From January 31 - February 17, 2015, Venice will slough off the winter gloom and burst into life. During the Carnival (Carnevale), this most magical of cities fills with a mass of masked party-goers - posing and preening, dancing and philandering, in a slightly surreal re-invention of a great tradition of the city.
Glancing at the portrayals of 18th-century Venetian life in the works of Pietro Longhi or Gabriele Bella in the Querini Stampalia gallery (querinistampalia.it) or the Ca’ Rezzonico museum (visitmuve.it) will reveal that that was exactly what Venice in its party prime was all about. It’s not for everybody. It can be intensely crowded, and rates in hotels and restaurants soar. But it is a unique occasion, and a great time to see the city in a new and exciting light.
Those that get here mid-week during the first week might wonder what all the fuss is about: besides the skating rink in Campo San Polo and a handful of low-grade events in out-of-the-way corners, there’s not a lot to keep you busy. If it’s excitement you want, aim for the weekends, and the final weekend in particular.
The Volo dell’Angelo ("flight of the angel"), when a beauty pageant winner gets to ride a zipwire from the campanile in St Mark’s square, takes place on February 8.
The search for the year’s best costume is the chance to strut your finery on the stage erected in St Mark’s square. A day’s best and a festival finest competition run side-by-side, with twice-a-day heats; the grand finale for the festival best takes place on February 17.
As happened last year for the first time, key Carnival events will also take place inside the Arsenale, Venice’s magnificent if under-used historic shipyard. In a half-way-house between a son e lumière and a strobe-swept disco, the huge spaces will play host to water-borne pageants, re-enactments, street artists and bands. It will also host events for the the Kids' Carnival
Without a mask, at the very least, you’re not getting the full benefit of the Venice Carnival.
Venice Carnival parties and masked balls
If hoi-polloi stick to the campi, the elite frequent parties, where tickets (see the Carnival website for details) start at around €500 (£416) per person. One of the most extravagant is the Valentine's Grand Masquerade Ball - held on February 14 at the Palazzo Flangini.
Where to go to see the Carnival
St Mark’s Square is the fulcrum of Carnival activities, and that’s where you’ll find the most extraordinary costumes - many hoping for a chance in the best costume competition, some aiming to be photographed, and others just enjoying themselves. You’ll find bemasked odalisques posing in any scenic spot of which, of course, there’s no shortage in Venice. Organisers this year are seeking to take the pressure off St Mark’s by luring evening crowds away to the Arsenale. This move is mildly controversial; it will, however, guarantee spectacular backdrops for what promise to be striking events.
The Carnival is best enjoyed from St Mark's Square. Photo: AP
What to wear at the Venice Carnival
There’s little point in experiencing Carnival as a mere on-looker; without a mask, at the very least, you’re not getting the full benefit. Mask shops out-number butchers and greengrocers in Venice. To get the real thing, rather than a far-eastern import, head for traditional mascarei such as Ca’ Macanà (Calle delle Botteghe 3172, Dorsoduro 0039 041 277 6142; camacana.com), Tragicomica (Calle dei Nomboli 2800, San Polo, 0039 041 721 102; tragicomica.it) or Papier Maché (Calle lunga Santa Maria Formosa 5174B, Castello, 0039 041 522 9995; papiermache.it). These artisans produce some dramatic creations but Venetians of old favoured the utmost simplicity: the plain white volto.
The voluminous cloak that Venetians swept around them against winter chills is called a tabarro and can be purchased from Monica (Calle Scaleter 2235, San Polo, 0039 041 524 6242; monicadaniele.com) who has single-handedly revived the garment. Atelier Pietro Longhi (Ramo secondo Saoner 2671, San Polo, 0039 041 714 478; pietrolonghi.com) rents and sells historical costumes, from the most simple to the very complex indeed. Banco Lotto N°10 (Salizada Sant’Antonin 3478B, Castello; 0039 041 522 1439; ilcerchiovenezia.it) sells beautiful reproductions of historical costumes made by the inmates of Venice’s women’s prison.
Where to stay during the Carnival
Finding affordable accommodation in Venice over Carnival can be an ordeal. At this stage, you really need to think about booking now for 2015. If you want to arrange a visit at the last minute, Mestre on the mainland adjacent to the lagoon, will never match Venice for romance, but the over-spill accommodation there is considerably cheaper and transport links with the historic city are good enough to make this a feasible alternative. Slightly more tricky - though far from impossible - to access, and much quieter at this time of year, are beach resorts north-east of the city, such as Jesolo.
Venice Carnival 2015 admission costs
There is no extra charge to go to Venice during the Carnival, though if you want to attend a party or ball these can be quite expensive - see the carnival website (carnevale.venezia.it) for more details.
