imperial soldier, leads an orchestra composed of fifes and drums.

The musicians, in yellow oilskin coats, receive protection and respect from the crowd. Originally, dressing up for the Carnival meant cross-dressing, and people made costumes out of any old material they might have at hand. Even potato bags. These days, though costumes tend to be somewhat more sophisticated, they still have the same derisive spirit, the same robustness: but they've added even more originality, flashy colours and a sense of humour! The Carnival route is interspersed with stops called "chapels". These chapels are people's houses, and you're invited to a drink and a laugh, music and camaraderie. By far the most popular costume is a man dressed as a woman with a flowery hat, painstakingly made and very eccentric. And, of course, garters and mini-skirts are the order of the day, not to mention fur coats!  Everyone lives the Carnival their own way, in the ballrooms, at the heart of the heckling crowd, on the side of the band, on the balconies or in the chapels with friends. The Dunkirk Carnival beats description - you have to go and experience it for yourself... you have to live it!



Book a weekend getaway totally out of the ordinary, at the Dunkirk Carnival between January and March. Dunkirk's Tourist Office offers all-inclusive weekend package deals for this unique festival.

Contact us for a quote at +33 (0)3 28 26 27 31 or send an e-mail to