Treat your senses at the Carnival of Venice.
26 Jan 2019
Heightened and fantastic, the Carnival of Venice offers a colourful and romantic escape from the everyday world.
Why is the Venice Carnival celebrated?
The word carnival derives from the Latin phrase "carne vale", meaning "farewell to meat". Traditionally, it's the last chance to have a party before the period of fasting and reflection that leads up to Easter. The Carnival of Venice's origin can be traced all the way back to the 11th century; its history is recorded in official documents that often include complaints about the rowdy behaviour it encouraged. Banned entirely in the 18th century, it was successfully revived in the late 1970s by the Venetian tourism industry.
How long is the Venice carnival?
The carnival in Venice is spread across the fortnight preceding Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent and the traditional religious time of fasting.
When is the Venice carnival 2019? And how to pack...
This year's festival runs from 16th February to 5th March. In terms of weather, this means you can expect mild temperatures (between 5 and 10 degrees C) as well as showers, overcast days and also a little bit of sunshine.
How is the Carnival of Venice celebrated?
Venice's carnival offers a long list of activities and events. The Grand Opening is on Sunday, 17th February. The highlight of the first official day is the Festival on the Water, which starts around 10:30 a.m. A parade of floats proceeds along the Grand Canal to the Rio di Cannaregio, where there's music, puppets and stalls selling Venetian pastries.
Another colourful event is the Festa della Marie. This beauty pageant in traditional Venetian garb has its opening stages in the Piazza San Marco on Saturday 23rd February from 2.30 p.m. to 4 p.m., with the crowning ceremony on the afternoon of 5th March.
On the following day of the Venice carnival is the Flight of the Angel. Just before noon, the winner of the previous year's beauty pageant glides down on a zip-wire from the bell tower of St Mark's.
The same weekend of the 23rd - 24th February sees the Piazza Ferrato in the Mestre district given over to a major street show. Each day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the square attracts a throng of visitors with a vibrant display of Commedie dell'Art performers, acrobats, stalls, music and dancing.
What to do at the carnival.
If all the excitement on the streets isn't enough, you can select from a wide pick of Carnival of Venice tours, concerts and cabaret dinner parties. Then there's the allure of the Venice carnival at night, with the city playing host to a glittering roster of masquerade balls. The Official Carnival Dinner, Show and Ball (24th and 28th February, 1st - 5th March) delivers a five-course meal, live music, a floor show and gambling in an opulent Renaissance setting.
Another prestigious event is the Mascheranda Grand Ball on Sunday 3rd March, which takes place in a palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal. Also increasingly popular are themed masked balls such as the suitably wicked Heaven and Hell carnival party on 1st March and the Casanova Grand Ball on 2nd March, inspired by one of Venice's most notorious lovers.
What to wear at the Venice carnival.
The Venice carnival is synonymous with masks. You can pick up mass-produced ones at souvenir stores, but for something altogether more unique, there are still traditional "mascheri" making hand-crafted one-offs festooned with jewels and feathers. Venetian masks come in several different guises. There's the bauta, a full face mask with a jutting chin, often worn with a three-cornered hat. The volto, meanwhile, has a doll-like quality and is usually made from white porcelain. Women generally favour the columbina, a glamorously mysterious half-mask. Or, if you really want to scare someone, try the Plague Doctor mask, with its grotesque beak.
Masks are such an integral part of the festival, there's even a Best Mask contest that runs from 24th February to 3rd March in the Piazza San Marco. Winners are chosen daily, then the best of the best compete in the final two rounds. Anyone can enter so long as they fill in an application form.
If you're heading to a ball, bear in mind that the dress code is formal. To really look the part, you can book an appointment with one of the ateliers that specialise in hiring out gorgeous handmade costumes.
How to attend the Venice carnival and where to stay.
It's a good idea to study the 2019 programme carefully in advance, then time your visit to catch the best events that are happening throughout the carnival period. Trust Gruppo UNA to help you find your perfect Venice carnival hotel, such as the highly popular, classically decorated central hotel Maison Venezia | UNA Esperienze.