Carnevale: a history of masks
The Venetian propensity for hiding behind masks was legendary: a rigid caste system coupled with ample opportunities for indulging in a host of vices made anonymity very desirable in an overcrowded city where detection was otherwise unavoidable. In the 13th century a law was passed banning masks while gambling. Later norms made it illegal to make masked visits to convents, or to wear masks during many religious festivals.
In the end, it was easier to stipulate when masks could be worn: most importantly, in a crescendo of frantic merry making, from Boxing Day until Shrove Tuesday - the period known as Carnevale (from carnem and vale, Latin for "meat" and "farewell": a reference to the Church’s ban on eating meat during Lent). The French stamped out the festivities when they took command of the city in 1797. And so it remained until 1979 when it dawned on local authorities that a revamped Carnevale would boost tourism in the city at a quiet, damp, misty time of year. The festival now lasts for two weeks in the run-up to Lent.
If everything to do with Venice’s Carnival gets too much, the Veneto region offers a host of alternatives, including a magnificent procession of floats in Treviso over the final Carnevale weekend, and the carnival in Verona, this latter claiming superiority over Venice having run uninterrupted since 1531. On the Friday before Shrove Tuesday, a great fat "king" parades through the street with a gnocco (dumpling) impaled on his sceptre, at the head of a procession of floats and costumed citizens.
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About Anne Hanley
Anne has lived in Italy for over 25 years. She is the Telegraph expert in Venice - her favourite Italian city. See her Venice guide here
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What is the Carnival of Venice summary? ›
The Venice Carnival began in 1162 in celebration of the Venice Republic's victory over its enemy: the Patriarch or Aquileia. The people of Venice gathered in Saint Mark's Square (San Marco) to dance and celebrate their victory. Ever since then, the victory was celebrated in the streets of Venice.What is the dress code for Venice Carnival? ›
Venice Carnival is meant to be a fun, relaxed experience, so just wear whatever you feel the most comfortable in. If you think you will feel a little self-conscious in period costumes, then opt for a mask. Venice Carnival isn't complete without donning a mask.What is the best day of Venice Carnival? ›
The final weekend of Venice Carnival is said to be the best time to attend. So, from Fat Thursday (Giovedì Grasso) until Shrove Tuesday (Martedì Grasso), is when the best events occur.Is it worth going to Venice during Carnival? ›
If you're wondering if Venice Carnival is worth it or not, the answer is definitely YES. Venice Carnival is one of the most important and captivating events in the city, related to a tradition that counts hundreds of years, which you must experience at least once in your life.What is the message of Venice? ›
Answer: The main idea of The Merchant of Venice is that love and self-interest are at odds with each other. On the surface, the biggest difference between Shylock, the Jew, and the Christians in the play is how much compassion they have.What is the message of Carnival? ›
“Carnivals are a celebration of life and we must attend them every year to celebrate life and make it a happy one.” “Carnivals are the events when you can spend the most beautiful times with your loved ones away from the electronic gadgets and boring lives.”What do people eat in the Venice Carnival? ›
Fritelle, or fritters, with or without pastry-cream filling are the most common sweet associated with Venetian carnevale. Savory foods served during this period tend toward pasta such as gnocchi, lasagna, and tortelli.Can I wear jeans in Venice? ›
You'll want to dress a little more formally in Venice than you would for a day on the beach. Nice jeans, slacks, or a nice sundress will do. It will be hot in the summer and cold in the winter, so dress appropriately for doing a lot of walking and waiting around outside. Here are some of my favorite outfits for Venice.What do people do during the Carnival of Venice? ›
The celebration takes place over ten days in which people dress up and take part in organized parades or simple processions on the street.How crowded is Venice during Carnival? ›
Venice during Carnival is crowded, there's no doubt. Obviously it would be better to avoid weekends and most flow but if you can not do otherwise try to arrive early in order to enjoy the city before they get organized groups.
Why do people wear masks in Venice Carnival? ›
During the Venice Carnivals in the past the streets of Venice were full of the people wearing masks which allowed them to protect their identity and remove any social differences. Besides, masks allowed a wearer hide his identity during licentious and dissolute activities.How crowded is Venice in Carnival? ›
Carnival in Venice can be crowded, very crowded. With hundreds of thousands of nicely dressed people coming into the Italian city to celebrate the century old tradition, the city gets full. Mix in thousands of regular tourists on day trips, you can expect Venice to be absolutely packed.When should you avoid crowds at Venice? ›
October through late February is the best time to go to Venice if you're averse to large crowds; in fact, Venice is one of the best European cities to visit in November. If you visit during this time, you'll likely feel like the only tourist surrounded by Venetians, foggy mornings, and quiet streets.What is the most famous Carnival in Venice? ›
The Carnevale di Venezia is one of the most famous carnivals around the world, and a charming characteristic of the city.Why did Venice become so rich? ›
The enduring foundation of Venetian wealth was maritime commerce, initially in local products such as fish and salt from the lagoon, but rapidly expanding to include rich stores of merchandise as Venice became the entrepôt between Europe and the Middle East and Asia.What is Venice special for? ›
- St Mark's Square.
