The biggest free street festival in Europe and the largest Caribbean street party in the Netherlands happens every summer in Rotterdam and is called Rotterdam Unlimited. The festival consists of music battles, parades, live music, dance, and much more. Rotterdam Unlimited is the result of a merger in 2013 of two popular Rotterdam festivals: Summer Carnival and Dunya festival, bringing together a massive street party and a performing arts festival with world music, storytellers and poets. The five-day festival is a not to miss event in Rotterdam.

Rotterdam Summer Carnival events

Rotterdam Unlimited takes place at the end of July and consists of a multitude of events, including concerts and events leading up to the big Summer Carnival Rotterdam. The carnival events start earlier in the month, with the Royalty Election. During this celebratory opening ceremony with brass band, show dancers and DJ, 12 candidates will present themselves to the judges and public to be in the running for the titles of Queen and King Summer Carnival.

The Friday and Saturday of the festival, bring the Mercado Festival market to the heart of Rotterdam. This market is the world kitchen of Rotterdam Unlimited with food from all over the world, with everything from Surinamese to Hindu, Chinese and Antillean, and from fast food to delicious healthy meals.

Friday also sees the Warming Up and the Lighting Parade. The Warming Up is an epic convergence of brass bands and sound systems, who will make it quit clear to the whole city that the Summer Carnival has started. Three brass bands will make their way along the streets of Rotterdam to the Coolsingel, from different locations in the city. Calling all in the city to join in and celebrate.

The Lighting Parade is a new addition to the programme in 2022 and serves as a closing ceremony for the events on Friday. Thousands of tiny lights have been incorporated into the costumes and floats of the participating carnival groups, the dramatic effect of which is enhanced by the impressive setting of the Coolsingel. The carnival groups are accompanied by various brass bands, together they will make it a magical night.

On Saturday afternoon, it is time for the Summer Carnival Street Parade. It is the culmination of Rotterdam Unlimited and best described as an explosion of colour, music, celebration and creativity in a procession of dancers, floats, music bands and the most spectacular costumes. There is no event like it anywhere in the Netherlands.

The parade starts on the Blaak, near the Market Hall and Cube Houses, from here it will make its way through the city centre for about four hours, when it returns to the Blaak for a massive street party with stages and sound systems. Over 1600 people participate in the parade, including 19 DJs and 158 musicians, turning the whole city into a party.

Performing arts events

The summer carnival events are perhaps the better known but the performing arts making it on to the stage cannot be ignored or missed either. The five days of Rotterdam Unlimited start on Tuesday with the Digital Challenge, where three up-and-coming artists present their ideas on how to implement the digital domain in an online or hybrid performance.

Wednesday is the day of the spoken word at Story Unlimited, a storytelling extravaganza, where genres and generations become fluid. In the afternoon, multiple locations in Rotterdam will become Story Corners, where the storytellers from Streettalkers will leave you with a sense of wonder. From Rotterdam Central Station, the famous Witte de Withstraat to the Schouwburgplein, storytellers will come together with spontaneity and improvisation to show you the world through their eyes.

The programme in the evening, at WORM, is a dynamic extravaganza of poetry slam, spoken word and raps with as piece de résistance the Dutch introduction of the brand new EXTEMPO, brought in a balanced encounter between the different styles. Starting with traditional storytelling by multiple speakers, who will tell tales about the city, about transformation, truth, peace and love. Afterwards EXTEMPO, a lyrically improvised form of calypso, is performed in the Netherlands for the first time.

Thursday night is Dabke Night during Rotterdam Unlimited. Dabke is the dance for any and all celebrations in Arabic countries, from weddings to birthdays and festivals. This night, professional dabke dancers will give performances of this traditional circle dance to stirring music, and there will also be a workshop so that you can learn to dance with them.

On both Friday and Saturday there are concerts at night and parties during the day. Including the Rueda de Casino on Saturday afternoon. Rueda de Casino has been a staple of Rotterdam Unlimited Summer Carnival for years. Rueda de Casino is a group dance in which at least three couples in a circle dance salsa or son montuno and pass on partners on command. The dance originates from Cuba and the fun part is: anyone can join in!