The ultimate guide to one of the most famous carnivals in the world, the Venice Carnival!
Check out the fascinating history, best things to do, costumes, masks, traditions, and main events of the Carnival of Venice.
Do you have any travel plans for February?
If not, make sure you book a trip to Italy for the Venice Carnival as your must-do, exciting travel experience.
Take along a group of fun-loving, attention-seeking friends, borrow or buy some costumes and stunning masks, soak in the festive atmosphere and have the most unforgettable and amazing time.
Experience how the Venetians would have celebrated Carnival hundreds of years ago!
Your Ultimate Guide To The Venice Carnival
Every year 3 million people arrive in Venice to take part in Carnival and the city is a hive of excitement and activity.
This post covers everything you need to know about this fascinating event.
History Of The Venice Carnival
It is said that the Venice Carnival began in the 11th century to celebrate the military victory of the Venetian Republic over their enemy, the Patriarch of Aquileia.
A bull and twelve pigs were slaughtered in Piazza San Marco to commemorate the victory and the party began with street celebrations, games, bonfires, and plenty of dancing.
It became an annual event until 1797 when the Carnival and the wearing of masks were outlawed by the then ruler, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Two hundred years later in 1979, the Italian Government decided to revive the festival to try to rejuvenate the culture and economy of Venice. It was a great success and today Venice Carnival is one of the world’s biggest and most popular celebrations.
When Is The Carnival Of Venice
The Carnival takes place over a two-week period in February. It begins before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday.
The main feature of the Venice Carnival has always been the display of stunning masquerade costumes and masks.
Check out the official Venice Carnival website for further details of dates and the schedule of events.
Things To Do At The Venice Carnival
There are numerous events on every day over the two weeks-parades, theatre performances, comedy shows, jugglers, acrobats, and live music throughout the whole city and much of it is free!
The main events are held at St Mark’s Square but there are events taking place all over Venice.
There will be a program of the week’s events and shows displayed on notice boards around St Mark’s Square.
Stroll around the city and enjoy street performances or admire the brilliant costumes and magnificent masks that Venice is so famous for. You can take photos or ask to have your photo taken with any of the stunning, masquerading characters in costume.
In the evening you could attend a masquerade ball or private party or attend an opera, concert, a street party or go on the very popular Venice Pub Crawl.
Ice skating is very popular with the locals and you might enjoy going ice skating at Camp San Polo which is on every day of the carnival.
The Main Events Of The Venice Carnival
The program follows a similar format every year. I have listed the main events for you below.
Venetian Water Festival
This event signifies the opening of the Carnival and takes place over two days on the first weekend of the Carnival.
It starts off with a water parade with beautifully decorated boats and gondolas and transforms the Rio di Cannaregio canal into a water stage with a spectacular water show!
On Sunday morning the first regatta of the carnival takes place. The Regata delle Columbine starts at the Grand Canal and finishes in Cannaregio, where there are lots of food stalls serving delicious Venetian treats and mulled wine.
The Marie Festival (Festa delle Marie)
This is a traditional event, a historical re-enactment, and refers to the purification of Mary, a day when all the marriages were blessed.
The Venetian Doge (Chief Magistrate of Venice) would offer a dowry to 12 beautiful but poor Venetian girls. But, in 973, pirates kidnapped the twelve Maries’ with their jewelry during the ceremony, and to commemorate this event a parade occurs where the 12 beautiful girls are paraded through the streets to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for her help in rescuing the girls.
The parade begins at San Pietro in Castello and follows Via Garibaldi finishing at St Mark’s Square, where they make their public debut in traditional costumes. At that point, the Doge crowns one lucky girl to be Maria of the year – the most beautiful maiden of the Venice Carnival.
The award ceremony for the winner takes place on the last day of the Carnival in St Mark’s Square and the winner will be the person that jumps out of the Bell Tower at the next year’s Flight Of The Angel event.
Flight Of The Angel (Il Volo dell’Angelo)
The spectacular Flight of the Angel takes place on the first Sunday of Carnival.
At 12 noon, on the dot, the winner of the previous years Marie Festival, dressed in period costume, leaps off the San Marco Bell Tower, flies through the air on a zip line, and lands in the middle of Saint Mark’s Square where she is greeted by many others in traditional costumes.
Best Mask Contest And Costume Parades
The Best Masked Costume Competition takes place daily during the Carnival, and the daily winners then take part in the final parade held on the last Sunday of the Carnival.
Masks are one of the key elements that make the Venice Carnival so unique. These daily masked costume parades are one of the best free events as stunning masquerades elegantly display their costumes and masks in Saint Marks Square. Great photo opportunities here!
You can be in the parade too if you wish! Anyone can enter and people come from all over the world to participate.
The Ballad Of The Masks And The Beheading Of The Bull
This is one of the newer events at Venice Carnival.
On Fat Thursday a parade of Venetians drummers, musicians, the twelve Marie, dancers, stiltwalkers, and the bull, all wearing costumes, and masks, gather at 2:30 pm in Campo Santa Margherita. The parade travels to San Barnaba, then Accademia, and on over the bridge into Santa Stefano, XXII Marzo eventually arriving in Piazza San Marco at 4:30 pm.
On stage, the bull transforms into a male dancer wearing a bull’s head and is slain by a female dancer.
Flight Of The Lion
The official symbol of the city is a Lion and the official final activity of the Venice Carnival is the flight of the Lion of San Marco, which has been painted on a large canvas.
At the end of Carnival, the Lion canvas gets hoisted from the square to the top of Bell Tower, while the 12 Maries’ and the Doge salute the flag.
This event finishes with a magnificent firework show.
Several costumed balls will be held in Venice during Carnival, as well as private parties.
Entrance tickets can range from a few hundred to a few thousand Euros and need to be purchased in advance. You will need to also buy or rent a suitable historical costume to visit the masquerade.
The ball program will include old and modern music, performances by artists, and food and wine.
Venice Carnival Pub Crawl
An excellent alternative to the Masked Balls is to go on a Venice Carnival Pub Crawl, which is a Venetian tradition that has been going on for centuries.
The Venetians would often move from bar to bar and enjoy Venetian tapas, drink good wine from the Veneto region and socialize.
Choosing Your Venice Carnival Costume
Most tourists don’t dress up for Venice Carnival, but there are plenty that do!
There are costume shops all over the city that rent costumes if you want to go all out. What better way to experience Venice Carnival than swanning around in an 18th-century costume, complete with a hooded cape and mask.
If not a full costume, at least opt for a mask. There are hundreds of masks shops and street vendors selling beautiful masks.
Masks are such a significant part of the Venice Carnival. In the past, during Venice Carnivals masks allowed the people to protect their identity and remove any social differences.
Now that you know everything about the Carnival of Venice, it’s time to start planning your trip!
Thanks for stopping by!
The Author: Maureen Spencer
Maureen is a travel writer lucky enough to be living in New Zealand and has a great passion for travel. Since she became “empty nested” in the late 1990s she has traveled and worked in over 70 countries! Now she writes articles to share her amazing experiences with other travelers in the hope of providing practical information to help them to prepare and plan for their travel trips.
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