Think the Phantom of the Opera, think masked balls, think big! The Venice Carnival is approaching so prepare yourself for boasting elegance, fun and plenty of great entertainment.
The Venice Carnival takes place every year on the picturesque island. It begins two Saturdays before Ash Wednesday and finishes on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday. Celebrations last for twelve magnificent days, so dust off your masquerade mask and let’s go to The Floating City!
The Carnival takes place on the actual island of Venice, in the Veneto region of Italy. If you look at Italy as a boot, Venice is near the top, just off on the east coast. The city isn’t far from Padua, so if hotels are too pricey for your trip over Carnival, then Padua is your next best bet.
If you’re planning on visiting Venice during the carnival but staying in a different city in Italy, details are found below on how best to get to and from the island. But remember, as Venice is north of Italy, don’t expect glorious sunshine during February. In fact, you may be faced with some rain and it can get quite cold. Wrap up warm – nobody will judge you for wearing a scarf and mask combo!
History of Venice Carnival
Since the 15th century, the city of Venice has been celebrating the Carnival. In those days, popular entertainment for the event consisted of masked balls and other not-so-animal-friendly activities. Don’t read the rest of this sentence if you’re an animal lover but one of the activities during Venice carnival involved firing live dogs from cannons and bull-baiting.
By the 18th century, the activities of Venice Carnival lasted a whopping two months! However, the event became less popular after Napoleon seized the Floating City in 1797 and celebrations were completely abandoned when Mussolini prohibited people wearing masks.
But the tradition wasn’t forgotten and the Venice Carnival started again in 1979 and is now proud to be on the stage alongside Rio in Brazil, as one of the world’s grandest festivals and must-see events for the bucket list.
Venice Carnival Key Events Guide
There are so many events to attend during the celebration, but these are our top choices for the Venice Carnival 2018. Prices and times are taken from the official carnival website.
1 – La Festa delle Marie procession
The celebrations of the Venice Carnival 2018 will start with La Festa delle Marie procession, which goes on throughout the city.
The ‘Festa delle Marie’ evokes the story of when the Venetian Doge offered twelve beautiful, but humble Venetian girls, fabulous jewels as a bridal dowry every year. This procession is presented in numerous ways but it is this occasion which celebrates and admires traditional Venetian period costumes – time to put on the mask!
The ’Festa delle Marie’ is effectively the grand opening of the carnival on the Saturday, where a masked procession will finish at the main square, Piazza San Marco and is where the ‘Marias’ will be presented to the awaiting crowd. A must see if you’re planning to be on the island on this day.
When: Saturday 3rd February, 14:30 | Where: Starts at San Pietro di Castello at 2.30 pm, will parade all along via Garibaldi and Riva degli Schiavoni and it will reach San Marco stage at 4.00 pm | Price: N/A
2 – Gran Ballo delle Maschere
This is the much-awaited Grand Masked Ball. It is this event which is the top highlight of the entire festival. The location of this event alters every year, but this year it will take place in the mighty Ca’ vendramin Calergi palace. The grand palace chosen this year does not disappoint.
Expect lots of colours, surprises and grand entertainment. An incredible banquet dinner is offered with lots of complimentary drinks of the best Italian produce. During the dinner, Venetian and fantasy characters will enhance the ball with artistic displays.
The celebrations continue on through the night after dinner, where the ground floor hosts a DJ with music to suit all tastes.
Anyone who has a proper costume, a mask and is capable of dancing the quadrilles and other various steps from centuries ago is more than welcome to enter. Dance away my friend!
When: 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th February at 8:30pm | Where: Ca’ vendramin Calergi palace | Price: €500
3 – Festa Veneziana
This is a well-loved water parade of the Carnival. With music and lots of energy, this parade will sail along the Canal Grande to the district of Cannaregio.
There, the audience can watch these magnificent and unique boats float by. It is this part of the carnival where all the gastronomic stalls are with delicacies and other food specialities of the region being on offer.
This is one of the glorious Italian foodie events which boasts the freshest, most traditional treats out there. So after enjoying the first part of the Festa Veneziana on Saturday 23rd January at 6pm at the same location, go to Rio di Cannaregio for a wander and some incredible food. Here, you really see local traditions at its best. Not to be missed.
When: Saturday 27th January 18:00 and 20:00 and Sunday 28th January 11:00 | Where: Rio di Cannaregio | Price: N/A
The masks are what make the Venice Carnival particularly unique. Wearing a mask hides the social status of the person behind it. With this disguised aspect, Venice briefly overthrew her social order in the past. It is this air of mystery which makes the carnival somewhat special.
A number of the masks represented characters of the Commedia dell’Arte. The white-beaked mask is the plague-doctor. The beak resembles a doctor’s breathing apparatus that held a vinegar doused-sponge, thought to ward off the plague.
The Dogues were depicted by the danger masks that were allowed. They passed laws which limited their use within the carnival. If masks were worn at an alternative time of year, a severe penalty was issued.
How to get there?
You’ve got your mask gear and now all you want to do is go to the ball. Here are your travel details regarding how to get to the magnificent city that is Venice.
Travel by train is the easiest and most convenient way to get up to the north of the boot. We recommend using the TrenItalia website for timetables and prices regarding travel to Venice. You’ll also find the often have discount if you look in advance.
Duration: 3h 20 min – 3h 45 min | Price: starting from €27,00
Duration: 2h 05 min|Price: starting from €22,50.
Duration: around 2h 30 min | Price: starting from €19
- At the opposite end to all of that glamour, elegance and masked mystery, Venice also hosts the famous Venice marathon every year. In case you want to an attend an event at the other end of the formality scale, get your trainers on and compete in this annual competition. If not, just be a supportive onlooker.
- If you’re planning on visiting Venice during the Venice Carnival 2018 and would like someone to show you around then The Roman Guy is proud to offer a number of tours in Venice. We also offer a private day trip to the two famous islands that sit in the lagoon with Venice, Murano & Burano, where you can see some incredible sights and sit in on a glass blowing demonstration.
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Editor’s note: post was originally published in 2016. This has now been updated for 2018.