Carnival in Rotterdam: music and fun at Rotterdam Unlimited

A summer carnival in Rotterdam? It’s totally a thing! In fact, it’s one of the highlights of the summer in that city. I’m talking about Rotterdam Unlimited, a festival filled with music, food, and dancing.

A few years ago, I had the chance to experience this amazing summer carnival, and I want to tell you all about it to help you plan your own visit.

Enjoy the summer carnival in Rotterdam at Rotterdam Unlimited

Battle of the Drums

rotterdam unlimited

Rotterdam Unlimited is a summer carnival that takes place every year and spans several days full of music and food. Yup, even more food hotspots than the city normally has!

Part of the big street Coolsingel is made traffic-free to welcome all these different cultures for an international food market and the festival’s main stage. In total, five stages welcome artists during Rotterdam Unlimited, but in truth, the whole city center turns into a party, especially in the evenings.

I arrived on Friday when the Rotterdam summer carnival was already in full swing for two days. No worries, though, as I was right on time to attend one of the weekend’s coolest events: the Battle of the Drums.

During the Battle of the Drums, three brass bands followed a different route through the city. Each path ended at the main stage, where each brass band performed in front of a jury and an enthusiastic audience.

A local artist performed while the judges deliberated, and in the end, Hopi SLR Brass Band won the title of Best Brass Band of the Netherlands.

carnival Rotterdam

music concert

brass bands

incredible extravaganza

rotterdam unlimited

hill carnival

hill carnival

rotterdam unlimited

notting hill carnival

different cultures

cultural fuse

rotterdam unlimited

After watching the brass bands, my friend and I went to get takeaway tea at McDonald’s – as you do at 10 in the evening – before heading to the concert hall De Doelen to catch part of De Likt’s performance. It was highly energetic and good fun.

I didn’t get to check out the nightlife last time I visited Rotterdam, so I was glad to get a glimpse of it now.

Summer Carnival – Street Parade

street parade

On Saturday, the festival’s main event took place: the summer carnival or huge street parade. It started at 1 p.m. and lasted until after 6 p.m. It was crazy how many groups participated!

There were over 30 trucks and more than 2,500 dancers. I told you: crazy! I had a great time checking out the many colorful costumes and grooving to Caribbean and Latin beats.

The festival itself isn’t comparable, but the costumed people made me think of the cosplay I saw at Japan Day in Düsseldorf, and the sounds made it feel like I was at Caribbean carnivals. Always fun people-watching at these kinds of events!

street parade

street parade

melting pot city

million visitors

million visitors

local citizens

cultural fuse

rotterdam unlimited

Dub Inc and Gentleman

live music

I ended the summer carnival with two big performances on the main stage. First up was Dub Inc from France, a band that plays a mix of styles like reggae, dub, and ska. I loved their energy and was pretty surprised at how good they sounded live. Amazing singers, both of them!

Hakim took us to a story of 1001 nights when singing a small piece in the Berber language Kabyle while Aurélien frequently made the ground vibrate with his heavy voice.

rotterdam Unlimited dub inc

rotterdam Unlimited dub inc

Next was the main act of the evening, the German reggae artist Gentleman. I’d seen him once before at the Summerjam festival in Cologne. Well, no, that’s not true. I’d *heard* him at Summerjam because there were so many people at his concert, and I was standing pretty far in the back, so I couldn’t see anything.

That was different this time, though, as I was allowed to stand in the press spot during his first three songs to take photos. So amazing!

At one point, he told everybody to give someone a hug right then and there… and bent down to hug me. The girls behind me went a little crazy. It was so funny, especially as my ex-boyfriend said earlier that evening when I told him I could stand in the press area: “Maybe he invites you on stage.”

rotterdam Unlimited gentleman

rotterdam Unlimited gentleman

rotterdam Unlimited gentleman

Rotterdam Carnival 2023 – Practical information

Rotterdam Carnival 2023 dates and prices

Rotterdam Unlimited 2023 will take place from 25 to 29 July in different locations across the city.

The festival is mostly free. The after-parties are the only events you need tickets for at the summer carnival.

How to get to Rotterdam

You can easily reach Rotterdam by train, and usually, extra trains run specifically for the Rotterdam summer carnival on the Saturday of the event.

If you’re coming from abroad, you can fly into Amsterdam Schiphol and take a direct train to Rotterdam. Alternatively, you can also travel by train directly to Rotterdam from many different cities. Thalys has the fastest train options.

Click here for train options and prices.

Where to stay in Rotterdam

I stayed at the Inntel Hotels Rotterdam and had a room with a lovely view over the water, free Wi-Fi, and breakfast included. It’s located right in front of a metro entrance and just a ten-minute walk from the famous Witte de Withstraat.

Check availability, prices and reviews.


Enjoy the Rotterdam summer carnival

These are just some of the Rotterdam summer carnival features. The area transforms into a culturally diverse city featuring exotic food, brass bands, and music concerts. You can even see a carnival queen get crowned.

If this sounds how you want to spend your summer, then start planning your trip to the Carnival in Rotterdam.

Don’t forget travel insurance

Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I’m covered on every trip I go on.

Don’t have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you’re already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great, and I can personally recommend them.

carnival Rotterdam

I was invited to Rotterdam by the Rotterdam Tourism Board to experience the city in the summer so I could tell you guys all about it. As always, I write whatever I want on here.

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