The vibrant carnival of Venice has been wooing travellers since the 11th century. After taking a short break for a couple of centuries in the 1800s, it has been very much back in full swing since 1979!
And if Venice wasn’t beautiful enough already with its gorgeous gondolas, winding canals, and majestic fading facades, throw in a fair few elaborately made masks, whimsical costumes, and floating parades and you have something truly spectacular.
Venice for carnival is an absolute must, and here is everything you need to know about it…
When is Carnival?
As we stampede towards a new decade leaving, we get ready to welcome the magic of Carnival between the 8th and the 25th February.
What Shouldn’t I Miss?
The adventure starts on the 8th with the feast on water celebrations. Be sure to catch a front-row seat to see the famed floating parade at the Rio de Cannaregio. After oohing and ahhing at the pretty lights and costumes you can delight in Venetian cuisine at the glut of glorious food stalls lining the water’s edge.
On the 16th February, it's time to celebrate the drama of dress-up with the first Best Masked Costume Award. Carnival is famed for its masque lore, and this dates back to the 18th century when Venice’s more unsavoury characters would don masques to disguise themselves in order to be allowed to join in the fun. The Final Best Masked Costume Award will take place on the 25th of February in Saint Mark's Square. If you only get to catch one award ceremony, make it the last – this is where all the previous daily winners will compete, ensuring you catch the highlight reel of the most eye-popping costumes possible.
The Flight of the Angel makes the highlight list every year when it comes to the bizarre grandeur of the Venice Carnival. Expect to see a beauty queen dressed to the nines abseiling from great heights into Saint Marks Square.
What About the Parties?
While costumes and flying angels are a lot of fun, we know the real reason everyone opts for carnival is the beautiful balls. The Venetians certainly know how to party, and while ticket prices to attend these balls can run into their hundreds, it's certainly a worthwhile venture just to live like Casanova for the night.
One of the most exclusive masquerade balls may cost you an arm and a leg to get in, but if you manage to score a ticket it will be a night to remember. The Il Ballo del Doge is held at the drool-worthy Palazzo Pisani Moretta on the second Friday of the festival. We are talking epic 18th-century costumes, a full opera, a haughty and happening Venetian banquet and all the waltzing you can muster.
Be sure to dress to impress, and if you are looking for the finest mask in town – Ca Macana is the spot to shop before heading over to Calle Scaleter and getting your swish cloak from Monica’s.
What Else Should I See?
Just because you are in Venice during Carnival doesn’t mean that you need to skip out on all the wonders that make this the renaissance city. From drifting down the Grand Canal on a gondola to stepping inside the ornate design of Doges Palace; Venice is a fantasy feast for the eyes.
In-between all the masque balls, surreal floating parades, and flying angels – be sure to sit at Charlie Chaplin or Andy Warhol’s table and order some artisan chocolates at Caffe Florian. Take a day trip to Burano or Murano Island to marvel at the intricate skills needed to blow beautiful glass or to hand stitch delicate lace. Take a wine tour, take a food tour, splash out on tickets to the opera, admire all the art in the glut of great museums, and generally fall in love with this city on water.
Where Should I Stay?
If you haven’t booked a complete VIP package to the Venice Carnival, or if your adventure doesn’t include hotels, fear not – Venice has beds to match every mood. Among the best in town, the Gritti Palace is nowhere near as faded as its name suggests. A glorious spectacle of five-star style complete with a 15th-century historical tag, priceless antiques adorning every room, and elegant suites offering Grand Canal views – the Gritti is how you truly do Carnival in style.
IF you are looking for something a little more boutique to boot, the Novecento Boutique Hotel is a blinding choice – sitting in a quiet corner close to St Mark's Square. With a flickering fireplace, warm family charm and truly intimate moods, consider this place a heavenly haven away from the raucous energy of the party.
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