The masked spectacle known as Carnevale, or Carnival, is the extravagant feather in the cap of Venice’s packed social calendar. It’s your chance to waltz through the streets (or canals) like you’re at a multi-week masquerade ball fit for royalty. Or like you’re the Phantom of the Opera. Whatever your pleasure.
Venetians have been perfecting their Carnival game since the 15th century; over the centuries (plus or minus a couple of hundred years, when Carnival was banned), they’ve successfully streamlined their festivities for maximum enjoyment. Today, Carnevale is undisputed as one of the world’s finest events – a near-fortnight of food and drink, hedonism and decadence, costumes and masks – plus a few formal balls thrown in for good measure.
That said, there’s definitely a right (or, at least, righter) way to plan your Carnival. Here are a few tips to maximize your visit, whether you’re just passing through or staying for the full schedule of events:
Tip #1: Time Your Visit to Fall over the Weekend
Arrive mid-week, and you may wonder why Carnival gets so much love. The city seems quiet, but for a skating rink and a few small events tucked into sleepy corners. So our top tip is to time your visit for a Carnival weekend – a time of festive celebration, shows, masquerades, and more – if you want to taste how exciting the Venice Carnival can be.
(Bonus tip: Do note that Carnevale’s inaugural event, the Volo dell’Angelo ("flight of the angel"), takes place on the first night. It’s pretty spectacular, so if you can’t make the weekend, shoot for Carnival’s opening day.)
Tip #2: Wander the Streets.
Venice is a magical place any time of year, but it is especially so during Carnival. That’s because in Venice, Carnival is not a series of parades. It’s not a schedule of planned events, reserved only for tourist squares. Here, Carnevale is alive throughout the city. There’s something festive happening, everywhere and all the time.
The secret is to hide your map. Just tuck it away and forget about it. Then, wander aimlessly. Poke your head into dusty shops and lively markets. Walk the bridges. Take a gondola ride. Search for quiet squares. Escape the crowds and discover the magic. Carnival awaits.
Tip #3: A Mask is Required!
Okay, okay, a mask is not required required, strictly speaking, but if you’re making the trip to Venice at Carnival, embrace centuries of tradition and don a mask. Bonus points if you proudly wear a complementary costume. (We promise, you will be among excellent company!)
Masks and costumes for Carnevale are usually based on the historical fashions of the Italian Renaissance: opulent and richly colored, with plenty of opulent detailing. They’re beautiful. Of course, you’ll also see attendees dressed in last year’s Halloween costume, so really – the point here is to get into the spirit of the celebration. And that spirit wears a costume. (Bonus tip: If you’re looking for a souvenir-worthy mask, visit renowned mask-maker Guerrino Lovato, the “King of Masks” at his shop Mondonovo Maschere at Dorsoduro 3063.)
Tip #4: Pay Attention to Etiquette
It’s Carnival – you’re definitely taking your camera! And luckily, the festival’s best-dressed are often happy to pose for a memorable photo op. But be polite. Don’t push in front of other tourists (this behavior is definitely frowned upon) to take a photo first. Don’t ask your photo subjects to move to better accommodate your photo. And always, always ask before you snap. And thank them when you’re finished.
So tell us, seasoned travelers: What’s your best advice for attending Venice’s famed Carnevale?