- Grand Canal.
- Rialto Bridge.
- Doge's Palace.
- St Mark's Basilica.
- Bridge of Sighs.
- Ponte dell'Accademia.
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
The four elements of Carnival are song, music, costume and dance, which translate as calypso/soca, steelpan, mas (masquerade), and 'wine' (dance) in the Caribbean Carnival. Trinidad is the island in the Caribbean with the most developed and well-known Carnival.What are 3 benefits of Carnival? ›
* Bigger and more profitable industries. * Employment. * Foreign exchange earnings. * Private sector development.What is Carnival known for? ›
Recognized by its vibrantly colored floats and costumes, massive parades, and an abundance of food, music, and festivities, Carnival celebrations—which are meant to be an expression of freedom—are truly a spectacle that attract tourists from all over the world to its hosting cities.What is a Venice snack called? ›
Cicchetti (Italian pronunciation: [tʃikˈkɛtti]; singular cicchetto), also sometimes spelled "cichetti" or called "cicheti" in Venetian language, are small snacks or side dishes, typically served in traditional "bàcari" (singular bàcaro: cicchetti bars or osterie) in Venice, Italy.
What is the most famous carnival food? ›
Corn Dogs. There's no fair food that's more iconic than a crunchy corn dog on a stick.Are toilets free in Venice? ›
Public toilets are difficult to find, but there are clean ones at various places around the town (see map below) such as the Station, Academia bridge, San Marco, and Arsenal. Some of these are staffed by an attendant, so you have to pay to use them (usually about 1 euro).Is bread free in Venice? ›
Yes, you do also have to pay for bread. This is the “pane e coperto” charge — more on what that is in a moment. Yes, you do have to pay for that antipasto or foccacia, even if the waiter offered it rather than you ordering it outright. And yes, you have to pay for that digestivo of limoncello or amaro or grappa.Do you need water shoes in Venice? ›
Wondering if you need to pack rain boots for your visit to Venice? It's not necessary! Acqua alta is linked to the tide, so you can simply stay on dry land while you wait it out.What do you do during Carnival? ›
Carnival typically involves public celebrations, including events such as parades, public street parties and other entertainments, combining some elements of a circus. Elaborate costumes and masks allow people to set aside their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity.What do Italians eat for Carnival of Venice? ›
- Chiacchiere di Carnevale. Chiacchiere is the most traditional carnival dessert in Italy prepared on Fat Tuesday. ...
- Graffe Napoletane. ...
- Sfinci Siciliani. ...
- Cicerchiata. ...
- Pignolata. ...
- Baked Sweet Ravioli. ...
- Cannoli from Sicily. ...
- Fritole Veneziane (Venetian Carnival fritters)
Carnival of Venice may well be his best-known piece, and generations of brass players have worked to conquer and perform this masterwork. Difficulty: 3 (Medium Easy). Series: Belwin Classic Band. Masterwork.Can normal people go to Venice Film festival? ›
Many of the film screenings each year are open to the public. However, some of the festival screens exclusively for attendees over the age of 18 with accreditation. There are three main “accreditation typologies”: Press, Industry, and Cinema (for filmmakers).Which Carnival has the largest crowds? ›
The carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is considered the biggest in the world, with around two million people celebrating on the streets each day.Do people dress up for Venice Carnival? ›
For the Masquerade Carnival Balls there are usually very strict dress codes: historical costume with mask. Most organizers allow people to visit the after party in black tie/gala dress with masks. Most visitors of Venice do not dress up at all. They may wear a Venetian tricorn or a mask, but they leave it at that.
What is the meaning of the long nose mask in Venice Italy? ›
The plague ravaged Venice many times, and this beaked mask was used as a sanitary precaution by actual doctors. The long nose would hold herbs and flowers that would filter the air and cover up the horrible smells of plague victims.Why is the Venice Carnival popular? ›
The festival is world-famous for its elaborate costumes and masks. The carnival traces its origins to the Middle Ages, existing for several centuries until it was abolished in 1797. The tradition was revived in 1979, and the modern event now attracts approximately 3 million visitors annually.How many people can sleep in a balcony room on Carnival? ›
Balcony staterooms can sleep up to four people.
