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

In 2023, Rotterdam Unlimited takes place from 25 till 29 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 was first added 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 2500 people participate in the parade, including DJs and musicians, turning the whole city into a party.

Party at Rotterdam Unlimited Summer Carnival

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. Rotterdam Unlimited activities start on Wednesday 26 July with a performance by Dakka Sultanan at Stationsplein. Dakka (also called Daqqa and named after the Arabic word for clapping) is a ritual Moroccan musical style, characteristic of the city of Marrakech.

Later in the week, on Friday, Bloco Ripa Na Tulipa will also perform at Stationsplein. They are known for their varied repertoire that includes a multitude of musical styles: samba, frevo, forró, conga, merengue, guaguancó and more. One of the group's distinctive features is its Afro-Brazilian carnival group influence, which mixes drumming with singing.

The other Rotterdam Unlimited performances are all on the Coolsingel, between the Hofplein and Churchill Plein. This is the main event area, where you'll find stages, sound systems, bars and a VIP area. Amongst the artists who will perform here are Ukrainian Alyona Alyona, Cuban Haila María Mompié, local duo DJ Rudy Lima & Mc Me, Canadian calypso band Kobo Town, and international salsa band Los Elegantes Caribeños.