If you’re looking for one of the most magical Italian experiences, a stop to Venice for Carnival is something you absolutely can’t miss! I had the pleasure of attending Carnival a few years back, and hands down, it was an absolutely breathtaking experience. Also known as carnevale or mardi gras, the whole city transforms into a masked town, with tourists and locals alike dressing up in period regalia. Talk about a throwback to 18th century Venice!
Here are my tips for attending Carnival in Venice!
Carnival occurs annually 40 days before Easter, and events last for 2-3 weeks before the actual Carnival day. Because of this, the exact date for festivities changes every year! Here’s a list of future dates below:
2017 – February 18-28
2018 – February 3-13
2019 – February 23-March 5
2020 – February 15-25
The most exciting events will occur during the weekend, particularly the final days of Carnival, so plan accordingly!
Rent a costume
For the full Carnival experience, rent a costume at a shop and join the crowds! There’s nothing more fun than immersing yourself in the culture and dressing up in a period costume.
Buy a mask
If renting a costume is too much for you, buy one of the many beautiful, intricate masks lining the streets. Your biggest problem will be choosing which one you want from the array of wonderful designs!
Parade around / people watch
Once you’re tired, park yourself at St Mark’s Square, where the main festivities occur, and where you’ll be able to spot the most extraordinary costumes! Paraders take their costuming seriously, culminating in the annual costume contest (see below!)
Attend the annual costume contest
Each year, St Mark’s Square hosts the costume competition, with ridiculously fancy clothes from Venice’s best designers. And if there ever was a crazy travel story…
It was February 2010, and Venice still carried a cold chill. I wore a golden dress and mask, and was wandering around close to the costumed candidates in St Mark’s Square. An Italian official approached, asking me something in Italian. Not knowing what he meant, I nodded politely and said “si.” Before I knew what was going on he had fenced me off with the other contestants – he’d mistaken me for one of them!
I ended up walking on stage in front of thousands of people, holding up my dress, praying I wouldn’t trip. The funniest moment was definitely when a fellow parader turned to me, glanced down at my Converses that peeked out from below the hem of the dress, and in an Italian accent said, “Nice shoes.”
Go bar hopping
An unexpected must do! With limited nightlife, the best time to masquerade is during the day. Visit the numerous bars to taste regional wines, traditional drinks, and people watch.
Attend a ball
Most major activities will occur on the final days, with a number of masquerade balls being held throughout the city! Though they can be pricey, it’s the ultimate dream to go to an authentic masquerade like the Doge’s Ball!
This is a ball of pastry dough, fried and filled with cream/nutella, sprinkled with powder sugar! Fritelle is offered exclusively during Carnival, as it was a complementary snack to the dishes traditionally served during carnival before the meat-free period of Lent.
Venice is not Rio, and though both carnival celebrations share similarities (food, drink, festivities, music, costumes,) Venice’s celebrations aren’t as flamboyant, and holds a greater focus on elegance.
Dying to go, or already been? Let me know your tips for attending Carnival in Venice!