Trying to preserve the city of Venice, the Italian government decided to limit the number of tourists to discourage day-trippers. Over the past decades, Venice's famous canals have become incredibly polluted due to mass tourism and the corresponding increase in boat traffic.How many people visit Venice Carnival? ›
This al fresco festival commences about two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, just in time for the first day of Lenten season. This celebration of Venetian art and culture is certainly a sight to behold. It's no wonder that it attracts around 3 million people every year!Is it safe to walk around Venice at night? ›
Compared with other cities in Europe, Venice is extremely safe to walk around during both day and night. Venice is often noted as one of the safest cities in Europe and one of the most popular European cities with the lowest crime rate.Is it safe to walk through Venice at night? ›
Yes, Venice is a safe city to explore if you're travelling alone. Whether you're young, old, male or a female solo traveller, in Venice you'll never feel unsafe. The crime rate is low and even moving around on foot in the evening shouldn't concern you.What should I wear in Venice? ›
Venetians like to dress up and you will feel more comfortable in smart casual dress. This is definitely a location to show off your designer labels if you wish. You will see plenty of designer handbags on show. Make sure you take comfy footwear for daytime as you will do a lot of walking.Is everything in Venice walkable? ›
If you want the short answer: yes, you can easily walk everywhere in Venice and do all your touring on foot. Venice is quite compact as a city, so the most important attractions are all located within a 20 minutes walk of each other.Do you need mosquito repellent in Venice? ›
Venice's lagoon is infamous for its dreaded mosquitoes, zanzare. If you're prone to bites and visiting in summer take some insect repellent or a repelling device with you, or buy them in a local supermarket.
What is the least touristy part of Venice? ›
Found near the Venice main train station, the Jewish quarter is a quiet refuge, scarcely known to outside tourists.What is an interesting fact about Venice Carnival? ›
The Venice Carnival began in 1162 in celebration of the Venice Republic's victory over its enemy: the Patriarch or Aquileia. The people of Venice gathered in Saint Mark's Square (San Marco) to dance and celebrate their victory. Ever since then, the victory was celebrated in the streets of Venice.Why did the Carnival of Venice stop? ›
Sadly the Carnival was banned after Napoleon conquered the Serenissima Republic in 1797, meaning Venice was no longer independent. Holy Roman Emperor Francis 11 banned masks, and with that, the spirit of the Carnival died. This was to prevent citizens uniting to conspire against the government.What do you do in the Carnival of Venice? ›
Every year, participants of the carnival turn the streets of Venice into an enchanting showcase of gorgeous theatrical displays. Over a few weeks, locals and visitors can look forward to a range of magical parades and entertaining plays. The best costumes and masks could even receive an award during an award ceremony!What is the theme of Venice Carnival 2023? ›
Carnival in Venice 2023. Venice Carnival 2023 (Carnevale di Venezia) will take place from Saturday 04 February to Tuesday 21 February. We will collect information about planned events and dates on this web page. “Take your Time for the Original Signs” is the theme of the Venice Carnival 2023.What is the most famous carnival in Venice? ›
The Carnevale di Venezia is one of the most famous carnivals around the world, and a charming characteristic of the city.What are the main events of Carnival? ›
Carnival typically involves public celebrations, including events such as parades, public street parties and other entertainments, combining some elements of a circus.What food is served in Carnival of Venice? ›
Fritelle, or fritters, with or without pastry-cream filling are the most common sweet associated with Venetian carnevale. Savory foods served during this period tend toward pasta such as gnocchi, lasagna, and tortelli.What do you see at a Carnival? ›
A traveling carnival (US English), usually simply called a carnival, or travelling funfair (UK English), is an amusement show that may be made up of amusement rides, food vendors, merchandise vendors, games of chance and skill, thrill acts, and animal acts.What is unique about the Venice Carnival? ›
The festival is world-famous for its elaborate costumes and masks. The carnival traces its origins to the Middle Ages, existing for several centuries until it was abolished in 1797. The tradition was revived in 1979, and the modern event now attracts approximately 3 million visitors annually.
Why do people wear costumes to Carnival of Venice? ›
The Venetian Carnival was a time to disregard societal restrictions placed upon class and gender, and people would often wear masks and costumes to disguise their identities.What is the symbol of Carnival of Venice? ›
Few masks can be considered a symbol of the Venetian carnival as much as the Baùta. The Baùta (or Baùtta) is the most characteristic and traditional disguise of the lagoon city, whose shape and history convey all the essence of the masked carnival of the Serenissima.How many tourists go to Venice during Carnival? ›
Celebrations on every canal
In the days that follow, the alleyways, squares and bridges are filled with street art and music. Typically, around 3 million visitors from all over the world flock to the city to join the Carnival celebrations.
The masks are part of the Venetian tradition. They are rooted in the territory and culture because they represent a part of the development and history of the Serenissima Republic. The masks are the symbol of freedom and transgression, they level social categories and add charm and mystery to the wearer.Which city has the most famous Carnival every year? ›
Rio de Janeiro Carnaval (Brazil)
The most famous Carnival celebration in the world dates back to 1723 and attracts more than two million people each day of the festivities.