Venice is one of Italy’s most desirable city breaks and if its winding canals, stunning architecture, fine wine and delicious cuisine aren’t enough, visit during Carnivale and you’ll be in for a magical break.
Carnivale is one of the biggest events held in Venice each year and a highlight in Venice’s social calendar. Venetians gather together and the streets come alive with spectacular costumes and masks during a week-long party. Here is our guide to Venice Carnival:
History of the Carnival
The word carnival comes from the Latin word meaning “Farewell, meat!” The carnival starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The world-famous carnival was first held in Venice in the 11th century and it wouldn’t be uncommon for it to take place over two months. The carnival then fell into decline during the 18th century until it was brought back to life again in 1979. The Venice Carnival is now of the biggest events in the Venice calendar.
Public shows and entertainment
Throughout Carnivale there is plenty of free entertainment, especially around St Mark’s Square itself. A programme of events takes place throughout the week for everyone to enjoy and you will find a schedule of shows on notice boards located around St Mark’s Square.
These events are also where you will find the most extraordinary costumes. The costumes are wonderful and the best part about Carnivale, with costumed characters parading throughout the day, happy to pose for photographs.
One of the most spectacular events is the afternoon parade of costumes on a catwalk in St Mark’s Square. Anyone can join in, so get searching for that fantastic costume. If that isn’t enough excitement, the day’s celebrations culminate with a firework display above St. Marks.
Other key dates and where to go
The 2018 Carnivale runs from January 27 to February 13. The grand finale on Tuesday 13th will include the announcement of the year’s best costume – heats will take place in the days leading up to it. St. Mark’s Square is where a lot of the spectacular events and shows take place. As well as being the fulcrum of Carnival activities, St. Mark’s Square will also be where you will find the most outstanding costumes, making perfect sense for it to be the location to hold the best costume competition.
If you are looking for something extra special on your visit to Italy, there are a number of events and balls held during Carnivale. If this is something you are interested in, book your tickets in advance. A top ball definitely worth mentioning is one held in the Renaissance rooms of the Ca ‘Vendramin Calergi palace. This ball is extravagant and although quite expensive at around 500 euros would make for the ultimate carnival experience.
The first event in the Venice Carnival is the grand opening celebration, Festa Veneziana. This spectacular parade of boats and lanterns along the Rio di Canaregio is compltetely free. Othe highlights include il volo dell’angelo (meaning flight of the angel), which showcases an Italian socialite swinging on a harness from the bell tower into the Piazzetta San Marco.
The dress code is usually historical costume – expect masquerade masks, haute couture and extravagant accessories. Tempted? We offer a range of tickets to the carnival.
With the week’s events in full swing, there are galas and balls almost daily, with most involving dinner, a dance and fabulous costumes. They range from an authentic Venetian 18th century experience, galas with incredible musical performances or even one which teaches you dance. We provide tickets for a wide choice of events to give you the ultimate Carnivale experience.
Venetian masks have a long history and typically worn now during the Venice carnival. In the past they would have been seen on many other occasions: for example, some wore it as a way to hide their identity and others to show off their social status. Made for centuries in Venice, these stunning masks were formed from papier-mâché and decorated with fur, fabric, gems and feathers.
Bring a costume with you
Once you have searched the internet for your Carnival costume, if you are feeling creative you might enjoy making it. Throughout Venice you will see all levels of costumes from the complexity of those that dress up for a living, to real fans who spend months creating the perfect costume, to those who just want to be part of the fantastic atmosphere. So get making that papier-mâché mask!
Go all out!
If you really love to dress up and take part, then renting a costume is easy! Take a look at some of these great costumes. This would be great if one of the balls is on your agenda. Like the tickets for the balls, this might be best purchased in advance. Most major shops throughout the city will offer this service, too.
You also have the option to purchase some of the accessories to make your ultimate Venice Carnival outfit. Souvenir shops and backstreet workshops in Venice are full of masks, cloaks and wigs.
Editor’s note: This blog post was first posted in 2015 and updated in 2017.