Venice Carnival – What to do and how to enjoy the wonderful Carnevale di Venezia

It doesn’t matter that you are not a fan of touristy places and you prefer to avoid crowds. Venice is simply too amazing to be left out of your Italy itinerary. There is hardly a low season in this beautiful Italian city. One of the best times to go is during the famous Venice Carnival in February, one of the best and most picturesque celebrations for Carnival in Italy.

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During the Carnival, in Venice, even masks have a soul

Dubbed “the most romantic city in the world” countless times, Venice is probably also one of the world’s preferred subjects for comparison. So we have “the Venice of the East”, “Shanghai’s little Venice”, etc., but truth is, no matter how many countries try to boast their own Venice, no-one has ever even gotten close to the original version.

Why? Because Venice is only one. Its charm is spontaneous, its origins have been written in history a long time ago. Its appeal is very simple. A cluster of islands and land slices lapped by a languid yet obstreperous lagoon that seems to find amusement in catching the visitor unprepared.

READ MORE: Best Venice tours – Our guide to choosing the top tours of Venice

Plan a trip to see the Carnevale di Venezia – What to do and tips to enjoy your stay

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An explosion of colours at the Venice Carnival

History of Venice Carnival

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Flirting in the world’s most romantic lagoon

Often synonymous with wild parties and endless fun, in Venice the Carnival goes way beyond that. Today this might be a simple festival, albeit very well organized. But back in the day of the Doge rule when Venice was the Serenissima Republic, it was the re-interpretation of Roman propaganda ruse “Panem et Circenses”.

Stemming from the Latin motto of wild Dionysus rituals “Semel in anno licet insanire” (“once a year one is allowed to go crazy”), Venetian rulers introduced this carnival where the lower classes had the chance to blend with the higher layers of the society, the noble clans and aristocratic families, feeling closer to and even making fun of them.

How was this possible? By hiding behind a mask.

Venice Carnival
Venice Carnival is also love story…

Considered a sort of relief valve to keep social tensions under control, Venice Carnival, like pretty much all carnivals, originates from ancestral rituals performed at the end of the winter to welcome the warm season and augur well for a generous harvest.

The first written document mentioning Carnevale di Venezia dates back to 1094 when the city was under the rule of Doge Vitale Falier. It was officially declared a public holiday in 1296 when the Republican Senate set it on the last day of Lent. Although now the Carnival comes right before Lent, a sort of concession to wild fun before the month of repentance that leads to Easter.

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Actually, today the Carnival lasts much less than before. In republican times could last several months, making people rightfully say that in Venice the Carnival fever never stops. And it’s the same enthusiasm of Venice natives towards debauchery that led the rulers to stop the excessive revelling by passing new laws on limiting the use of the mask, become by then a symbol of freedom and licentiousness.

What to do for Venice Carnival

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The eyes and a whole life behind the mask

On my spectacular first time at the Serenissima (Most Serene) Republic, I spent three days trying to capture its soul and the emotions hiding behind the masks of the Venice Carnival. While I wasn’t expecting any love-at-first-sight moment in such a touristy place, Venezia did cast a spell on yet another person, being, this time around, myself.

Even though weather forecasts announced massive floods and severe minus-something temperatures, we got lucky that hard climate conditions were only the day we arrived. I was clearly relieved that both Saturday and Sunday clear skies and a favourable light made our photo trip easier. But after seeing displayed in a photo studio an image of St. Mark Square completely covered with water I felt I was indeed missing some pretty spectacular views.

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The sisters

Today we all know how romantic Venice is, day and night, with any kind of weather conditions, at any season and, let’s face it, despite the outrageous prices. However, during the Carnival, its charming aura is even more intense.

If you decide to visit during Carnival, wander about the famous lagoon while peeping at the gorgeous masks, their slow movements and sophisticated looks, their human eyes beyond the colourful disguise.

They all picture how, back in the day, the girl from the lower class could, even for only one day, meet the prince she had been dreaming of. Or how lovers belonging to different lineages could steal forbidden moments protected by the fancy cover.

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As I walked along the banks of a lagoon that threatened high tides every day, trying to capture a fleeting glimpse of emotion beyond the mask, I was enchanted to see the colours, the passion and the excitement around every single event.

It was my first time in Venice, I definitely had not anticipated that it was going to be right during the famous Carnival, but I can totally say I couldn’t pick a better time.

venice carnival mask

The very first thing I would suggest to do in Venice during Carnival is to wander around Piazza San Marco and its lagoon. You will find colourful masks everywhere, and if you like taking pictures, this really is your moment. All the masks are there just to be photographed and they will love posing in front of your camera. With the background of the lagoon and the historical buildings around the piazza, you will snap fantastic pictures.

Some of the main events in these days of Carnival in Venice are the Volo dell’Angelo around 11 am of Sunday in Piazza San Marco, the shows in the water along the Canale di Cannaregio and the Svolo del Leon, when the symbol flag of Venice will flutter on the big square from San Marco bell tower.

These are the areas where you will see more masks but don’t miss out on other fantastic neighbourhoods like the historic Venice Jewish Quarter. Once there, enjoy a traditional meal and delicacies such as the typical Carnival fried pastries “frittelle” or “fritole”.

How to plan a trip to see Venice Carnival

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Plan ahead

Together with the summer season, this is probably one of the busiest periods in Venice. This is why it’s best to plan and book much in advance.

Plan ahead by reserving a seat on your flight in advance, as well as your hotel room to avoid crazy rates too far from the heart of the celebrations.

Pack the right clothes

Before going, make sure you check out the weather forecasts. Carnival is in winter, and Venice in the raining season gets flooded. Heavily.

Pack comfortable winter clothes to keep you warm in the cold and wet environment and don’t forget to put in your suitcase also water boots to avoid getting your socks, legs and trousers soaked and stay wet all day.

An umbrella might be wise, but do pick a small one that can easily fit in your bag or backpack otherwise it will be more of a burden to drag around than actually useful.

READ MORE: What to pack for Italy

Choose your hotel wisely

Venice is expensive, there is no way around it. This is why booking in advance you can still find more options. Some areas where you can book cheaper accommodation in Venice also during Carnival is the nearby Mestre, connected to Venice with a bridge, or close to the airport or the train station Santa Lucia.

If you plan much ahead, it’s also possible to find a room not far from Piazza San Marco. Check out hotels like Antico Panada, Hotel San Gallo or Venice Maggior Consiglio in Cannaregio.

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6 Comments
  1. we was there and it’s really amazing !

  2. Wow – your photo’s are amazing! I’ve been to Venice, but sadly unlike lucky you, not at Carnival. I’m not one who likes the crowds, but I think I will have to put that aside so I too can experience Venice during such a fun and glamorous celebration.

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